Rating Bond’s pre-title sequences – Part 3

Posted: July 5, 2016 in James Bond
Tags: , ,

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And so here we are, the final part of my review of Bond pre-title sequence. Parts one and two are still available.

Four men have been Bond; Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Dalton, but now it’s time for two more men to take up the mantle, but how will there pre-title sequences measure up?

We shall see…

And once again, at the risk of staring the bleeding obvious, these reviews will include spoilers!

 

Goldeneye (1995)

Duration approx. 9:29

Relevance to the film: Plenty, it introduces us to Colonel Ourumov and the duplicitous 006.

goldeneye

You know, James, I think Winter might be coming.

A man dressed in black combat gear runs along the top of a very high dam. He reaches the midway point and clips one end of a coil of rope to the wall, the other he attaches to his ankle. He stands on the edge of the wall, pauses a moment, then takes a swan dive off the dam.

He bungee jumps down some distance. When he reaches the end of his tether he draws a grappling gun and, before he can be hauled back up again, he fires a piton into the roof of a building below and reels himself in. The caption indicates this is a chemical weapons facility inside the Soviet Union.

He uses a laser to cut a way in, so far all we see is his steely gaze. Inside the building we focus on a bathroom. One man leaves whilst another sits in a cubicle and begins to read the paper. The man in black is in the crawlspace above and silently lifts the ventilation shaft cover. Down below the man on the toilet suddenly senses something, he peers round his newspaper and finds a man hanging upside down in front of him. “Sorry,” says Bond. “I forgot to knock,” and then punches the hapless Russian out.

Silenced pistol in hand Bond exits the bathroom and makes his way to a storage room. Inside he is suddenly accosted by a shadowy man with a gun speaking Russian. Bond assures the man he is alone, and the man steps out of the shadow. Suddenly it appears he’s as English as 007, and we quickly learn he is in fact 006.

The two double O agents work their way through the facility. Along the way 006 shoots a scientist. Finally they break into a large area full of huge chemical tanks and pile upon pile of smaller containers for the chemical weapons to be transferred into. Bond suggests it’s too easy, and when 006 tries to relock the door alarms sound proving 007 correct.

The two men split up to plant explosives against the tanks. A couple of guards break in and 006 coldly despatches them, now he and Bond each have a Kalashnikov. Further troops arrive, led by Colonel Ourumov. They force their way inside and a gun battle ensues. When a second door is blown open Bond calls out to 006, but gets no response. When he looks out he finds his comrade on his knees, surrounded by armed Russians, with Ourumov holding a gun to his head. The Colonel demands Bond comes out. 007 complies but not before resetting the timers for 3 minutes instead of six. As he goes to surrender himself Ourumov shoots 006.

Bond dashes back into cover. Grabbing a wheeled metal cage full of smaller tanks he uses it as cover to get across the loading bay. Ourumov orders his men not to shoot, lest they pierce the gas canisters. One man is nervous enough to loose a burst of gunfire at Bond however, and the Russian blithely shoots him.

When Bond can go no further Ourumov thinks he’s trapped, but Bond has a plan, he starts the conveyer belt running and dives onto it, shooting the bolts holding rack upon rack of empty barrels in place above. He’s on his way out while the Russians find themselves under a metallic avalanche!

The conveyer drops Bond outside. There’s a clifftop runway and a light aircraft is preparing to take-off. With more armed guards coming, and with armed motorcycles in pursuit, Bond races after the plane. He gets in and struggles with the pilot, causing both of them to fall out. The pilot is hit by one of the pursing motorbikes, and its rider is thrown off.

Grabbing up the bike Bond races after the pilotless plane.  Ourumov and his men are outside now. They watch in disbelief as the plane careens off the runway and starts dropping towards the bottom of the mountain range, but rather than stopping Bond drives off the cliff edge as well! He dives down and gets into the plane, gaining control before it crashes, and as he flies over the Soviet facility it explodes as his charges go off.

 

And so, after the longest gap between Bond films, 007 is back with yet another new face and, it would seem, a new attitude. There was a lot of talk, prior to Goldeneye, as to whether James Bond had had his day; could he compete against the modern brand of high octane action films such as True Lies. Goldeneye would prove that Bond was very much still in the game, in fact even the pre-title sequence proves that there’s nothing Arnie and co could do that 007 couldn’t match. This was also the first Bond film since the end of the Cold War, which again had led some to wonder whether Bond could go on.

Replete with action aplenty, pithy comments and amazing stunts, this is a truly great opening section that lays much of the groundwork for the film that follows, and also gives up perhaps one of the better insights we’ll get into how a new actor will play Bond.

It’s clear from the off that Brosnan will tread a line between the two men who preceded him, marrying the grit of Dalton with the flippancy of Moore. Whether you think he’s a better Bond than either of them (and I don’t, though I like him a lot) you can’t deny that he knows how to make an entrance.

The dam bungee jump is ostentatious to say the least (I like to imagine 006 just wandered in dressed as a milkman or something) but our first proper glimpse of the new Bond sees him upside down, and he gets to make a pithy comment before any action commences.

The 00 Agents infiltration of the base is wonderfully done, and Sean Beam compliments Brosnan effortlessly. As a slight aside you have to remember this was a pre-internet age, so I actually didn’t realise Trevelyan was the bad guy until he appears in the statue graveyard. Perhaps I was naïve, but I can’t imagine such a twist working as well today.

