When I was watching Skyfall recently (in London, of all places, where the film was preceded by mountains of commercials and trailers that put in even Australian cinemas to shame, including a little promotional for Skyfall itself), an idea set in my mind, an idea I just couldn’t shake.
In my review, I mentioned that one of the more disappointing aspects of the film was the disproportionate build up we had to the main villain – we gather that he’s an extremely dangerous, intelligent, powerful villain who know MI6 inside and out and has a personal grudge against M. Yet with all of that, we never heard his name, nor caught even the barest glimpse of him – not even a gloved hand stroking a white cat – before Bond finally meets him. It was the sort of build up you give to a character when you are wanting to pull a shocking reveal. But in this case there was no real reveal. When we finally meet Raoul Silva, he’s just a guy, and we need a fair amount of exposition to establish that yes, he really is that dangerous, that much of a threat.
Prior to his on-screen debut, as I listened to all the build up about our villain, I couldn’t help but to get this notion in my head: an idea that I knew could not possibly be true, but that I began to hope more and more was. It felt like the film was perfectly setting up a notion that I knew would have been almost impossible in a Hollywood film. And as this idea took root in my imagination, I began to feel increasingly desperate for it to come to pass. In fact, I have to admit that this whole process may have contributed to my eventual disappointment over the Raoul Silva reveal.
What was this idea? That the villain of Skyfall would turn out to be none other than…James Bond. That is, James Bond, as portrayed by Pierce Brosnan.
You see, for years there’s been a fan theory out there that the different actors playing James Bond over the years have actually been playing different characters who have all used the same code name. Presumably, when one of them was killed in action, they’d be replaced by another agent, trained to do the same job. Now, this theory never really held up, for various reason – eg it’d be a bit of a coincidence that George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton had all lost their wives, and you’d also have to accept the idea that “Felix Leiter” and “Miss Moneypenny” must also be code names.
But at the same time, the theory had traction, simply because it was equally challenging to accept that all the James Bond movies were meant to be one continuous narrative. The movies were just made over too long a period of time, with too many changes to the world, technology, etc. for that to be plausible. Trying to accept Casino Royale as a prequel just added to the dilemma – Judi Dench’s M is new to the job in Pierce Brosnan’s debut film, GoldenEye, but she is a veteran at it when Daniel Craig’s Bond goes on his first mission. (And wasn’t there one where Bond and Blofeld failed to recognize each other, in spite having met previously, just because they were played by different actors? Or was that a plastic surgery thing?) In any case, on the basis of the on-screen evidence itself, pre-Skyfall, you could buy the theory if you were so inclined.
I’ve never been a particular fan of the idea, as it just seemed to complicate things, but as I watched Skyfall, I thought if they were ever going to go this direction, this would be the perfect moment. Brosnan’s Bond would be revealed as the hateful agent who had been betrayed by Dench’s M, had become twisted from bitterness and was now out for revenge. The villain’s motivation would be largely what we saw in the film, except that the angst and weight of it would be amped up to the nth degree. The “code name” theory would be confirmed, and the inconsistencies mentioned above would be lightly glossed over (because let’s face it, it’d only take about 30 seconds for even me to come up with a fan-fiction explanation for why Roger Moore was visiting George Lazenby’s wife’s grave in For Yours Eyes Only).
I’m not saying it would have made a better movie, and it would have been a sort of death to the franchise, but man, it would have been an awesome viewing experience.
In the end, we got a much more “normal” film, including a flat contradiction to the theory, as well as the promise that the James Bond franchise continues beyond its 50th anniversary. This all seems to confirm the general consensus that Casino Royale isn’t a prequel, but a reboot, and that the retention of Judi Dench in the M role is what it was in real life – the rehiring of a talented and popular actress into a role that she was already recognized for.
But actually, we also got something a bit weirder, when you look at it.
As I mentioned in my review, the ending of the film purposely brings us to a point that is meant to resemble the state of affairs back in the first Bond movie, Dr. No. M is now a crusty older man with a slightly antagonistic but more formal relationship with Bond, Miss Moneypenny is his assistant with a never-satisfied flirtatious relationship with Bond, and Bond himself is a professional agent / killer who is comfortable with himself and his job. So it feels like we’re about to head into the Sean Connery films and therefore the rest of the series. But this is obviously after the modernized Bond we’ve had in the three Daniel Craig films. So the 23 Bond films have become a bit of an odd möbius strip that if you try to follow as a continual storyline, will eventually fold back around on itself, with Judi Dench being M both at the beginning and the end of the series, in spite of her (err SPOILERS, by the way) dying.
So anyway, to summarize: Pierce Brosnan as the villain in Skyfall, playing the same character that he did in GoldenEye, et al. I know, that’s just crazy talk. I wouldn’t really want this to have happened – but I would enjoy paying a short visit to the alternate universe in which it had.