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Commentary: How Bond keeps killing it

By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times –

To no one’s surprise, “Skyfall” has cleaned up at the U.S. box office. The Daniel Craig-led James Bond picture had the highest domestic opening in the franchise’s history and put itself in a strong position to land in the live-action top five when all is said and done for 2012.

So what does the blowout performance tell us about the Bond franchise and moviegoing at large? We break it down, M style:

—Delays don’t always doom. When legal wrangling over the MGM bankruptcy waylaid the project, there was unquestionably frustration on the part of principals. “Waiting is good, but it doesn’t need to be four years. Two would be OK. Or a good six months,” Craig said last month. Even though setbacks of this kind are generally thought poisonous for big Hollywood movies, “Skyfall” shows they don’t always kill off a film’s quality — or prospects.

—Fresh blood is good. More than any other franchise, Bond is a long-running family business, with siblings Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson keeping a tight rein on Bond’s creative direction for several decades now (as father “Cubby” Broccoli did before them). But continuity in this case was delicately balanced with fresh elements. “Skyfall” saw the inclusion of decidedly non-tentpole-y film figures such as Javier Bardem, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins.

—Don’t ignore the touchstones. Sure, Q, Moneypenny and several Bond characters/tropes were given modern spins in “Skyfall.” But the classic items weren’t forgotten either — at screenings in Los Angeles, for instance, the shot of Bond’s Aston Martin late in the film earned show-stopping applause.

—CG and 3-D don’t need to rule. Another shibboleth of contemporary Hollywood: An ample amount of visual effects are needed for a blockbuster. But with its throwback motorcycles-on-an-actual-ledge moments, “Skyfall” proves you don’t need to go that way. “We want to do things that are stunts, but real stunts, not the kind of thing that takes you out of the movie,” Wilson said.

—Rebounds are possible. Movie franchises tend to follow a jump-the-shark model — namely, once a series loses steam, it’s hard to get it back. Fans and critics were cool to 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” which told a muddled plot and seemed to set the franchise off course. But what applies to superheroes and romcoms doesn’t hold with Bond — a bad outing can be followed by a spectacular one.

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