The scene inside the factory is tense, especially once 006 has been “shot” and Bond’s method of escape is, of course ludicrous, but believably so.

If there is a problem it’s with the plane sequence, but as I’ve said before I don’t watch Bond films for the accurate portrayal of physics. You do have to wonder at 006’s plan as well, was he always planning on betraying Bond, and if so why not just shoot him the first time he sees him? Or did 006 turn after Ourumov only pretended to shoot him? Who knows? Do questions like this mar my enjoyment? Not really. Few Bond pre-title sequences have married humour and action so well, and this is perhaps the best debut sequence a Bond ever got…but we shall have to see about that. Anyway 10/10 for me.

 

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Duration approx. 8:35

Relevance to the film: We catch our first sight of Henry Gupta and, perhaps more importantly, the missing GPS encoder.

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Just doing his job

There’s a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border, but have no fear because it’s being observed. A camera is sweeping the area and transmitting back to MI6 where M is watching, along with her chief of Staff Charles Robinson, British naval Admiral Roebuck and a Russian general.

Robinson catalogues some nasty sounding weapons, before identifying a Japanese terrorist and an American anarchist named Henry Gupta, who seems to have an American GPS encoder. The Russian general is reluctant to commit his troops so Admiral Roebuck orders a naval strike, even though M says her man isn’t finished yet. The HMS Chester launches a cruise missile and Roebuck orders M to get her man out of there. (You’ll never guess who her man is!)

Robinson orders White Knight out but he’s having none of it and all becomes clear when a jeep moves from in front of a plane revealing nuclear torpedoes. Roebuck tries to abort the cruise missile but it’s out of range (which is a trifle worrying given Chester only launched it 30 seconds ago) and so now the worry is that, even if it doesn’t detonate the nukes, it will spread radiation.

Meanwhile back at the arms bazaar a guard is trying to light a fag, someone helpfully gives him a light, then punches him out (mixed signals there). “Filthy habit,” quips Bond before knocking a second guard out and taking his gun.

Bond throws a grenade and by the time it explodes, taking out a pile of oil drums, he’s hanging onto the back of a truck. He leaves another grenade fixed to the truck and jumps off before it can explode. Meanwhile the whole arms bazaar is, well, up in arms. Everyone’s shooting though they’re not sure what at. Bond makes it to the plane and knocks out the co-pilot before taking the front seat. He uses the plane’s cannons and rockets to create more chaos then takes off, narrowly avoiding hitting a second fighter that takes off in pursuit.

Before he can worry about another plane, however, 007 had danger closer at hand, the co-pilot has regained consciousness and tries to throttle him with some wire. As he battles to keep from being choked, Bond has to fly the plane using only his knees, performing some unconventional manoeuvres to avoid enemy missiles.

The second plane has to take some evasive action as well to avoid hitting a mountain and for a moment the pilot has lost sight of Bond, probably because Bond is now underneath him. With no other option 007 manages to hit the ejector seat for the co-pilot and he’s fired into the air, right into the back seat of the plane above. Needless to say this isn’t healthy and the plane explodes.

“Back seat driver,” says Bond (as you would) before checking in with MI6 and asking M where the admiral would like the nukes dropping off.

And so after a big gap between Licence to Kill and Goldeneye the franchise reverts to the more familiar two year spacing and Brosnan returns with a pre-title sequence that ups the action quotient even more, and probably contains more explosions per minute than any other sequence before it!

It’s a fab little action film helped in no small part by a great score from David Arnold that places the 007 theme front and centre. At first Bond is merely an observer, his mission was just to get a camera into place, enabling those back home to make the decisions. In an era before the concept of drone strikes, and with even TV guided missiles not being that widely touted, there’s some intriguing foreshadowing going on here (especially given this could be Afghanistan for all we know).

There’s some lovely interplay between M and Roebuck (made all the sweeter for those who watched Dench and Geoffrey Palmer play lovers for many years in the sitcom As Time Goes By) and it’s clear that the Admiral has little time for spooks. This isn’t about Bond as a blunt instrument, or even as a precision scalpel, this is about the military use of shock and awe, irrespective of the outcome (again strangely prescient).

We don’t even see Bond for several minutes but, as with Goldeneye, Brosnan makes an entrance by punching something then joking about it. His one man army charge into the heart of the bazaar is nicely done, and, to an extent, believable given the chaos he creates. The fighter planes are a nice touch (though even now it annoys me that the filmmakers don’t get their weapons remotely right, and aren’t those nuclear torpedoes just fuel tanks?) and it isn’t the first time Bond’s flown a jet—heck the man flew a space shuttle once don’t forget.

The aerial scenes are nicely done, although the superimposed explosion of the missiles is a bit shoddy, and I suppose an ejector seat punching through the bottom of another plane might cause it to explode. It’s action packed and funny, and as with Goldeneye the slightly longer running time gives Bond a little more room to breathe, allowing Brosnan to be both ruthless and witty, and frankly Roebuck and M’s interchange is worth the price of admission alone. “What’s Bond doing?” “His job!”

