Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Forming A Bond!
As one of the last sentient beings on the planet to have at long last seen the James Bond movie Skyfall, I feel competent to judge the latest Bond movies and what they might mean for the franchise.
It's nothing less than a rebirth. The change of Bonds from the excellent Pierce Brosnan, who despite some criticism was still not too old to play Bond a few more times, was at best a sketchy move by the producers. I was not happy to hear that an actor I knew mostly from his sidekick role in a Tomb Raider movie was the new guy. He seemed at first too short for the role and lacked that certain chemistry needed for the incredibly demanding role. I was dead wrong.
He might well be too short, but that doesn't matter as Daniel Craig has returned to the violent roots of Ian Fleming's highly successful character and has given us a Bond who is more man than superman. He's no longer just someone to root for, he is someone we can root alongside with, a man who is dark and dangerous and familiar.
In Casino Royale we meet the new Bond, in a story which turns out to be his secret origin. We see him become a double "O" agent, and we seem increasingly hardened by the killing he is required to do. Where has death-dealing has always been the calling card of all the men who have been called Bond, this one seems less aloof and more emotionally vulnerable, though no less ready to end an enemy's life. Hard-bitten cruelty is part of the character from the very beginning in Fleming's pages, and you find them in Sean Connery's early portrayals. But even by the end of his initial run, the darker aspects of Bond's character had been replaced by over-reliance on charm, wit, and gimmicks. The gritty willingness to kill a dangerous man with a simple direct gunshot, so brutally demonstrated in Dr.No, is almost never repeated in the series.
In Casino Royale that brutal man is back and not only willing to kill, he is willing to break a sweat doing it. That change, the decision to show Bond as a man with deficiencies and doubts is what makes this new Bond so compelling. And while we know that Bond will never die, we suddenly feel that he thinks he could, and that's a game-changer on how to involve yourself with the narrative. By the end of this story he is a hard edge of an agent, fully Bond, but with motives and plans apart from what "M" might design for him.
We see that played out to some extent in Quantum of Solace where Bond not only battles the secret society he uncovered in the previous movie, but seeks revenge for the death of his lost love. This is first time I can recollect that the Bond movies had real memory. Sure Blofeld shows up early on, but each time he is recast and reconfigured as if it were a new time. In this sequel we know that the story of the last movie is still the story we are following here as demonstrated by the simple fact it picks up immediately where the first movie ended.
Quantum of Solace is ultimately a less successful movie than Casino Royale, but not for lack of trying. It's that the finale seems oddly disconnected from what had preceded it, but nonetheless we are left with a Jame Bond who is not averse to getting mussed up, though admittedly a few elements of the superhero do emerge in this story.
Skyfall then comes along and we see the death of Bond, and to no small extent his rebirth into the fully-functioning agent we have been familiar with for so many decades. By the end of this movie which pits him against a depraved version of himself, he finds that he must destroy his very past to save his future. It's as much a personal tale as a battle for the good of Britain, though the consequences are exceedingly grave.
Javier Bardem has gotten kudos for his villainous portrayal and he deserves them, but I must say that so far in this new Bondian age my favorite baddie has been Mads Mikkleson as Le Chiffre from the first flick. What really won me over on this one though was the idea of spies and how they live in the shadows. From the very beginning of the movie when Bond walks out of a literal shadow this story becomes a match between two cyphers who battle to first discover one another then decode one another. The one who out thinks the other is the one who will win, and we all know that will be Bond, we think.
Even at this remote stage I hate to spoil a story which I found very compelling, but I have to say the final showdown in the remote and spare country of Bond's boyhood home gave the proceedings a truly weird feel, and helped make the finale less of a predictable Bond affair.
This new Bond might be with us for only a short time now, but I must say this trilogy of movies so far have revealed more about the character than decades of previous movies have done. James Bond has been rescued from his cliche-ridden past and transformed into a startlingly interesting character.