Metamucil Martinis: Why Batman and James Bond Should Be Allowed to Retire

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Batman image by ArtOfWei, Roger Moore image via The Daily Mail

My dad used to watch those 25 Days of Bond marathons they had on basic cable in the early 90s and I, having no other knowledge of the crime or mystery genre, thought that all spies were like James Bond. He was magnetic and suave and everything that spy should be, as anyone who has breathed knows. (Suffice it to say, we didn’t watch the Pierce Brosnan ones.) So, when the new Bond series launched a few years ago, I was understandably worried. It didn’t help that I was living in England at the time and they treated it with the attention reserved for royal children and Ready, Steady, Cook finales.

Flash forward a few years and I’m watching Skyfall with my wife because she harbors fantasies of running away with Daniel Craig and I’ve had two bourbons so I don’t mind. About halfway through something dawned on me: James Bond is fucking old. Maybe not in story years, but in actual years. The dude has been around for 23 films over 51 years, not to mention the twelve original novels and two short story collections. Seriously, there aren’t that many superfluous bad guys running around outside of Dexter. How many more adventures can the guy have before his heart gives out?

It would be the humane thing to let this character sail off into the sunset and seal his canon for all the dorks like me to revisit time and again. But, once his story is done, who are we going to watch?

When I mentioned this to my wife, though, something occurred to me. Yes, it would be the humane thing to let this character sail off into the sunset and seal his canon for all the dorks like me to revisit time and again. But, once his story is done, who are we going to watch? This is probably more a question of economics and timid studio execs, as I know there are hundreds of great spy and thriller novels out there, but the sentiment remains. Why can’t we let this poor bastard retire?

I had similar feelings while watching The Dark Knight Rises for the third time in the theater. The issues I had with the film notwithstanding—and obviously they weren’t that bad if I paid for it three times—I loved the idea of Bruce Wayne, the epitome of an everyman (albeit an egregiously rich everyman) overcoming evil, getting old. Will he unleash his walker and beat muggers about the head and face? Will he bore them to death with stories of Alfred getting wasted? I get that in general audiences love a thrill ride and for the most part are adverse to thinking, but bringing these characters to either their natural end (death) or close to it (old age) is a fascinating concept to me. How will Bruce Wayne pass his waning hours? Will James Bond order his Metamucil shaken and not stirred?

The Halloween season is perfect for this type of pop-culture contemplation because the latest slew of horror remakes is set to underwhelm us to death. I figure the studio’s public rationale is that they’re combining classic horror stories with modern sensibilities (see: Friday the 13th) instead of just cashing in on captive markets. But the problem with that is the movies frequently suck (See: Friday the 13th) and betray the underlying philosophy of the original (See: Friday the 13th, at least the later ones [making the new film very gritty and visceral and grounded in reality while several of the old ones played on the supernatural abilities of Jason’s evilness to migrate {and they could’ve at least had a mom in the new one to save it a bit.}]) A film like Hatchet or, to a lesser degree, House of the Devil works perfectly because it combines our fondness for the classics with our modern personalities. Same goes for Killing Them Softly or Drive. Hell, even D.J. Caruso’s late-aught films channeled the hell out of Hitchcock while giving us something new.

This is tangentially related to the Batman/Bond issue because the possibility for thematic exploration and sub-genre recombination in horror has never been greater than now, considering the ease with which indie auteurs can make films and the insane amount of talent floating around. And with the backlog of great books waiting to be turned into films, wouldn’t Ben Affleck’s talents be much better utilized by another Dennis Lehane project than a Batman-meets-Superman film that is probably a terrible idea in the first place? I realize that this is likely preaching to the choir, and besides, no Hollywood mogul is reading this (but if you are: please call my agent. I need work) but it’s still something that’s worth thinking about, this taking things to a logical-if-unexpected end, especially within our own writing. With any luck, Bond and Bruce Wayne will soon be sipping fruity drinks and twirling tiny umbrellas between their fingers while watching that evening sun go down. And with those story-holes now vacant, who knows, maybe the next Ian Fleming is on LitReactor right now, typing away.

What do you think? Should these iconic characters be retired?

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Comments

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 8, 2013 - 8:38am

Should these iconic characters be retired?

No.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 8, 2013 - 9:28am

Never!

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago October 8, 2013 - 9:36am

The cool thing about fictional characters is they can be reinvented to fit the times. Retirement of Mr. Bond would be called for if he were still going up against cold war era villians a quarter of a century after the cold war ended. The evil and treacher of Batman's foes becomes more twisted and complex as the level of sophistication the audience is willing to accept increases. As long as the writers behind these characters keep them fresh there's no need to pull the plug.

Ben Umstead's picture
Ben Umstead from L.A. is reading Speedboat by Renata Adler October 8, 2013 - 3:46pm

It's an interesting question you bring up, Nik. It's one I've heard asked about Superman in recent months, and so it makes sense that Batman and Bond would be the next in line.

I think it's also an important question, but without a ready made answer, nor any kind of answer at all. I think that as long as we're asking ourselves this question it keeps us all, the creators and audiences, on our toes. It keeps us concious of why these characters have mattered and continue to matter, or no longer continue to matter.

Fact is, these guys won't be packing up and calling it quits, totes, but that doesn't mean we can explore stories where they do retire, die, grow old etc. Asking that question and exploring it in story form is probably what makes these guys relevant to folks like yerself. And the great thing about these guys is that they are mythical, so we can write one kind of tale and then another. Sure, there's usually one version of their story known in the larger pop culture stratosphere, but that doesn't mean much when there are at least 3 Batmen running around at any given time (movie, comic, TV) and plenty of variations from there.

It's far more likely that these characters will fade from the public eye rather than have a definitive end made by a team of storytellers, but that doesn't mean we can try that anyway, even when they're at their height of popularity (which I would say both Bats and Bond are if we're going by box office numbers).

Dave's picture
Dave from a city near you is reading constantly October 8, 2013 - 9:36pm

Heard on the radio, advertising the San Antonio Comic Con guests: "the Mayor from Family Guy, Adam West!"

So that's what he's known for? Really?

 

But in the context of film/TV, think of the Adam West Batman vs. the Christian Bale, and whatever Affleck will be.  The thing about Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, etc. is they are timeless. Iconic. I value this in that it builds on communal memories, my dad can tell me what he liked about Superman growing up, and was able to share that with me as a child with the Christopher Reeve movies, and I can watch Henry Cavill with my kids. 

Maybe one day, when they're older, if they care enough, they can look into the Reeve and Routh movies, or go further back and watch the TV shows my dad watched.

Same for Bond, who doesn't love to debate the merits of each actor? My parents love Connery, and I don't think there's a more suave Bond, but Goldeneye was one of my favorites (which okay, may have too much to do with Famke Janssen), Brosnan was competely debonair, but I hated Die Another Day. The Daniel Craig Bond? Whoah. No ice castle's there. As has been said, they updated him, grittier, edgier, which fits the times. I think it works magnificently.

 

As long as the storytelling can remain relevant, the characters will matter.

 

I do like the idea of storylines exploring the lifecycle of these characters, however. Again, I'll refer to the Bond franchise with the Q character, handled very well, I think. Not quite the same, but Star Trek does this very well, not the reboots (but even then...) per se, but the shows and their movie spin offs. Not that I agree with what happened in Generations, but in the vein of McCoy, Scott, et al being incorporated into TNG, etc.  I think that with iconic characters and stories, theres room to show us the end, or what leads to the end.