Skyfall

Just for a change, I thought I’d take a look at the new Bond film. Variety, yeah? That’s why I’m known as the Steven Soderbergh of the film blogosphere.

Skyfall (2012)

Whilst I think the hate for Quantum of Solace has been way overblown, I think everyone agrees it was a bit of a misfire and certainly not a worthy sequel to Casino Royale. As I’m sure you’re very much aware after the complete media bombardment of all things 007, it’s the 50th anniversary of Bond and the last thing they need is a right turkey stinking up multiplexes when they’re trying to fence fragrances. Thankfully, Skyfall is a return to form. It’s bloody brilliant and I will attempt to justify my position on it using my “big boy” words.

“There’s some men coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.”

When a hard drive containing all the names of undercover NATO agents is stolen, M (Judi Dench) and MI6 comes under fire for their negligence, mostly led by the newly appointed chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). All clues lead back to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) a devious master hacker who has a personal score to settle with M. M brings in Bond (Daniel Craig), who’s not exactly in the best shape following a very near-death experience. Bond must stop Silva from releasing the names before more agents are compromised. Along the way, he gets help from the glamourous but fragile Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), rookie field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and the new Q (Ben Whishaw). The plot is solid. This is exactly what Quantum of Solace was lacking, a simple story with a clear goal. Skyfall is probably the most personal Bond story since Licence to Kill, or even On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With the Craig films they actually seem to be more about creating a three-dimensional hero rather than a blank slate for audience projection purposes. Thank Christ too. For the first time in a Bond film, Skyfall is as much about M as it is Bond which is a bold move that totally pays off. Skyfall actually takes it time in building characters, even the incidental and secondary characters have enough room to breathe and evolve, as exemplified by Fiennes’ Mallory.

Daniel Craig is really comfortable as Bond now. As I said before, one of the only positives about QoS was the fact that Craig hit his stride as 007 amongst all those plot things that didn’t make sense. That’s not to say he phones it in here, after his brush with death, Bond is a broken, past-it agent. He spends a good part of the film unfit and bestubbled. Skyfall contains some proper demons, both internal and external for Bond to battle and Craig does an amazing job. Fuck the critics, he is the best Bond. Judi Dench gets some more to deal with than she has before and reminds us why she’s the national treasure she is. She gives her best performance yet as M and reinforces the stroke of genius it was to cast her all those years ago in GoldenEye. In a lesser film, she’d be the best thing in it, but Skyfall has the scene-stealing Silva played with glee by Javier Bardem. People who have seen the Coens’ No Country For Old Men will know how villainous Bardem can be. He’s utterly charismatic. He reminded me a lot of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. Much like the Joker, he’s amusing but undeniably scary at the same time. I don’t want to give too much away about him, but suffice to say he’s one of the best Bond baddies ever. It’s an incredible performance. Bérénice Marlohe gives a great turn as Sévérine and leaves a lasting impression with the limited screentime she has. 28 Days Later‘s Naomie Harris also does well as Eve, who hopefully does become the recurring character the film sets her up as. Also, hooray for Ben Whishaw as the new Q and the bearded lovely that is Albert Finney.

Skyfall has some amazing sequences. The rollicking pre-credits sequence which evolves from a car chase to a bike chase to a digger bit to a fight on top of a speeding train is awesome and classic Bond. The title sequence and song are also fantastic. Three cheers for Daniel Kleinman and Adele. There’s some seriously entertaining stuff set in subterranean London, a great and tense encounter in Shanghai, it’s just all good. It’s all building to the incredible third act. It’s a grim, stripped-down almost gothic finale that works unbelievably well. It’s quite similar to Straw Dogs but with way more things going bang. I saw the film at the Cardiff IMAX which added a whole new level. Christ, I felt some of those explosions in my sternum. The film is amazingly shot as well with Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins getting the very best out of the exotic locations. Shanghai in particular has never looked so stunning.

Much has been made of the product placement, but I have to say I didn’t really notice it. There was outcry at the notion of Bond drinking a Heineken, but it’s in a very low-key way. It hasn’t replaced the iconic vodka martini. The sparse tuts I heard in the screening when Bond took a swig of the bottled horse piss were soon girlish squees when the Aston Martin DB5 turned up. Double standards, innit. Perhaps in another 50 years’ time audiences will be cheering when 007 downloads a Heineken X5 to his throatdrive. Also, I don’t really have a problem with product placement, as long as the camera doesn’t linger on something for too long or there are lines of dialogue drawing attention to a specific product. Plus, whatever pays the bills. All that sponsorship paid for about a third of the total budget of $150-200 million.

There were only a few little things that bugged me. There are some needless CGI Komodo Dragons at one point which are at real odds with the realistic tone of the film. Also, I don’t think Craig is cut out for the one-liners. There are a few here that just feel crowbarred in. I understand the producers want to get back to classic Bond and a bit of humour is part of that. The film is genuinely funny at times but none of the laughs came from the forced quips. Dalton also had the same problem and was hampered with them in The Living Daylights. Please drop these in future, people. Also, why did the film end and not start with the gunbarrel again? Bond 24 better not do this too.

