Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Spectre (2015)

Posted: August 1, 2021 in James Bond
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And so I reach the end of my journey, for the moment, obviously should No Time to Die come out as planned  I’ll see and review it, but for now, this is it.

As you’ve probably noticed it took a while before I got around to Spectre. Mainly because it’s not a Bond film I have a huge amount of affection for, but if this journey has taught me anything it’s that my view of a particular Bond film can evolve over time. Films I thought I loved I’ve found are incredibly flawed, and films I thought I’d hated I found new respect for. And I’ve come to realise that no Bond film is completely irredeemable, even Octopussy has Roger Moore dressed as a clown defusing a nuclear bomb after all…

So I genuinely did go into Spectre with my heart open to revising my opinion…

 And maybe it just caught me at the right time, but I rather enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still incredibly flawed, still nowhere near as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale, or OHMSS or TLD or LTK or Goldeneye or LALD (you get the idea) but I certainly wasn’t bored and there are things to like about it. So, pour yourself a pyrolytic digestive enzyme shake, and let’s do this!  

The dead are alive…

As foreshadowing goes this is quite enigmatic but given the person it’s referring to isn’t someone we’ve met before, isn’t someone James has even mentioned before, it’s needlessly oblique, it’s not like it’s Le Chiffe or Silva. Does lead nicely into Day of the Dead however.

This is a cracker of a pre-title sequence, in fact at times during the rest of the film you might wonder if they’d spent a little less money and time on this, and a little more on the rest of the film it might have been better. But I’m being churlish. The opener gives us something Bond is occasionally very good at, showing us something we’ve not seen before and this is gorgeous to look at, and yes that one long tracking shot is quite clearly not one long tracking shot, and yes it’s a trial run for 1917, but it still flows very well. And you have to love 007’s outfit!

Soon he’s listening in on some baddies planning to blow up a stadium. Not if Bond can help it. He detonates their explosives, blowing up their building, and taking out the building he’s in as well! Luckily, and not for the last time in this film, Bond’s immediate vicinity seems bereft of innocent civilians, so I’m sure no one was hurt in the carnage…

Within minutes Bond chases down the assassin Sciarra. The helicopter stunts are insane, but having prevented all those deaths in the stadium Bond proceeds to put lord knows how many lives at risk because if that chopper came down it was going to take hundreds with it, luckily he prevails, dropping Sciarra to his death, but not before stealing his ring, for some reason?

Cue tentacle porn titles and Sam Smith wailing. I’ll never love that song but it has grown on me.

Now to London where Bond meets with Basil Exposition…er I mean M. I feel genuinely sorry for Finnes, after a strong start in Skyfall he’s immediately undermined by Bond being a dick to him, going off on his own adventures (Bond, go rogue, surely not?) blowing up buildings and basically being about as dismissive as you can be. The relationship between Bond and M has always been snippy, but rarely has 007 shown so little respect for his boss. To further dent Finnes’ part he has to tell us all about the merger of MI5 and MI6, and the fact they’ll have a new boss, and speak of the devil and the hot priest from Fleabag shall appear! Bond says he’ll call him C, I mean we know what he means but it still feels awfully random.

Cue visit to Q (via Tanner explaining MI6’s old HQ is scheduled for Chekov’s demolition). Q shows off a new tricked out Aston, but unfortunately 007 won’t be getting it (spoiler, 007 will be getting it). He will be getting smart blood?? And a watch…WITH A VERY LOUD ALARM! Nudge nudge, wink wink…

Bond encounters Moneypenny who tries to give him a box of stuff from Skyfall but he tells her to pop to his flat later. Setting aside the obvious creepiness of this, what a pointless scene. In a film that’s way too long there’s a minute or two you could have snipped right there.

Bond eventually takes the box which contains some more exposition, though most of it is conveniently burned. He also shows Penny a video of M, no not that M. Christ I know Bond’s treated women as disposable over the years, but the fact that Craig’s now haunted from beyond the grave by not only Vesper, but his old boss is going too far. Anyway M told him to kill Sciarra, and to ensure he attends the funeral.

This will be tricky but luckily he co-opts Moneypenny and Q to help, putting their careers on the line in the process. And he nicks that Aston Martin…so, Bond’s not flying to Rome, he’s driving? When’s the funeral, a week next Wednesday?

After magically teleporting himself and the car to Italy he shows up at the funeral and gets a funny feeling about one of the mourners before ‘flirting’ with the widow.

Ah Monica Bellucci, how excited I was when they announced you were going to be in the film, and how disappointed when I realised you’d wind up with less screen time than Paris Carver. Still, her return home is possibly my favourite bit of the film and Bellucci sells it fantastically. A woman coming home, knowing she’s about to die. She plays some music, takes a drink and goes for one look at Rome. It’s a beautiful scene and a fantastic bit of acting.

Bond saves her, then shags her…I mean maybe she’s into it? It’s hard to tell. For a franchise that wants people to believe it’s no longer as sexist as it once was, Bond’s actions here, as with Severine last time out, approaches Connery levels of uncomfortable.

But hurray Monica B survives!

Bond’s off to a boring meeting now. I’m sure on paper it seemed creepy and mysterious, but it doesn’t translate onto screen. Blofeld’s entrance is ludicrous, as is all the whispering and uncomfortable silences. To liven things up Mr Hinx turns up and gouges some guy’s eyes out.

Blofeld reveals that he knows James is there. Bond scarpers but Mr Hinx is in hot pursuit and there follows a tense and exciting car chase through Rome…

A Jaguar runs after an Aston Martin along the Tiber River banks during the shooting of the latest James Bond movie “SPECTRE”, in Rome, Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Angelo Carconi, Ansa)

Well there’s a car chase, but one so lacking in tension that Bond has time for a chat with Moneypenny during it. Remember what I said about civilians being conveniently out of the way? I’m not sure what time it’s supposed to be in Rome, but it appears 99.9% of the populace got an early night.  

Still it looks good, even if it’s more car advert than car chase (give me 007 in a yellow 2CV over this any day) and it’s nice to see the car’s gadgets, before Bond dumps it in the Tiber. Seriously 007 should be the Taxpayer’s Alliance’s public enemy number 1! I’m not sure how Bond, and Q, explain this.

007 travels to Austria to chat with Mr White, who’s in hiding. Not a very good hiding place is it really, Moneypenny knew where he was, and SPECTRE knew as well, in fact they knew first, so how does Bond get there before Hinx?

Jesper Christensen’s Mr White has been an oddly recurring presence in the Craig films, but this is better than Bond interrogating some random he has no history with, and they have some nice interplay. Cue the kite/hurricane line and White’s hyperbolic “He’s everywhere!” Clearly not mate or he’d have got there before Bond. White kills himself but not before sending 007 off to protect (and/or shag) his daughter.

Enter Ms Swann stage left. Now I’ve felt all along that Blofeld is less interested in Bond than in Madeline, and this viewing did nothing to dissuade me from this line of thinking. As a child Madeline shot Blofeld and he’s out for revenge. She says James led them to her, but she seems to be operating under her own name, so would a global criminal network with a huge interest in surveillance really need a rogue MI6 agent to locate her?

She’s grabbed by Hinx. Bond goes after them in a plane. This is actually a lot of fun (probably the last time you can utter that word about the film) and Bond soon rescues Madeline, not that she really wants him too.

I forgot to mention Q’s random appearance and his drama’less escape from some bad guys. Again, wasted minutes.

One has to wonder just where that ring had been given it seems to have DNA and fingerprints from Blofeld, Le Chiffre, Green and Silva on it! Frankly an invisible car is more logical!

I quite like Bond and Madeline’s interlude in L’Américain, don’t get me wrong, they still fall in love way too quickly, but there’s some nice dialogue, and Bond drunkenly threatening a mouse is funny, especially when it turns out the mouse does know more than it’s letting on.

Cue the train, and a chance for Madeline to show she knows how to use a gun, and to give us the story of the man who came to kill her father. The dinner scene is a shallow redress of Bond and Vesper from Casino Royale, but have to say, Léa Seydoux looks exceptionally nice in that dress!

Look out, Mr Hinx is back…for some reason? I mean what’s the logic of this? Bond and Madeline are on their way to see Blofeld, Mr Hinx doesn’t need to bring them. I mean maybe Hinx has gone rogue, and is out for revenge, or maybe Blofeld wants Bond out of the picture early, but whichever way you look at it there’s little narrative sense other than ‘we haven’t had any action for ten minutes, do something!’.

Fair dos the fight is very good, but yet again any innocent civilians mysteriously vanish, outside of a few blink and you miss them moments the train may as well be empty but for Bond, Swann and Hinx. Kudos for Madeline for showing she wasn’t joking about knowing how to use a gun before Hinx proves he can talk after all, hilarious.

No one on the train calls the police. Bond and Madeline are allowed to get off in the middle of nowhere. Cue classic car arriving to take them to Blofend’s secret lair and unnecessary time spent changing outfits, I get the Dr No homage but this film is already too long, just get to the point!

Not that the point’s worth rushing too. I’m sure on paper the appearance of Blofeld was every bit as exciting as Silva’s arrival in Skyfall. On screen not so much. Waltz is a great actor, but he’s given nothing to work with here. We get some guff about surveillance, Blofeld shows Madeline video of her father’s death and then tortures Bond, except he isn’t really torturing Bond, he’s torturing Madeline. One exploding watch later and they escape in perhaps the dullest action sequence of the entire franchise as a series of bad guys step into view and let Bond shoot them one by one.

The London stuff is a poor finale to a Bond film, and I know they were kinda stuck because rewriting the final act could only do so much but its all so horribly plotted. Madeline walking away from Bond thus allowing her kidnap, Bond taken by Spectre goons who he again takes out with little effort, all to contrive Bond, Blofeld and Madeline in MI6 HQ. Meanwhile there’s a dull countdown to the Nine Eyes going live (never quite sure what it’s going to do once live?) and then Bond shoots down a moving helicopter, with a pistol, at night, from distance, from a moving boat.

Not that the final act is completely beyond redemption. The Hildebrand safehouse is a lovely touch, and yes it’s a complete rip off of Bond/Dryden in Casino Royale, but M vs C is nicely handled, and thankfully M gets some fricken agency back! Plus the scene between Bond and Blofeld on the bridge is great, harking back to both M earlier in the film and Bond in Skyfall, sometimes a licence to kill is a licence not to kill.

And then Bond and Madeline drive off into the sunset…bet we never see her again 😉

What annoys me most about Spectre is how the same team who made Skyfall could make something so inferior in every way. The narrative choices grate. I can still recall an interview where it was said they felt enough time had passed that people wouldn’t make Dr Evil connections, why then lift the premise of Goldmember, where Austin and Evil are brothers? Why imply Blofeld has been behind everything all along, clunkily retrofitting every Craig film to make this one work? I can accept it for Le Chiffre, White, Green and Quantum, but Silva never struck me as anyone’s henchman so it did him a huge disservice.  And then there’s the reveal, much like Khan in Star Trek into Darkness it’s a reveal for the sake of the audience, not the characters. Bond has no idea who Blofeld is, the same way Kirk hadn’t a clue who Khan was. It is I James, the author of all your pain (yet for how all powerful I am, I couldn’t just have one of my myriad agents kill you years ago.)

