This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
What, you thought that with us having watched all 23 movies there would be no more posts?! HA!
Alex: I love lists. They amuse me greatly. So I thought I would make some lists of things from the Bond movies. I also love tables…
Best Bonds: it has to be done. How do we rank the Bonds, best to worst?
|Dalton||Connery (too many fond childhood memories I think)|
Alex: Connery? Really? You let the nostalgia blind you. Also how can you put Moore above Lazenby? Hooooooow?!?
James: Lazenby is ok, but while Moore is cheesy as a body of work the combination of films is still more impressive than the bumbling efforts of Lazenby for one films as ‘Hilly’. Neither of them are great, even Brosnan wasn’t as good as my faded memory. The strength of Dalton was a surprise for me.
Best Bond girls: choose whatever metric you like, but pick the top six (because there are six Bonds)…
|Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)||Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)|
|Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)||Honey Ryder (Dr No)|
|Pam Bouvier (Licensed to Kill)||Dr Goodhead (Moonraker)|
|Triple X (The Spy who Loved Me)||Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)|
|Tracy di Vicenzo (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)||Kara (The Living Daylights)|
|Camille (Quantum of Solace)||Camille (Quantum of Solace)|
James: What about Dr Christmas Jones (The World is not Enough)? Quality Acting… or Bibi (For Your Eyes Only). Notes: Vesper is clearly the strongest character across all the films, Honey Ryder iconic, Goodhead just appeals to me, geek girl. Wai Lin kicks arse, Kara is the best of the innocent but involved girls and Camille is great, but not top 5.
Alex: I cannot believe you went there with Dr Jones. Seriously. I love that Pam Bouvier takes the lead in kissing Bond, and that she takes no crap from him. Tracy was always going to be a favourite of mine because Diana Rigg… and also she’s quite plucky. The other one that nearly made my top 6 is Melina, from For Your Eyes Only, and yes I agree that Dr Goodhead is indeed awesome. The ‘innocent’ girls have never worked for me – it’s too much like Bond is taking advantage of them. Which he does.
Best theme songs: let’s go with six again.
Alex: with the caveat that on a different day I might pick quite different songs… well, maybe three would be the same, but they too might be different on different days…
|From Russia with Love||A View to a Kill|
|Live and Let Die||From Russia with Love|
|Quantum of Solace||Quantum of Solace|
Alex: I am astonished that we have so many in common!
Best Bond villain:
|Blofeld (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)|
|Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun… does he really count as a villain?)|
|Alec Trevalyan (Golden Eye)|
|Kananga and Sanchez (Live and Let Die/ Licence to Kill)|
|Elliot Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies)|
James: I’m struggling to get excited about the baddie list, there are a few I don’t mind, Carver, Trevalyan and Blofeld. Scaramanga is a fun character, but he’s not a villain like the others. Largo? Number 1? I do like the SPECTRE films, but maybe that’s just because they remind me of Inspector Gadget somehow? Oh I like Dr No also. But the best? I just dunno.
Alex: this is my problem too! I think we (society) have this vague idea of Bond dealing with nemesis after nemesis, but the reality is that very few of them actually come close to being as good as Bond. I think the other thing that we sometimes forget is that Bond is an employee: with very few exceptions (Scaramanga, Silva) the villains are not after Bond as Bond. They are interested in either World Destruction/Domination, or Making A Great Deal of Money – and Bond keeps getting in the way of that.
I was also going to suggest we talk about Best Henchmen too, but since the winner is clearly Jaws by an enormous margin there’s just no point in even discussing it. (OK, Dario – played by Benicio del Toro – comes a close second for sheer insanity.) And as for Bond henchmen, Leiter (especially Jeffrey Wright) and Quarrel, for me, are the best.
Alex: I think one of the most interesting things about looking at the entire oeuvre of Bond films is the different (British?) preoccupations they each reveal – what disasters are most relevant at this time? Are we more worried about a country or a person? The flip in GoldenEye to being more worried about intangibles – information – than about physical death and destruction is a really significant one that you maybe don’t get without considering the whole suite.
James: I was struck by the preoccupation with space lasers… Always space lasers. I was also surprised by how little time Bond actually spends in casinos and ordering Martinis shaken not stirred; somehow that and the gadgets is my strong memory from childhood.
Alex: it’s completely the stereotype of Bond, which means I think that those childhood memories get reinforced by cultural/societal ‘memories’. I really liked that the writers for Craig in particular played with those expectations a bit; in fact it happened a few times, that Bond got all meta on itself. I approve of this.
