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.
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 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.