I suppose It’s a bit of shame that in just one film M has become so fond of 007, but her (and Colin Salmon’s) involvement only adds to this sequence. Overall it’s very, very good…and yet…watching it this time I couldn’t help noticing just how many explosions there were, and it’s an odd quibble to have, but I do wonder sometimes if Bond shouldn’t quite ever be so action orientated? At the end of the day he’s a spy, an assassin, a finely honed killing machine, but maybe not a one man army. I’m being picky I know, but this does do enough for me to mark this down a smidgen. 9/10

 

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Duration approx. 13:16

Relevance to the film: The murder of Robert King and the attack on MI6 pretty much set up the film, and we also get Bond injuring his shoulder, an injury referenced throughout the film.

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What the hell was Q planning to fish for in this?

In Bilbao Bond visits a Swiss banker to retrieve money that was paid for a stolen report. 007 has to hand over his gun yet still seems bullish when he demands to know who had stolen the report. The banker says he couldn’t possibly reveal that information and advises that Bond should consider himself fortunate to walk out of there alive. Bond suggests he was about to say the same thing. The banker advises that Bond’s position isn’t strong, he is unarmed and there are several armed guards in the room.

Luckily Bond has some hidden assets, namely a stun grenade built into his gun which he triggers by pressing a button on his glasses. He knocks out several guards and shoots another, then holds the banker at gunpoint, demanding to know who stole the report. Before the banker can give the person up he is killed by a throwing knife, courtesy of his secretary. Bond goes after her but the police are already heading up the stairs. He locks the door and prepares to abseil out of the window, fastening one end of the ties from the blinds to an unconscious guard and the other to himself. Before he can make his escape one of the guards recovers and grabs a gun. He has 007 bang to rights but before he can kill Bond he is shot by a sniper. Bond throws himself out of the window. The guard he’s tied to tries to hold onto a table but the leg comes away in his hand and Bond touches down before walking away unharmed.

And cue…oh no, wait there’s more…

Back at MI6 Bond briefly flirts with Moneypenny before going in to see M, who has her old friend Robert King with her. It was King who’d bought the stolen report, and King’s money that Bond had retrieved. King heads off to reclaim his money, leaving Bond and M to enjoy a drink together. When Bond picks up some ice cubes however he notices a chemical reaction on his fingers and realises that the money is booby-trapped. He goes after King but is too late, King’s lapel pin detonates the money, killing him and blowing a hole in the side of the building.

Bond looks out of the hole and spots a speedboat on the Thames. The occupant has a gun and tries to kill Bond but he spots the laser sight and ducks out of the way just in time. Thwarted the assassin—who also happens to be the secretary from Bilbao—makes her escape.

She’s reckoned without an oh-so convenient Q boat that Bond uses to pursue her. As he chases her down the Thames she uses a heavy machine gun and then a grenade launcher to try and take Bond out, but the little Q boat is too agile and he stays on her tail, at one point smashing the machine gun from the back of the boat. When she makes it under a rapidly descending bridge Bond makes the little boat dive under water in order to make it under the bridge, and when he’s cut off from following her he takes a diversion by using the boat’s jet engines to leave the water and scrape his way along a road, before smashing though a restaurant and back onto the Thames close to the Millennium Dome and just in time to catch up with the assassin.

Bond launches torpedoes and the assassin beaches her boat and leaps from it just before they hit. Commandeering a hot air balloon she rises into the sky, but Bond isn’t about to give up, he leaps from the Q boat and grabs hold of one of the ropes dangling from the basket. The assassin tries to shoot him but when police helicopters show up she knows the game is up. Bond tries to convince her to give up, and says he can protect her. “Not from him,” she says and shoots the balloon’s fuel tanks. Bond falls clear as the balloon explodes. He hits the dome and rolls down it, only stopping himself by slamming painfully into some ropes.

Ok now cue music.

It’s interesting given that the pre-title sequences to Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies were the longest in the series before this point, yet in TWINE (Sorry I’m not going to keep typing that title out) we have a sequence that’s half as long again as either of them!

I’ll be honest, TWINE isn’t a particular favourite film of mine, I had issues with it from the first time I saw it and many of those issues started in the pre-title sequence. But I’ll come on to these later. What’s surprising is that this time I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. There’s some nice stuff going on here, it’s just a very atypical pre-title sequence because it almost feels like two stuck together with a small framing scene linking them, and so you don’t get that crescendo leading into the titles, or rather you do, but only after another rise and fall before it.

I do wonder if, originally, the sequence wasn’t supposed to end with Bond walking over the bridge in Bilbao? Maybe the producers felt that was a trifle tame. It’s a shame if this was the case as I actually think the Bilbao scenes are nicely handled. There’s some biting dialogue about Swiss bankers, Bond is amusing yet coldly ruthless and we even have him on the verge of dying until rescued by that mysterious sniper. Really I don’t see why it couldn’t end there.

But by adding in the London bits it becomes a very long pre-title sequence, and matters aren’t helped by the fact that we have to get the scenes with Bond, Moneypenny, M and Q which slow things down they’re fine scenes, and it’s always nice to see Brosnan and Samantha Bond bantering, but not in the bloody pre-title sequence!