Alex: it has certainly been an … interesting… experience. I have to admit that actually, I am disappointed by the franchise overall. Perhaps that’s too strong, perhaps that’s not fair; until you hit about Dalton you actually can’t judge the films by modern standards – well you can but, well, you just get disappointed. Having said that though there are lots of films made post-1990 that I don’t think meet what I consider even mediocre modern standards, so maybe my standards are too high? So be it.
My main problem has been the level of cheese. I pass over the sexism – in the early Bonds that’s part and parcel of the era, in the later Bonds it’s slowly improving, and in all of them it’s not like they’re out to challenge Hollywood which we all know isn’t great on the Women Existing As Characters front. And while there are problematic racial aspects I feel that Bond is less problematic in that regard – over the 23 films – than might be expected (not great, but not entirely cringeworthy). No, it’s the number of times that the story isn’t taken seriously, that silly glib lines are used to no effect – this is what I did not really expect to see as a feature, despite having seen a few Moores before this year. It really doesn’t work for me. And it’s also (to hark back to the previous discussion) not something that features in the cultural memory of Bond, so I was quite unprepared for it.
Will I watch some of these again? Absolutely. I can see myself rewatching the Daltons, possibly the early Brosnans, and the first and third Craigs. Maybe one or two of the Connerys? When enough time has passed? If the Moores all develop unexpected scratches, though, I will not lose any sleep.
James: Perhaps in future Bond should consider not pointing out to his arch enemy that he knows, that they know, that he knows. I’d re-watch Dr No, From Russia with Love, perhaps the Daltons, Golden Eye and Tomorrow Never Dies plus the Daniel Craigs. Only Casino Royal and Skyfall could even be considered great films and even then none of them are desert island material.
Bond, James Bond… now for a Martini or three.
Apparently it’s a thing to be a serious sartorial nerd, to the point where you a) examine all of James Bond’s suits, know what they’re made of, whether they have buttons or cuff links, and the colour as well; and b) look down your nose at people who use ‘tux’ instead of tuxedo and dare to wear them when the sun’s in the sky.
Don’t believe me? Read this – and read the comments too.
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 EEE we finish Project Bond!! Also, M is a target, Bond is broken, and this time they’re fighting one of their own.
Alex: before I get into more details, I want to get my very great disappointment with this film out of the way. Now I love this film, but there is one thing that makes me see red. All of my notes – because I wrote them like this was a first-time viewing – refer to “the black woman” until right at the end, when the MI6 operative who’s been fairly important finally gets introduced. Her being nameless is not the problem, because it doesn’t get in the way of her competence. And the big reveal – that she is Moneypenny!!! – is not the problem and actually that is SO COOL. I am happy to have Moneypenny back in the franchise, and I am beyond excited to have her as a former field agent. My problem is with why she is now M’s secretary. Bond expresses surprise early on that she wants to go back into the field after she’s cocked up badly (that is, shot Bond instead of the villain), saying “it’s not for everyone.” And then, at the end, after proving that she’s cool under pressure and all of that, Moneypenny agrees that field work “isn’t for everyone.” And I KNOW that that’s true, and I don’t MIND that Moneypenny has chosen a different way of serving queen and country. What I have a problem with is that a) it’s only a woman shown making this choice; and b) more importantly, WHY she makes this choice is NEVER explained. It would have been so easy to have her wounded in the line of duty and make it impossible to keep being in the field; or, sensitively, to somehow show her not coping in the field.
I may still be angry about this.
Anyway. Overall, I really like Skyfall. Apparently it’s the highest grossing Bond yet. It’s not as good as Casino Royale, but it makes up for Quantum of Solace.
I’ve loved the recent development of having M play a real role in the narrative, not just be a hand presenting an envelope, and this is taken to the ultimate here: M is the target of an ex-agent who is seeking to take down all of MI6 in revenge. M is tough as nails – shoot even if you think you might hit Bond; “to hell with dignity, I’ll leave when the job’s done” – as well as becoming more rounded: reference to a poetry-loving deceased husband, her lovely interactions with Bond’s gamekeeper Kincaid, making bombs from lightbulbs… I just love Dench. When I first saw the film I was really, really sad that they killed her off (that plus the Moneypenny issue made me very cranky), but I do accept that perhaps she wanted out of the franchise, and on reflection I have less problem with her going out in the field than simply retiring to get grumpy at her roses. (Actually, now I think about it I do believe she would have turned out like Helen Mirren in RED, and taken jobs on the side…). And while I’m talking about M, I like that Mallory is the new one. Yes it’s sad that we’re back to having a boy ordering a boy around; but Mallory has a proven track record (Northern Ireland, held by the IRA; saving M from Silva), and I like his spiky-with-respect relationship to Bond. I hope they get to keep Fiennes for the next one.