I like Waltz but he’s miscast, in fact all three of the main villains are done a disservice. Waltz, Scott and Bautista all deserved better, in particular hiring a man like Dave B, a man with excellent comic timing and a booming gravelly voice, then effectively making him mute is a crime against cinema.

But as I said it isn’t like I didn’t still enjoy this, Seydoux has grown on me as a Bond girl, and she and Craig have more chemistry than I initially thought and the cinematography if nothing else is wonderful. The plot may be paper thin and some of the set pieces a little lacking, yet I was never bored, and though the film does go on a bit it flew by unexpectedly.

So as Spectre is the longest Bond film (though it’s about to lose that record) so this review is my longest too. Some may feel I’m unduly hard on Spectre, but it just so disappointed me after Skyfall. Perhaps it will continue to grow on me, and really there are far worse entries in the franchise, there was just so much potential here and it was wasted on a film that wasn’t really about anything. If the run time had been punchier or the action scenes more exciting, I could have forgiven the plot holes (see Skyfall for further details) or if the plot had been sharper I could forgive the lack of tension, but as it is Spectre is poor, it’s just nowhere near as terrible as I’d convinced myself it was!

And that’s it for now, unless I do Casino Royale 1967 and Never Say Never Again of course…and now I can do my epic run down of all the Bond girls! Gotta do something till I can see No Time to Die!  

Skyfall (2012)

Posted: April 1, 2021 in James Bond
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Little did we know we’d have to wait four years to get out next taste of Bond. An unusual gap (it was then anyway) but not without precedent; there was four years between Die Another Day and Casino Royale after all, and of course the gap between Licence to Kill and Goldeneye had been even longer. This was mainly down to MGM suffering financial difficulties, but the gap did at least allow plenty of time to polish the script, and of course ensured that a Bond film would come out in 2012, an auspicious year given it would be cinematic Bond’s golden anniversary; 50 years since Dr No. Could anyone back then have envisaged 007 would still be going 50 years later?

Skyfall is at once a very familiar Bond, reintroducing many tropes that were jettisoned after Die Another Day; Moneypenny and Q return, as does a Bond car fitted with gadgets. In many ways Skyfall is the outlier in the Daniel Craig era, because it seems separate to the wider “plot”, quotation marks intentional because clearly the wider plot has been made up on the fly. Skyfall is the one Craig Bond film where Vesper doesn’t get a mention, where neither Quantum nor Spectre are the overarching bad guys, no matter what the retrofitting of the next movie will tell us.

Yet for all that familiarity it is a film that plays with the franchise in some very unusual ways. A film that celebrates 50 years of Bond, while at the same time deconstructing it. This is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it. That wants to portray 007, and possibly by extension the UK, as tired and old, while still saying there’s a place for both of them. That glories in patriotism without ever feeling jingoistic (no surprise that Skyfall came out the year of the London Olympics, when a more open Britain wowed the world. 2012 seems a long time ago now.)

 Mallory makes it plain he thinks James is too old for this. “Why didn’t you stay dead?” Watch Bond and Q’s first meeting where they discuss Turner’s ‘Fighting Temeraire’, as Q says “Grand old war ship, being ignominiously hauled away to scrap… The inevitability of time.” He might as well be talking about Bond. Moneypenny’s comments about cutthroat razors being “very traditional” before adding “old dog, new tricks.” Silva laughs at Bond’s old-fashioned notions, and later as Kincade says “Sometimes the old ways are the best”. Most telling of all is M quoting Tennyson. “We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven.”

Watch as aspects of Bond’s existence are torn down. MI6 headquarters, the Aston Martin, the house he grew up in and, most noticeably, the death of Judi Dench’s M. Bond emerges from all of this though, and the world of 007 is reset. M returns to a very traditional office with leather quilted doors (and returns to being a man). Moneypenny is back in the office, Q is back in the lab, and Bond is back on active service like he’s never been away. As an aside I’ve discovered that in M’s new office there’s a picture of Trafalgar, primarily it shows HMS Victory, but by her side is the Temeraire, back in her heyday. The ship is reborn, as is 007.

The pre-title sequence in Turkey is great, and foreshadows Silva’s issues with M not once, but twice. She insists Bond leave his fellow agent to die, then further orders Moneypenny to “take the bloody shot” despite the fact 007 is in the way. The chase is thrilling and its finale as Bond plunges into the water is excellent, segueing into a great title sequence accompanied by Adelle’s banging Bond tune (second best of the DC era after You Know My Name).

Yes the hard drive full of agents’ names is a clear rip off of the NOC list from Mission Impossible, but it’s purely a McGuffin so who cares, especially as it’s quickly forgotten by the time we’re halfway into the film. It isn’t important except as a means for Silva to torture M.

I’m still not entirely sure why M is stopped on the bridge, coincidence, are those copper’s Silva’s men? Again, it isn’t important. Agents are dead, MI6 has been attacked, so it’s time for Bond to return from enjoying death.

The scene between 007 and M in her home is a joy. The two of them have so much chemistry and despite it all M’s still the one in charge. “You’re not staying here.”

Bond’s evaluation shows he’s broken in more ways than one, and frankly even before M tells Tanner that he failed the tests it’s bloody obvious he has. M despatches him to Shanghai where he kills Patrice, then, aided by Moneypenny, follows a trail to Macau and the mysterious Sévérine who he convinces to introduce him to her boss.

 Sévérine’s fear bigs up Silva, and nine times out of ten this kind of talk falls flat when we actually meet the bad guy (see Renard in TWINE or Blofeld in Spectre) but here it works, because Silva doesn’t disappoint. In all seriousness few characters make an entrance quite as memorable as Javier Bardem does here. Silva is affable and terrifying, camp as a row of tents yet with a reptilian edge that’s creepy as anything. Truly one of the best Bond villains.

Of course, his grand scheme is preposterous. If he wanted to kill M he could have easily done what Bond did and break into her home, yet it works because of the nature of the character. Look at that entrance, and his later arrival at Skyfall. Look at his home (based on Battleship Island) he loves theatricality. The idea of sneaking into M’s bedroom and murdering her in her sleep wouldn’t have crossed his mind. Instead we have a ridiculous scheme likely years in the planning, and yes it relies on a hundred different contrivances.

But I don’t care.

At the end of the day the script is so good (thematically and in terms of dialogue), the direction so assured, and Bardem, Craig and Dench so on top of their game that it doesn’t matter that you could drive a truck though the holes in Silva’s plan.

Some people dislike the final act, it’s a bit too Home Alone, though you could argue it’s more Straw Dogs, and to be honest the first time I saw the film I was a bit sniffy, but subsequent viewings shifted my view, especially once the lightbulb moment struck. For fifty years Bond has been waltzing into the villain’s secret base and blowing it up, this flips it. Skyfall isn’t the villain’s lair, it’s 007’s and it’s the villain that shoots it up (yes technically Bond blows it up but it’s already a ruin by then, and after all Blofeld blew up that volcano when he knew the game was up.) You have to give kudos to a film 50 years into a franchise that can do something so different.

Practically everything about this film is superb. Newman isn’t a patch on Arnold, yet his mournful score works, rising to triumph as required when Bond is, well Bond. Yes it would have been nice to have a bit more of the Bond theme but you can’t have everything.

Mendes’ direction is flawless, aided and abetted by the cinematography of Roger Deakins. Skyfall is arguably the most beautiful Bond film, a fact made even more impressive when you realise so many of the lavish foreign locations were shot in the UK. M stood beyond those Union flag draped coffins, Bond and Patrice’s fight in Shanghai, Scotland…why Deakins didn’t win the Oscar for this is anyone’s guess.

The set pieces are superb, from the pre-title sequence to Bond and Patrice’s second fight, Bond despatching henchmen in the casino and proving Silva wrong on the island (though maybe that was Silva’s plan all along eh?) the underground chase is exciting, but for me the highlight of the film is the inquiry, beautifully shot, Dench’s recitation of Tennyson is lovely, and Newman’s score as Bond runs to the rescue is the icing on the cake; bonus points for Mallory and Moneypenny kicking arse into the bargain.  

Yes I can see why some didn’t like this film because it’s so nostalgia heavy (and one day I will sit down and list all the bloody homages because there are dozens of them) and because it doesn’t seem to be the same 007 as Casino Royale and Quantum. Maybe that’s why I like it. However good Casino Royale is—and it is amazing—I can never shake the suspicion that its slightly embarrassed to be a Bond film, whereas Skyfall embraces it.

Outside of the central trio, hats off to Whishaw, Harris and Fiennes who are flawless. Whishaw is the very antithesis of Llewelyn yet still manages to have the kind of snarky interplay with 007 we’ve known and loved. Similarly Harris has fun with a much more active Moneypenny, and the question remains, how close did she and Bond get in Macau? That leaves Fiennes, who frankly is one of the best actors on the planet so of course he’s great. Mallory has a lot of depth given his limited screen time. At times something of a prick, at others honourable and the only one at the inquiry who wants to hear from M, and the old soldier who can still take down a bad guy. Dench was a fantastic M, but here at least Fiennes proves a more than able successor.

There is an argument that the film’s treatment of women isn’t great. From Bond using Severine, a victim of the sex trade, to get what he wants, to the death of our first female M, and then of course there’s Moneypenny. That Eve is portrayed as a more than competent agent here is great, but that just makes her eventual decision to jack it all in to become a PA all the more galling. It’s a shame because Harris is really very good.

Skyfall isn’t perfect, like most Craig Bond films it’s too long (though the pacing never feels quite as off as it does with Casino Royale, Silva’s plan is ridiculous and the fact that every female character ends up dead or behind a desk isn’t a great look for a 21st Century Bond film.

And yet…

Skyfall remains my favourite Bond film of the Daniel Craig era. Gorgeous to look at, glorious to listen to, full of nuance and jam packed with great performances. I could watch the inquiry scenes on a loop and not get bored, listen to Bardem talk about rats over and over again. For me this is the pinnacle of Craig’s tenure (unless No Time to Die takes its crown.)

Mommy was very bad, but Skyfall is very good.

One film left in my re-watch, same core cast as this one, same director, yet a film I have very different feelings about. But who knows, if this process has taught me anything it’s that films I thought I loved I now dislike, and films I hated I’ve occasional reappraised with hindsight.

So maybe Spectre will be great!

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Posted: February 10, 2021 in James Bond
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Following up a monumental hit like Casino Royale was always going to be tricky, but likely Eon didn’t imagine it would wind up quite as tricky as it did. A speedy production schedule was further complicated by a Writers’ strike. A bare bones script was fleshed out by director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig on set, the only people allowed to work on it. The result is a film that feels raw and unfinished, and a film many see as a poor follow up to Casino Royale and a poor Bond film in general.

Let’s be honest here, it’s no Casino Royale, and it’s clearly a film that proved problematic to make. And yet…there is a lot to like about it, and while it wasn’t initially intended to be such a sequel to Casino Royale, the two films bookend each other well, which I like.

After all Casino Royale begins in snowy Eastern Europe and ends in sunny Italy. By contrast Quantum of Solace begins in sunny Italy and ends in snowy Eastern Europe. There’s a nice symmetry to that.

The film opens with a car chase. I’ve no idea how Mr White’s associates realised he’d been taken prisoner, but here they are, chasing 007. It’s a pre-title sequence that’s grown on me over the years, to the point now where I quite like it. Still, the nod to Jason Bourne is obvious (i.e., shake the camera a lot and make it hard for anyone to see what’s going on) But it’s gritty and in your face, and features a nice denouement. Shame about Bond’s “It’s time to get out,” though, not exactly a witty pun.

