Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall
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The Renaissance of Spy Movies

2015 is the year of spy movies. Many of them take a more realistic turn on the world of spooks – something enhanced by the reboot of the Bond series with Daniel Craig. Now it’s 007 himself, who benefits from the spy renaissance.

When the 24th Bond Spectre hits theaters in November, moviegoers already will have relished some good spy action. Be it Ethan Hunt’s fifth run in Mission Impossible – Rouge Nation, the 1960s themed brospense at The Man from U.N.C.L.E or even the happy-campy Kingsman: The Secret Service – this year is packed with movies, that put the world of shadows into spotlight.

2015 is just the peak of a bigger renaissance of spy movies during the last years. Many of them came along hard-boiled and with a more realistic stance, than one is used to when awaiting pens to explode. The Bond family at Eon productions themselves enhanced this new turn with the booking of Daniel Craig for 2006’s Casino Royale. Running since 1961, the 007 movieverse had seen since then five different actors in the role of Bond, James Bond. But it was with Craig, that the producers talked about a reboot instead of just a replacement. With their new hero grim in action, the suave of an ever-smirking Roger Moore seems long gone.

Spy movies were big in the 1960s and early 1970s – and we are not only talking about Sean Connery’s Bond, both debonair and brute in one person – but of installments like The Ipcress File or Three Days of the Condor. Then, though the 007 franchise kept beeing alive and kicking, other spooks shots diminished.

From Austin Powers to Jason Bourne – A new shift to seriousness with spy movies

After the end of the Cold War with the Berlin Wall crumbling into pieces, spy movies had their first comeback – but more of a funny one. Recall Austin Powers or Arnold Schwarzeneggers turn as muscle agent in either Eraser or True Lies. But with a sharpened geo political unrest in the world after 9/11 and especially with the Edward Snowden revelations, we were reminded, what is out there. This brought producers back on the plan to show what secret agencies are all about.

A lot of movies look back at the Cold War or the mischievous era around the world wars. This years Bridge of Spies and U.N.C.L.E. go for that, same as last years The Imitation Game or the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, that cut deep into the Cold War double agent charade in not so swinging London. Newer installments also ask for the role of CIA & Co. in world’s order. See Zero Dark Thirty, Charlie Wilson’s War or even the (brilliant first season of) TV’s Homeland with a CIA Middle East agent and a soldier gone terrorist exploring a dangerous relation between loyalty and affection.

Besides those approaches into the shadows, spy movies come with a new brutality. Heads explode at The Kingsman, bloody fistfights evolve in The Gunman and even comedian Melissa McCarthy is allowed to knife-carve deep into her enemies in Spy. And with the British Spooks: The Greater Good coming to theaters soon, the Guardian attests it’s “essentially a Bond film with all the fun removed”.

Hitting Reality – Daniel Craig put James Bond to a new level

Especially with Daniel Craig’s second encounter as 007-agent, though the movie itself was seen controversial by fans, film maker Marc Foster worked out what seems to be the guideline of the new Bond movies: suspicion. Mr. White in the opening scene hits the point with saying: “The first thing that you should know about us is, that we have people everywhere. Am I right?” That Mr. White – the name suits him as a politically achromatic figure – is the loose tie between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and now Spectre. A never clearing shadow, woven into world’s underground mechanism. It was just five years after Quantum, that Edward Snowden revealed information about global surveillance between the American agency NSA and more of a dozen other intelligence agencies all over the world – using measures far beyond a democratic duty.

This game of deliberate confusion is also found in Martin Scorseses Departed or, bringing back the cold war, with Salt. One can even watch it in the comedy spook household of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Then, this attitude of you-don’t-know-nothing is best displayed in the character of Jason Bourne from the eponymous movie franchise. The Bourne movies might be biggest rival to the 007 movieverse – and both helped each other to enrich and then benefit from the spy movie renaissance.

All that – agency insights, blunt severity and a bit of unease – fits perfectly into the new Craig era. One of the first minutes, Casino Royale had to offer to the audience, was Bond gaining his 00-status with two cold-blooded kills: one fist to head in a gritty bathroom scene, the other … “considerably”. A similar act of bluntness might only be found in rare Connery moments or in the two less successfully films with Timothy Dalton.

But now the time seemed right for Bond to be bad. Both Quantum and Skyfall continued this path – and with the first teasers on Spectre released, one can imagine: It will continue. And it will be dark.

© 2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation and Columbia Pictures Industries. Inc.