The narrative, of an ex-agent seeking revenge on MI6 in general and M in particular for selling him out, is not overly complicated (although getting there is; the first half feels far more devious than perhaps it needed to), but I found it thrilling nonetheless. Starting with someone stealing a list of NATO agents embedded in terrorist organisations, it looks like someone just out to make money, but then the information is revealed on YouTube… and Bond eventually finds his way to Silva and takes him into custody.
The concept that Silva wanted to be caught and taken to MI6’s new underground digs, that this was all “years in the planning,” is the first time in 23 films that I thought “well that’s a bit preposterous.”
Silva is an interesting villain and is a call back to Alec Trevelyan. While Alec had decades of familial revenge on his mind, Silva’s is entirely personal: he was traded to the Chinese for other British agents before the Hong Kong transfer. So he was genuinely badly treated – and when he reveals that he did, eventually, take his cyanide but it didn’t kill him, instead horrible mutilating him (oh look, the villain is physically scarred) – well. I do feel some sympathy. Of course he has already shown that he’s a psychopath (killing Severine; plus he was going against orders already when M gave him up), and continues to do so (and seems a bit Oedipal towards M), so it’s not too much sympathy.
Despite the narrative being focussed on Silva and his angst, let’s be honest: Bond is the focus of this film in a way that he is in no other one except perhaps Casino Royale. He’s at his worst in this film, spending the first part ‘enjoying death’, as he tells M, and looking haggard; and then trying to get back into shape… it’s not often that I actually feel sympathy for Bond, but it happens here. And then there’s Skyfall. His family home. A bleak house in a bleak part of Scotland that he hasn’t been back to as an adult, that has been sold since he was declared dead, and is still being looked after by a cranky gamekeeper who delights in putting Bond in his place (“jumped up little shit”). And we see a gravestone that seems to confirm that Bond is actually his name, which I was doubting after the discussion about M saying Silva’s real name.
Meanwhile, Q is back! I love Ben Wishaw as Q. I like Bond’s shock at his youth and their developing camaraderie as Q is unruffled and gives as good as he gets; I love Q’s aplomb and that he is comfortable with his own genius (no false humility here) Swoon.
And I also love the theme song.
James: Straight into the action, Bond with his gun drawn; cars and motorbikes in Istanbul, then onto a train with a Cat excavator as the finale to one of the more spectacular openings yet – Bond is shot and falls from the moving train to his apparent death in a raging river. The credits continue with the modern Bond graphic novel-style with daggers turning into crosses in a graveyard, blood and water. The Adelle penned and performed theme song harks back to the Shirley Bassey era. For the film nerds this is the movie where Bond ends up going digital – shot on an ARRI ALEXA – the end of an era.
We return from the credits with M writing Bond’s obituary while he’s living on a beach enjoying the company of a young lady and doing bar tricks for money. He looks quite grumpy though. Next Bond appears in M’s house (again) … “Where the hell have you been ?” – “Dead” … Testing … Testing … Training … Bond and Q … “A gun and a radio.” … “That’s it ?” … “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore”. The cinematic style and the soundtrack is very Christopher Nolan, very Batman. Some things happen and then there is a car chase back in the DB5, out of secret storage with the classic Bond theme music to lead into the finale – many things blow up and M dies. 3.5 Martinis with a bitter twist.
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 the design people must have got a good deal on glass. Water is the most precious thing in the world… and this is actually a sequel?
Alex: turns out this isn’t quite as bad as I remembered. Faint praise I know, but after the glories of Casino Royale there were a lot of hopes riding on this film and at the time… well. I was sad. However, in the context of all Bonds, this one isn’t too shabby. Also, shout out to yet another absolutely kick-ass song; Jack White and Alicia Keys are an inspired, off the wall choice and I think they’re awesome.
The film opens with a brutal, fast car chase through Italian mountains and at the end, it turns out Mr White was in the boot of Bond’s car. So this is picking up where the last one left off in a way that has really never happened before. This is intriguing and actually somewhat discomfiting. It’s weird enough to have the odd call-back to a dead wife; now we get a Bond who is actually affected by things in the last film?? Wha – ??
The credits open without Bond shooting down the barrel of a gun. (He does so at the end of the film instead.) The credits are very different from those before, except that the nudey girls are back. Hello boobs.
Bond has brought Mr White to M, and there’s all sorts of discussion about Le Chiffre and Vesper that is meant to suggest you’re still watching Casino Royale. Mr White is amused by their arrogance at thinking they can keep him prisoner, and then M’s bodyguard tries to kill her because he’s One Of Them. Bond saves M and chases him – the parkour isn’t as good as last time, but they do go through a glass roof and do some spinning-upside-down fighting. To be honest it’s all a bit video game-y.