M proceeds to try and scare Mr White, with clear allusions to Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition, but he doesn’t seem easily spooked. His line about having people everywhere is followed up by M’s bodyguard trying to kill her. Here the quick edits work to the film’s advantage, because for a second you genuinely believe M’s been shot (clearly ridiculous, they’d never kill Dame Judi off).

Bond’s quickly in pursuit and a rooftop chase across Sienna ensues. I wonder if this was supposed to be the pre-title sequence, especially given it ends with Bond shooting Mitchell, which would have meant another novel gun barrel moment. The film could just as easily have started with Bond arriving at the safehouse, but then I suppose the film would have had one less action scene and would have been even shorter. Which is fine, Quantum of Solace’s brevity is one of the things I like about it.

Some claim this is another sop to Bourne, where Matt Damon chases someone across the roofs of Tangier. Everyone forgets that Dalton was chased across the rooftops of Tangier decades earlier, and that even before this there’s a deleted scene from OHMSS where Lazenby tracks someone across the rooftops of London, who who’s ripping off who Mr Bourne?

It’s a decent set piece, even if half the time it feels more like a travelogue as we get treated to footage of the famous horse race. I guess they used this to pad the film out.

The first half of the film definitely has a frenetic feel to it. Bond hops from Italy to London to Haiti to Austria and then back to Italy before he heads to Bolivia. The lack of much linking footage is jarring, you almost feel like Bond’s teleporting from place to place.

The tip that sends Bond off to Haiti is pretty thin, and within minutes Bond has arrived and killed the guy (Mr Slate, I guess Quantum stole their codenames from Reservoir Dogs). The fight is short and brutal, and yes feels a tad Bourne’ish. Before you can say “really 007” Bond’s met Camille and almost been killed by her. Again it’s frantic, and isn’t a great introduction to Olga Kurylenko’s Bond girl.

Quick as a flash we’ve met our bad guy, the somewhat underwhelming Dominic Greene, although I think Mathieu Amalric makes the best of the material he’s given, and it’s nice to have a Bond villain who isn’t disfigured. On the plus side we get to see the world’s worst street sweeper (whose brush never touches the ground) and Joaquín Cosío’s wonderfully creepy General Medrano.

Greene hands Camille over to the General (which is what she wants) which is when our boy decides to “rescue” her. Again the stunts are well done but it’s hard to see what’s going on. Gotta love Bond handing Camille off to some bewildered busboy though, one of the traits I love of Daniel’s Bond is how easily he disposes of things once they’ve served their usefulness. Car keys, mobile phones, his father’s shotgun (oops getting ahead of myself) and even people (poor Mathis).

Next thing you know 007’s in Austria and my head’s spinning. Quantum’s hugely public meeting has it’s advantages I guess, a good excuse for rich folks from across the globe to head for Bregenz, but feels a trifle silly as well. Bond being Bond he reveals he’s listening in, cue a nicely done running gun battle with Tosca as the soundtrack. Pretty soon Bond’s accused of killing a Special Branch officer and he’s forced to go on the run. Bond rogue you say? Sigh. Luckily Stevie from Miranda covers for him, so no one knows he’s on his way back to Italy to find Mathis.

“What have you done today?”

Now if the first half of the film feels like a mess, I’d argue the second is much better. The film finally gets the breathe. We get two lovely conversations between Bond and Mathis, one at his home the other on the plane, and once we hit Bolivia the film we get some plot. Giancarlo Giannini and Daniel Craig have wonderful chemistry and it’s a shame he’s killed off. Gemma Arterton’s Agent (Strawberry) Fields is great (again shame she’s killed) although Bond’s seduction of her is clunky (“Would you help me find the stationary?”). Have to say this film does feature one of my favourite jokes in the franchise. We’re teachers on sabbatical…and we’ve won the lottery. Don’t tell me Daniel can’t do funny.

For a film with an unfinished script there’s some neat dialogue. Greene saying Camile is all right “once you get her on her back” obviously a reference to her scarring, and his comment that she and James are “both damaged goods”.

Bond and Camille discover Quantum’s real plan, stage a coup in Bolivia and as reward get a worthless patch of desert, only it isn’t worthless because you’ve ensured all the water flows there. Seriously there are people who don’t get the plot of this film which always surprises me.

The exploding hotel is wonderfully daffy, and Bond and Camile’s attack is nicely done.

As Bond girl’s go, Camille is up there with the best and it’s refreshing to find a character who not only has agency, but also has her own narrative arc. She isn’t interested in Greene, she just wants to kill Medrano, and in the end she does—without 007’s assistance. That she is perhaps the only lead Bond girl who doesn’t shag Bond is the icing on the cake, but she isn’t there as a sex object (gorgeous as Olga Kurylenko is) and nor is she 007’s sidekick. She’s a woman with her own mission and luckily for 007 it runs parallel with his.

Dominic Greene gets better as the film goes on, and his last-ditch desperate fight with Bond works well because he isn’t a fighter, which makes him unpredictable. Have to say as well that his fate must be one of the most coldblooded in the franchise as Bond leaves him in the middle of the desert with only a can of motor oil to drink.

Cue an epilogue in Russia as Bond meets Vesper’s villainous boyfriend and reveals to a Canadian agent (Castle’s Stana Katic) that she risks being duped the same way. Nice use of the flimsy plot of Fleming’s short story 007 in New York. It’s also a nice way to show how much Bond has grown, from the man who thought one less bomb maker in the world was a good thing, to a man who’ll choose to spare the man he wants to kill, because he’s more useful alive.

There’s nice material for Dame Judi to get her teeth into, it’s nice to see Felix again (shame rewrites robbed Jeffrey Wright of a meatier role) and yes that is Stranger Things David Harbour as the slimy Gregg Beam.

Quantum of Solace is also perhaps the most political Bond film, with references to coups tacitly supported by the US (and by extension the UK) and mention of corporations and poverty. It’s clunky, but ally this to a film about the control of utilities and it clearly tackles themes Bond has rarely tackled before (of course you might feel Bond shouldn’t get political.)

If there’d been no writers’ strike I wonder what kind of Bond film we’d have got? Sadly we’ll never know, but Forster’s direction is decent, and Arnold’s soundtrack is great, and Craig gives it his all. It’ll never be one of my favourite Bond films, but for me its far from being the worst, and the second half just about redeems a mess of a first half at least. Rough and ready it may be, but it still ends up better than some Bonds that had far more time spent on them.

Casino Royale (2006)

Posted: January 11, 2021 in James Bond
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And so, we go from what’s widely perceived to be one of the worst Bond films, to what’s widely perceived to be one of the best. Whatever your view of Die Another Day and Casino Royale, you can’t deny that they feel like two wholly different kinds of films. One utterly ridiculous, the other utterly grounded. Of course, this isn’t new for the franchise. Look at OHMSS sandwiched between YOLT and DAF, or more relevant the gritty For Your Eyes Only following Moonraker. Only Roger Moore could go into space, but even he couldn’t stay there.

Time for the usual full disclosure. Whilst I wasn’t one of the “Bond can’t be blonde” muppets (Rog isn’t exactly dark haired, is he?) I was disappointed in the casting of Daniel Craig, and should I ever meet the fellow I plan to sincerely apologise, because, whilst the quality of his films has been variable, he’s been a superb Bond all the way.

Returning to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for a moment, it’s interesting to note what else Casino Royale shares with that film. Not only do both feature genuine romance for Bond, they’re both also incredibly faithful (to a point) adaptations, and both feature a tragic death. Beyond this both are not only great Bond films, but they’re also great films full stop. For Craig this has on occasion somewhat hamstrung him, because after such an assured debut the only way was down—George at least began and left on a high.

We can always hope that No Time to Die will, eventually, provide a suitably great swansong for Craig, but only time will tell.

Back to Casino Royale. Things are different from the off, with no gun barrel intro and a black and white pre-title sequence set in chilly Prague and not so chilly, well it’s Pakistan but we never really find that out as all the cricketing preamble is wisely excised. All that remains is a framed cricketing print that gets knocked off the wall during the fight. Bond’s conversation with Dryden is succinct but loaded with information, yet never feels expository. Bond isn’t a 00 agent yet, and to become a 00 requires two kills. Though it quickly becomes apparent to Dryden that Bond already has one, and he’s to be the second.

There’s an interesting contrast between the two kills. The fight in the rest room is brutal and hot blooded, the discussion between Bond and Dryden cold blooded and polite, and Bond’s reaction to each death is very different. When he thinks he’s killed Dryden’s contact, Bond is in shock, and Craig does a wonderful job of portraying a whole host of conflicting emotions here. Bond is almost proud, yet horrified. You can’t quite decide if he’s about to punch the air or throw up, perhaps the perfect response to a first kill.

His execution of Dryden, and it is an execution, is calm by comparison, almost blasé, with Dryden not even getting to finish his homily that a second kill is always…

“Yes. Considerably.”. Interesting to note the flash of a family photo as Dryden topples back. A wife and child perhaps. Nice touch.

We flash back to Pakistan where it seems Bond’s first kill wasn’t quite dead. James quickly resolves this and we get the most imaginative gun barrel in the franchise, followed by titles that, for my money are the best in the series. Exceptionally cool, especially the bullet holes in the 7 of Hearts that morphs into 007 Status Confirmed. Chris Cornell and David Arnold’s fantastic ‘You Know My Name’ playing over the top is just the icing on the cake.

Casino Royale is a long film and, in many respects, an oddly paced one. Two of the big action sequences, after all, arrive early on. Bond’s pursuit of the bomber in Madagascar and his interception of the second bomber at Mimi Airport. Both are excellent, although the free running segment does go on a bit (and is it just me, but does the embassy guard already seem to be examining the bomber’s passport and radioing his superior before the bomber runs up to him?). Both showcase Craig’s physicality, and when he runs through a wall you genuinely believe he can do that. If I had a preference it’s for the Miami section, if only because Bond uses his wits a bit more here. That the film still works despite front loading much of the action is testament to how well the casino scenes are done. Here it’s helped by the source material, even if much of Fleming’s plot is jettisoned (no Bulgarians blowing themselves up) it’s also helped by the arrival of Vesper, and by having Bond and Le Chiffre finally face off.

Now at times I’ve been a little sniffy about the characters. Not the actors. Green and Mikkelsen are superb, but as villains go Le Chiffre always seemed to lack agency. Having him use his inhaler the first time we see him isn’t a great start, and he seems at the mercy of events rather than driving them forwards. He’s very nearly murdered by his own associates before Bond can get close enough to win the game after all. Similarly, Vesper suffers the same issues she does in the book, she’s a little insipid, at times you wonder what it is about her that Bond loves so much, and like the book she seems to go from hating Bond to falling in love in the time it takes to turn over a card.

But actually both of them fared much better in my eyes this time. Green’s chemistry with Craig is off the charts. Their first meeting on the train is wonderful—so good Eon will try to replicate it a few years later, with nought but a pale imitation—as are most of their interactions, the dress/dinner jacket scenes add very little to the story, but I love them. And her acting is spot on. I never noticed before how there’s a fantastic moment when she says goodbye in Venice, just a flicker, subtle as hell but wonderful. She really is saying goodbye for keeps.

