This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which there is lots of ice, bad CGI, yet another space laser, and Madonna. Also North Koreans finally get to be the baddies.
Alex: This film turns on the idea of a sooky North Korean military official, Moon, who wants to make money but is prevented from doing so initially, we presume, by Also High Military Official Dad and then by James Bond spannering his plans. Presumed dead, he goes off and has his DNA changed and comes out looking like a preppy English public-school product (that’s a spoiler BTW) named Graves, and uses that – plus a load of diamonds – to fool the world and meanwhile construct a space laaaaaaser. Bond, naturally, ends up foiling GraveMoon’s plans.
That’s all well and par-for-Bond-good. However, my one enormous, abiding, overwhelming and rage-inducing problem with this film is not the dreadful CG and Bond surfing enormous avalanche-caused waves on a bit he ripped off a land-speed-record car. Nope, I can roll my eyes at that and deal with it. It’s not even the ludicrous, so-heavy-with-innuendo-I-can’t-believe-it-floats conversation that Bond and Jinx (Halle Berry) share. I dealt with Christmas Jones; I can avoid throwing things for this one. My problem is this: if you have a space-based solar shield thing that can be so focussed that it becomes a laser, and it’s capable of being so targeted that you can use it to chase a car across the ice, why the hell are you using it to blow up land mines in the Korean DMZ? Why aren’t you using it to pick off, I dunno, the White House? Maybe the South Korean government buildings, if that’s who you’re really pissy at? Then go for Westminster, maybe the UN buildings in New York, and throw in the entirety of The Hague while you’re at it so you can’t ever be charged with war crimes? This part of the film utterly ruins any credibility GraveMoon might have had.
ANYWAY. The above is a real shame because the film begins as possibly the darkest of any Bond because he’s captured by the North Koreans and tortured. And rather than the credits being just full of nudey girls, the torture is shown in quite clever ways through diamond-cum-ice frames (both a theme throughout). This quite cleverly allows the audience to see the brutality but not get overwhelmed. It’s also the first time, I think, that the credits have been used to add to the storyline. There are still nudey girls, though, don’t worry.
Bond ends up being traded for a North Korean whose face he filled with diamonds, because the Americans think he’s spilled his guts, and after escaping from the Brits by stopping his own heart he ends up in Cuba, looking for Mr Diamond Face (Zao). While there he hooks up with Jinx and interrupts Zao’s facial reconstruction. Some time later Bond is back in Britain and has a sword fight with GraveMoon, whom Bond is just naturally suspicious of because he’s too good-looking (ok there’s a connection to conflict diamond but whatevs), and GraveMoon’s fencing teacher is Madonna. In leathers. And she gets to say that she won’t watch them because she doesn’t like cock fights. ZING.
Eventually Bond and GraveMoon and Jinx and GraveMoon’s assistant Miranda Frost end up in Iceland, and that’s when all the crap goes bad and there’s death the end. Oh wait, except for using a SPACE LASER to take out land mines. THEN it’s the end.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Christmas Jones is better than Miranda Frost as a character. Oooh she’s all indifferent towards Bond, she’s Frosty, geddit?? For all of FIVE MINUTES. And yes, being a turncoat is relatively interesting, but not enough is made of it for it to actually be interesting. Jinx… well, it’s almost obvious now for a kick-ass woman to be an international agent, so the revelation that she’s NSA isn’t unexpected. She gets a couple of nice fight scenes, but I’m completely disinterested in girl-on-girl fights as a Thing (although theirs was ok as a fight), and really I think she should have tried harder to escape the ice prison. Also let’s not forget her callback to Ursula Andress is Doctor No, coming up out of the water to Bond’s waiting eyes, wearing a bikini. M is wonderfully cold in this film, especially at the start – she may be fond of Bond as a person but as an asset, the price for his freedom was too high and she’s not worried about him knowing it (and, to his beardy credit, Bond knows it too – I like these glimpses of professionalism).
Racially I think this is quite problematic. After all, the Korean Moon does remake himself as a Westerner, and Zao tries to. (Incidentally, GraveMoon confronting Bond about his identity change is one of my favourite bits, with Moon saying he based Graves on Bond: “I paid attention to details – that unjustifiable swagger, the crass quips, the self-defence mechanism concealing such inadequacy.”) He couldn’t have stayed Asian and been as successful, got knighted, etc? Bah. But he and the other Koreans are no condemned for their race, which is good, and there’s not even really any comment on North Korea itself. Colin Salmon is back as a fairly powerful underling to M, Jinx is of course black… and there’s a fairly dodgy Chinese concierge-spy, and I’m not sure what I think of him.
Overall I think I have to call this a pretty disappointing end to the Pierce Brosnan era – one that started so well got, dare I say it, closer to the Roger Moore style of innuendos, and pushed the limits of CG beyond the realms of what was necessary. I do think the basic story lines stayed interesting – but then they have mostly done so for the whole series.
ETA: how could I forget?? The stewardess on the plane who serves Bond is Roger Moore’s daughter! That’s cool.
An invisible car which leaves tyre tracks in the snow is not invisible. A space laser is so Connery and John Cleese returns as
R … Q. This Bond did not light my fire. 2 Martinis.