“She sent you after me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad.” 

There are some surprises in Skyfall that I just don’t want to spoil. Suffice to say the stage is now set for future Bond adventures. As Bond himself says in the film, it’s a “brave new world” and I cannot wait to see where they go from here.

Quantum of Solace

This is it. After 3 weeks or so, I’m done with the 22. I’ll concern myself with Skyfall when the time comes (9 days and counting!) but for now, I’m going to lie down in a quiet darkened room and think about how many precious minutes of my life I’ve wasted on this self-flagellation.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

After the sudden shift into awesome that was Casino Royale, I had no idea what they were going to do next. Was Royale just a one-off to get audiences used to Craig and the follow-up would take us back to a world of campy one-liners and invisible jetpacks? Thankfully, this turned out to not be the case. Quantum of Solace holds the distinction of being the only direct sequel in Bond history. Until now, it had been a series of self-contained adventures, yet here is QoS picking up the action about an hour after  Bond shot Mr. White in the leg in Casino Royale. It’s an interesting idea at least. Whilst I dodged spoilers in my previous review, I want to talk specifics in this one, which will probably spoil the events of Casino Royale too. Just a heads-up.

“I think you’re so blinded by inconsolable rage that you don’t care who you hurt. When you can’t tell your friends from your enemies, it’s time to go.”

Still understandably pissed off by the death of Vesper, James Bond (Daniel Craig) has vengeance in mind against the shady group behind all of that, a massive organisation MI6 know nothing about called “Quantum”. He soon suspects environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) of being in league with them, whilst he controls Bolivia’s water supply. Bond also meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who also has plans of a vengeful nature. I’m not quite sure what went wrong here, but the plot is weak as hell. QoS was written around the time of the 2007-8 Writers’ Strike and it’s evident here. It all strikes me as unfocused. Some long dialogue scenes lead nowhere and there’s little point in some scenes at all. This is really noticeable when I came across what should be emotional gut punches and I found myself to be uninvolved. I’m not a psychopath, at these moments I did have a “oh, that’s sad” kinda thought process, but it didn’t register on an emotional level at all. Often I was as cold and compassionless as a German holiday rep.

 Craig is the one thing that’s holding it all together. Much like Dalton, he’s hit his Bond stride after two films. He’s consistently good. Olga Kurylenko isn’t really a Bond girl as such, she just happens to tag along with Bond to get to Greene. She’s quite similar to For Your Eyes Only‘s Melina Havelock, except a better actress than Carole Bouquet. Mathieu Amalric is nice and reptilian as Greene, but the lack of an actual character lets the man down. Gemma Arterton makes a brief but effective appearance as Agent Fields (she refuses to give her first name, but the punchline is in the credits) and Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) from Casino Royale is back, apparently having proven to be innocent between the two films. Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter is about for a bit and it’s a shame he doesn’t feature for long. Also Judi Dench is awesome.

The pre-credits car chase sequence is great in theory, but the editing is way too frenetic and choppy to really tell what’s going on. The frustrating thing is I know there are some awesome stunts happening, I just can’t appreciate them because of the spasmodic way it has been shot. The last thing you want to do is exhaust your audience before the film’s even started. I had to really fight to tell what was going on. It settles down and has a nice pay off. I sort of like Jack White and Alicia Keys’ “Another Way to Die”, but it’s really ill-fitting as a Bond theme. It just seems off. This isn’t helped in any way by MK12’s underwhelming title sequence. Director Marc Forster brought in his own team to handle the graphics and they’re one of the worst things about the film. The titles coupled with the song remind me of a film school project rather than a legitimate Bond film opening. This is what GoldenEye‘s titles could have been after Maurice Binder died if Daniel Kleinman hadn’t stepped up. So glad the guy’s back for Skyfall. MK12 and Forster are also responsible for the ridiculous styled location titles. They’re really distracting and childish.

With no real plot to speak of, the responsibility of actually entertaining the audience falls to the action. With the exception of the above poorly-shot car sequence, it’s really good. There’s a fantastic rooftop chase that ends in a really unique and cool Rube Goldberg type sequence with Bond and a suspect battling in and around some scaffolding. There’s a decent plane set-piece which works well and the finale is just as stylish and explosive as one would expect from a Bond film. Neat little character moments, whilst fleeting, can still be found. Bond is still like a wrecking ball, tending to kill people before he has a chance to question them and racking up an impressive bodycount. There’s a nice little bit where M inquires about a suspect and Bond quickly replies “Slate was a dead end.”. After being relayed the information, M incredulously says “Damn it. He killed him!”. Camille has a nice character arc which I’m sure would have been a lot better if it wasn’t lost in all the fuckingmegahuge explosions. The Vesper story arc is also satisfactorily concluded, with the final scene being all kinds of kick-ass. By the end, Bond has learned a lesson he won’t forget in a hurry. The image of the Algerian love knot in the snow is a great one. I also like the fact Bond does some actual spying in this one, with him gatecrashing a Quantum meeting at a performance of Tosca. It’s a really cool scene. I also love the fact we get a proper Craig gunbarrel, albeit at the end.