It’s debatable how much agency she has, in part because we never quite know when she’s acting against Bond and when she’s not, but if nothing else she feels like she has agency, and she’s certainly a more rounded character than most Bond girls.

At times the poker stuff goes on a bit, and having Mathis mansplain poker to Vesper (and the audience) multiple times is wince inducing, but when the poker scenes work they do so superbly, even if the final denouncement is a trifle contrived (seriously every player gets one-upped by the next in line?).

But this is a film of contrivances, most Bond films are, but they do irk me slightly here. Look at Bond’s detective work in the Bahamas. It’s fortunate that Dimitrios sent that text just as he arrived and was caught on camera, and it’s the first tape 007 looks at. On the plus side I still have a lot of goodwill after Bond smashes the very obvious Goldfinger homage’s Range Rover.

Similarly, handy Bond had a defibrillator in his car.

These are minor annoyances though, and frankly the film is long enough without seeing Bond trek through dozens of tapes.

The car chase that isn’t really a car chase is excellently done, and for those unfamiliar with the novel it must have been one hell of a shock to see Vesper in the middle of the road.

Then there’s the torture scene, where Mikkelsen really comes alive. A slight change from the book but the mechanics are the same.

Mads Mikkelsen is wonderful, but…forgive the indulgence, but I like to think there’s an alternate universe where the weasely Le Chiffre is played by Christoph Waltz, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld is played by Mikkelsen—though could even arguably the best Hannibal Lector we ever had have salvaged Spectre (getting ahead of myself!).

Then we get poor old Mathis’ shabby treatment (I’m sure this will be made up for in the next film) and finally James and Vesper fall in love. Cue montage! Again, the pacing is a little off, because this comes so late in the film, by contrast Bond and Tracy’s courtship happened much earlier in OHMSS, giving their love a little more time to breathe. Still, it’s hard not to swoon over some of the dialogue. “You’ve got your armour back up again.” “I have no armour left, you’ve stripped it from me.” Just divine.

And then, finally, the Venice set piece in a collapsing building. Which is great. Really it is.

You know there’s a but coming, right?

The trouble is, not only does it elongate the film yet further, but it goes against the theme running through the film. Mano a mano. Practically every confrontation Bond has is him vs a single opponent.

Bond vs Dryden, Bond vs the guy in the bathroom, Bond vs Mollaka the free runner, Bond vs Dimitrios, Bond vs Carlos (seriously I never knew his name before today!) in Miami. Bond vs the warlord Obanno (technically there’s his right-hand man but Bond despatches him so quickly he might as well not be there). Then Bond vs Le Chiffre (poker) and Bond vs Le Chiffre (torture). Hell if you take Bond and Vesper’s verbal sparring into account you can even include them.

I mean, for goodness sake the theme hits you over the head right from the start of the Madagascar sequence. Cobra vs Mongoose!

So having Bond kill a bunch of anonymous guys at the end, seems a little lame. I guess they felt the film had to have a final set piece.

Vesper’s death isn’t quite an OHMSS gut punch, but it is still very moving, and Green gets a beautiful death. Glad they included the last line from the novel, shame they had to dilute it somewhat, but I can see why.

And finally we get the line, you know the one I mean, after James has thanked Mr White for saving his life by shooting him in the leg. (Sheesh why don’t you just shag his daughter).

So there you have it. An exceptional film, and one that I feel slightly embarrassed doesn’t sit in my top five (I mean it’s literally number 6 ok!) and I wonder if I shouldn’t move it up a notch or two because damn if it isn’t fantastic. Kudos to Martin Campbell, who also directed Brosnan’s debut Goldeneye.

It isn’t perfect, it’s too long (though god knows what I’d cut) slightly contrived in places, and though my view has changed quite a lot, it still feels a trifle embarrassed to be a Bond film at times. Then again Spectre isn’t embarrassed at all and it really should be (getting ahead of myself again!)

Great set pieces, great acting, a script so polished in places you can see your face in it, a wonderful soundtrack and a truly fantastic Bond. As I said, its main failing is that it’s almost too good, when you set the bar that high following it up can be tricky.

Die Another Day (2002)

Posted: October 18, 2020 in James Bond
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The first Bond film of the 21st Century, Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as 007 and, if the vast majority of fans are to be believed, the worst Bond film of all time…

Cards on the table here, in my opinion it’s not the worst Bond film, not remotely. Is it good, no, but it’s fun at least, in places.

The film opens in North Korea, with Bond and some allies infiltrating the world’s most secretive nation via…er surf boards (on the upside at least they don’t play the Beachboys!)

Bond replaces a diamond trader and meets with Colonel Moon who wants to trade weapons for conflict diamonds. Bond’s placed plastic explosive in the case of diamonds though, and obviously plans to set it off once he’s safely out of the way. Unfortunately for Bond, Moon’s right-hand man, Zao, is tipped off that 007 is, well, 007! His allies are killed, and Bond is set to be executed.

Lucky he has that plastic explosive, eh? In the chaos following the explosion Bond hijacks a hovercraft and chases Moon down. Eventually they end up fighting atop Moon’s hovercraft. The vehicle goes over a cliff, along with Moon, while Bond is saved by the bell.

And then Bond’s captured, thrown in a North Korean prison and tortured.

Wait, what now?

Let’s be honest, even as someone who kinda likes DAD, I accept it’s incredibly flawed, which is all the more annoying when it does things like this. Bond captured, not something we’ve seen before, certainly  not for the length of time he’s held here (fourteen months), which is surprising given this has happened to Bond in the books (between You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun.)

Eventually Bond is released as part of a prisoner exchange that sees Zao, still sporting the diamonds blown into his face, go the other way. It’s a great scene, reminiscent more of John le Carré than Fleming. There’s no hero’s welcome waiting for him, there’s a familiar face in Charles Robinson but an unfriendly welcome as he’s drugged.

He wakes up under guard, and M arrives to tell him the reason for his release was because they believed he was haemorrhaging information. Bond says he’s been set up, but M’s not convinced. What’s a 00 to do? Bond escapes and swims to Hong Kong, after a run in with Chinese secret service he’s off to Cuba on the trail of Zao. There he’ll meet an intriguing young woman named Jinx. Eventually the trail leads back to England and a mysterious entrepreneur named Gustav Graves. What is Graves’ link to Zao, and where does his sun focusing satellite fit in? One thing’s for sure, Bond will need his wits about him, and an invisible car…

Okay let’s get the car out of the way from the off. Is it silly, undoubtedly, is it based on theoretical technology, well yup. I mean silly is Bond’s middle name, and is an invisible car any less believable than a hollowed-out volcano or a space station?

This is a film of two halves though, and the first is really rather good. I think some people just focus on the second half and forget the good stuff that’s gone before.

The pre-title sequence feels a little like a rehash of Tomorrow Never Dies, but is still good, and the ending, segueing into the titles where we see Bond tortured is, as said, great stuff, even if you can’t imagine Bond would really keep schtum for 14 months. I don’t care who you are, they’d have likely broken him in a matter of weeks.

The scene on the bridge is wonderfully eerie, and there’s some nice acting from Pierce because Bond clearly thinks this is it, he’s about to be executed.

Bond’s newfound ability to simulate death comes out of nowhere, but I guess he had a lot of time on his hands in North Korea, but his escape is fun. Nowhere near as joyous as a soaking wet, bearded and bedraggled Bond in pyjamas swanning into a luxury hotel like he owns the place and asking for his usual suite. With the Bond theme playing over the top this is one of my all-time favourite Bond moments.

Soon he’s groomed and back to his old self, just in time to rumble Chinese intelligence’s plot to film him having sex with a woman. (On a side note here why do foreign intelligence services imagine that having compromising film of 007 In flagrante would be, well, compromising? Shagging is what he does, no one’s going to be surprised at him making love to a beautiful woman).

That aside the interplay between him and Mr Chang is lovely.

Then off to Cuba, and a nice bit of espionage as Bond reawakens a sleeper agent, the owner of a cigar factory. Nice reference to the bird watching book Fleming got the name James Bond from.

Things dip somewhat when Halle Berry comes out of the water. The seduction scene between Bond and Jinx is painfully clunky, but not as painful as the sex scene that follows.

Things perk up as Bond and Jinx, unbeknownst to one another, infiltrate the Isla de Los Organos, where evil Cuban doctors are using gene therapy to provide the ultimate makeovers (again something less believable than an invisible car but nobody bats an eyelid).

Bond finds Zao, who looks to be on the verge of being turned into a copy of Gustav Graves (though I’m pretty sure they’re completely different hights.) They fight but Zao escapes after Jinx blows up the building. She then escapes by jumping off the cliff—the first, but sadly not the last bit of ropey CGI we’re going to have to put up with.

Bond’s return to London and back to MI6 is nicely done, the scenes in the underground laying the groundwork for Skyfall onwards? Even Cleese isn’t that annoying here. The least said about the VR simulation the better though (it’s painful and again, more believable than an invisible car apparently?).

Die Another Day (2002) L to R: Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Madonna and Pierce Brosnan

Bond’s first (or should that be second?) meeting with Graves is a doozy. Try and forget Madonna’s wooden acting and just marvel at the inventiveness of that sword fight. One of the best fights of the franchise for me, and while some are sniffy about Toby Stephens, for me he’s a good Bond villain, a chameleon switching from sneering villain to harmless posh boy in the blink of a eye, with that bubbling rage we saw in Moon always simmering beneath the surface.

I like the ice palace, but Mr Kil might be one of the feeblest henchmen names ever. Bond’s escape from Graves, once he finds out he’s Moon is good, and for the second film in a row a woman betrays him.

Not sure why he runs for the jet car, where’s he planning on going? And of course, this leads to the worst CGI of all, you’d think 1996’s Escape from LA might have convinced people that CGI surfing looks bloody awful, but apparently not. Thankfully this is made up for somewhat by a fun car chase between 007 and Zao, who has a car that’s every bit as tricked out as Bond’s—nice use of the ejector seat there James, and thanks to the invisible car he gets the upper hand.

Cue a drab finale aboard a transport plane, and much as I like Graves, putting him in that exo-suit is just plain silly, and why go up in a plane anyway? Doesn’t that make him more vulnerable to attack? Like many things in this film it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nice fight between Jinx and Miranda Frost though.

And then the worst bit in a film full of worst bits, as Moneypenny shags Bond in VR. Forget for a moment that it doesn’t make a heap of sense; it devalues the character completely. Awful, awful moment.

I feel somewhat sorry for Brosnan, he got to make four Bond films but realistically only one of them is classic. Sorry, but beyond Goldeneye it’s like they didn’t quite know what to do with him. He was a good Bond and he deserved better.

As I said I think Tony Stephens is a great Bond villain, he just doesn’t always get the best material to work with.

I like Halle Berry (she’s great in John Wick 3) but she isn’t a great Bond girl. Jinx has no real character beyond ‘sassy’ so she doesn’t get much chance to shine. Still heck of a thing to point out that the Bond girls here include an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee.

Rosamund Pike gets some stick, but I think she does perfectly well with what she’s given. Controversial maybe but I’d suggest she has a better character than Berry does. Plus, she’s gorgeous, especially in that final fight.

As Zao Rick Yune is good, if a little paper thin, though I like that he has good chemistry with both Stephens and Will Yun Lee who does a good job laying the groundwork as Colonel Moon in the pre-title sequence.

