The First Flop Far Far Away

In the wake of Solo‘s lackluster opening weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Released in, 1969 OHMSS was the first “flop” of the James Bond franchise and there are marked similarities between the 6th official Bond film and the 2nd Star Wars spin-off. OHMSS replaced beloved Bond star Sean Connery with an unknown younger actor named George Lazenby, the production was plagued with bad press regarding on-set drama and the script was laden with ham-handed references to previous entries. The story also portrayed a softer side of James Bond. We saw him experience a moment of heartache that helped us understand why he would grow into such a cynical womanizer as the years went on.

 

Audiences balked at the idea of a new actor portraying cherished character and OHMSS under-performed at the box office. Critics rang a death knell for the James Bond series and predicted the character would drift into irrelevance in the 1970s and beyond. The producers panicked and orchestrated a quick course correction. Sean Connery returned for the following film which doubled down on the tried and formula for the series. OHMSS became known as the black sheep of the Bond saga and Lazenby disappeared into obscurity.

As the years wore on Lazenby’s solo turn as the world’s greatest secret agent was re-evaluated by critics and fans alike. Eventually it became regarded as an underrated classic and one of the best in the series. By the time I became interested in James Bond there were some hardcore fans who went as far as to say it was the best Bond film.

I hope that someday Solo will be regarded as an underrated entry in the Star Wars saga. It’s far from a perfect film and an ultimately an entirely unnecessary one. And yet it tickles a place in my heart that I haven’t felt since the first entry in the series. The criticisms leveled at the film are precisely what I enjoyed about it. I like that we see a fully-formed Han Solo rather than see him become Han Solo. We saw how that approach went down with Anakin in the prequels. I enjoyed that the film checked off all of the boxes one would expect in a Han Solo film. I loved that it fixed the Kessell run parsec problem and we see Han shoot first. I like the little references to the old expanded universe lore. Fundamentally I just enjoyed Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. He’s cocky, funny and charming. Like Lazenby he has big boots to fill. No one will ever be Harrison Ford just as no one will ever be Sean Connery but Ehrenreich does a better job than anyone expected and I think anyone else would have been able to pull off.

I’m not worried that one flop far far away will tank the Star Wars universe or ruin anyone’s career. I am worried that Disney and Lucasfilm will learn the wrong lessons from taking a loss on this entry. I’m worried they will make an illogical course correction and steer the franchise in the wrong direction. It’s debatable whether OHMSS is the best Bond film, but history has been much kinder on it than the next entry, Diamonds are ForeverDiamonds was regarded as a welcome return to form for the superspy but now routinely ranks among the worst films in the series. Whereas Lazenby’s bond was youthful, athletic and energetic, Connery is doughy and disinterested in Diamonds, thoroughly phoning in his performance. While OHMSS is a tightly-plotted hard-nosed adventure film, Diamonds is a bloated self parody that lazily drifts between set pieces. The style of OHMSS maintains a timeless quality whereas Diamonds is a dreadfully tacky exercise in 1970s excess. James Bond remained successful for decades to come but in retrospect it really lost its way after their first flop. One need only look to Moonraker or Die Another Day for that reality to sink in. I hope that the next Star Wars film will not be the Moonraker of the series.

The reputation of OHMSS as a flop is actually misleading. Although not a box office phenomenon like its predecessors, the film did make money. And I’m confident that as the years go on Solo will eventually roll into the black on Disney’s ledgers. I hope that Disney chooses to move forward with another Solo or Lando film despite this disappointing take, much in the same way Warner Brothers continues to churn out DC movies despite horrible reviews and mediocre earnings. But even if Solo turns out to be the George Lazenby of the Star Wars universe I will always cherish this charming but troubled $300 million disaster.

 

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How Adam West and Roger Moore Saved Batman and Bond

This weekend an old friend asked me how it felt to lose Roger Moore and Adam West within such a short span of time. It’s an appropriate question considering Moore and West’s version of Bond and the Bat have always existed in my mind as parallel portrayals. Both are regarded as the goofiest incarnations of the two characters and are consistently trashed by “serious” fans. I will admit to fits of nerd rage in which I ridiculed the childish lunacy of Batman ’66 and the insulting stupidity of films like Moonraker. But during their respective tenures as these legendary characters, Moore and West brought a sense of levity, fun and color to two mildly psychotic characters that might otherwise never have transcended their original incarnations and enjoyed such enduring success and popularity.