We then get the chase down the Thames, which is where I have further problems. First off let’s talk about what’s good. The little Q boat is fab, following on from such iconic vehicles as the Acrostar and Little Nellie, and the location shooting is good. For a series about a British secret agent Bond has actually spent little time in the UK, so it’s nice to see him on home turf for a change. The chase does go on a bit though, and do we really need to see him adjusting his tie underwater? It’s just a call-back to a much cooler moment in Goldeneye on the tank really. I’m not sure about the logic of featuring the clamper guys from a fly on the wall documentary series that was on telly at the time—although I guess the fact they’re clampers means it’s fun seeing them drenched even if you don’t know they’re famous clampers—and in addition the bits where Bond leaves the water to drive along the road seems a trifle silly (I know, I know, it’s Bond) especially when he seems able to steer!

Really though my problems come from the logic of the situation. You’re Renard, and you’ve come up with an ingenious (and exceptionally convoluted) plan to kill Robert King, to effectively have King kill himself. Now I can see that if you’ve gone to that much trouble you might want a backup plan, but really; a beautiful woman sitting on an obviously heavily armed boat anchored right next to MI6 headquarters and NO ONE notices? Suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for being a Bond fan but I’ve always found this ridiculous and exceptionally contrived, especially once you factor in how handy it is that Q has a little boat he was working on nearby.

As a final point there’s Cigar Girl’s suicide. I often find the logic of situations whereby a character kills themselves because they’re so afraid of the villain a trifle counterintuitive. Oh sure I get that a quick death might be preferable to prolonged torture but there’s no indication that Renard would have the ability to retrieve Cigar Girl, and it’s especially ridiculous when we subsequently get to see that Renard, whilst dangerous, is hardly some kind of Machiavellian mastermind so when Bond says he could keep her safe, I actually think there’s a fair chance he could.

So, some nice stuff but it’s too long, tonally too uneven, and far too illogical for me. 7/10

 

Die Another Day (2002)

Duration approx. 12:23

Relevance to the film: We meet Colonel Moon, the villain of the piece, although he’ll look very different the next time we see him. We meet Zao and witness the explosion that will give him his sparkling personality, and we get hints that there may be a mole within MI6. Finally we see Bond captured and witness the beginning of his torture/captivity.

zao_and_moon

Rare footage of the N Korean version of Zoolander

We open on the North Korean shoreline, and three darkened figures are using the surging tidal waters to surf onto the beach (presumably to avoid detection but it seems a ridiculous and convoluted way to infiltrate enemy territory).

After sneaking ashore the three men remove their masks to revel Bond and two Korean agents. Bond is dressed in civilian clothing but his comrades wear the uniform of North Korean soldiers. Moving inland one of the men cuts the power to a beacon, in its place Bond substitutes one of his own. High above a North Korean helicopter carrying a western civilian changes course towards the new beacon. When it lands the man on-board is surprised to find Bond, dressed exactly like him (which must have taken some planning) he takes the man’s briefcase away from him at gunpoint, then takes his sunglasses for good measure (fun fact, Van Buren’s sunnies are in fact Brosnan’s own!)  Once aboard the helicopter Bond opens the briefcase to reveal a cache of diamonds. He plants C4 explosives under the tray of diamonds.

Meanwhile at the headquarters of Colonel Moon, the aforementioned officer is exercising by kicking seven bells out of a punch bag. When he’s done he orders it opened to reveal an unfortunate North Korean, who apparently had been Moon’s anger therapist!

The helicopter lands and Bond is greeted by Moons associate Zao, who surreptitiously takes a photo of Bond. Moon arrives and asks to see the diamonds. Bond asks to see the weapons and a groups of hovercraft arrive, Moon explains that he’s hiding the weapons in the Demilitarised Zone, and that his hovercraft float over the mines there (point of fact apparently this wouldn’t work but, you know, Bond film!). Bond hands over the diamonds.

Zao calls Moon over and advises that Van Buren is actually Bond. Moon feigns friendliness and shows off his new tank-buster rifle to Bond, then uses it to destroy the helicopter and, presumably, kill Bond’s associates. At that moment his father, the General, calls on the radio and advises he’s arriving shortly. Moon orders the hovercraft to return to the DMZ, and orders Bond killed.

007 is shoved to one side but before he can be shot he detonates the C4, creating a diversion that he uses to commandeer one of the hovercraft. He heads after Moon who is on the main craft and a chase ensues that sees Bond take out two smaller hovercraft before finding himself mano a mano with Moon atop the biggest hovercraft. Moon tries to shoot Bond but 007 uses a bullet proof vest to avoid death, then dives out of the way when Moon uses a flamethrower. Finally Bond makes it to the controls and throttles the hovercraft to maximum, the giant fan engine sucks Moon to it and Bond then leaps to safety before the hovercraft, and Moon, go off the edge of a cliff.

Bond survives by hanging onto a bell, when he drops to the ground he can’t resist a “saved by the bell” joke, but the amusement ends soon after when the General and his men turn up, Bond is taken away and we see the beginning of his 14 months of torture…

 

This one posed a bit of a dilemma. I usually cut a pre-title sequence off when the sequence ends and the titles begin, but technically this one kinda carries on through the titles as we see Bond’s incarceration. There may be an argument for it being the longest pre-title sequence in history but really I think it ends when the music starts.