Dench gets some nice scenes as M but nothing like as good as she got in TWINE, and while I can see why they didn’t want to use Jack Wade as the connection to US intelligence, Michael Madsen seems hopelessly miscast as Falco. Nice to see Colin Salmon get some gunplay (albeit virtually) and Kenneth Tsang is good value as General Moon, showing genuine affection for his son, even when his son is clearly a raving lunatic.

Some complain that the film was a little homage heavy, but it was the 20th. There are lots of call-backs in Q’s lab of course, the birdwatching book, several less than subtle riffs on Diamonds are Forever, Graves’ using a Union Jack parachute, Berry doing Andress etc. And some subtle ones I hadn’t even realised; Roger Moore’s daughter is the air hostess who brings Bond his drink.

Lee Tamahori’s direction isn’t bad, and the film trots along at a decent pace, it might annoy but it never bores. The use of slow motion is odd and brings nothing to the table however.

A film that’s much more fun than people give it credit for, DAD is a film of two halves. When it’s good it’s very, very good; Bond’s capture, the prisoner exchange, Hong Kong, Cuba, the sword fight, Bond and M underground, Pike and Stephens.

But when it’s bad it’s bloody awful: Madonna’s cameo, Madonna’s song, the CGI surfing, the exo-suit.

Really though watching it again what brings it down is its reliance on the ridiculous. There’s a screenwriting rule that says people will believe one unbelievable thing in a movie, but this piles them one after another: Invisible car, sun focusing satellite, gene therapy, VR etc etc. In the end you stop caring.

So that’s it for Pierce, he bows out with a commercial hit but not a critical one, and unlike a certain someone he doesn’t get one final go to exit on a high. Where will the franchise go next? Let’s just hope they don’t cast someone blonde. If nothing else now Bond’s gone rogue I’m sure they won’t do that again for a while…

The World is not Enough (1999)

Posted: October 3, 2020 in James Bond
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And so we come to Brosnan’s third film, the last James Bond film of the 20th Century and the first with Purvis and Wade on board as screenwriters and, it has to be said, a film that I’ve never counted as much of a favourite, even from the first time I saw it, so I wasn’t looking forward to this viewing, but what’s intriguing about this rewatch is that it has caused me to reappraise some films, and I’m pleased to report that TWINE is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of issues I had with it previously I still have with it, but I think I appreciated its strengths more this time around.

The film opens in Bilbao with Bond visiting a Swiss banker. He’s there to retrieve money that was stolen, but he also wants to find out who killed an MI6 agent. Threatened, he retaliates, disarming his opponents, but before the banker can talk he’s killed by his secretary, “Cigar Girl” (have to love her eye roll at James’ innuendos.) Bond is then saved when a mysterious sniper kills one of the banker’s goons who’s about to shoot him.

The police arrive and 007 escapes with the money by abseiling down the side of the building.

Back in London he hands the money over to Robert King, oil tycoon and old friend of M’s. As Bond and M take a drink, he realises he has explosives on his fingers, and that the money is boobytrapped. He tries to warm King but its too late. The money explodes, killing King and punching a hole in the side of MI6 headquarters. Cigar girl is outside on a boat and Bond goes after her in Q’s latest invention. A high-speed boat chase along the Thames ends with cigar girl blowing herself up over the millennium dome and 007 being injured.

 At King’s funeral Bond is drawn to King’s daughter, Elektra (I mean of course he is) and after bribing the doctor (by sleeping with her) to put him back on active duty M assigns Bond to look after Elektra, presuming that the men who killed her father might come for her.

Flying to Azerbaijan he contacts Elektra and after they survive an attack by mysterious parahawk gunmen the two become lovers. As Bond’s investigation continues he’ll cross paths with a ruthless terrorist named Renard and gain a new ally named Christmas. What is Renard’s connection with Elektra, and just who is playing who?

Let’s get some of my annoyances out of the way first. For a lot of people the pre title sequence is one of the franchise’s best, but it leaves me cold. Oh, the Bilboa scenes are cool, and the boat chase has its moments, but even setting aside the fact that it goes on waaaay too long, something bothered me from the first time I saw it.

Cigar Girl is sat on a boat dripping with guns floating right outside MI6 headquarters…and NOBODY NOTICES! I mean, why is she even there? Assuming the bomb doesn’t kill King, is he going to lurch to the hole in the wall conveniently giving her time to shoot him? It makes zero sense. Let’s be honest, she’s there for one reason and one reason only, so Bond can chase her down the Thames in his cute Q-boat, copy his tie straighten from Goldeneye and hilariously splash some clampers (who were semi-famous thanks to a reality tv shot at the time).

And then we have Cigar Girl kill herself because Bond can’t protect her from HIM. I hate the “I’ll kill myself because my boss will kill me otherwise” trope.

Really the whole King assassination feels clunky and overly convoluted.

Next annoyance, Bond’s detective work with the money. It’s the exact amount that was the ransom for Elektra (which King didn’t pay under M’s advice). That’s right, despite some considerable time passing between the two events, the exchange rate stayed exactly the same. As clues go it’s a little thin. Bond has played detective well at times, most notably when Connery was in the role, but here it just feels contrived.

But there’s a lot of that going on. Cigar Girl’s presence on the river, the money, those parahawks and Bond following Elektra up the mountain. Not to say the parahawks aren’t intriguing, and you have to love the one guy whose clearly watched the pre-title sequence of The Spy who Loved Me, but it’s a scene that makes no sense, I mean Elektra seemed in actual danger here so what was the point? There are easier ways to throw MI6 off the scent.

I think the problem is that it feels like they created some set pieces, then built a script around them. Witness also the chainsaw helicopters, much like Chekov’s gun you know you’ll see them again!

Let’s talk Christmas. Now a Bond girl with an amusing name isn’t that terrible, and frankly she gets a less cringeworthy name than Holly Goodhead or anything like that, but let’s be honest, she’s a terrible Bond girl. I mean Denise Richards is hot, and contrary to popular belief I don’t believe she’s a terrible actress given the right material, but a convincing nuclear scientist she is not.

It doesn’t help that they dress her like Lara Croft, and it doesn’t help that she’s given no personality at all. At one point Bond asks her what she’s doing out in Kazakhstan and she says “Avoiding questions like that.” No characterisation, no back story. She’s there to be hot, trot off some exposition and give Bond someone to shag at the end, nothing more.

Of course the film has two female leads (three if you count M which it’s arguable you can here)  and Elektra King is about as far away from Christmas Jones as Earth is from Pluto, and it’s here that my opinion of the film really shifted.

Because there’s an argument for Elektra being one of the most three-dimensional Bond girls, and Bond villains, of the whole damn franchise. There’s so much going on in this woman’s head. Anger and deep routed resentment over her heritage, coupled with a glorious, evil playfulness as well. She’s mad of course, but not in a Drax/Stromberg/Zorin kind of way. She’s damaged. Resentful of her father, I imagine, even before he left her at the hands of Renard. This is a woman who seduced her captor, turned the world’s most dangerous terrorist( ™) into her henchman, who used MI6 to assassinate her own father, then fooled the world’s greatest secret agent (which let’s be honest probably isn’t that hard) but also played his boss (which is likely more difficult). Even when he figures out she’s a wrong un (which in fairness to 007 is relatively quickly) Bond still can’t conceive that she’s anything but a victim, that Renard must have turned her rather than the other way around. There’s something quite depressing about that, and about the fact that, to date, Elektra is the only true female Bond villain we’ve had (though a fair amount of henchwomen I grant you.) and Sophie Marceau really deserved to be in a better film.

And she gets a good death, providing Brosnan with another great line. “I never miss.”

Carlyle has grown on me, I think initially he was painted as the main villain which didn’t help endear him to me, but once you realise he’s just a henchman, he works better. There’s a tragedy at the heart of him that Carlyle plays really well, jealous of Bond sleeping with Elektra, of Bond being able to feel, he clearly knows Elektra is using him, but he’s too enraptured by her to care, and I suppose that even though her plan is about making her rich and powerful, and isn’t about to bring the western capitalist system crashing down, the anarchist in him probably appreciates the chaos it will sow.

It’s nice to see Zukovsky back and again Coltrane is very good value for money. “Can’t you just say hello like a normal person?” It’s a real shame they killed him off, but he does at least die saving Bond’s life. Goldie as his treacherous associate Bullion (just Bull in the credits) is ok but not one of the better henchmen.

Moneypenny doesn’t get much to do (really starting to feel Samantha Bond was somewhat wasted in the part) but Dench gets perhaps the most in the field outing an M has had to date, and it’s good to see them making good use of Dame Judi, and there’s definitely echoes here that will reverberate to Skyfall (not to suggest Purvis and Wade keep repeating themselves of course) as M is placed in danger due to a person from her past, and has to deal with an attack on MI6 headquarters. Dench is, of course, amazing.

There’s a real poignancy to the final signoff of another character, especially given Desmond Llewellyn died in a car crash not long after the premiere. He and Brosnan always worked well together, and their final scenes are a joy.

Cleese’s first outing as Q’s impending replacement isn’t great, he’s played too much for laughs. He’ll be better in Die Another Day when he’s actually Q, rather than R, but he’s too much of a like for like replacement when they should have gone for something radically different (as they will with Whishaw).

There’s some decent action, the shoot out in the missile silo and the finale in the submarine, and Elektra’s plan is perhaps the most grounded of any Brosnan villain.

And of course Brosnan is very good, working well with Sophie Marceau. Purvis and Wade do their best to make him vulnerable, but his shoulder injury comes and goes as the plot demands (and hey, something else that’ll turn up again in Skyfall). He is getting a little close to smarmy territory ala late era Moore, but he can only deliver the lines they give him I guess.

So in conclusion Brosnan is great, Marceau is great, Dench and Coltrane are great and Carlyle is good, but the film around them never quite lives up to their performances. I can see they were trying to dial things back a little after Tomorrow Never Dies (odd given they’ll soon be dialling it back up again) but I’ve always found the film somewhat drab. Maybe it’s the locations, lots of desert shots, and a very washed out colour palette, and it’s a little grim, which makes Bond’s innuendos even more jarring, but like I say I enjoyed it more this time than I have before, so it probably no longer sits in my worst Bond list. Damning with faint praise indeed.

Great title though!

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Posted: September 16, 2020 in James Bond
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It’s two years since Goldeneye reignited the franchise after a long layoff, and Pierce Brosnan is back with his second film as 007. It’s a film that divides opinion (few Bond films don’t divide opinion) but for me it’s his second-best film, thought it succeeds despite itself and has a fair number of problems. At times it feels like Brosnan carries the show on sheer personality alone, but when it works it’s very good, and while some deride it as a by the numbers Bond flick, it is at least an enjoyable by the numbers Bond, and frankly at times I wish Daniel Craig had had the opportunity to do something like this.

We start with another corker of a pre-title sequence at a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border. Bond’s on site and M’s back home watching via video, along with Geoffrey Palmer’s grumpy admiral (amusing for those who watched Dench and Palmer in the romantic sitcom As Time Goes By). Bond’s ordered out by the Admiral who lunches a cruise missile at the bazaar, but Bond’s spotted a nuclear torpedo, and when the cruise missile can’t be aborted (seriously, it has a range limit?) Bond does what he does best, attacks the bazaar single handled and nicks the plane carrying the nuke before the cruise missile hits. It’s a great action sequence, and Dench and Palmer bounce wonderfully off each other. Forget the M of Goldeneye who was somewhat cool on 007, this time she’s his biggest fan. “What’s your man doing?” “His job.” I love that bit.