Bond keeps chasing down these Mr White/Le Chiffre connections, and ends up in Haiti where yet more glass is broken in a fight with someone who’s maybe connected. He takes the guy’s briefcase and is picked up by a woman in a case of mistaken identity; lucky for her since the other dude was meant to kill her. There are shenanigans that suggest she’s sleeping with a nasty man who was probably responsible for setting up that hit… and we know he’s nasty partly because he’s so slimy, partly because he smugly claims to have facilitated a change of government in Haiti to help out some big corporate. Villain then ‘gives’ the woman to a a general who’s buying his services to (re)take over Bolivia. Bond saves the woman but she’s furious – because it turns out she wanted that to happen.
Let’s talk about Camille. I love her. She is ruthless and determined and she’s being trying to get close to the general for years in order to get revenge for her family, whom he killed. Yes, she’s another in a long line of women who start out loathing Bond and then work with him, but there’s a difference. She doesn’t sleep with him. WHOA. Bond writers, are you actually growing up?? Also, she’s tough, with added real fear about what it will be like to kill someone. This is, I think, not feminine weakness – Bond never treats it like that – but real concern about, y’know, taking a life. I really like Camille.
Camille was using Dominic Greene to get to the general. Greene appears to be a wealthy entrepreneur who is also philanthropic and solicitous for the world. BIG RED WARNING LIGHT. (Also he has amusingly coiffured henchmen.) Of course Greene is actually a scheming arrogant villain who is just our for MOAR MONEYS. Greene’s going to do this by tying up all of Bolivia’s water and forcing the country to pay through the nose for it. He’s got a deal with the CIA (hello Leiter, you awesome man you, I know you’re not evil you’re just hanging with the wrong crowd) and he’s in the Mr White and a bunch of other big nobs. Basically, this is the new SPECTRE.
Bond goes to Bolivia to figure out what Greene’s up to and is met at the airport by Fields, from the consulate. Gemma Arterton has lovely reddish hair here, so clearly she’s Strawberry Fields but the writers choose not to actually go there in the dialogue. Fields tries to boss Bond around but he bosses her around instead and they end up in bed. Natch. (So the writers aren’t growing up that much.) And then she ends up dead, also natch, in a horrible call-back to Goldfinger: she’s covered in oil, because everyone thinks Greene is after that rather than water.
Anyway, Bond and Camille follow Greene and the general to the weirdest five-star hotel in the middle of a desert, and they proceed to destroy the place. Lots of glass gets broken in the process, Camille gets her revenge, Greene dies in the desert with motor oil in his stomach (which Bond sadistically gave him as he stumbled off).
This is, however, not the end of the film. Bond goes to Russia, and there confronts a man and a woman – the woman wearing a very familiar Algerian love-knot. She’s Canadian secret service, he’s Vesper OTP, Bond gives him to M and appears to have forgiven Vesper for her betrayal. So I guess that’s nice.
Oh, interesting cameo I forgot to mention: Mathis! Bond asks him for help, and after grousing about the torture that was all Bond’s fault, of course he goes along for the ride. And ends up dead in Bond’s car boot. Poor Mathis.
OH MY GOODNESS ONE FILM LEFT.
Oh the opening ! Cars, the tunnel, slightly grainy film and the noise ! This could be a Top Gear episode reviewing the exhaust noise of cars in a tunnel under a Romanian palace. For the film nerds this Bond was mostly shot on super 35mm which gives it a beautifully gritty and real if a slightly Bourne franchise look. Alex beat me to the punch, but the opening theme is great – Alicia Keys and Jack White. The opening credits, sand dunes (foreshadowing) and the graphic novel style is retained too, but with boobs – they’re back. Bond is still Bond.
The main event – Felix is back (on the right team, just not the local US team). Camille to Bond – ‘There is something horribly efficent about you’ – ‘Is that a compliment ?’ Fields covered in oil (again gazumped by Alex this review) Goldfinger style. All the while Bond is more and more dishevelled … I think nearly the whole film is made with him wearing one suit.
2.5 Martinis – served warm sitting out in the sun.
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.
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.
Summary: in which we get a Bond film that deals with both oil and nuclear weapons at the same time! Swoon! Also Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist and Hamish Macbeth is an unconvincing anarchist.
