The other night I watched You Only Live Twice and followed it with For Your Eyes Only - sort of an oddball Bond-fest.
What struck me is that the former had already embraced the "Bond genre" while the latter differed from it considerably (which is why it is the best Roger Moore Bond film).
This reminded me of my occasional rants about Star Wars and how it's transitioned from a superb space fantasy epic to just another genre, replete with its own conventions, in-jokes and so on.
The thing is, genre movies are often diminished - they're judged on being faithful to the genre rather than simply being good in their own right.
To put it another way, it's a rare thing when a genre breaks out beyond its core audience.
For example, everyone agrees that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is by far the best film in the series, but does it make sense to anyone who doesn't know anything about the genre? I don't think so.
This brings me back to the Bond films. Originally they were just spy stories based on some racy books (which I keep meaning to read but haven't yet).
The whole conventional format of the title sequence, ritual visit with M and then Q to get gear - none of that was a given. The early films are a little jarring in that sense.
By Goldfinger, however, the pattern was set. It was reinforced in Thunderball and by You Only Live Twice the concrete had hardened. Indeed, that's what struck me about You Only Live Twice - the series was already descending into something approaching parody.
The opening of For Your Eyes Only was also pretty bad, but the way the wheelchair bound Blofeld was dispatched was almost like a purification, as if the producers were saying "Okay, you're kind of expecting this stupidity, so let's get the yucks out of the way so we can be serious."
It's very different from the other Bond films - no supercar, no bunch of gadgets to be discarded, just Bond following a trail. There are Bond girls of course, but the movie has some fun by having Bond put off by the young sex kitten and preferring the jaded countess, who is more his style.
Bond himself is also more serious and the tension more personal. I'm not saying it's great drama, but it's quite different from the cartoonish exploits of Moore's earlier films.
At any rate, I see the same thing happening to Star Wars. The prequels had a chance to broaden the story and fill in its gaps, but instead they simply recited the same tropes, providing Jedi-worshipping fan service and little else. The sequels were even worse, and will age about as well as the AMC-sponsored car chase in The Man with the Golden Gun.
They'll be part of a growing list of films, but each one will be diluting the original formula. The best of the lot will still be hemmed in by the need for potential viewers to know the back story in order to make any sense.