One of the reasons Skyfall was such an enormous hit as a film was the way it cleverly brought together the best themes of the 50 year long James Bond franchise, without spending too much time pointing at its own face in a mirror and laughing with glee.
But according to a recent interview Daniel Craig gave to Vulture, that carefully trodden line may be slightly less clear in the next Bond movie, and those moments of meticulously honed pathos and humor – amid terrifying action sequences – may tip over into the blight of modern storytelling: irony.
He explained that, as Bond has effectively been re-admitted to active service at the end of Skyfall, there’s less need to show him suffering quite so much, and therefore there’s a chance to lighten things up a little: “Hopefully we’ll reclaim some of the old irony, and make sure it doesn’t become pastiche.”
But the problem is, irony is the very last of the great James Bond traditions that we need to resurrect. In Bond films, irony is that wink into the camera, that nudge in the ribs, that sudden desire to become friendly with the audience watching the film, rather than getting on with telling the best story you can. Irony says that nothing really matters, that it’s all a big laugh, that we all know this is just entertainment, so why not let everyone have their moment of fun? Irony is what happens when a franchise becomes more interested in glad-handing the fans than doing the thing that made them fans in the first place. It’s a pox, and should be treated with antibiotics.
That’s not to say self-referential humor is bad, but it needs to come as a result of the character on screen acting in a way that is pertinent to their situation. Once the people on screen start performing like they know they’re in a movie, we may as well go and hide out in their Winnebagos, pinch all their complimentary fruit and sit about, waiting for the director to yell “cut!”
Or, to put it another way, there’s a huge difference between this:
Luckily, Daniel isn’t entirely sure he can bring off the old swanee whistle approach even if everyone agrees that’s the best way to proceed: “I can’t do shtick, I’m not very good at it. Unless it kind of suddenly makes sense. Does that make sense? I sometimes wish I hammed it up more, but I just can’t do it very well, so I don’t do it.”
And that’s exactly the way it should be.