So, after the long winded and all over the place sequence from TWINE we’re back on familiar territory this time (albeit with the twist at the end). Bond’s on a mission infiltrating enemy territory when, as so often happens, things go tits up.

I said in my review of AVTAK that Bond and surfing don’t quite go together, and whilst the sequence here does at least appear to feature real surfing (unlike Brosnan’s CGI surfnotsotastic bit later) it still seems a trifle odd. I think there are certain things that Bond shouldn’t do; roller skate for example, or wear a tracksuit(if you’re my friend Kay) and surfing just doesn’t seem like something Bond would be good out, let’s face it he’s about as far away from the surfer dude as one could imagine.

England substitutes ok for North Korea (I imagine) and the switch with the helicopter is well handled, even if the fact Bond is dressed exactly like Van Buren is actually a little jarring. Moon has a nice introduction, and much as I love Toby Stephens as Graves it is a shame we don’t see more of Will Yun Lee who does a good job here in a short space of time. We see Moon be ruthless, yet also charming and, when he realises his dad’s on the way in, segue into naughty schoolboy mode! Rick Yune is also good as Zao.

Once he’s outed as a British agent there’s a nice scene, just before he’s about to be shot, where 007 scans the vicinity, clearly weighing up his options before he blows the briefcase. The resultant chaos and hovercraft chase are deftly handled and exciting. But…

It feels a little too much like Tomorrow Never Dies lite, and the same concerns I expressed there are magnified a little. Explosions are no substitute for drama, and this is probably more tense when Bond and Moon are just talking, and once it’s down to Bond’s hovercraft and Moon’s the chase gets a little stale as Moon just uses one gun after another (which seems far too similar to cigar girl in the TWINE boat chase).

The eventual fight atop the hovercraft is good though, there’s excellent use of the Bond theme when 007 gets the upper hand, and Brosnan does at least have the decency to look slightly embarrassed when making the saved by the bell joke, which just makes the moment even cooler, and you can’t ignore the originality of having a pre-title sequence where Bond gets captured.

There’s the usual plot holes (how the hell does Moon survive that fall? What was Bond’s extraction plan and who did he expect to get with the bomb given that the plan was clearly to detonate it after he’d departed) but there always are. It has its flaws, and it feels a little repetitious of previous Brosnan sequences, but there’s still enough good stuff here that it just sneaks an 8/10 from me.

 

Casino Royale (2006)

Duration approx. 3:04

Relevance to the film: None, aside from showing that Bond is a brand new 00 agent.

 

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Ere, Mavis, there’s something wrong with the colour on this DVD!

Night time in Prague and a man arrives at a deserted office building. He takes the lift and heads to his office. When he enters however he notices that his safe is open. A voice from the other side of the room advises that whilst M doesn’t mind him earning some money on the side she’d rather it wasn’t selling secrets.

The man, Dryden the Czech Section Chief, seems unperturbed. He turns and we see the owner of the voice, James Bond, who Dryden doesn’t seem remotely scared of. He sits down, opening his desk drawer to reveal a gun, and advises that if M was that concerned she’d have sent a 00. He’s seen Bond’s file, which shows no kills and it takes…

“Two,” says Bond. Flashback to a brutal fight between Bond and another man in a bathroom.

Back in the present Dryden pulls his gun. He says it’s a pity because he barely got to know Bond. He pulls the trigger and the gun clicks empty. Bond holds up the magazine. “At least I know where you keep your gun,” he advises. Dryden asks how his contact died. “Not well,” says Bond.

We flashback again to the fight in the bathroom which hasn’t got any less brutal as the two men smash through cubicle walls and destroy basins and mirrors with their guns and various body parts. Eventually Bond shoves the other man’s head under water in a basin until he stops struggling. He eventually lets go and stands back, contemplating what he’s just done.

“Made you feel it did he?” says Dryden. “You needn’t worry, the second is…”

Bond shoots him.

“Yes, considerably,” he says nonchalantly.

And we flash back to the bathroom for the final time. Bond picks up his gun, at which point the other man suddenly springs up with his own gun. Bond turns on his heels and shoots, we see him through a gun barrel and then blood drips down the picture. James Bond is now a 00 agent.

Where to start? With the arrival of a new Bond came a new, gritty ethos. No gadgets, no puns, no bad guys with hollowed out volcanos. It was, in hindsight, a risky strategy. For all that Die Another Day had been derided it had done well at the box-office. So it was essential that this film hit the ground running.

And boy does it ever.

Almost everything about this pre-title sequence is at odds with what we’ve seen before. There’s no gun barrel at the start, it’s in black and white, Bond isn’t even a 00 agent yet, and yet for all of this it’s a return to the kind of pre-title sequence we haven’t seen for a while; it’s short, it’s brutal and it’s quite intimate. There’s something altogether 1960s about it.

The choice to film in grainy black and white helps make it evocative, as does the shooting style, lots of skewed angles, it’s like nowt you’ve seen before and yet it is clearly a Bond pre-title sequence. The fight is probably one of the most brutal in the franchise, and showcases Daniel Craig’s animalistic physicality to the fore. The scenes with Dryden are even more personal and highlight how cold blooded Craig’s Bond can be. Killing a man in the heat of a fight is one thing, coolly popping him mid conversation is quite another, note the brief glimpse of a family photo as Dryden falls. This isn’t some moustache twiling villain, this is a man with a wife and children.