“It’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved.”

Quantum of Solace isn’t terrible, but it isn’t very good either. It’s very average which is a shame after all the promises Casino Royale made. And no, I’m still not sure what “Quantum of Solace” actually means. I assume it’s something to do with how Bond feels at the end of all this, but I’m just grasping at straws. Insane theories to the usual address please. Despite this film’s failings, I still appreciate the direction they’re taking Bond in and I hope Skyfall brings us back on track.

P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to Adam and Joe’s proposed Quantum of Solace theme songs, both of which are great. See here and here.

Casino Royale

Gritty reboot time. Thank God too, because Die Another Day was absolute torture.

Casino Royale (2006)

The Bond series has had its fair share of reboots. Technically, each time a new 007 actor is brought in, it’s a reboot- at least from a tonal point of view. The franchise has been shaped and reshaped since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service way back in ’69. This is certainly the most significant one though. We’ve only known Bond as a full-fledged secret agent. Taking him back to his first assignment and showing him making mistakes and learning on the job was a gamble. Especially when the words “reboot” and “prequel” will get your mouth washed out with soap in any form of polite company. There was a huge furore over the casting of Daniel Craig, most of which seemed to be the fact he came across as a bit quiet at the press conference, he had the fucking gall to have blonde hair and GET THIS- he wasn’t even going to dye it! Clearly he was ill-suited for the role. I’d both love and hate to see what happened if they tried to cast someone of a different ethnicity as Bond. There’d be rioting in the streets. As mine is the only opinion on anything you should ever trust, let me dogmatically tell you that Casino Royale is the fucking nuts. It’s one of the best Bonds period. Plus, I genuinely think Daniel Craig is the best 007. Stick that in your whingeholes.

“Arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand-in-hand.”

Casino Royale takes the Bond series right back down to the wire. We join a newly promoted James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he is sent to confront a shady banker known as Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson). After Bond scuppers his plans betting on the stock market, Le Chiffre has a last-ditch attempt at regaining his lost money by setting up a high-stakes poker game. Bond is entered into the tournament, bankrolled by MI6 to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Accompanying Bond is the treasury’s representative Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), there to make sure that the British government doesn’t directly finance terrorism. The Bond team went right back to Fleming’s source novel for this and changed things here and there to make it more cinematic. It totally works too. The plotting is tight, efficient and pacy. There are some decent twists and turns and the tone is struck just right. This is realistic with a touch of the fantastical, very similar to Timothy Dalton’s run. They knew they’d gone too far with Die Another Day and so a massive effort was made to take the series back to its taut spy thriller roots.

I think Daniel Craig is awesome. I was always baffled as a kid at the huge disconnect between the cinematic Bonds and the literary one. There was certainly no mugging and eyebrow raising on the pages. Craig manages to find a balance between the projected and printed and I can’t give him enough credit for that. Eva Green is not only a fantastic actress and drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s one of the best Bond women ever. Vesper is so much more than just a pretty face so often seen in the Bond flicks. She reminded me a lot of Diana Riggs’ Tracy in OHMSS (which I’m sure is intentional) She’s smart and quite prickly at first, but soon evolves into a complex and completely endearing character. I’m in love with Vesper. I don’t care who knows it either. As for villains, Le Chiffre is a great one. He’s played with a contained malevolence by Mikkelson and he can be quite chilling at times. Whilst he has some sort of physical abnormality (he weeps blood from an injured eye) it’s not pantomime stuff. Getting Martin Campbell back to direct was a good move. He convincingly brought Bond into the ’90s with the mighty GoldenEye and he pulls the same trick again with this film. Also, I love Jeffrey Wright as Felix. Only he and David Hedison have made the character work for them.

In the same way Die Another Day failed right out of the gate, Casino Royale succeeded. We start with a monochrome flashback sequence, showing Bond’s required two kills to become a 00 agent. His first kill, a brutal bathroom thumpfest is disquieting. This ain’t your grandmother’s Bond, that’s for damn sure. Weaving the gunbarrel into the narrative, representing the popping of Bond’s murder cherry is a fantastic touch. I love the titles and Chris Cornell’s title track. This is the anti-camp Bond I’d been wishing for and here it was, unfolding before me like a big ol’ dream map. I’m trying extremely hard not to gush (I may have already failed) but this is the sort of approach I wanted them to take. After 44 years and 20 films basically retelling the same story over and over again, it was time for a change. There were two major influences over Casino Royale. One was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the other was Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films. Both are evident here. The pared-down, character driven anti-camp stuff screams Nolan whereas the impressive and dynamic stunt work is all Bourne. I heard some people criticising the film for being too much like Bourne, but I think the film is a nice mix between the realistic and frenetic Bourne stuff and the blockbuster action stuff. The stairway fight where Bond fights off machete wielding madmen is a good example of this.

