The upcoming Skyfall, the 23rd of the canonical James Bond movies, is one of the four of five 2012 films that audiences froth over prior to its release (others include The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Prometheus, and, of course, Premium Rush). James Bond films, while rolling out every two to four years, are still a kind of cinematic event, promising a usual kind of high-octane spy action thriller loaded with nice suits, classy hotel rooms in exotic locations, and smoking hot European babes wearing sexy gowns that cost more than your last car.
Skyfall will also mark the return of one of the most beloved of James Bond institutions: the character of Q (to be played by the versatile British actor Ben Whishaw), who has been absent for the last two films (specifically, the ones to star Daniel Craig as Bond). Most James Bond fans (including this writer) are particularly fond of the ubiquitous spy movie scene wherein Bond is given a handful of futuristic gadgets to use in the field. As he will be given these widgets and weapons, there will inevitably be a scene later in the film where he will have to use them. Sometimes the gadgets are simple objects, like exploding alarm clocks or wristwatches with Geiger counters in them, but just as often, the gadget would be an entire car, complete with ejector seats, rocket boosters and oil slicks, or even (as in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me) a Lotus with the ability to turn into a submarine.
The Q scenes were also notable for their atmosphere, as they would often take place in Q’s lab, located somewhere deep within the bowels of MI-6, where a bunch of nameless engineers, always appropriately attired in white lab coats, would be testing out strange weapons in the background. James Bond never actually used one, but wouldn’t you have loved to see that knife/umbrella take someone’s head off? And what exactly was the function of the phone booth that could trap a guy inside with a huge airbag as seen in 1995’s GoldenEye? The hints given by these objects only whetted the imagination. Surely MI-6 was up to grander things than what we saw James Bond getting up to.
From Goldfinger, all the way through The World is Not Enough, Q was played by the plummy and reliable Desmond Llewellyn (with the exception, of course, of the non-canonical Bond films, wherein Q was still present, but played by others). Llewellyn’s Q was a welcome reprieve from the tight-collared higher-ups of MI-6, but was also not a chum to James. He came across as an impatient schoolteacher, unimpressed by Bond’s superhuman abilities at stopping bad guys, and annoyed by his propensity to smash up his lovely cars and gadgets at his whim. Few things gave me more pleasure when watching old James Bond films than seeing Llewellyn furrow his brow, and, with his carefully measured statements, plea “Do be careful, 007.” I understand Whishaw, like all the actors to have played James Bond, will have to do his best to make the character his own, but he would do well to take a few cues from Llewellyn’s impatience.
But back to that car. It’s likely that the world would not know the brand name of Aston Martin were it not for the James Bond movies. The Aston Martin DB5 (produced from 1963 to 1965) was selected as the superspy’s car for 1964’s Goldfinger, and came with many of the accoutrements listed above, as well as a rotating license plate, allowing for discreet international travel. The car was so cool, and the film so popular, it almost immediately became inextricably linked to the character. Even though he often drove other car models (out of the 23 Bond films, James drives Aston Martins in a mere nine of them), Aston Martin was Bond’s car. It was just as reliable as his Walther PPK. Sure, BMW made a pact with MGM in the 1990s, and Pierce Brosnan was more often seen driving his Beemers, often by remote, sometimes with the ability to turn invisible (!), but despite the company’s best efforts, we rarely look at a BMW and think of James Bond. When we see an Aston Martin cruising slowly down the byways of Monte Carlo, however… It’s indelible. In a way, thanks to Q’s tinkering, it’s indestructible.
Indeed, you may have noticed from 2006’s Quantum of Solace that James Bond drove an Aston Martin while chasing two sleek and sexy Audis. The Audis, while a match for the AM’s speed, were both nevertheless destroyed, while the Aston came out damaged but still running. How’s that for an awesome car? Also in GoldenEye, it was an Aston Martin that gave a Ferrari a run for its money. Even when it doesn’t have stinger missiles hidden behind its headlights, bulletproof glass, the Aston Martin has become an awesome sex symbol for sophisticated machismo. If you drive one of these silver machines, you will get laid and have access to levels of wealth that only certain members of royalty can dream of.
Many of us can’t afford high-end cars like Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Teslas, and Audis, sadly being saddled with uncool beige numbers made by Geo (reliable, but not sexy). But when we men close our eyes on the open road, speeding haphazardly past the speed limit signs, imagining a foxy Russian minx of dubious alliance in the passenger seat, we can at least, for a few moments, be lords of amazing spy machines. And the symbol on the front hood will be an Aston Martin symbol.
Full Disclosure: This article has been sponsored by Sony Pictures.