Bond’s “Considerably” is, let’s be honest, as amusing as any “Shocking” “Saved by the bell” or “What a helpful chap” but it’s gallows humour perfectly tailored to Craig (how I wish Dalton had been as well served).

And then there’s the piste de resistance, the guy in the bathroom not being dead, and Bond turning and shooting him through the gun barrel with the shift to colour as the blood drips down. Stylish, original, brutal, calculating and darkly amusing. 10/10

 

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Duration approx. 3:30

Relevance to the film: A fair bit. Following straight on from Casino Royale it sees Bond delivering Mr White to his MI6 colleagues.

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Good job there’s no Q in this film. He would not be happy!

On a mountainous road in Italy an Aston Martin is being pursued by two Alfa Romeos full of men with automatic weapons. The Aston is, of course, being driven by Bond. Driving through a tunnel he has his driver’s side door ripped off by an out of control lorry. Coming out of the tunnel he maneuverers between two other lorries. One of the perusing cars deftly follows but the other crashes headfirst into one of the lorries.

With the road ahead blocked by traffic Bond takes a detour. The bad guys follow, as does the Italian police. The road Bond’s taken leads to a quarry. AS the bad guys continue to shoot at the Aston, they are in turn fired upon by the police. Unfortunately the Carabinieri are outgunned, their Land Rover is riddled with bullets and crashes.

The men in the Alfa continue to track 007. Drawing level they shoot up the car some more. Bond struggles to reach his own automatic rifle on the passenger seat, but when they come across a mechanical digger in the middle of the road up ahead, both vehicles swerve round it. By the time they clear the digger Bond’s got his gun, he shoots the driver of the other car and it goes off the cliff.

Bond drives to Siena where garage doors open to reveal a long tunnel. Bond parks up at the end and opens the boot of the Aston, revealing a very groggy looking Mr White. “It’s time to get out,” says Bond.

In Moonraker Drax talked about unloved seasons, and there are some Bond pictures that are unloved films, and QoS will be in a lot of people’s lists. Me, I actually kinda like it, in a raw, unfinished kind of way. The initial script of the film was only just finished before the Hollywood writers’ strike, and as a result only Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster were allowed to make any changes to the script which in part accounts for the film’s rough and ready feel, and this feel is evident from the off.

First a little bit of history in the making. QoS isn’t the first film to not begin with the gun barrel sequence, but it is the first film not to feature it at all before the main credits (as Casino Royale just had it at the end of the pre-title sequence). In QoS it won’t be seen until the end of the film, and we will have to wait until 2015 and Spectre before it returns to its rightful place.

It would be wrong of me to say this is a rubbish sequence, it has its moments but over all its poor. For starters the camera work adheres to the Jason Bourne school of keep it shaky, meaning it’s hard at times to see what’s going on. The sequence has grown on me a little with time, but in the cinema I hated it.

The idea of following on immediately from Casino Royale is a novel one (you can argue Diamonds are Forever did this first, but given we had different Bonds and an indeterminate amount of time between the end of OHMSS and Diamonds it’s not clear just how closely it follows on behind.) but we’re never quite sure why Bond is being chased. Were these armed men down the road from Mr White’s villa? Did he manage to get some kind of alert off before Bond snagged him?

The stunt work is good, and the quarry scenes wonderfully grimy, but Bond triumph is less down to skill than sheer luck and there’s always something a little disappointing when the bad guys fire off hundreds of bullets and can’t kill the good guy, yet all he needs are a few to take them down.

The tracking show of Siena is lovely, and the drive down the tunnel quite evocative, but the whole thing ends with a damp squib. Daniel Craig, like Dalton, can be funny, a different kind of humour to Moore or Brosnan to be sure, but give him good material and he can shine, so it’s disappointing that they could come up with nothing better than “It’s time to get out.”

It’s a limp end to a fairly generic sequence. Maybe I’m being too generous but I give this 6/10

Skyfall (2012)

Duration approx. 12:19

Relevance to the film: Introduces Moneypenny, Patrice and the missing disk drive full of NATO agent details and shows Bond shot and presumed killed.

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Bond was a little annoyed that someone had nabbed his reserved seat

In Istanbul Bond enters an apartment to find the aftermath of a gun battle. At least one man is dead and another MI6 agent is badly wounded. Bond is in contact with MI6 HQ and M asks if the disk is missing. There’s a broken laptop on the table and Bond confirms that its disc drive is missing. He begins rendering medical aid to the downed agent but M insists that he gets after whoever took the disc. Leaving the agent bleeding to death Bond complies.

Out in the street he’s picked up in a Land Rover by another agent, and given it’s hardly a secret anymore I’m going to call her Moneypenny. She advises that whoever took the disc is in an Audi up ahead.

The bad guy, who we’ll eventually learn is Patrice, spots them following and a car chase ensues through the streets of Istanbul. The Land Rover loses both its wing mirrors, and when it pulls up alongside the Audi Bond grabs the wheel and slams the Land Rover into the side of the car, forcing it to crash. Bu this point police motorcyclists are in pursuit.