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Batman was created at the tail end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Second World War. The drab, crime-ridden world of Gotham and the disturbed individuals which inhabit it are stark reflections of a period of extreme squalor and unparalleled violence. By contrast, the mid-1960s were a time of growth, optimism and revolutionary art and ideas in which the original Batman would have been an unwelcome anachronism. Adam West’s gleefully positive portrayal of the Caped Crusader reinvigorated the flagging popularity of the character for generations to come and without him Batman may have gone the way of the Red Bee. Never heard of him? Exactly.

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James Bond is a distinct product of the most paranoid and dangerous point of the Cold War. The novels and early films reflect a time when people suspected their own neighbors and friends to be Communist spies and school children cowered under their desks awaiting nuclear annihilation. In this world, James Bond’s drunken ruthlessness was understandable and even excusable. While the 70s and early 80s were still a long way off from the crumbling of the Soviet State, Glasnost and Perestroika gave the world hope that war between the United States and Russia was not some Thucydidian inevitability. Additionally, the rise of second wave feminism made Bond’s abusive and predatory attitude towards women seem outdated if not criminal. The coldblooded James Bond of the 60’s, slapping women around and killing enemies without compunction would never have survived the age of Shaft and Foxy Brown. Moore tried to portray a darker Bond in his first two films and the results showed a character on his last legs. 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, widely regarded as Moore’s finest outing as 007, offered a course correction that arguably saved the series. From the disco-inspired soundtrack to Barbara Bach’s badass portrayal of a Russian spy who was every bit Bond’s equal, the film suddenly made a 25-year-old English literary character seem as fresh and funny as Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.

Like Adam West’s Batman, Roger Moore’s James Bond kept himself alive by adapting to the changing times and learning not to take it all so seriously. There is a sense of giddy excitement and pure fun that bubbles up when an episode of Batman ’66 comes on TV in the afternoon or a Roger Moore flick pops up during the 007 Days of Christmas. These adventures are like embarking on a vacation with your rich and eccentric uncle. It’s going to be a wild ride but they’ll always keep you safe and make sure you’re having fun. For an entire generation of fans, Roger Moore and Adam West were James Bond and Batman.

But as the two characters entered a new millennium, the lighthearted portrayals that had enjoyed so much popularity started to show their wear, and rightly so. The Batman of the Summer of ’69 and the Bond of the Dawn of Disco were almost offensively out-of-touch in the post-9.11 landscape. Millennials were into The Matrix and Fight Club and decidedly disinterested in seeing James Bond surf and Batman play ice hockey. So after Batman and Robin flopped and Die Another Day disappointed, the two franchises once again underwent a dramatic transformation to suit the era. It was the beginning of Hollywood’s obsession with “darkness,” in which a film’s artistic value was gauged by how miserably humorless their protagonist seemed.

For millennial nerds like me, it was a triumphant return to form. In this new era of “darkness” there was a sense that tinsel town had finally found the “right” way to portray legendary heroes like James Bond and Batman. Growing up reading Ian Fleming Bond novels and Frank Miller Batman comics, I was relieved to find that Hollywood finally “got it.” Casino Royale and The Dark Knight are now almost universally regarded among millennials as the best incarnations of the world’s greatest secret agent and the world’s greatest detective. After the foppish Brosnan Bond and the benippled Schumacher Bat, Daniel Craig and Christian Bale gave us tortured, brooding and supposedly “realistic” versions of these characters that delighted a generation of hardcore fanboys swelling with unrepentant nerd rage over decades of alleged cinematic betrayal by money minded producers who didn’t understand what made these characters tick.

