The Unimportance of Canon in Movies

There was a rightly short-lived discussion on which movies in the 24 movie James Bond franchise are “canon”. Does it really matter?

Although there are threads of continuity here and there even in the early movies, whether they form some sort of a canon is meaningless. The idea is that James Bond is just short-hand for a certain kind of iconic character. We know what to expect from a James Bond movie. Even if you haven’t ever seen one, you probably have an idea, because it has been copied, parodied and just used in so many situations.

I mean, no one thinks to ask whether Basil Rathbones’ and Robert Downey, Jr’s Sherlock Holmes’ are the same. They are clearly not in the same canon. Somehow putting all the variants of Holmes under one canon would be impossible anyhow, since the number of films is huge. Sure, the Bonds are all produced by the same company, but that doesn’t really mean they have that much more reason to keep up any kind of canon. Just trying to get six very different actors, I didn’t even bother to check how many different writers and directors in 24 movies to follow a common theme is not going to pay off in any meaningful way.

The first Bond was made in ’62. The next one will come out next year. That’s a 57 year history. Things change in 57 years. Many of the Marvel’s most well-known superheroes are roughly the same age and we don’t really want to see the original versions of them either. As the world changes, the characters need to change as well. There will be some characteristics that survive. Bond is still borderline alcoholic, pretty much a psychopath, womanizer and the people around him have the same names and roles, but Sean Connery’s and Daniel Craig’s Bonds are not identical. Well, Roger Moore is actually quite a bit different from both of them.

Of course, this is what nerds often do: Waste energy on meaningless studies like this (just like I’m using time and energy on writing about this subject). Sure, it could be argued that it’s good exercise for actual research, which it is. However, what would be benefit from keeping up canon for 24 movies in these circumstances? Would we get anything out of it? Sure, I guess. But I don’t think those small benefits would in any way outweigh the complications and the hoops the creative minds behind the movies would have to jump through.

They did make a decision to have the newest Bond have a continuity throughout the movies, but they also clearly rebooted the character with Casino Royale. So, obviously that can’t be the same character, but why would we expect anything different from the other four times we’ve had a new character in the role?

Bond and Holmes are not the only characters where we should just stop thinking about this too deeply. Does it actually matter what the relationship between Mel Gibson’s and Tom Hardy’s Mad Max might be? Again, it’s just an iconic and easily distinguished character, who will have different kinds of adventures (well, stories would be a better descriptor).

So, forget about canon. I bet the directors have most of the time. They are much more interested in making a good story out of the movie they are making. At least I would hope they are. Sometimes the continuity is important, most times… not so much.

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