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 Bond gets yet another new face, plays a lot of poker, and has his heart broken. Also, parkour.
Alex: I was trying to figure out whether this is actually a reboot, and of course the answer is no. This film is not a reboot. It’s an origin story. If you can have (several) Wolverine origin stories after a few X-Men films, there’s no reason why Bond can’t have an origin story after 20 films. The fact that it’s set 40+ years after the first film is, in the scheme of things Bond, irrelevant.
Thus, Bond’s origins. We get to see his first two kills – the first very unpleasant, the second very easy – in a wonderfully chiaroscuro, noir, set of scenes. Daniel Craig is SO cold, and reminds me a lot of Dalton. The evolution of Bond over this film comes down to how easy it is for him to kill, and deal with death more generally, as well as how competent he is in dealing with suspects and crises. He starts well, here, then shows himself fallible at various points, and ultimately becomes the hard, cold killer that Fleming actually wrote.
The feel of the new Bond is helped by the credits: it’s the first time, I believe, that the shooting-down-the-barrel has actually been incorporated into the plot itself, and there are no nudie girls. Also, I love the song, and I think it’s only the second one that doesn’t include the title of the film in the lyrics (the other being Octopussy, for several reasons I would guess).
Anyway, Bond’s kills allow M (helloooo Dame Dench) to promote (?) Bond to being a 00, and I love that Dench continued in this role. We see a little bit more about her, personally: Bond breaks into her house and discovers that her name actually starts with M (leading her to promise to kill him if he utters her name) and when we see her woken in the middle of the night, there is a male partner next to her. I know that chronologically it makes zero sense to have kept her, but I adore her in this role so much and since when has sense mattered anyway. Also she gets to say “Christ I miss the Cold War.” And she describes Bond, contemptuously, as a blunt instrument. SWOON.
That interaction happens after one of the most magnificent chases in Bond history: Bond chases a man through a town on Madagascar, especially through a construction site, and Sébastien Foucan – originator of parkour – treats the audience to an absolutely astonishing display of free running. Bond manages some good leaps, too, but often the contrast is between Foucan’s balletic agility and Bond crashing through walls. The Bond shoots him. In an embassy. Showing that Bond is not completely the cold and calculating agent he’s meant to be.
We’re introduced to the main villain very early on, and the writers show that they’re tapping the zeitgeist. The focus is not terrorists but their banker: the man who enables them to profit, and keep their profit. I think this is deeply fascinating, and demonstrates another step forward in the sophistication of issues that Bond as a franchise is dealing with. Of course, this sophistication is not something that can be taken for granted – they’ve had very clever and insightful moments in the past and then gone whacky in the next film. Still, Le Chiffre is fascinating, and follows in that grand tradition of physically marked baddies: he has an awesome scar and he CRIES BLOOD. Take that, Blofeld! The story revolves around Bond screwing up Le Chiffre’s plans to make a lot of money and then Le Chiffre deciding to win it all back on a high-stakes poker game. BECAUSE NOTHING EVER WENT WRONG WHEN GAMBLING.
Interlude to mention the Ursula Andress reference: Bond coming out of the ocean in trunks. Nice moment.
Anyway, the government is staking Bond the money to get into the poker game. They’ve already chipped him, like a dog, so they can keep track of him; now he also has to be accompanied by a treasury agent – and enter Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, and my goodness do I love her. Their first conversation, where they utterly skewer each other by reading the other’s clothes and attitudes, is utterly devastating. “You’re not my type.” “Smart?” “Single.” Also, this look:
I am so bored right now by this dress and these glamorous surroundings. Also you, James. Yawn.
Vesper and Bond are a wonderful match in terms of attitude and expectations – the scene where they are instructing each other on what to wear (“there are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets; this is the latter” omg win) is glorious. That she spikes his plans by distracting him when walking into the poker game is very funny. And then all of this comes to a head when they are involved in a nasty altercation with someone who was actually threatening Le Chiffre, and Bond and Vesper just get in the way. Bond himself is affected by the kill, but Vesper – understandably – is devastated; Bond’s care for her is one of the most touching moments in Bond history. Like Dalton, Craig gets the cold-hearted/totally human balance almost perfect.
Meanwhile, there’s poker to be played. Le Chiffre turns out to be playing Bond like a cat with a mouse – allowing Bond to think he’d picked a tell, then taking him for all his cash. Vesper refuses, quite rightly, to allow him to buy back in… which means Felix Leiter reveals himself. A black Leiter! Jeffrey Wright is marvellous. Makes a deal that Bond can have the money if the US gets Le Chiffre – but what about the winnings? “Does it look like we need the money?” Oh Leiter, you are so droll. Never change. Anyway, because Bond is doing so well, Le Chiffre’s girlfriend – who is never named and I don’t think even speaks – poisons him. Fortunately there’s a defibrillator in his Austen, and Vesper arrives in time to help him not die, and then Bond wins the entire pool of money. THE END.
… um no. Because this is New Bond, and things haven’t got seriously awful yet. Vesper is kidnapped, Bond is tortured (nastily) and then rescued by the fixer we saw at the start of the film – not because Bond is so awesome but because Le Chiffre is unreliable. Bond and Vesper fall in love while in hospice and run away from life to Venice… and then it turns out Vesper has stolen the money and given it to the fixer, because her boyfriend had been kidnapped ages ago and this was how to get him out.
And then she dies, and this is the one part of the film that disappoints me. Because she didn’t have to die. She could have got out of that elevator before it went underwater. She wants to die because of her mistake, and narrative-wise it’s to give Bond more depth and reason to be cold. VESPER IS FRIDGED AND I AM SO SAD.
The real end comes with Bond killing Mr White, the fixer, thanks to a posthumous message from Vesper, and Craig saying “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
Overall this is my favourite Bond so far. It owes some of its sensibility to the Bourne films and their hard-edged-ness. It is very clearly setting itself in opposition to the kitchiness of the last Brosnan films. This is a Bond for a new, harder, more brutal age.
James: The film opens in black and white with a grainy film noir style. The opening credits are more like a graphic novel than a movie with the playing cards heavily tied in. No boobs. I love the David Arnold soundtrack following on from the Chris Cornell theme. The fighting is visceral and fast, parkour rather than skis or a boat etc. Bonus points for spotting the Richard Branson Cameo in the airport (the price of using a Virgin Plane). Bond at the bar, “Vodka Martini” … “Shaken or Stirred?” … “Do I look like a give a damn?” … brilliant. They play cards and then we get the final chase scene. As Alex says, a tough, modern Bond – More Dalton than any Brosnan. The gadgets are there but downplayed. Perhaps it’s the origin story poking through but I felt like there was more character development than in any of the films yet. Certainly the highlight so far. 4 Martinis – Shaken or Stirred, I don’t give a damn either.