Then it’s time for Sheryl Crowe…sorry, love, but KD Lang’s ‘Surrender’ is the far superior song, and David Arnold riffs it throughout just to rub salt into the wounds. At least we’ll get it over the end credits.

Following in a grand tradition of calamity befalling British navel vessels in Bond films (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only) the HMS Devonshire is sunk, and the survivors machinegunned, supposedly by the Chinese, but we know it was really on the orders of crooked media baron Elliot Carver.

Geoffrey Palmer wants to go to war, M wants to investigate, and Julian Fellowes just wants to go write Downton Abbey so he tells M she has 48 hours to investigate. Moneypenny contacts Bond, who’s brushing up on a little Danish, arf arf, and 007 reports for duty. M knows Bond used to be in a relationship with Paris, Carver’s wife, and suggests he pumps her for information.

Bond flies to Hamburg where he encounters Paris, and her husband—with 007 playing it cool and not intimating to Carver that he’s on to him right from the off with a series of comments about being adrift and all at sea! I don’t know, I prefer it when the villain isn’t quite so obvious from the off.

Soon Paris has been murdered and Bond is running out of time to prevent all out war between Britain and China, luckily he has kick ass Chinese agent Wai Lin to help him, plus a BMW (sigh).

Okay, let’s look at the positives. Certainly with hindsight the fake news plot feels awfully prescient, albeit a story based on print media rather than the internet, but still, the manipulation of facts is a neat touch, and it’ll seem an even neater touch twenty odd years later, and some of the jingoism seems very Brexit as well.

There are some great action set pieces. The aforementioned pre-title sequence being just one of them. Bond’s infiltration of Carver’s HQ is nicely done, and yes while it’s irksome that Bond drives a BMW (what were they thinking) the backseat driving sequence in the multi-storey carpark is still wonderful, Brosnan’s sheer glee is the icing on the cake (Daniel Craig couldn’t pull that off.) Bond and Wai Lin’s bike/helicopter chase is pretty damn good as well, and then there’s Wai Lin’s battle with a bunch of bad guy Chinese agents (the second best fight in the franchise not to feature Bond after Necros and the MI6 agent in The Living Daylights) which is top draw and let’s Michelle Yeoh kick some serious butt.

So where does TND fall down? Well firstly it’s in the casting. As I said in my previous review, Goldeneye was something of a perfect storm in terms of its actors, everyone is perfect for their role and at the top of their game. In contrast the talent in TND is far more variable.

Pryce is a good actor, we all know that, but he isn’t one of the great Bond villains. Carver is a smidgen too much on the moustache twirling side, his high-speed typing is laughable and the least said the better about his kung fu antics (I hope he was truly embarrassed about that). He isn’t terrible, and does have his moments, the maniacal glee when he says “There’s no news, like bad news,” for example, but on the whole he’s an average Bond villain. Maybe it’s a case of great actor, substandard material (see also Christoph Waltz)

Teri Hatcher is similarly bland as a Bond girl. I liked Hatcher in Lois and Clark, but she isn’t given much opportunity to shine here (though supposedly a lot ended up on the cutting room floor because she wasn’t great). It’s a shame we didn’t get Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl 18 years earlier, but she and Sela Ward lost out to Hatcher.

Much better is Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, although watching the film again she struggles with not much of a character. Kick ass secret agent is about the best we get, but she is at least damn good at that, really she’s just a cipher to help Bond out. Shame as an actress that good deserved better. Still her fight scenes are awesome. That said, and to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to be captured by Herr Stamper once may be regarded as a misfortune; to be captured twice by Herr Stamper looks like carelessness!

Ah Stamper. A bog standard, taciturn blonde henchman who somehow makes more of an impression than he rightly should, maybe it’s the hint of glee in his eyes when talking about torture, who knows but Götz Otto was more memorable than I remembered, and clearly he was supposed to have the no pain gimmick that Robert Carlyle would end up with in the next film.

Of course the best villain in the whole damn film is also the one with the least screen time. In fact, as a comparison of impact to minutes of screen time, Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman might arguably be one of the greatest characters in the franchise. Renowned character actor Schiavelli is a pure delight here. Kaufman is over the top, creepy, dangerous, ever so slightly ridiculous, yet stays just the right side of camp. That he creates such a vivid, fully rounded character in under four minutes is testament to Vincent Schiavelli’s acting. We understand more of his motivations in a few minutes then we get from Carver in ten times the screen time.

He also gives us one of Brosnan’s best moment. “I’m just a professional doing a job” “Me too.” Bang!

Let’s talk Pierce. He’s great here. So comfortable in the role after just two film, he inhabits Bond’s skin seamlessly, and as already stated there’s a gleeful schoolboy’ness to his performance. This is a Bond who loves what he does, a child who never grew up perhaps, yet Brosnan does get some pathos, mainly over Paris’ death, and he even manages to convince that he genuinely loved her. That said the bit where he’s waiting for her while drinking vodka is somewhat ridiculous, unless he’s actually drinking water he should probably be on the floor given how much he’s drunk!

A Bond at the top of his game.

As for the rest, we get a decent amount of Dench, and nice to see first sight of Colin Salmon’s Charles Robinson. Moneypenny is given short shrift but at least Q gets an amusing sequence in Hamburg where he introduces Bond to his new…sigh…BMW. Five forward gears eh, wow! Llewelyn and Brosnan have lovely repartee here though.

Joe Don Baker is back as Wade, shame we never saw him again after this. Ricky Jay is slimy as techno-terrorist Henry Gupta, but if they were trying to replicate Boris they missed by some margin.

And that’s it…oh aside from the stellar cast of actors aboard various British navel vessels: Gerard Butler, Hugh Bonneville, Jason Watkins and Julian Rhind-Tutt!

Plot wise the film is something of a mishmash of other Bond films, with the odd bit of originality here and there, and I can see why people call it by the numbers, but despite a slightly ropey script, production problems and off kilter casting (what if we’d got Sir Anthony Hopkins as Carver?) it’s a film I really enjoy. Yes it doesn’t take chances, and maybe after pushed the envelope with Goldeneye they thought it best to go for a more generic Bond film. It’ll never trouble my top five, but if I’m in the mood for good popcorn entertainment that I don’t have to concentrate too hard on, Tomorrow Never Dies is one I frequently reach for.

Which is more than can be said for the next one.

Goldeneye (1995)

Posted: August 26, 2020 in James Bond
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A six-year gap between Bond films. While these days this almost seems normal (or at least not abnormal) back then it was a big deal, prior to this the longest gap between films had been three years between The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me and then the same Bond returned. In this instance the shift was major, especially once Timothy Dalton stood down.  There were claims in some quarters that this might be the end of Bond, especially with action films like True Lies threatening to steal Bond’s thunder. On the cusp of the 21st Century wasn’t 007 a bit, well, old hat?

Then Pierce Brosnan drove a tank through those concerns. Don’t get me wrong, I wish Tim had done at least one more Bond film, but Pierce knocks it out of the park here, backed by a top drawer script, a great cast and robust direction by Martin Campbell, a man who would direct another Bond’s freshman effort 11 years later.

Nine years ago Bond and fellow agent 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrate a Soviet chemical weapons plant in Arkhangelsk. It’s a great opening. We only see glimpses of Brosnan initially. Our first proper look he’s hanging upside down and punching some hapless Russian solider who just wanted to go to the loo…

There’s a nice banter between Brosnan and Bean right from the off, and while Bond had to undertake an insane bungee jump to access the base, I can’t help imagining 006 just wandered in disguised as the milkman or something.

Before they can complete their mission, alarms sound and Alec is soon shot dead by villainous Ourumov (or is he?) Bond’s down but he’s not out and he quickly escapes leaving an exploding base in his wake.

A great title sequence follows. Tina Turner is spot on, and the imagery of women smashing Soviet iconography is nicely done, as is the image of a two headed woman, just like Janus. One of the best Bond titles if you ask me (but the best is still to come in a few years though).

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Next stop Monte Carlo for a collection of Bond tropes culminating in a Canadian admiral being squeezed to death between a beautiful woman’s thighs and a stealth helicopter being stolen. Then it’s back to London and the new M (cue Roger Moore incredulously saying “A woman?”) Judi Dench is great, and though she’ll never be quite as disdainful of 007 again until Daniel comes along, it fits perfectly within the tone of the film. The theft of the helicopter has been linked to the Russian Janus crime syndicate, and now it’s been spotted at a supposedly disused Russian base in Severnaya. MI6 analysts have discounted rumours that it’s a secret weapons testing site for an EMP weapon known as Goldeneye, so it’s a surprise for M when an EMP knocks out the satellite they had watching the base. Now it’s clear Goldeneye exists, M despatches Bond to Russia where he’ll make friends with one of the only survivors of Severnaya, cross swords with a sexy psychopathic, meet up once more with the man who killed Alec and, finally, meet the villain of the pieces, a familiar face he never expected to see again…

I always count Goldeneye in my top five Bond films, in fact I usually slot it in as number 2, yet much as I loved it when I first saw it, I recalled that it was a certain moment where the film clicked. Watching it again even now and it’s the same point. The moment where the tank bursts through the wall never ceases to make me smile. The epitome of James Bond, and a moment few other action franchises could ever hope to match, the perfect melding of the thrilling and the ludicrous, arguably one of the best set pieces of the franchise and one they’ve been trying to ape ever since (especially Pierce’s tie straighten- see him again in TWINE and Daniel Craig checking his cufflinks on multiple occasions) with variable success.

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Let’s back up a bit though, because this is a film that deserves forensic analysis, certainly various elements of the script really stood out to me this time.

The pre-title sequence is a corker, action packed and amusing, and both Brosnan and Bean are great here (if it’d been made now I wonder if we’d have a 006 prequel spinoff film?) and the only slight quibble is over the plane jump; the CGI is a little ropey here.

The first act is a little off, but there is a reason for this. I hadn’t realised before just how many Bond tropes they squeeze in here. Shag bird after flirting with other bird during a car chase, check, casino, check, dinner jacket, check, “The name’s Bond, James, Bond”, check, “Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred”, check, double entendres, check. It’s a trifle wearying, but the reasoning is clear. Look he’s been a way a while, and maybe you didn’t like that Dalton guy, but don’t worry here’s the Bond you remember, a lascivious lounge lizard without a care in the world.

Don’t fret, the films tells you, this is the Bond you know and love.

And then the film pulls the rug out from under you, much as the plot pulls the rug out from under 007.

First there’s Moneypenny, I love Samantha Bond’s interpretation, she doesn’t pine after 007, and she’s dismissive of his advances. Yes, the reference to sexual harassment is a tad clunky, but god it’s better than Caroline Bliss’ simpering.

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Similarly, Dench’s M. Sure M’s always been exasperated by 007, but the old M’s did at least understand his worth. No so this M. Remember what I said about Bond being old hat? She literally, lampshades it for the audience. Bond’s a sexist misogynist, dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War. The enemies Bond had no longer exist, who is it after all who aids 007 in St Petersburg? Zukovsky, a former KGB agent Bond shot (and Coltrane is great, and yes that is Minnie Driver strangling a cat). As Natalya says “All the heroes I know are dead.” They even manage to throw in a history lesson with the repatriation of Alec’s Cossack parents. “Hardly our finest hour.”

