Britain’s most characteristic film series churns out its 23rd installment this weekend with “Skyfall.” There’s no action hero more iconic than James Bond, and anyone who doubts that was probably born yesterday.

And yet in the small span of my own life, the Bond series has produced films that border on vanity, superficiality and extreme irrelevance, repeating the same exhausted formula again and again. We get it — Bond can do no wrong. MGM might as well have shipped the series off to Marvel’s offices and converted Bond into an indestructible superhero with a perverse indifference toward women.

Then in 2006, out of the blue, MGM did something that garnered more backlash than any other film casting in history: hiring Daniel Craig (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). The outrage that followed the replacement of Pierce Brosnan was hysterical and almost ridiculous.

The resulting “Casino Royale” couldn’t have rendered the decision more irrelevant even if it tried, which it unquestionably did. Little did we know then, ignorant as we are, that Craig and director Martin Campbell’s genius in “Royale” would change the way we viewed Bond forever.

“Royale” mustered the guts to go where no Bond film had ever gone before — it strove to make its protagonist more human. Yes, I said it. Bond is no superhero, people. And he was never meant to be. Craig’s transformation of a previously insensitive character into a genuinely heartbroken, sensitive, flawed and foolhardy spy resurrected a fading franchise.

The series hasn’t fully revived itself just yet. “Royale” signaled changing times for the series and this change was met with positive response. 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” continued on this track, but lost some footing as director Marc Foster mistakenly confused the Bond set for the Bourne one. And now we have “Skyfall.”

Directed by Sam Mendes, “Skyfall” promises so much potential for becoming a cornerstone in this iconic series and steering it, finally and positively, away from the worn-out antics that rendered almost every Bond movie made in the last two decades utterly forgettable.

Mendes himself is an unusual choice for a Bond director, having mostly directed character-driven, soapy dramas on relatively tiny budgets. But this might be exactly what makes him a great choice. Mendes is no stranger to making iconic movies — “American Beauty” was made with only three things: a captivating vision and two flawless lead actors. More than anything, Mendes’s hiring indicates that the execs behind Bond are still on the path to change — they’re experimenting, and they’re moving the series forward into a place that’s not only relevant to the people of this century but also competitive in a rapidly evolving film industry.

If the initial reviews of “Skyfall” are anything to go by, it’s probably safe to assume that Mendes has managed to make people once again sit up and take notice of Bond. The Bieber generation needs to know that James Bond is not Jason Bourne’s sidekick. And we’re in desperate need of reassurance that this series deserves to be made over 23 times in an unbelievable and unprecedented span of 50 years.

Regardless of how far Mendes manages to push this series’ limits, there’s no doubt that Craig and a string of intelligent and visionary directors have managed to make Bond believable again. The essence of Bond — guns, gorgeous girls and evil villains — will never lose its mass appeal, but without Craig’s intervention, this series would have died six years ago.

Which is why somewhere out there, right now, the man whose casting generated such a furor is having the last laugh. And the joke’s on us.

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