Thoughts on Bond 25

The announcement of a new Bond film used to fill me with joy.  Even back in the pre-Casino Royale days, when you knew things would be a tad ropey.  When EON decided to start a fresh, over a decade ago now, returning to the original novel and building a new Bond for the 21st century, they were contending with an upstart, Jason Bourne.  The Bourne films are pretty great, but they are, by design, specifically different to Bond.  With Casino Royale, released after the first two Bourne films, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson at EON, along with Bond-re-boot director Martin Campbell (he also directed Goldeneye), regular writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (more on them later) and Paul Haggis (then fresh from Million Dollar Baby and Crash), perfectly fused the elements of Bond from Fleming, the EON series and Bourne’s 21st century sensibility into a great film.  Granted, new blonde Bond Daniel Craig fluffed the “the bitch is dead” line, but that aside, Casino Royale is a pretty near perfect action film.  One of the reasons why is that classic Bond element, detachment.

Bond’s detachment is what makes Bond Bond.  That coldness that is just beneath his skin is that something perfectly British that makes him tick.  And it is always what made the first two Craig era Bonds so compelling.  Casino Royale introduces Craig’s Bond as the blunt instrument M is no longer sure she needs.  That single mindedness is perfectly shown in the pre-credit sequence when Bond guns down Malcolm Sinclair’s Dryden.  The mission M sends Bond on is simple, find out who is funding the bomb making and stop them.  Things go off kilter when Vesper Lynd is added to the mix.  Like in the novel, Bond’s feelings blind him to what is in front of him and he makes the mistakes that allow Mr White to clean up before Bond figures it out.  In Quantum of Solace, a much maligned film which I shall defend with my dying breath, Bond is not so much avenging Vesper as putting right his mistake from Casino Royale.  The result is his determination leads him to an overblown detachment that results in kills before he can get the answers he needs.  But, it still leads him to Quantum and redemption in finding the man who turned Vesper and saving his next victim.  The cost is high though, losing Mathis snaps Bond out of his malaise and back to the Bond we recognise.  Hence the speech to Camille about killing and how to control what is beneath.  The issues starts with Skyfall.

M makes a call she said she would in Casino Royale, proving that, for her, the greater good is more important than her agent.  That the plot of the first half of Skyfall is basically the same as the first Mission: Impossible, even down to the fight on the top of a train, is an added worry.  The detachment is completely gone because Bond comes back for M, not a greater sense of duty, but for the boss who willingly offered him up.  Coupled to this, the supporting cast is suddenly far more interesting than the lead.  Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw's Q have more about them than the monosyllabic Bond Craig is playing.  Daniel Craig is an actor with serious range, see Infamous, Archangel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and even Sharpe for proof of a greater depth than he gives Bond in Skyfall.  Skyfall spends so much time reminding us how great Bond used to be, we forget that we are not seeing much new at all.  What Skyfall is trying to do is give us the clean slate that the final scene between Mallory’s new M and Bond implies, that he is back and ready to work.  Something that is completely undone by SPECTRE.

SPECTRE is the highest grossing Bond film of all time.  Writing that line makes me hurt.  It is a film that has an incredible cast.  Sam Mendes directing again and Hoyte van Hoytema lensing it.  There should be no issues.  Yet, the script is a piece of garbage and the plot was collected in the previous pick up by the binmen.  All of the work resetting Bond in the finale of Skyfall is undone by having Bond undertake the mission that started in Casino Royale.  The mission that was sorted in Quantum of Solace, forgotten in Skyfall and is suddenly important again.  This means Bond going off the reservation, again, in the same way people hated in Quantum of Solace.  It means you create huge fanfare about casting the wonderful Monica Bellucci and then having Bond basically use and leave her character for dead, literally.  You create the thinnest Bond love match since Rosie Carver in Live and Let Die and expect us to believe Bond is going to give everything up for what is an incredibly underwritten facsimile of Teresa di Vicenzo but lacking everything that made Tracy so special, despite the best efforts of Lea Seydoux.  And, worst of all, they try, and fail to conceal Blofeld.  SPECTRE is a waste of good 35mm film stock.

Post SPECTRE we are left with a Bond that has given everything up for Madelene.  One which happily gave it all up after being shot a film before.  Which leaves EON and the increasing hackiness of Purvis and Wade (See SS-GB for further proof of their skills) with the dilemma of how to get Bond back.  Easy answer, have Blofeld escape, kill Madelene, have Craig mess up the “we have all the time in world” line and basically re-shoot Quantum of Solace, but only it won’t be as good.  SPECTRE painted EON into a corner.  Daniel Craig is fed up with Bond, but the money seems to be drawing him back.  Hopefully that is the same reason Bellucci signed on for SPECTRE, it certainly wasn’t for character development.  The “out” EON had and tried to use in an early script of Casino Royale, was that the Craig Bond was just the latest 007.  That would have meant everything that had gone before was cannon.  In Skyfall, the house that became Bond’s childhood home was originally a retirement home for former Double-O’s and Albert Finney’s Kincade was supposed to be Sean Connery playing his Bond, until he backed out due to injury, allegedly.  Again, that would have allowed everything to be cannon and allows EON to re-cast Bond, start afresh with an established supporting cast and the opinion of Daniel Craig showing up in the future as the key to a new story.  But that is not where we are.

When Skyfall came out, much was made of it being a partial re-boot post the issues of Quantum of Solace, a film trapped in a writer’s strike and the desperate needs of MGM and EON for Bond money.  But SPECTRE undermined that fresh start and has left us somewhere you wish Daniel Craig, who has been a great Bond, has decided that the Logan Lucky’s of this world are his future.  That would allow EON to restart and go bold with the next Bond, someone like Nicholas Pinnock who would make a brilliant Bond.  But we are where we are.  I hope whatever idea EON has come up with that is the kernel that has potentially sparked Craig into signing on one more time is great and it is not just the zeroes on the cheque.  My favourite run in the books is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.  In these three, Bond meets and marries the love of his life, loses her, extracts revenge in a Japanese suicide castle (which explodes), gets amnesia, gets brain washed by the Russians, tries to kill M with acid and is then sent on a suicide mission to kill Scaramanga in Jamaica.  Instead, we get Blofeld as glorified, sock-less, Otolaryngologist…

I love Bond.  I am a huge Bond fan.  I’ve read the books (even the new ones), seen all the films too many times.  I’ve spent a fortune to be able to taste a Vesper with actual Kina Lillet (it was amazing and worth every penny, thank you Jake Burger and Portobello Rd Gin).  I want to be thrilled like I was the first time I saw Roger Moore, my Bond, climb into a Bede BD-5 and take to the skies in Octopussy.  Yet, when I connect the dots of the last four Bond films, the correlation leads to a rather grim place.  I’ve used the analogy of EON painting themselves into a corner too many times in this post, but if they continue with the theme of Bond being affected by the events of the previous film that is where they will have to start from.  Should he be returning, I want Daniel Craig’s final outing to be brilliant.  He has revitalised Bond for a new generation, despite not having laser watches, space shuttles, Jaws and jets hidden in horses. He deserves that, even after SPECTRE (on which he has a producer credit).  Please EON, Daniel Craig on board or not, forget SPECTRE and give us something new that has the DNA we love with a healthy application of shaken gin.  You only live twice, you know.

For Chris.