Then the ultimate rug pull. Everything Bond knew is wrong. His friend is a traitor, and the bad guy is a 00 agent (I’m amazed they didn’t do this before). Up is down, left is right, friends are enemies and enemies are friends. It’s a new world order, but 007 still has a place in it, after some mild (and again a little clunky) psychoanalysing courtesy of Natalya and Alex. “It’s what keeps me alive.” “No its what keeps you alone.” This was something very new for Bond. Sadly, now we’re used to Daniel Craig’s psyche being pulled apart in every bloody film, so it’s become old hat.

The theme of Janus runs through the film, not only with James and Alec as mirror images of one another but also Natalya and Boris. It’s the situations too. Watch how many times the pre-title sequence is played out. The scene in the archive (and small point or order, how many innocent Russian soldiers does 007 mow down?) for example. Outgunned by Russian soldiers Bond’s ally is taken hostage and he has to make a choice. He could just run, instead he goes after her. Again on the train, the friend or the mission, and again in the final act with the explosives set against tanks holding something unpalatable.

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There’s some wonderful script tricks at work as well. See how Wade’s exposition is lightened by having him use a hammer to fix his car, so we don’t realise we’re being lectured too.

Let’s talk the cast, because frankly there’s an argument that, pound for pound, this might be one of the best Bond casts ever assembled!

Brosnan will never supplant Tim (or Daniel or Roger) and he is a little too smooth for comfort at times, but he is very good here, and for his debut is also his finest hour.

Bean is wonderful as Bond’s dark reflection, and you can see why he might have been considered for the title role himself, sure Trevelyan’s plan doesn’t make a huge heap of sense. He talks about having more money than God, but that secret base in Cuba must have cost a fortune!

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At Alec’s right hand is Xenia Onatopp. My one and only encounter with Ms Janssen might have left me a little disappointed, but I will always love Xenia. She’s wonderfully bloodthirsty, practically orgasming when she kills people, and certainly has a thing about pain—I love the delight Famke puts into “He’s going to derail us.” I can’t be sure but Janet’s Leigh similarly murderous spy in the Man from UNCLE film ‘The Spy in the Green Hat’ surely formed a template (as must Fiona Volpe)? However, she came about it’s a perfect melding of actor and role, and it’s always nice to find a woman immune to James’ charms. Like Fiona she remains true to herself, right to the end. Shame about the end mind, she deserved better, but she’s still my second favourite Bond girl.

To have one great Bond girl is good, that Goldeneye has two is an added bonus. Izabella Scorupco is great. My favourite Bond girls are the (relatively) normal women who step up to the plate when thrown in at the deep end, and Natalya certainly does that. She’s smart and brave, and yes she has shit load of agency. Fooling Xenia, escaping Severnaya and making it to Moscow, conning her way into the IBM shop (500 meg hard drives, bless) before she even meets Bond. She eventually outwits Boris, foiling Trevelyan’s plan and hijacking the chopper that saves Bond’s life. She has her own mission, her own enemy. And she’s gorgeous into the bargain. Not bad for a level 2 programmer.

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Ah Boris, how super is Cummings? He takes what could have been a one note character and imbues him with such disdainful charm. They’ve tried to replicate the character again and never come close. A smirking man-child, he’d probably be an alt right or an incel these days. Know what though, he’s invincible!

Coltrane doesn’t get much screen time, but is also a joy (you can see why they bought him back) and Joe Don Baker is far more engaging as Wade than he ever was as Whittaker. And there’s Gottfried John as Ourumov, whose facial expressions are a wonder, whether watching Xenia get a little too excited, or staring is disbelief as a tank follows him.

The action is top drawer; the pre-title sequence, Severnaya, the tank chase, the train, and the finale. Yeah the ejector seat feels a little too similar to Die Hard 2 (and Alec why didn’t you kill them before putting them in the chopper?) but these are quibbles (see also 007 driving a BMW).

Great script, great action, great cast…oh and one more thing, they pack all of this into just a shade over two hours. This is a well-paced movie, not a flabby Spectre of a film (see what I did there?).

Know what else? I’m even one of those rare birds that kinda likes the soundtrack.

A top five Bond film in my opinion, and probably always will be.

Anyway, James Bond will return, and you won’t have to wait six years this time!

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Licence to Kill (1989)

Posted: July 23, 2020 in James Bond
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A 00 agent gone rogue, M incensed, Bond out on his own and hunted by his own side as well as the villains. No, it isn’t just the new Purvis and Wade scripted Daniel Craig Bond film, this is something altogether different, something shall we say, unexpected. Bond going off piste when Bond going off piste wasn’t de rigueur.

Don’t get me wrong, James Bond’s always bent the rules somewhat, much to M’s consternation, the classic example being assaulting Piz Gloria, that was definitely something done off his own back, but Licence to Kill is something else.

A shameful admission here, the first time I saw LTK in ’89, well I wasn’t that enamoured. Maybe I was expecting The Living Daylights 2, maybe I was just young and stupid, but this is a film that’s grown on me with each viewing. It’s a crying shame we only got two Dalton flicks, but at least we got two great ones!

The film opens with the American air force spotting that a plane has deviated from its course.

Meanwhile Bond’s on his way to Felix Leiter’s wedding, along with their pal Sharkey. When they’re waved down by the DEA Felix decides to delay the wedding so he can go after a drug dealer named Sanchez. Bond of course tags along.

Meanwhile we get our introduction to Robert Davi’s Sanchez, and what a great introduction, from him tearing down the curtain, to ordering a man’s death to exacting his revenge on poor Lupe. This is a man who considers himself above the law, and when Bond and Felix turn up he sneaks away, smugly presuming he’s safe, until 007 shows him you should never count your chickens. After going fishing for the drug lord, Bond and Felix parachute straight to the wedding. Special mention for the bridesmaids who pick up Bond and Felix’s chutes like they were bridal trains, and for Della’s father grumpily extorting “I told you this was a mistake.” Oh were you ever right, dad…

The wedding goes well, and Bond leaves the reception with a gift from the bride, a lighter. Unfortunately Sanchez has escaped, and he’s sent his goons (led by a very young Benicio del Toro) Felix is knocked out, and when he wakes it’s to find he’s the prisoner of Sanchez. He thinks he’s for the chop but Sanchez has other ideas.

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Upon discovering Sanchez has escaped Bond races to the house, where he finds Della dead and Felix mauled by a shark. Incensed he and Sharkey begin an investigation that leads them to aquarium owner Milton Krest and Bond gets some portion of revenge by killing the FBI agent who helped Sanchez escape. His private vendetta hasn’t gone unnoticed though. M arrives to take Bond home, after revoking his licence to kill, Bond has other ideas and does a runner. On his own he turns to former CIA agent Pam Bouvier to fly him to Isthmus City. Outnumbered hundreds, perhaps thousands, to one Bond proceeds to take Sanchez’s organisation apart by playing on his paranoia.

A story about Bond going rogue, and about 007 thirsting for vengeance is made for Dalton. We saw flashes in The Living Daylights of the cold rage boiling just beneath the surface (look at his face when Saunders is killed) so a one man rampage fits his interpretation of Bond to a tee, especially the notion that he’s close to telling M to stuff it most of the time anyway. Don’t let anyone tell you Daniel Craig was the first gritty Bond.

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Dalton is superb throughout (and he also seems to spend an inordinate amount of the movie wet) displaying a whole raft of emotions, from glee at snagging Sanchez’s plane, to melancholia when Della mentions him being married (and you have to love Felix’s line “He was married once, but it was a long time ago,” to horror at finding Della dead and Felix mangled, to rage…oh, so much rage! You have to love his accent slipping and some Derbyshire coming through, the “Things were about to turn nasty” bit always makes me smile. As with Daniel Craig he’s funnier than you think he is and if there’s a misstep it isn’t Dalton’s fault, what was going on with his hair in the casino scene?

u-g-Q1C1FM90A decent villain can make or break a Bond film, and in Sanchez 007 has a superior adversary. Fresh from his stint as Special Agent Johnson in Die Hard (and amusingly he shares screen time with Agent Johnson actor Grand L. Bush early doors) Robert Davi makes for an excellent adversary. Cruel, smug, diabolical, sadistic, yet with a curious sense of honour. The best villains are the ones who think they’re the hero of the story and Sanchez clearly thinks he’s the hero here.

A great Bond, a great villain, if only it featured a great Bond girl…oh wait it does! Carey Lowell gets a welcome amount of agency as Pam Bouvier (gotta love the Ms Kennedy joke as well). Honestly I don’t think I’d realised just how rounded a Bond girl she is. She’s tough and resourceful, yet flawed—clearly, she’s reckless, probably why she agrees to go with 007 to Isthmus— she doesn’t just follow Bond around with puppy dog eyes, she acts on her own initiative multiple times, and has her own agenda with Heller and the stingers. Given all this I can forgive her turning on the waterworks right at the end! If I have an issue it’s that maybe a stronger actress would have made even more of the opportunity, but I’m being picky, Pam is a top drawer Bond girl, proof you can give a gal agency without stepping on 007’s toes.

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As Lupe Talisa Soto is perhaps a more conventional Bond girl, but kudos to giving us two Bond girls and not have one of them be bad. Soto is absolutely gorgeous, especially in the casino scenes, but it’s a shame she’s only defined by her relationships to male characters, first her unnamed lover, then Franz, then Bond and then finally el presidente! Her falling in love with Bond inside of a few minutes is a trifle eyerolling as well, as Q demonstrates.

Ah Q, always nice to see him out in the field (though something that should always be the exception not the rule, Whishaw!) and Llewellyn is good value here, brave and resourceful.

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“Bless your heart.”

The film has a great supporting cast which is always nice to see. From Everett McGill as duplicitous, cigar chomping Killiver, to Vegas legend Wayne Newton who brings a welcome touch of levity as Professor Joe. The return of David Hedison as Felix is a nice touch as well, investing us in the character a little bit more because he’s familiar to us, and thankfully he doesn’t quite look thirty years older than Priscilla Barnes’ Della. She has a thankless task but imbues Della with enough warmth in a few minutes to ensure we’re as angry as 007 is. The fridging of Della just to make Bond angry could be clunky, especially given the not so subtle allusion to rape as well as murder, that it works is down to Barnes’ and Dalton’s performances (sorry Felix but you seem altogether too perky at the end) and the emotional call back to Tracy is a nice touch, Bond isn’t just angry because of what’s happened to Della and Felix, it goes deeper than that.

Special mention for Anthony Zerbe who’s wonderfully sleazy as Milton Krest, and comes to a very sticky end, and yes, Benicio del Toro is nasty as hell.

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And on the subject of Dario, it’s been pointed out to me that Sanchez might be more interested in him than Lupe, and he’s certainly more touchy feely with his henchman than with his girlfriend, in fact he barely seems to notice Lupe at all, which makes you wonder if she’s his beard, and if he was gay, that makes his relationship with Bond a trifle different as well. And look at that, 20+ years before Bond and Silva started flirting. I wonder if it’s a reference to Scaramanga in the novel of The Man with the Golden Gun, who it’s implied might be batting for the other side (and I don’t mean Russia) or maybe as humans are want to do we’re seeing patterns where none exist. There are some definite references to the books of course; Milton Krest, the whip, Felix’s close encounter with a great white…

The action scenes are not only top drawer, but imaginative as well. My personal favourite is the escape from the WaveKrest, featuring some of the franchise’ least boring underwater scenes. The water-skiing escape and takeover of the plane are glorious. The whole sequence from start to finish is superb (best not to wonder why a drug dealer is buying drugs, or how Lupe gets home ahead of Krest though, eh?)