Patrice emerges from the car firing, and takes down several police officers with his machine pistil before taking a police motorcycle and heading off. Bond jumps on a convenient bike and gives chase. Moneypenny follows in the Land Rover.

When Patrice’s exit is blocked off he takes his bike up a flight of stairs and Bond follows. Eventually they both end up on the roof of the Grand Bazaar—much to Tanner’s amazement back in London. Eventually they get back to ground level. By this point Moneypenny has got ahead of Patrice. As Patrice arrives on a railway bridge he has Moneypenny ahead of him and Bond behind so he dumps he bike and jumps off the bridge onto the roof of a passing train. Whilst Moneypenny tries to shoot him Bond rides his bike into the side of the bridge, catapulting himself onto the train.

Patrice is still armed, and continues to hold Bond off. When 007 runs out of ammo all seems lost, until he notes a mechanical digger being carried on the flatbed. He gets into the cab and turns it round so he can use the scoop as a shield. In the process he knocks off several VW Beetles also being couriered by the train, almost crashing them into Moneypenny who’s driving beside the train.

Bond is hit but presses home his advantage. Patrice has shot through the couplings, and Bond’s part of the train is going to fall away. He uses the scoop to smash through the roof of the passenger carriage up ahead, then clambers across the arm of the digger, using it as a makeshift bridge. He drops into the carriage just as flatbed pulls back, causing the digger to pull away from the train.

Patrice thinks he’s escaped but after the train emerges from a tunnel Bond launches himself at him and the two men struggle atop the moving train.

By this point Moneypenny has run out of road. She has a rifle but no clear shot because Bond and Patrice are too close together. With the train about to enter another tunnel she has time for only one shot, which M insists she takes.

She fires.

Bond is hit and falls from the train and into the surging river below. The train enters the tunnel with Patrice still very much alive atop it. In London M is in shock, she stares out of the window and it starts to rain.

Back in Turkey we watch as Bond’s body is washed downriver…

And Bond “dies” again in a pre-title sequence! To be fair I am minded to let them off this, because it’s a trick they haven’t pulled since the sixties, because this is supposed to be a film celebrating the franchise, and because Bond’s “death” and rebirth is such a central element to the film.

And after two fairly low key and in both cases short sequences we’re back in the territory of a long action packed opener (though still not quite as long as TWINE or DAD). We also come to our second film without the gun barrel featuring anywhere before or during the pre-title sequence. I’m not sure why this decision was made, especially given this was the 50th Anniversary Bond, but the sequence starts well and…well it starts well and just gets better and better.

I watched this one with a little trepidation because, whilst I’ve always liked it, I wondered if it would be too long, too full on and action packed for me watching it for the first time with my critical head on. But if anything that made me enjoy it more.

The idea of Bond being in communication with HQ is something we haven’t seen since Tomorrow Never Dies and this adds a delicious new element to the relationship between Craig’s Bond and Dench’s M. within the space of 12 minutes she orders Bond to leave a fellow agent to die, and then orders Moneypenny to take a shot she knows has as much chance as hitting Bond as hitting Patrice. That both of these orders make logical sense, given what is at stake, does not dent the impact of either and again this is a thread that will run through the film (especially given she also sacrificed Silva for the greater good back in ’97) and I wonder how many other pre-title sequences have resonated so much through the film that followed? OHMSS for sure, but maybe no other.

Daniel Craig is superb, I love his trademark disdain when he chucks his empty PPK away (oi, 007 that’s Government property!) and the fact that he just looks ever so slightly miffed when he takes a hit from a fragment of one of Patrice’s bullets.

Even though they’re not together very long there’s genuine chemistry between him and Naomie Harris as they banter over wing mirrors, and Harris is very good here (so good in fact that I do wonder if she’s wasted as Moneypenny and whether she oughtn’t have been just the Bond girl in this film and that was all, she’d have more impact and she is somewhat wasted in Spectre…but I digress) driving like a demon, blazing away and as dogged in her pursuit as Bond is.

Patrice is a so so villain, he has no lines so we never get any kind of feel for him beyond that he’s a hired killer, I always think it must be a shame for an actor to get that kind of role, but then again you also get to be in a Bond film and if they asked me to be the mute villain in the next pre-title sequence I wouldn’t refuse I can tell you!

Dench is wonderful, Rory Kinnear is wonderful, the stunt work is—as always— excellent, and the effects for the most part nicely done. Some of the superimposition of Craig atop the bike looks slightly dubious but I am being very picky here. Plot wise you have to wonder what’s going on and why Bond and Moneypenny weren’t on hand to defend the oh so secret disk drive, but again I’m being really picky and any flaws don’t stop me giving this 10/10

 

Spectre (2015)

Duration approx. 12.10

Relevance to the film: By killing Sciarra Bond becomes embroiled in Spectre’s scheme. The events in Mexico City will lead 007 to Rome and beyond.

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You would never guess Live and Let Die was Mendes’ fave Bond film…

In Mexico City it is the Day of the Dead and a huge carnival is taking place through the streets. As we watch a man dressed in white, wearing a skeletal mask, walks towards the camera. Suddenly we notice a man and a women off to one side, she in a dress wearing a half face mask, he wearing a suit marked with bones, his face covered by a skeletal mask (but we know who it is). We follow them as they enter a nearby hotel and take the elevator up to the third floor where they enter a room.