What else can I say? The Bond action stuff has always been up there and Casino Royale is no exception. The free-running construction site sequence is incredible. It says a lot about the quality of the film when I loved the quieter tension-filled card games as much as the balls-out action stuff. Highlight for me is the wince-inducing torture scene where Le Chiffre does some very nasty things with a heftily swung knotted rope. The third act is a heartbreaker, again reminiscent of OHMSS. Having said that, the very end left me with a massive smile on my face.

“Any thug can kill. I need you to take your ego out of the equation.”

Whilst the shift was too much for some, I personally love this direction for Bond. I like the fact that we’re seeing him become the world’s most celebrated assassin gradually, film by film. I’ll be very surprised if Skyfall doesn’t take Craig’s Bond a few more steps towards superspydom. In a series that is known for its cartoonish villains, wacky gadgets and double FUCKING taking FUCKING pigeons as much as its beautiful locations, compelling stories and fantastic action, it was nice to not have to qualify my Bond love for once. Casino Royale is a damn good film in its own right. It just happens to feature James Bond.  I don’t know about you, but I’m on Team Craig all the way.

Die Another Day

End of the Brosnan era. I have a small confession. I actually liked this film when it came out. I even bought Madonna’s diabolical title track from it. Fuck you, young me. You may be thinner and less cynical, but at least I know a stinker when I see one. Not to mention the fact that I have seen over one real-life naked lady. In your stupid face!

Die Another Day (2002)

Have you noticed all the Bond stuff about lately? There’s at least 5 Bond adverts on regular rotation on the TV, not to mention countless magazine features, radio plays, boxset releases and a whole host of other stuff. Well, back in 2002 it was the same, but less legitimate because it was only the series’ 40th anniversary. The same old media circlejerking was there, but amongst it there were rumblings of continuous problems on Bond 20, rumoured to be called “Beyond the Ice”. Still, I was stoked. I was a hardcore Bondhead at this point and couldn’t wait for the film. Once it was out, I rushed to see it. I genuinely think the film broke my brain for a while. I liked all the action and stuff but I know I was disappointed with it. However, I went into denial, convincing myself it was great. This still happens occasionally now, but I’m more mindful of it. Watching it back with my lovely 2012 eyes I can see everything very clearly. Jesus Christ, is this poor.

“The same person who set me up then has just set me up again, so I’m going after him.”

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) der derp derrr derr Jinx (Halle Berry) blee blah bloo blah waaarrgh Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) hurrr dee durrrrrrr Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). BLURRRRFF Zao (Rick Yune). Okay, I’m being massively immature, but that’s saved valuable slating space. Whilst the film chose one of the shittiest plots imaginable (there’s a strong story link between this and Diamonds Are Forever) there are some really interesting ideas here. Die Another Day takes some risks. It’s pretty brave in some respects. It’s a pity that few to none of them pay off. Bond getting captured, imprisoned and disavowed is a really strong concept. It’s something audiences haven’t seen before, which is a huge plus when a series has been around for as long as the Bond franchise has. I like little peeks at the chinks in Bond’s armour. We certainly see that when he’s held and tortured in a Korean prison camp. It reminds me of the curveballs that Fleming would throw out sometimes in his books. A villain that models himself on Bond is a good idea too. Graves’ assessment of Bond, calling him out on his “unjustifiable swagger” and his “crass quips” that conceal “such inadequacy” is great. I like the little nods to previous films too, ranging from the subtle (a book concerning birds of the West Indies is seen, the author of which is where Fleming got the name “James Bond” from) to the smack-in-the-face obvious (Halle Berry’s watery entrance in a clingy bikini with a knife on her hip).

Brosnan is still on his game here. Watching his films back, I was reminded how good he was in the role. It’s a crying pity this mess was his swansong, but we’ll always have GoldenEye, dear friends. Halle Berry chews any part of the scenery that hasn’t been exploded. I like her in this. She seems really game and adds a sense of fun to an otherwise deadly serious farce. Toby Stephens joins Berry in the scenery-bothering approach, often biting out lines like a dog snapping at a butterfly in a summer garden. Rosamund Pike is gorgeous, but the “ice queen” thing doesn’t really allow for proper acting. She does get to to have a bit more fun as a baddie later on. I even like Zao, although he’s a really underdeveloped character. His diamond studded face is kinda cool though. Judi Dench is still a badass and Michael Madsen makes his debut and final appearance as M’s American opposite. I get the feeling he was set to become a series regular before the film embarrassed the series so much it necessitated a reboot. He doesn’t get much chance to make an impression, but he’s still a cool customer and I fucking love him in Reservoir Dogs.