The pre-title sequence manages to go from Miami Vice serious to typically Bond ridiculousness, but it works, and the tanker chase is technically well put together, even if I can never quite bring myself to love it, though it does have its moments, and a nice finale where Bond explains to Sanchez why he’s gone to so much trouble to take him down, assuming Sanchez can read the inscription (it was quite bright out!)

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Bond has some great lines (“More of a problem eliminator”) and it’s great to see him relying on his wits, until Q turns up with the gadgets—not that Bond gets to use too many of them thanks to the appearance of some ninjas straight out of central casting. Bond using Sanchez’s own paranoia against him as well is a great move, and for once the fact that his reputation proceeds him acts in his favour!

I’m pretty sure someone else will fill the void left by Sanchez so it’s hardly the happy ending it’s played as but maybe the producers figured the film had been dark enough already without delving too deeply into the socioeconomic realities of the drugs trade? And would M really welcome 007 back with open arms? He’s probably caused an international incident, and, even if only inadvertently, his attack on Sanchez may well have cost the lives of those Hong Kong narcotics agents, and an MI6 agent.

I’m being picky though. This is a great Bond film, and while people may have felt it clutching at the coattails of the 80s action boom, well, Bond’s always cherrypicked from what’s hot at the time, and despite it’s gritty tone this is still very clearly a Bond film, albeit one more suited to Dalton’s talents and I truly wish we’d got a third Dalton film.

So, its farewell to Tim, we hardly knew you but by god you made an impression…I wonder who’ll be next? Shame they missed out on that Remington Steel guy…

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“I’m smoking a fag!”

 

The Living Daylights (1987)

Posted: June 16, 2020 in James Bond
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And so for the first time since 1971 we get a canon Bond film that doesn’t star Roger Moore, and by all rights it shouldn’t be Timothy Dalton parachuting into Gibraltar, it should have been Pierce Brosnan, but he couldn’t get out of his contract for Remington Steele and so Eon signed up Dalton. Was he their only option? Probably not, after all you can watch Sam Neil’s screentest! Was he always on their radar, possibly. Supposedly he was approached in 1968 and 1971, though given he’d have been in his early twenties it seems unlikely he was a serious contender.

In the end it doesn’t matter how Dalton ended up as James Bond, it only matters that he was Bond, and he was bloody fantastic.

Yeah, my feelings about Dalton are no secret, and The Living Daylights is one of my favourite Bond films (some Starkey trivia here, this was the first Bond film I saw on the big screen).

It had been a while since I’d seen it though and, much as I loved it, there were some weak elements…

Would I still feel the same?

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Of course I would!

From the get-go this is a very different kind of Bond film. The pre-title sequence is gritty and devoid of humour (comedy paintball moments aside). There’s no Beach Boys soundtrack here, no horse’s arse lifting to reveal a plane (though ironically there will be a horse’s arse later). Three 00 agents parachute into Gibraltar as part of an exercise, the SAS, armed with paint guns, are waiting for them. After one 00 is murdered it’s time for Dalton to enter the fray. It’s a nice intro and what follows is a thrilling set piece featuring Bond atop a moving vehicle. Hard to see Roger pulling this off, but it’s clear Dalton did a decent amount of his own stunts, and if proof were needed that this isn’t Roger’s 007, Bond headbutts the assassin. I mean, technically I think Roger tried to headbutt Jaws but realistically Tim’s the first Bond to successfully deploy this. Thankfully he repacked his parachute (and finally a pre-title sequence where it makes sense for him to have a parachute!)

Check out his acrobatic roll onto the boat as well, but he’s still Bond and still has an eye for the ladies.

Cue A-ha with a tune that isn’t as good as Duran Duran’s, but is still catchy.

Next stop Bratislava where Bond’s tasked with taking out a KGB sniper, thus allowing Soviet general Georgi Koskov to defect. The op’s being run by prissy MI6 agent Saunders, who has no time for Bond turning up in a dinner jacket and even less when Bond only wounds the KGB sniper. He’s even more pissed off when Bond takes over and gets Koskov out of Czechoslovakia his own way, which involves Julie T Wallace’s bosom. This scene was way more fun than I remembered it, and I do wonder if this was supposed to be the pre title sequence, given Bond’s “I must have scared the living daylights out of her” line.

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Koskov tells MI6 he defected because of a new directive by General Pushkin to start killing western agents, and that poor unfortunate 00 was just the first. Before the Brits can get much more out of Koskov, he’s kidnapped by the milkman! Seriously though, Necros’ attack on the safe house is wonderful, and his fight in the kitchen arguably one of the best in the franchise, and 007 isn’t even there!

M orders Bond to kill Pushkin, but Bond’s not so sure and takes a detour back to Czechoslovakia where he discovers the so called sniper is a cellist named Kara, Koskov’s girlfriend, whose gun was loaded with blanks to make the defection look real. Bond persuades her he’s Koskov’s friend and plans to get her to Austria, easier said than done with the police and army after them. Luckily Bond’s Aston Martin has a few optional extras installed. 007 may no longer be Moore but he still has a reckless disregard for Q Branch’s toys, so the Aston’s soon a smoking wreck and Bond and Kara slide into Austria via a very unorthodox form of transport.

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After a romantic interlude in Vienna, Bond’s pushed back into going after Pushkin by Saunders’ murder, but Bond’s no fool and quickly he and Pushkin team up to reveal what’s really going on. Koskov is in league with arms dealer Brad Whitaker. The pair plan to make millions using Russian money to buy drugs in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Koskov convinces Kara that Bond’s a wrong’un and the two wind up prisoners in a Russian airbase in Afghanistan. Bond being Bond they don’t stay there long.

After a fortuitous meeting with the mujahedeen Bond plots to blow up the plane carrying the drugs, but has to change his plans when Koskov spots him. Cue a mujahedeen attack on the airbase and Bond and Kara are forced take off in a plane carrying a bomb, and to make matters worse, a Necros as well!

After one final mission to take out Whitaker Bond can finally relax with some classical music, well with a classical cellist at least.

I know I’m biased but even so, this is a great film.

Let’s talk Dalton. He has the piecing eyes of a killer (the whole scene in Pushkin’s hotel room is just fantastic; “If I believed Koskov we wouldn’t be talking” “You should have bought lilies”) the cold rage of a man you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of (check out his expression upon finding Saunders’ body!) and yet he has the looks of a matinee idol, and is perhaps the most convincing romantic lead of any Bond. His seduction of Kara isn’t remotely creepy, it feels genuine, feels like they could fall in love.

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People will say he can’t do humour, but people are wrong. Just watch Hot Fuzz for further details. He isn’t Moore or Brosnan, but much like Craig he’s dryly humours given the right material. “Are you calling me a hose’s arse?”

Finally, there’s the physicality. I love Rog, always will, but Tim convinces in a fight in a way Roger rarely did, not even in the early days. Maybe at the time it was too radical a shift for some people, but for me Tim will always epitomise the character, closer to Fleming’s creation than anyone else, even Craig or Connery, and unlike Craig’s Bond, who hates what he does and gets depressed about it, Dalton hates what he does and covers this up by embracing the hedonism.

I fell a little in love with Maryam d’Abo back in 1987, and she’ll always be one of my favourite Bond girls. She isn’t a super spy or a scientist, isn’t that horrible phrase ‘Bond’s equal’ and yet I still think she’s a good Bond girl. Yes she’s manipulated by Koskov, and let’s be honest here, by James as well, but she still has agency, and I love the scene where she guilt trips the Mujahedeen into attacking the airbase by leading the charge. She isn’t superhuman, but she is believable. People are snarky about her flying ability, but for goodness sake she’s a cellist, and given she’s grown up behind the iron curtain she probably hasn’t seem a million Hollywood action films either! Give her a break.

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The bad guys are a trifle weak, though not as weak as some would argue. I actually like Jeroen Krabbé as Koskov, he’s wonderfully slimy and the fact that Bond doesn’t kill him in the end is perfect. I hope he isn’t executed and instead winds up in the same Siberian gulag he taunted Kara with.  He and Bond share some lovely snarky dialogue.

Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker isn’t exactly memorable, although oddly he’s probably got more relevant as time has passed. Let’s be honest here, there’s something Trumpian about him isn’t there?  Baker must have done something right however, as he’ll be back in two film’s time!

The best villain of the bunch is probably Andreas Wisniewski’s Necros. For saying he’s a monosyllabic henchman who doesn’t even have a prosthetic arm, or metal teeth, he’s incredibly effective, thanks to a script that showcases how dangerous he is before he ever meets 007. His one-man attack on the safehouse marks him out as a deadly foe, so when he and Bond finally come to blows, we know he’s a threat. It’d be wrong to put him in the same category as Red Grant, but compare him to the similar, but nowhere near as effective, Stamper in Tomorrow Never Dies, or even the woefully underused Dave Bautista as Hinx. And a side note about Wisniewski, he’s the first Dalton/Die Hard connection, stay tuned for two more in Licence to Kill!

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Robert Brown is back as M, and while he is the weakest M, he’s effective. Desmond Llewelyn doesn’t get a lot to do as Q but Rhys-Davies is wonderful as Pushkin, though if Walter Gotell had been in better health presumably it would have been Gogol in this role. I like Thomas Wheatley’s Saunders, who goes from dick to useful ally just in time to be horribly murdered.

There are some missteps though. Caroline Bliss gets the thankless task of replacing Lois Maxwell, and given terrible dialogue into the bargain (“Any time you fancy listening to my Barry Manilow collection”). Not her fault but she’s the worst Moneypenny by far, and John Terry makes for a weak Felix, shame given he was Hawk the bloody Slayer (which isn’t rubbish).

The plot is tight, and not at all fantastical which works well in a more grounded Bond film, and the scenes in Czechoslovakia (really Austria) lend a nice touch to this, the last Cold War themed Bond film (setting aside Goldeneye’s pre-title sequence), and Bond gets to act the detective which is always nice to see and there are some great set pieces. The pre-title sequence and Necros’ attack of course, but also the chase into Austria, starting off with a fully tricked out Aston Martin (the first Aston since 1969!) and ending up with our hero and the girl sliding down the mountain in a cello case which is the kind of thing only Bond can really get away with. The attack on the Russian airbase is full on and Bond’s fight with Necros on the cargo net is superb, with a nice ticking time bomb thrown in for good measure, which means even after Necros gets the boot, Bond can’t relax. Yeah the final showdown with Whitaker is lame (stop shooting at the bulletproof screen, 007!) but it doesn’t go on too long and the wolf whistle denouncement is very JB.

Talking of JB this was to be John Barry’s swansong and he gives Dalton a great debut soundtrack, much as he did for Lazenby. He’ll be missed.

All in all a top drawer Bond film, jettisoning the silliness for a down to earth adventure that gives us a Bond we can believe in as an ice cold assassin yet keeps more than enough Bond tropes to keep all but the grumpiest Bond fan happy. I love it, Dalton and d’Abo and likely always will.

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