A decade later, I am beginning to feel exhausted by all this darkness and the passing of Roger Moore and Adam serves as a bittersweet reminder that their James Bond and Batman are just as important to the enduring appeal of these characters as that of Daniel Craig and Christian Bale. In art, there is no such thing as the “right” way to tell a story. There is a way to portray a character that reflects the era in which the film is made, that speaks to the young people growing up during that time and understands what that generation needs from the character. The great thing about James Bond and Batman is that they are characters that can be endlessly reinterpreted by different writers, actors and filmmakers. We are lucky to live in a time when we have such an expansive catalog of different versions of these characters. Want a tense Bond thriller? Watch one of the old Sean Connery flicks. Want a heart-pumping, action-oriented 007 adventure? Watch a Daniel Craig film. Want a bizarre art deco version of Gotham? Watch Tim Burton’s Batman. Want a version of Gotham City that mirrors the real world? Watch Christopher Nolan’s. Want a fun version of James Bond and Batman that brings a warm sense of nostalgia and reminds us that we can always have a few laughs even when we’re saving the world? Spend a little time with Roger Moore and Adam West. Bless you guys, you will be missed.

The James Bond Gunbarrel

Despite a variety of interpretations of James Bond both in terms of tone and style, there are certain cinematic motifs which tie together even the most diametrically opposed films in the canon. Whether it’s a hard-boiled, down-to-earth entry like From Russia With Love or a comic-book fantasy adventure like Moonraker, they all contain certain visual, thematic and musical cues which remind you that we’re playing in the same action-packed sandbox. The most obvious of these motifs is arguably the “Gunbarrel Opening” which depicts Agent 007 entering to the James Bond theme, framed by a stylized gunbarrel, then turning to the camera and firing directly at the screen which quickly spills over with blood before disappearing. The tradition first began with the 1962 film Dr. No and until Pierce Brosnan’s swan song Die Another Day was always the first shot of the film.  

The new films starring Daniel Craig shook up a lot of things about the venerable franchise, including the style and placement of the gunbarrel. The latest 007 film Spectre prides itself on honoring many of the franchise’s most cherished traditions, some of which we haven’t seen for a while thanks to Austin Powers and legal issues. While opinion varies among critics and fans as whether these references represent a return to form for the series or simply patronizing fan service, one thing is clear: It’s good to see the gun barrel return to its proper home at the beginning of the film. So before you head off to the theaters to catch Spectre, take a trip down memory lane and see how this iconic cinematic motif has evolved over the last five decades.

Bob Simmons

The original gunbarrel in Dr. No is the only in the series not to feature the actual actor playing James Bond. In this case, stunt coordinator Bob Simmons played the part. It’s remarkable how close subsequent films stayed to the format established here, the obvious exceptions being the titles which appear before the gunbarrel as well as the strange radar sound cue.

The Simmons footage was used for the next two films, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, although the radar sound was removed as were the credits.

Sean Connery

The fourth Bond film was the first to be shot in the Panavision format, forcing the filmmakers to reshoot the gunbarrel for the first time to accommodate the new widescreen format. This time the gunbarrel actually featured Sean Connery, although his stance appears a bit wobbly, and the sequence lacks the punch of the original footage. The footage was rescored and reused for the next Bond You Only Live Twice.

Lazenby

Actor George Lazenby enjoyed a one-film stint as the legendary secret agent and while many deride his performance as amatuerish, most hard-core Bond fans know that this is one of the strongest films in the series. The gunbarrell of this film however leaves much to be desired, due to unwelcome return of the producer credits, a weird “drop to one knee” performance from Lazenby and a jarring moment when Bond continues to walk after the gunbarrel has stopped moving, the only time this will occur in the series.

The Shiny Gunbarrel

Connery returned for one more film in the official series and the Panavision footage from Thunderball was reused, although a bizarre shiny effect was used to spice up the sequence for the 1970s. It doesn’t help.

Roger Moore

When Roger Moore was cast as the third James Bond, a new gunbarrel was filmed featuring the actor. This is the first time Bond appears in the gunbarrel without a hat, demonstrating the changing style from the 1960s into the 1970s. The sequence is scored by Beatles producer George Martin, who added some disco flair to the arrangement. The footage was reused in The Man With the Golden Gun with more traditional music by John Barry.