Literally from the gunbarrel onwards something has gone terribly wrong here. For some utter arbitrary reason, a CGI bullet now shoots towards the screen down the rifling. Mental. You don’t fuck with the classics. Then, the iris opens on Bond surfing. I realise there are few exciting things we haven’t seen Bond do at this point, but surfing in a combat suit isn’t one I was desperate to see. Plus, it brought back unpleasant memories of A View to a Kill‘s “California Girls” fiasco which I was well on my way to repressing once more. The hovercraft stuff is sound, but having seen TWINE‘s epic intro, even that has lost its lustre. The title song. Oh Jesus, that fucking song. It’s painful to listen to. I like Danny Kleinman’s titles, showing Bond being tortured, but the song is unforgivable. It really is the worst song the Bond series has ever had. Plus, Madonna’s cameo later on is as welcome as a foreskin in my morning Coco Pops.

There are just too many ludicrous elements for it to work. I could buy a space laser/sun mirror thing at a push, but an invisible car? A sequence where Bond is in a rocket car being chased by a huge column of deadly sunrays? A rival gadget car showdown? Gene replacement? A weird insistence on using electric shock effects that look like they’re from the ’80s? It’s just all too silly. It becomes like a parody. The CGI is terrible too. Even in 2002, this looked tacky. There’s an infamous bit where Bond parasurfs away from a tsunami caused by the space laser sun thing burning off a huge cliff of ice. The film is like one giant facepalm. Perhaps because of all this, the film looks fake as shit. It reminded me of the Star Wars prequels, with lovely non-interactive backgrounds and nothing having any weight. Also, director Lee Tamahori keeps doing these weird slow whooshing camera moments. They’re juvenile and really distracting. The jokes are hugely forced and half of them don’t make any sense. There’s a character named Mr. Kil there purely for Bond to make a shit joke about it. Plus, there’s a weird scene where Jinx introduces herself as a science reporter to Miranda. Frost then says as way of conversation something about Bond’s “big bang theory” to which Jinx replies “Yeah, I think I got the thrust of it.” HAHAHA they dun a sex on each other! Firstly, we haven’t heard anything of any big bang theory. What does it relate to? Icarus? If not then what? Secondly, whilst a huge number of Bond jokes are double entendres, this is fucking weaksauce. Urgh. The writing’s pretty bad anyway, but the jokes are the absolute nadir.

I mentioned some of the things I actually appreciate above and that’s basically it for this film. The sword fight between Bond and Graves is pretty entertaining. As naff as it is, I like the car fight between Bond and Zao too. It’s a positive step that Bond is back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin this time. I never liked those BMWs.  That’s it. The ending is one big CGI mess with no tension or anything. Actually, thinking about it, the fight between Frost and Jinx is good too. Nice that it gets the same screen time as the scrap between the hulking great men.

“You know, you’re cleverer than you look.” 
“Still, better than looking cleverer than you are.” 

Die Another Day was, is and will continue to be a real series low point. It’s Moonraker all over again. So many things went wrong with this one it’s hard to pin down just one element as the main cause of it all. What a load of old wank. Tell you what, if I’d have made this film, I’d have put on a dress and asked a cop to fuck me too. It makes perfect sense.

The World Is Not Enough

I believe this was the film Bond film I saw in the cinema. That’s it. That’s all you’re getting from this pre-amble. Fuck off.

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Going through the series, it’s interesting to see where all the Bond actors hit their strides as 007. Connery hit his with Goldfinger, Lazenby only had the one so doesn’t count, Moore’s was The Spy Who Loved Me, Dalton’s was Licence to Kill and Brosnan’s is definitely The World Is Not Enough. It often means a better film, because if your lead is comfortable in the role, they’re more likely to take a few risks and play around with the character a bit, as Brosnan does here. Whilst GoldenEye is the superior film, TWINE has the superior BrosBond.

“Welcome to my nuclear family.”

After an oil industrialist is murdered, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is tasked to protect his daughter and heiress to the business Elektra King (Sophie Marceau). Meanwhile, Bond uncovers a plot to steal a nuclear bomb by the known terrorist and former King kidnapper Renard (Robert Carlyle), a man who thanks to a botched assassination, feels no pain. Bond gets help from nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and ex Mafia boss from GoldenEye Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) to stop the nuke going off and killing millions. I think TWINE‘s plot is pretty decent. It doesn’t steal ideas from previous Bonds and actually has some things we haven’t seen in a Bond flick before. I’m going to talk spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen it, skip to the last paragraph, watch the film, come back here and buy me a yacht, since you’re clearly the suggestible type. To have the big baddie turn out to be Elektra, not Renard is a decent twist. All the Bonds up to this point have been without major twists and turns. I like the bluff with Renard and Elektra (the series’ first and to date only female main villain) does the femme fatale thing very well.