Alex: one of the things that people remember about this film is Denise Richards. Or maybe that’s just me. So let me get this bit out of the way first. I was already groaning in anticipation of rewatching her in this film. My thoughts were coloured by two things: the first time we see her, and the last time. The first time, she’s climbing out of a hazmat suit and the only way the camera could have fawned over her any more would have been to actually be touching her skin. It’s not quite a strip tease, but mostly because she’s still wearing clothes (a crop top and tiny shorts). Then the last scene… it might actually count as the worst line in Bond history, and let’s be honest that there’s some pretty… oh heck… stiff competition. Her name is Christmas Jones, and I’m pretty sure that’s her name solely in order to set up that last, appalling, joke: Bond saying “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”
So yeh, my expectations were pretty low, and when you take in to consideration my love of Michelle Yeoh just a fortnight prior… I was resigned at best. Turns out, though, that Richards is better than I remembered. Yes her opening scene has her wearing ridiculous clothes, but later she mostly gets to wear sensible clothes (except when Bond is using her to distract someone, which I am not best pleased by). She doesn’t have the greatest dialogue – not her fault – and sometimes her delivery is a bit painful. But she is by no means the worst Bond girl ever, and she’s allowed to be competent at her job, too. Bond says “What do I need to defuse a nuclear bomb?” and she says: “Me.” And then she does it, too, on a speeding rig inside an oil pipeline. So Richards, you were better than I remembered. Good work.
Since I’m already talking about the women: Sophie Marceau… meh. She’s ok. I think the character of Elektra (yay Greek spelling!) is a fascinatingly complex and intriguing one: daughter of a construction baron, kidnapped then escaped when not ransomed; takes on father’s business but insists that it’s because the oil was found by her mother’s family – so Azerbaijani, I think? – and that her father stole it from them. So we get notes of colonialism in different forms here, which is surprisingly deep. And it turns out that rather than having Stockholm Syndrome – since she’s working with the Big Bad – she turned him, to get revenge on her father. So she has great agency, even though the film insists that she must use her body in order to get it. But I wasn’t in love with Marceau’s performance, sadly (also I can’t help but have the line “I have heard about your…. woman” from Braveheart in mind, which is totally my problem not hers).
And M rocks, as always, and this time she’s in the field! And she manages to Magyver an alarm clock to rig a location beacon so Bond can find her! Brilliant. She’s also revealed to be a mother, which I am unconvinced was a necessary move.
So the plot: someone is sabotaging Elektra King’s pipeline, and because her father was M’s friend M sends Bond to investigate. It eventually turns out that Reynard the Anarchist is doing it – in collusion with Elektra, because the idea is actually to nuke Istanbul, making the three Russian pipelines impossible and therefore Elektra’s pipeline the only one that the West can access. So it’s partly about revenge (dad didn’t ransom me), partly about money, and for Reynard (
Hamish Macbeth Robert Carlyle) it’s both about love (of Elektra) and anarchy.
Well, I presume Reynard’s in it partly for the anarchy. He’s called an Anarchist by M et al, but to be honest you never see any real demonstration of his attachment to anarchy as an ideal. He’s also back to being that not-quite-normal Bond villain: he has a bullet in his brain that means he’s slowly losing all sensation, which apparently makes him super strong for some reason? Anyway I think he’s amongst the most boring of all Bond villains.
Far more interesting is Robbie Coltrane, another Scot playing a Russian, reprising his role as Valentin. How can you not love a character who greets Brosnan with “Bond James Bond!” Love it. His caviar factory gets sawn in half by a helicopter tree cutting saw, then he appears to die – but doesn’t – but then does, although not before helping Bond escape from Elektra. He’s a great cameo, almost replacing Felix Leiter I think.
The saddest part about this film is Bond’s scene with Q, wherein Q introduces him to his trainee – John Cleese – whom Bond dubs R. Bond asks, concerned, whether Q is really thinking about retiring; Q doesn’t reply. Desmond Llewellyn died at the end of the year this film was released (1999).
James: I disagree that Q doesn’t answer the retirement question … Bond shows his dismay that Q is considering retirement and then Q signs off with his famous “Now pay attention, 007,” and then offers some words of advice: Q: “I’ve always tried to teach you two things: First, never let them see you bleed;” Bond: “And second?” Q: “Always have an escape plan” — before he is lowered out of view. Foreshadowing! Back to the rest of the film then, the opening sequence is one of the best with a high speed boat chase on the Thames. Like Alex I expected Denise to be more cheesy that she turns out to be, the character is overdone but then many things about this Bond are. Bond is issued with the usual modern era set of interesting gadgets; a ski jacket which can turn into a protection cocoon, another BMW to destroy and a watch with a grappling hook built in. The twists and turns of the villains and not villains could have been very clever, but in the end Elektra has to explain it all or the film wouldn’t make sense. 2 Martinis.
Summary: in which Michelle Yeoh is more bad ass than Pierce Brosnan, and the Bond franchise moves with the times to realise that the media can be more terrifying than lone wolf assassins.