With 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the filmmakers returned to the Panavision format and the gunbarrel was reshot with Moore. The result is one of the strongest gunbarrels in the series, featuring a confident stride from Moore and a dynamic pose at the end. This footage was rescored and reused for the remaining Moore films despite the fact that the bell bottoms he wears were out of style by the time his stint as 007 ended in 1985. The Panavision Moore gunbarrel also has the distinction of being scored by the largest variety of composers, Marvin Hamlisch, John Barry and Bill Conti.

Timothy Dalton

Dalton is an oft-overlooked Bond actor but his performances his two 007 films are extremely strong, including his gunbarrel. Like his interpretation of the Bond character, his stride and pose are stark, bold and effective.

Pierce Brosnan

Brosnan’s performance in the gunbarrel sequence is one of the least energetic but it matches the actor’s ultra-cool, suave interpretation of the character. The barrel itself looks better than ever, for the first time it seems like an actual dynamic object with physical properties rather than a two-dimensional image.

The footage was rescored and reused for each of his four films but the last entry, Die Another Day added a CGI bullet zooming at the camera. Did the filmmakers think audiences didn’t understand what was happening in this sequence after 40 years?

Daniel Craig

Craig’s first Bond film was a true reboot, explaining the origin of many of Bond’s most memorable trademarks. The movie even explains the backstory of the gunbarrel itself for the first time! Turns out, the gunbarrel represents James Bond’s first kill as a secret agent. The gunbarrel itself was again redesigned and the blood was given a more three-dimensional appearance. This is the first time that the gunbarrel did not start the film and the first time it was part of the story.

Quantum of Solace’s gunbarrel is more traditional, even though it is placed at the end of the film and bleeds into the title for some reason.

Skyfall also features a gunbarrel at the end of the film rather than the beggining.

Want to see the gunbarrel finally return to its proper place at the beginning of the film? Then head out to see the newest entry in the series, Spectre.

The Goldeneye WiiMake

World Domination

If video games are the ultimate expression of male fantasy wish fulfillment, then it should be no surprise that ladies man/human weapon James Bond 007 has become one of the most popular video game characters of all time. At last count, there have been as many James Bond video games made since 1983 as there have been James Bond movies made since 1963. They have gone from beep boop Atari pixelfests to big budget productions starring real James Bond actors like Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Christopher Lee, John Cleese, and even Sean Connery himself. Some of these newer games have been pretty solid, but anyone who’s ever picked up a controller will tell you that the greatest James Bond game of all time is the Nintendo 64 shooter Goldeneye64.  For years, Bond fans and gamers alike have been hollering for a re-release of this classic game. Some have even taken it upon themselves to create unofficial Goldeneye ports in other game engines, such as the Half-Life total conversion Goldeneye Source.

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Since Rareware, the company that developed the original N64 game no longer has the license to release James Bond titles, the original game cannot be re-released. Activision, the game company that currently holds the license, has made a bold move to satisfy Goldeneye fever by announcing that they have re-imagined the game as a modern Daniel Craig James Bond adventure. At first blush this seemed a dream come true for fans of the original, but now many gamers and Bond fans are starting to express reservations. The 2004’s Goldeneye sequel Goldeneye: Rogue Agent was one of the most disappointing Bond games in years.  Also, Activision’s track record with the James Bond license is iffy. They’ve only released one Bond game, Quantum of Solace, which displayed little panache or innovation. Plus, the new Goldeneye’s Wii exclusivity severely limits the game’s graphical potential. Early screenshots look dark and blocky. Of course, we can’t fairly judge whether the game lives up to its lofted name until we got some nunchucks in our hands and try it out. In the meantime let’s brush up on our James Bond video game history!

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The 007 brand is one of the most coveted licenses in the industry. As such, the right to produce James Bond games has switched hands many times over the years. The first firm to hold the license was gaming powerhouse Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers gave 007 his video game debut in 1983’s James Bond 007, a sidescroller for early consoles and computers such as the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. Domark continued with a line of action games based on James Bond movie titles throughout the rest of the 1980s. Many of these games featured a mix of shooting and driving levels, a tradition which would continue in many subsequent Bond games. Domark’s 007 swan song was the polished platformer James Bond the Duel, a challenging game with a rad soundtrack, a primitive cover system, and character animation that captured Bond’s style fairly well. In the early 90s, the point click graphic adventure Operation Stealth was adapted into the 007 game James Bond: The Stealth Affair. With the exception of some Eurocom James Bond Jr. platformers, 007 remained dormant as a video game character for much of the 90s.