As I said, Brosnan really got Bond with this film. He has an interesting urge to protect Elektra in the beginning. It’s the first time we’ve seen BrosBond show a more complex side. I don’t feel they did enough with Robert Carlyle’s Renard. Carlyle is a fantastic actor, but he’s not given too much to actually do. The film can’t make up its mind whether Renard is an evil bastard or a tragic character. It keeps flitting between the two and as a result it gets hard to get a lock on what you should be feeling towards him. When typing the above paragraph’s fourth line, Chrome put a red squiggly line under the whole thing. Even a web browser knows that “Denise Richards” and “nuclear physicist” don’t go together. She’s pretty wretched in the role and whilst she’s just there to be Bond totty, it’s annoying they didn’t cast someone who could actually act. She reminded me quite a bit of Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Sutton from A View to a Kill. Star of the show though is Sophie Marceau. She’s brilliant. Elektra is a complicated character and Marceau covers all her facets expertly. Not to mention she’s breathtakingly gorgeous. I’ve had a soft (read: hard) spot for her since Braveheart. We get to delve into M’s character a bit more this film and it works. She’s very protective over Elektra and there’s a great scene where Bond confronts her about locking King’s file. Dench is the best. Talking of one-letter wonders, this is regrettably Q (Desmond Llewelyn)’s last film. Whilst he was retiring from the series anyway, it was tragic he died in a car accident soon after completing the film. The Q Branch scenes have always been some of my favourite bits in the series and owe that in no small part to Llewelyn’s lovable grouch.

Can you say best pre-credits sequence ever? I sure as hell can. In the longest pre-credits bit of the series (clocking in at about 14 minutes) Bond has an exciting encounter in Bilbao, MI6 HQ gets blown up, Bond chases a suspect in a Q boat on the River Thames which concludes with Bond dangling on a rope hanging from a hot-air balloon high above the Millennium Dome (or “The O2” as I guess it is now). Suspect blows up the balloon, Bond falls and is left hanging and injured on one of the Dome’s wires. Boom! Titles. It’s breathless stuff. One of these setpieces would have sufficed, but it’s like three in one. I’d forgotten how much fun the opening was. The boat chase is Bond magic. Amazing stunts and some really inventive ideas. Part of the fun of the chase is seeing how drenched Brosnan gets during the sequence. It doesn’t hurt that the titles and title song are class to boot. As with all the Bond flicks, the action’s great. There’s a unique skiing bit where Bond and Elektra are attacked by parahawks (military snowmobile things with parachutes) and an amazing sequence at Valentin’s caviar factory where multi-sawblade wielding helicopters cut shit up. The conclusion on the submarine is pretty decent too.

The rest of the film is good, but doesn’t quite deliver on the stonking opening scenes. I really like that with Elektra, we have echoes of Tracy and there’s even a bit in the skiing sequence which is very similar to a bit in OHMSS. It’s clever to remind us of this because we really feel Bond’s betrayal. He let himself care, dammit! Now he’s strapped to a torture chair that’s slowly breaking his neck (a really good scene, by the way). The conclusion to Elektra’s bit is bittersweet and very well handled. As for the bad, there’s not too much. Richards drags the film down occasionally with her leaden acting. Renard ends up being a weaker villain than a character with his gimmick deserved and the film sags in the middle. The “comedy” bits can fuck off. I really don’t like John Cleese as the new Q. The man’s genuinely funny elsewhere, but his lines are dreadful here. Also, can we stop having the scene where Bond’s superiors are shocked to find 007 enjoying a post-successful mission shag? It’s just what he does. The guy just saved the world. Let him get his end away in peace.

“I could have given you the world!”
“The world is not enough”
“Foolish sentiment”
“Family motto.”

So yeah, TWINE is damn good. It’s the second best of the Brosnan era and when the first is GoldenEye, there’s no shame in that. It’s a really satisfying Bond adventure. It’s just a shame we all know what’s coming next…

Tomorrow Never Dies

Brosnan’s second film and my eighteenth review. Surprisingly, I’m not sick of Bond yet. I am looking forward to being able to pick and choose which Bond adventures I relive though. Chronology doesn’t do the Bond series any favours.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

I’d like to start, if I may, with a biting satirical vignette about a fictional conversation between the Bond people. I don’t want to attribute fault to any specific person, so I’ll just call them A and B.

A: Hey B, so glad GoldenEye was a success! We really risked a lot on bringing Bond back.
B: Oh, hi A. Yeah, it’s a load off. Apart from the massive stacks of cash in my pocket, I think the best thing about all this is that we can take Bond to all new places that ’90s audiences haven’t seen before.
A: Speaking of which, you got any ideas for the sequel?
B: (long pause) Nope. (another long pause) We could be in trouble here.
A: Nah- let’s just rip off You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Audiences fucking love the same shit they’ve seen before time and time again repackaged in a shinier wrapper.
B: Sweet! So glad we didn’t have to come up with anything original! I’m hungry.
A: Me too. Here’s that plate of dicks I ordered.