See? Bad. Ass.
Alex: I love the opening to this film. M and various military people are watching a ginormous screen showing a Russian illegal arms bazaar, courtesy of some unnamed-but-we-know-it’s Bond British agent. Once they have confirmation that some important dude is there, the ranking admiral calls in a missile strike and M gets incensed that her man hasn’t had time to get out. And then Bond points out that he’s looking at a nuke OH NOES! Bond then steals the plane and the nuke. Natch. It’s a seriously awesome opening with good dialogue, good tension, great stunts. It sets the film up really nicely… although it actually doesn’t suggest the central premise, which is the power of the media.
The next scene doesn’t flag the media either: a British naval ship is overflown by a Chinese MiG saying the ship is in Chinese waters. Cut to a Scary Stealth Sub with a scary drill, and it turns out that someone is manipulating both the Brits and the Chinese. But then – oh then – we get a scene that’s basically a throwback to Blofeld: a white-haired man directing operations from a secret high-tech base, telling the men on the sub to kill the survivors in the water. What’s different here is that he’s writing headlines as he does it.
Elliot Carver. Oh, Elliot. You are so clearly meant to be Rupert Murdoch – or maybe that’s just my bias flashing. In my memory he was a bit more subtle than he turned out actually to be; Jonathan Pryce basically chews scenery in some parts of this film. It’s all about the eyebrows. It’s also how he’s written (so he’s like Jessica Rabbit?): this is a man who is pleased when new software is released deliberately full of bugs (so stereotyped Murdoch + stereotyped Bill Gates?), as well as bribing the US president to lower cable rates. And his biggest problem, what makes him act like a petulant little boy, is that China won’t let him play in their media space. BOO HOO. So he’s setting up a confrontation between the British and the Chinese, hoping that things go very badly and a Chinese general in his pocket will end up in charge. So… kinda like some other villains we’ve known, I guess, but this time rather than hoping desperately that people – world leaders, etc – will notice what he’s doing, Carver goes straight to the masses with his newspaper/media conglomerate. I really, really love this concept.
The women? I’ve already mentioned Michelle Yeoh. She is so, so cool. She gets one awesome lone fight scene which is fantastic; she has some great gadgets (walking down the side of a building, anyone?) and Bond acknowledges her as an equal. The scene with Bond and Wai Lin handcuffed together but riding a motorbike is a magnificent stunt set piece – and I especially love that it ends with a potentially provocative outdoor-fully-dressed shower scene… and she leaves him handcuffed to the shower. Did I mention she’s an agent of the Chinese equivalent of MI6? Intriguingly though the film reassures us that she’s not really a Communist; she specifically says that she doesn’t even own a Little Red Book. I don’t think they ever felt the need to reassure us about the Russian ladies not being Communist; China is somehow more scary? Who knows. I was sad that Wai Lin did indeed end up kissing Bond, but I guess I can’t have quite everything.
Bond can though; he starts off with revitalising a fling with Paris, now Elliot Carver’s wife and played by Terri Hatcher. This role always disappointed me, because Paris is just a pawn to be used by both Bond and Carver to their own ends. Bond’s regret for her ending up dead doesn’t make up for any of that.
And then there’s M, and Dench continues to bring the goods. Possibly my favourite exchange of the entire film:
Admiral Roebuck (played by Dench’s on-screen lover in As Time Goes By): “With all due respect M, sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”
M: “Perhaps. But the advantage is I don’t always have to think with them.”
This film wasn’t quite as good as I remembered, but it’s still enjoyable and has very few cringeworthy moments.
James: The height of modern technology, a Nokia clamshell ‘smart phone’, dates the gadgets in this Bond somewhat – Bond can however drive the car with it so that’s quite cool. It is still one of my favourite modern era Bonds, a nice balance of humour, gadgets and action. Why oh why does Bond (especially Brosnan it seems) have to tip off the villains that he knows (albeit with clever puns about being all at sea etc)? 3 Martinis
Summary: in which Bond races a plane to the ground, a tank and a train play chicken, and Bond deals with a space laser. Again. Oh also he gets a new face. Again.
Alex: Now we get into the movies that I know really well. What can I say? I’m absolutely a product of my generation. And what’s fascinating is that this film, and Pierce Brosnan, feels much closer to what I understand as ‘classic’ James Bond – certainly more than the Moores, although perhaps I’m just biased… there’s the martini, the gambling, the cars, Q… a bit of banter but mostly cold-eyed getting-the-job done-ness. I mean, look at that stance (on the right). Doesn’t it just – well, not scream, but state politely and firmly and with a gun in its hand that this man will succeed?