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The 90s were an even tougher time for Bond fans movie fans. For six years, moviegoers had gone without a James Bond movie adventure. But when James Bond made his cinematic comeback with 1995’s blockbuster Goldeneye, its  video game counterpart changed the industry forever. Until Goldeneye 64‘s release in 1997, PCs were the primary platform for first person shooters. This precedent was established by the enormous, genre-defining success of iD software’s Doom in the early-nineties. Multiplayer was only possible over dial-up internet or a local area connection. The popularity of Goldeneye’s four-player split-screen local gameplay shifted that paradigm for a generation. Now the most popular first person shooters are console games such as the Halo and Gears of War titles.

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Rareware went on to develop Perfect Dark, and handed the James Bond license off to Electronic Arts. For years, EA tried to recapture the success of the original Goldeneye with a slew of James Bond first person shooters. Like Star Trek flicks, these games were good every other time. Their first, The World is Not Enough, was a decent clone of Goldeneye 64. Their next, Agent Under Fire was the first game to take advantage of the Playstation 2, but failed to capture the Bond feel. Nightfire remedied that problem, and boasted the most fleshed out original Bond storyline of any game until that point. The PS2 version featured some solid driving missions, the levels were sprawling and detailed, and the weaponry was varied and realistic. It was also the first Bond game to feature a cinematic title sequence with an original song. Unfortunately, EA’s next and final foray into the FPS Bond game was the afore-mentioned Goldeneye: Rogue Agent disappointment. In the game you play a former M16 agent with a golden eye who teams up with Bond’s old foe Goldfinger. It was as stupid as it sounds.

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After the Rogue Agent let-down, EA returned to the drawing board and crafted two of the most epic Bond games ever, Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love. The engine used in both games was an innovative third-person cover system coupled with a smooth hand-to-hand combat system. For their time, the production values really shined. The games featured photorealistic recreations of James Bond, Pierce Brosnan in Everything or Nothing and Sean Connery in From Russia With Love. From then the torch was past to Activision, who released Quantum of Solace on XBox360 and Playstation and are currently working on a new game with an original storyline: Blood Stone. Will Activision reactivate the success of the original Goldeneye, or will it prove a disappointment? No matter how the new game turns out, one can only hope that the original version will one day see the light of day once more.

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Villians Always Take the Fall

Let’s face it, there is nothing more satisfying than watching a film’s villain fall to their death. In the history of cinema, villians have fallen off cliffs, skyscrapers, bridges, space stations, radar dishes, volcanoes and all sorts of other crazy shit. Throughout the years, falling to your death special effects have advanced significantly. In the days of Alfred Hitchcock, falling death effects were achieved with a clever mix of matte paintings, rear projection shots, dummies, and clever editing. These days chroma key technology, computer generated “digital doubles” and other technological advancements have refined movie falling death scenes to a fine art form. But with so many death falls, it’s hard to sort out the best. Here’s a special guide to

The Top 5 Bad Guy Death Falls

5. Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon in Star Trek III

Captain James T. Kirk has had a bad day. His ship is destroyed, his son is dead, and his best friends have literally lost their minds. So when Klingon Captain Christopher Llyod tries to pull him into a huge pit of lava, he has no choice but to face kick him to his death. “I…have had enough…of YOU!!!”

4. 006 in Goldeneye

Alec Trevelyn and James Bond were once best friends—good old 006 and 007. But when Alec decides to  become an evil supervillian, 007 has no choice but to drop him off a radar dish and watch him go splat.

3. Emperoror Palpatine

The evilest dude in the entire galaxy gets thrown down an elevator by his own apprentice, Darth Vader.

2. Fry in Saboteur

Hitchcock was the pioneer of the bad guy death fall. The combination of rear projection and matte shots used to produce the effect of the film’s villain tumbling from the Statue of Liberty is still impressive thanks to HIitchock’s nailbiting pacing. View a clip here.