END SCENE

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”

After the H.M.S. Devonshire is attacked and sunk, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to investigate the possible link between the sinking and powerful media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). Bond encounters an old flame in the form of Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher) and gains a new ally, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Bond’s mission then becomes to stop Carver from starting World War III between Britain and China. As you may have picked up from that blisteringly realistic exchange above, TND‘s plot is just a huge rehash of The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond facing off against a Rupert Murdoch type strikes me as one of those ideas that should have stayed on the drawing board. I get what they’re trying to do, but Carver is just too weak a villain to hold the film. I know he’s deranged, but his whole plan is to start a war for TV ratings. I mean, really? Putting aside the ludicrous premise for a moment, let’s dig a little deeper. Why is he doing this? He’s clearly super rich and powerful anyway. He’s just launched a new satellite and now has the potential to reach every single person on Earth. If he was in charge of a media group that had seen a massive fall in viewers and revenue then I’d understand. Constantly getting exclusives about a developing war would be a huge audience-getter and put you ahead of the pack. The man and the network seem at the top of their game though. I may seem like a have a downer on Tomorrow Never Dies, but I don’t. It’s a solid Bond film with some awesome sequences. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It just burns my piss that they couldn’t wait to restick themselves to the same old formula. I suppose the argument could be made that all the Bond films are formulaic, but they need to do a better job of hiding it.

Brosnan seems a lot more comfortable in the role this time round. He’s just The Broz- and that’s a damn good thing. Jonathan Pryce does well in what is a very loose and non-threatening role. He takes a camp pleasure in doing “evil” things which makes him entertaining to watch. What isn’t so great is an embarrassing and possibly racist (I still can’t make up my mind) moment where he does mock martial arts complete with silly dancing and kung fu noises. Michelle Yeoh makes a great Bond lass, giving us another female Bond equal. I’ve had a crush on Teri Hatcher since The New Adventures of Superman, so I was already predispositioned to like her. She does a good job as the tragic Paris regardless. I quite like the ‘roided up version of Red Grant, Stamper (Götz Otto), but I feel he could have been used a little better. Man of the film for me is Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman. He’s just a joy and completely steals the scene he shares with Brosnan. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.

I love the pre-credits bit of this film. Bond infiltrates (read: “fucking destroys everything at”) a “terrorist supermarket”. There’s plenty of explosions, shouting and and real “fuck, yeah!” moment when the flabbergasted Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer, Dench’s on screen husband in sopfest As Time Goes By, fact fans) watching the action on a monitor at MI6 HQ with the campest Minister of Defence ever, asks what the hell Bond thinks he’s doing. Without missing a beat, M snaps back: “his job”. I want to punch the air every time she says that, I swear to God. The titles aren’t bad either, with Daniel Kleinman doing a great job with CGI circuit ladies and TV screens. Shame about Sheryl Crow’s song though. It’s okay, but the fact that far superior “Surrender” by k.d. lang is relegated to the end credits in favour of Crow’s uninspired warblings is annoying.

Tomorrow Never Dies fixes one of my problems with GoldenEye by Bond actually using his gadget-laden car this time, although it’s still a BMW. The car park sequence where Bond literally becomes a back seat driver in his remotely operated car is a hell of a lot of fun. Stand out sequence by far though is the highly inventive and unique chase where Bond and Wai Lin have to negotiate various pitfalls and obstacles on a high speed motorbike whilst handcuffed together. It’s a real highlight of the film and of Brosnan’s stint as Bond. I’m not just an action meathead though. There are several little character moments I enjoyed too. There’s a little bit where Bond is waiting for a Carver sent assassin in his hotel room. He’s slouched in a chair, pouring himself shot after shot of vodka with his gun at the ready. It reminded me of the similar scene in Dr. No where Bond lies in wait for Professor Dent. I also like the alluded to past with Paris that Bond has. Paris grimly assesses that Bond’s job is “murder on relationships” and gives us a deeper connection to her than we get with most of Bond’s squeezes.

“You always were a cunning linguist, James”

Tomorrow Never Dies is a perfectly fine film. It doesn’t shake up the formula or really try for an identity of its own, but that’s alright. It’s not as good as GoldenEye, but it’s a solid effort featuring a great Bond and some seriously exciting action. It also features a young Gerard Butler on the H.M.S. Devonshire. Tune in next time, same Bond time, same Bond channel.

GoldenEye

We’re up to Brosnan, people. Not far to go now.

GoldenEye (1995)

I wasn’t sure if I could give this one a fair analysis. This film was my introduction to James Bond. Like a lot of people my age, I also played the N64 game to death. The film and the game are indelibly linked in my brain. I lived this fucking film as a kid. I approached the task of reviewing with the same mixture of excitement and trepidation one would as if meeting up with an old friend for the first time in years. Yes, I realise normal people are out getting laid instead of getting weirdly emotional over 17 year old blockbusters, but someone has to review these damn films. Just send your oddly father-centric hatespeeches to the usual address.