The film opens with perhaps the most dramatic opening ever:
… marred only by the fact that there’s about three different hairstyles on the man involved. Oh well. Then a bit later Bond throws himself off another cliff and chases a plane to the bottom of a ravine and manages to get into the plane before it hits the bottom. I’m pretty sure there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of physics implicit in this scene. Oh! And we also saw Sean Bean, as Agent 006 (I don’t think we’ve ever met another oo agent?) get killed! (which just shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.) Although then he turns up as ‘starring’ in the credits – hmm, spoiler much?
Anyway then it’s nine years later, after the boob-filled credits, and Bond is driving fast in a car with a woman – at which point I realised: no woman in the prologue! Amazing!! This woman is meant to be evaluating Bond but instead is all gooey and giggly, and quite put out when Bond starts flirting with a woman in a fast red car who nearly gets them all, and a large peloton of cyclists, killed. This is Xenia Ontatopp, whose name makes even Bond pause, and proceeds to kill her Admiral-boyfriend. We know that she’s going to be bad not so much from the killing but because she’s clearly turned on by inflicting and receiving pain. This is clearly coded as abnormal, and as we know by now, Bond villains are generally abnormal in some way. Also, she goes on to steal a brand new fancy pants helicopter. Bad Xenia, bad!
Meanwhile, in Russia, Natalya the computer programmer is having to deal with sexual harassment from a colleague. Apparently this is funny. (This theme is repeated in an exchange between Bond and the new Moneypenny – back to being M’s secretary – who archly points out to Bond that his statement could be seen as sexual harassment and that the punishment is one day having to make good on your insinuations. Way to go scriptwriters, in making sexual harassment at work a sexy sexy thing.) Anyway most everyone is killed pretty soon by Xenia and the space laser – I’m sorry, space-based EMP – called GoldenEye. The EMP is cool but perhaps to most striking thing about this scene is how modern it looks, with its banks of computers. Yes perhaps this dates me – after all they’re all big clunky CRT screens etc – but they’re still on desks, being used by individuals, and there’s a whole bunch of them.
Anyway, because of this event we go back to Britain and get to the best bit of the whole movie: the new M. Hello Dame Judi Dench I love you very much. Seriously the interaction between this M and Bond is the highlight of the entire thing. There’s disparaging discussion about her being a bean counter and then she turns up and is cold, calculating and totally ready to send a man off to die. She’s willing to accept when she’s wrong and she’s willing to do something about it. Also: “if I want sarcasm I’ll talk to my children,” and Bond is “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.” So tough. So real. So human – “come back alive.”
Eventually it turns out that the helicopter was stolen for Alec – Sean Bean – who’s not dead but is scarred (see? abnormal) and who was always going to use his position to hurt Britain in some way because his parents were Lienz Cossacks, betrayed by the British after WW2. In a botched attempt to kill Bond, Alec introduces him to Natalya – and this picture, on the right, reflects no part of the film whatsoever at any point in time. They end up in Cuba, where they foil Alec’s plans for stealing lots of money and – perhaps more importantly – wiping London’s computer records and sending England “back to the Dark Ages.” Actually Alec, in the not-Dark Ages they had print copies so they would have been fine if you’d used an EMP on them. But I guess your history education is a bit lacking. Anyway, this plot idea is an interesting one – not physical destruction but informational. Also, it reminded me a lot of Die Hard with a Vengeance.
My assessment of the first Brosnan Bond? He looks like Dalton, which is interesting. I think it continues the more violent/’realist’ tendencies of Dalton but is somewhat softer; Brosnan already has more quips than Dalton. M is awesome – did I mention that? On the women issue, Natalya is highly competent as a computer programmer – despite being constantly undervalued by her arrogant “I am inVINCible” co-worker Boris. But Moneypenny is a bit sad, and Xenia chews the scenery like it’s going out of fashion, and Minnie Driver is just bizarre as a Russian gangster’s mistress
strangling a cat singing “Stand by your Man.” The explosions are bigger than before, the stunts are incredible, and the chase scenes are fantastic. This is a very enjoyable film.
James: A modern action movie which hasn’t dated as much as I thought it might. I had never realised how like Dalton Brosnan looked either until this re-watch. We’re back to the cold war with great classic gadgets, though we see the rise of product placement with the Omega watch foreshadowing Nokia, BMW and others in future Brosnan films. The portrayal of computer hacking is typical of movies from this era (or full stop?) – the slightly nerdy looking, yet likeable character madly bashes at a keyboard while others look on applying pressure of death or similar and some how when the hack is completed it’s always show in some very cartoonish visualisation rather than they reality of unix terminals and copying files off a system. Q doesn’t disappoint with gadgets like a pen grenade and we introduce one of my favourite good bad guys Robbie Coltrane playing Valentine a Russian mobster. The finale of the movie is magnificent set against the background of Arecibo’s 305m radio telescope dish built into a volcanic crater in Puerto Rico (and it really is). It’s like a less rubbish version of the finale from You Only Live Twice in Japan. 3.5 Martinis.