1. Alan Rickman in Die Hard

Hans Gruber’s fall from Nakatomi Plaza at the climax of Die Hard is perhaps the  seminal blue screen bad guy death. Couldn’t find a good clip of it on the net, but it’s on TV all the time and always in the Wal Mart DVD bargain bin.

So that’s my top five. What are yours? Feel free to flame on mine.

Licensed to Kill (in the comedy sense of the word):

The Top Ten James Bond Parodies of All Freaking Time

With the American release of the new OSS 117 film (a series of French spy spoofs), and the burgeoning popularity of F/X’s animated comedy Archer, the secret agent parody genre is seeing a bit of resurgence. In accordance with this exciting new development, I have listed here, for your intellectual enrichment, the top ten James Bond parodies of all time.

10. The Scorpio Episode of The Simpsons

It seemed as though Homer Simpson had finally found a boss less evil than Mr. Burns. But it turns out that the charming and generous Hank Scorpio was actually a far greater super-villain, replete with his own secret agent nemesis, “Mr. Bunt.”

Hank Scropio VS. Mr. Bunt

9. No One Lives Forever (it’s a video game)

I never knew shooting guys in fez’s could be so fun until I played this swinging video game and it’s awesome sequel.

I don't really remember this weird part, but boy this game sure is funny!

8. What’s Up Tiger Lily?

Woody Allen dubs funny dialogue over an actual Japanese spy movie—sort of Mystery Science Theater meets racism.

7. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

I’m just going to put pictures from actual James Bond movies and pretend I thought they were from Austin Powers. That’s how spot on they nailed 007 in the first one.

Yeah Baby!
Throw me a fricking bone.

Just puttin' this in for no reason.

6. For British Eyes Only

Even though Charlize Theron’s character was an MRF (Mentally Retarded Female) she was still more intelligent than most James Bond leading ladies in the “For British Eyes Only” story arc of Arrested Development.

5. Archer

I’m sure Archer will climb even higher on the ranking as this fricking awesome new show continues to dominate your shit.

4. Our Man Flint

Of all the 007 knockoffs, spoofs, and parodies that were released in the spymania of the mid-sixties, this is the only one that kinda, sorta, almost holds up.

Flint kicks a guy in the face. Did this really need a caption?

3. Get Smart! (the show)

Not the movie. I’ll put that on another list. A list of things that are stupid.

2. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

If you squint your eyes and laugh hard enough, it almost looks like this movie stars Sean Connery. Spot fucking on.

1. Any James Bond Movie With Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore

That’s right, when it comes to parodying James Bond, nobody does it better than the real James Bond himself, who was a parody of himself for like, thirty years or something. Christopher Walken wrestling with Grace Jones? A laser battle in space? Jaws turns good? An invisible car? Really? An invisible car. For chrissakes.

Roger Moore, being an old douche.

Bourne, James Bourne?

scubOkay, I’m finally going to wrangle with a ridiculous assertion that critics have been floating lately: that the newly re-booted James Bond franchise is in some way a Jason Bourne clone. C’mon, that’s like saying Coke is a just a clone of Pepsi, or that the State of California is a rip-off of Disney’s California adventure. The reason why the first Bourne film was so refreshing was that it reminded people of the OLD JAMES BOND! Bond was engaging in ruthless hand to hand combat decades before Mr. Bourne was a twinkling in Robert Ludlum’s eye. Bond went rogue decades before Mr. Bourne hit the silver screen. Bond was seeking revenge for the death of his girlfriend when Matt Damon was in diapers.

The Bourne movies served as a catalyst for returning the Bond franchise to its roots, and I praise them for that. The Bond producers reacted to the Bourne movies in the same way they did to their competitors during the “spymania” of the 1960s: They sized up the competition and trounced them.

As for these critics deriding Bond for being a Bourne clone, I am reminded of an American tourist I overheard while visiting the French monastery of Mont-Saint Michel. Looking at the beautiful architecture of the centuries-old structure she commented “It looks just like Disneyland!”