“If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong. “

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to investigate the firing of a deadly satellite weapon known as”GoldenEye”. He meets survivor and computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and they team up to stop Bond’s former ally, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) and his psychotic partner Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) from using the weapon on London. Stepping outside of all those warm, gooey memories I have associated with this film, I’d still say the story is a solid one. Before GoldenEye came out, many people had their doubts about 007 returning to the big screen after 6 long years. The Cold War was over and as such the main driving force behind the Bond films had been lost. Cleverly, GoldenEye addresses this. It’s quite a smart dissection of Cold War era Bond. It gets a bit too clever-clever later on, but the initial stuff is extremely well thought out.

Brosnan is the crowd-pleaser of the Bonds. He’s a good all-rounder. He doesn’t bring a new spin to the character, but he doesn’t need to. Much in the same way people defend Moore or fawn over Connery, I will stick up for Brosnan. Brosnan is my Bond. He’s the one I grew up believing to completely embody charm and masculinity. Looking back now, Brosnan is more of a catalogue model than a trained killer, but nevertheless, I love the guy. We’ve had dark versions of Bond before, but Trevelyan takes the prize. Something about his age and the betrayal of the Lienz Cossacks doesn’t add up, but he’s still a fantastic villain. Sean Bean does a great job playing a complete nega-Bond. Izabella Scorupco had a lot on her shoulders as the first Bond girl of the ’90s and she does admirably. She isn’t just there for the camera to leer at and her story is quite affecting. The scene where the Severnaya crew are massacred by Xenia is still horrible to this day. Speaking of her, Xenia is probably the most “out there” villainess we’ve seen. She reminds me of Fiona Vulpe in Thunderball. No doubt the producers spooled through older Bond flicks for inspiration as there’s a female assassin who crushes people with her thighs mentioned in The Living Daylights. The one in TLD is a fucking munter though. Give me Famke Janssen any day. Janssen is completely fearless as Xenia. She throws herself into the role and is incredibly memorable. I just love the idea of a villain who literally gets off on murder. Before this paragraph gets too long, I just want to say that casting Judi Dench as M was a stroke of genius. I’m so glad she’s still doing the role to this day.

So that clever-clever stuff I mentioned earlier. Most of it’s fine. I especially love M calling Bond a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” The thing is when Trevelyan starts asking Bond whether “all those all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed” or if he finds “forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” it starts coming across a little like fan-fiction. There are times where GoldenEye reminds me of the first Scream film in the way that it makes a point of outlining the tropes associated with the genre, but does them anyway. As I said, it’s mostly not an issue, I just wish they’d leaned a bit lighter on the post-modern filter.

Do not think for one moment that GoldenEye is some sort of beard-stroking intelliwank for tossers. Plenty of shit gets blown up. Every action bit works and is still impressive whilst viewed through my 2012 eyes. The opening sequence starting with the huge bungee jump and culminating in a physics-defying freefall leap after a nosediving plane is just great. It’s goofy but hey, life’s too damn serious. The tank sequence is classic Bond and my favourite Bond setpiece ever. I had never seen anything like it as a stupid kid and very few things match it now I’m a stupid adult. The final fight between Trevelyan and Bond is also the best fistfight since From Russia With Love. It’s a thumping, brutal, shit-kicking affair which ends with Bond getting some personal vengeance, rather than doing it all for Queen and country. Both the song and the titles are brilliant too. I really like all the Communist iconography falling to the powerhouse voice of Tina Turner. It’s better than fucking Lulu anyway. As for minor complaints, I have one. Why is Bond driving a BMW? Worst of all it’s a metallic blue Z3, which screams “Essex hairdresser” rather than “secret agent”. Also the (actually really good) Q scene takes the time to set up all the car’s gadgets and Bond never uses them. He drives the car for like 5 minutes. If you’re going to put Stinger missiles behind the headlights, at least let us see them being used.

The supporting cast really stood out to me in this film. We have Alan Cumming doing his best powernerd thing as Boris (and having the dubious pleasure of having one of the most ludicrous demises since Kananga went pop in Live and Let Die). Robbie Coltrane pops up as Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky. Previous Bond villain Joe Don Baker cameos as the American-as-a-Bald Eagle burger Jack Wade. I also think Gottfried John and Tcheky Karyo are brilliant as Ouromov and Mishkin. Samantha Bond makes a great Moneypenny and Q is back- hooray!. Michael Kitchen also briefly appears as Tanner and gets to call M “the evil queen of numbers”.

“For England, James?”

I know the objectively GoldenEye isn’t the best Bond film. It is however, my favourite. I am forever indebted to it for introducing me to the world of 007. Watching it back, I was bracing myself for a moment when it all became shit and a cue to retroactively hate my younger self. I noticed more plot details and found a few flaws, but that dreaded moment never came. I think it’s pretty safe to say GoldenEye is a good film. Take this final rating though as the thick, sticky slice of personal bias it is though. Five stars bitches!