Summary: in which Bond goes off the range (again), Leiter loses a leg, and Bond meets a seriously awesome pilot. Also, Benicio del Toro chews some scenery.
Alex: I am still loving Timothy Dalton and wishing that there were more of him as Bond. I know that the coming Brosnan is a lot of fun (well… I hope the Suck Fairy hasn’t visited too hard), but Dalton! He’s so cool! Sigh.
This film’s prologue involves Bond and someone we’ve never met going to Felix Leiter’s wedding… but on the way they go help out with a raid of some sort. OF COURSE. Because it’s only wimminz who get all hung up about weddings, and HA HA isn’t it funny when you switch the stereotype and it’s the man who’s late? oh the lolz. This raid introduces us to Sanchez, who is clearly evil because he drags a pretty girl out of bed and whips her for having left him. (If further proof is needed, his pet iguana has a diamond necklace.)
After the boob-heavy credits, Bond finds Leiter in his study – at a rather modern looking computer! – while the wedding party is going on; he’s talking to a woman who completely brushes off Bond. OOH, FORESHADOWING. Leiter’s wife Della makes some reference to marrying off Bond, and once again we get a nice moment of continuity as Bond goes all mopey at remembering his OTP. Dawwww. Also, they give him a monogrammed lighter. FROM THE LEITERS. GET IT? Meanwhile, Sanchez has escaped, and he and his goons come after Leiter. And then, just to prove that this is no Roger Moore film, Sanchez has his sharks BITE OFF FELIX LEITER’S LEG. And they also killed Della. At which I am completely
Naturally Bond wants revenge, and eventually he confronts M about this, in Ernest Hemingway’s house – and they’re only there to give Bond the excuse to say “I guess this is a farewell to arms,” which… I dunno… it’s a long set up for little pay off.
Anyway the movie goes on and centres on both Bond getting revenge and a desire to stop a major drug lord from getting more power. Bond teams up with Pam Bouvier – she who brushed him off earlier – and proves herself early on by pulling a much larger gun than him when confronted with Dario (del Toro) and co. She’s what Dr Goodhead, in Moonraker, came close to being: proficient, professional, and awesome. They do eventually get it on… but she kisses him, prompting the (somewhat amused, still patronising) line “Why don’t you wait til you’re asked?” To which she replies, “Then why don’t you ask?”
Q turns up, in the field again; Wayne Newton also turns up, as a televangelist type who is helping Sanchez sell drugs to cartels in various cities. He is as grotesque as he always seems to be. Bond inveigles his way into Sanchez’ place… things go well, things badly, random Hong Kong ninjas working for HK narcotics turn up and stomp on him… Bond turns Sanchez into a paranoid maniac, and people die.
Women? Bouvier is indeed awesome. She has some great lines, she’s always competent and clear-headed, and she deals quite well with confronting Bond’s other love interest – is this the first time that’s happened in Bond films? The two sex objects actually meeting? The second is Lupe, and unfortunately all the awesomeness was spent on Bouvier because Lupe’s dialogue and characterisation are appalling. She falls for Bond too hard and too fast – and I guess you can explain this as her wanting to escape Sanchez, but it’s not framed that way.
Race? Leiter’s other groom is Sharkey, a black man, and there seem to be no issues with that. One of the DEA assistants is also black, and I think some other random background characters too. The story is set largely in “Isthmus City” so many of the goons and thugs are vaguely Latino; it was shot in Mexico so I’m sure that the cast was from a varied ethnic background. There’s also the “Eastern” drug lords that Sanchez is trying to woo. Overall, yes there’s the stereotype of Central/South America being in the drug trade, but there are also white people involved (Sanchez’ main helper is Anglo, his American contact is too), so I actually think it does mostly ok from a race perspective. For its day, especially.
James: Perhaps my favourite Bond theme music by Gladys Knight, great gadgets too thanks to Q Branch. “Everything for a man on holidays” – explosive alarm clock (never wake up), explosive toothpaste, a Hasselblad palm-reading gun camera and a Polaroid camera which shoots a laser and makes x-ray prints. Dalton is enjoyable again and it will be interesting to see how the transition to Pierce Brosnan feels as we move into what I’ve always considered the modern Bond era. We’re ordering our drinks shaken and not stirred again. 3 Martinis.