They remove their masks (and it’s Bond!) and kiss. The woman drapes herself on the bed, obviously expecting romance, but 007 has other things on his mind. He’s stripped away his costume and now has a gun slung over his shoulder. He tells her he won’t be long and then steps out onto the ledge.

We follow his progress as he moves from ledge to ledge, rooftop to rooftop, building to building, until he finds himself atop one building facing a certain room. His gun has a directional microphone attached and so he can hear the conversation going on across the street. Two men are discussing a terrorist attack on a stadium scheduled to occur later. One of the men is the man in white, Sciarra, who Bond was so interested in earlier.

Bond is about to shoot him when the other man notices 007. Bond shoots him first, then another armed thug in an adjoining room. By this point Sciarra has ducked out of sight so Bond shoots the briefcase detonating the explosives inside. As part of the opposing building collapses Bond just gets out of the way before it falls onto his rooftop. As the roof gives way he falls to a lower floor but then has to jump again as more rubble falls. Eventually he drops into a convenient sofa and heads outside.

Sciarra has survived and is now on the street. He and Bond spot each other and Sciarra runs, with Bond in pursuit. The Spectre assassin gets on his phone and requests an evac chopper, telling it to meet him in the square.

As the chopper lands amongst the throng celebrating Day of the Dead, Bond takes out another Spectre henchman before charging onto the helicopter where he begins to fight with both Sciarra and the pilot.

As the helicopter rises up Bond and Sciarra almost fall out, and continue to fight whilst hanging onto the side of the chopper. Below the crowds are screaming in panic as the helicopter performs some very unusual and dangerous manoeuvres up above. Eventually Bond rips the ring from Sciarra’s finger and kicks him out to his death. He manages to dispatch the pilot with equal aplomb and then gets control of the helicopter just in time to stop it plunging into the crowd.

As he flies over the city he examines the ring and notes the octopus logo….

And so we come to the final—for now—Bond pre-title sequence, and it is something of a doozy. I’m not sure if anyone has ever calculated how much each pre-title sequence cost to make, but if they ever do I imagine Spectre’s might rank quite highly, although who knows how much the Mexican Government might have provided in grants given this is a hell of a tourist advertisement!

However much it cost and whoever paid for it is immaterial. What matters is that it looks gorgeous. And then there’s that tracking shot, I’m not sure whether it is a single take but even if it’s not it looks fantastic as we spot Bond at the edge of the screen, then follow him and his lady up to their room, then follow him out onto the ledge.

If anything the small screen makes it look even better, because in the cinema it seemed more obvious that Daniel Craig wasn’t really hopping across rooftops above Mexico City, the sequence always looked good, but it might look even better on the TV.

However gorgeous it all looks however, you have to ask yourself if a film should ever shoot its bolt quite so early, because you could argue nothing in the rest of the film looks this good. You also have to take into account Bond’s flagrant disregard for civilians. I don’t know if he’s ever risked so many lives before now. First there’s him blowing up a building (and who knows how many innocents were inside—one only hopes they were outside at the carnival) and don’t tell me he doesn’t know the briefcase is full of explosives because why else shoot it? But then, even after this, he pursues Sciarra onto the helicopter and then proceeds to have a fight in the chopper as it hovers above a crowd—a huge crowd!—of people. Yes you can argue he saved the lives of everyone who would have been in the stadium later, but you can still see why M will be pissed off. Conceivably Bond could have killed hundreds of innocent people here, and I’m not sure you could point to any other sequence where he’s this reckless.

As a final point I should note that for the first, and perhaps only, time in Daniel Craig’s tenure, we get the gun barrel sequence back in its rightful place at the start of the pre title sequence. Thank goodness!

So in conclusion this sequence looks fantastic. The Day of the Dead setting is gorgeous, Bond’s skeletal mask is damn near iconic, and the cinematography is grand. On the downside is Bond’s recklessness and the fact that, in the end, this boils down to a few blokes having a fight in a helicopter and it does feel a little too similar to Skyfall. Add in how grand in scale it all is, which throws the rest of the film slightly out of whack, and I’m going to be, perhaps, unduly harsh and mark this down, but only by a bit. 9/10

 

And so that’s it. All that’s left to do is add in the last set of films to produce my final rankings! (Note I have rejigged this slightly as I think I messed up the original list!) As I said at the beginning, this is just my view, yours might, and probably will, differ, but it’s certainly been fun to watch them all in sequence, and I promise to update my master list once Bond #25 airs 🙂

 

  1. The Spy Who Loved Me
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Goldeneye
  4. Skyfall
  5. Goldfinger
  6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  7. Tomorrow Never Dies
  8. The Living Daylights
  9. Spectre
  10. The Man with the Golden Gun
  11. Die Another Day
  12. Licence to Kill
  13. Moonraker
  14. The World is Not Enough
  15. You Only Live Twice
  16. Octopussy
  17. For Your Eyes Only
  18. Quantum of Solace
  19. Thunderball
  20. Diamonds are Forever
  21. Dr No
  22. From Russia with Love
  23. A View to a Kill
  24. Live and Let Die

 

 

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Comments
  1. Yup, I loved Casino Royale too. And Goldeneye, but for entirely baser reasons (mm, young Sean Bean…)

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