The Daniel Craig as James Bond 007 Trilogy review / Casino Royale / Quantum of Solace / Skyfall

JB007Bond… James Bond

Like almost everyone I know the run-of-the-mill Bond facts, unlike the devoted fans and even casual movie goers I know precious little else. In fact my combined knowledge of the James Bond mythology is probably embarrassingly simplistic and rudimentary.

James Bond is a top secret British agent who wears nice suits, drives nice cars, and bangs nice women. He likes his drinks and quips dry, his enemies large and cartoonish and his action over the top.

Despite his dangerous occupation and pre-occupation with dangerous situations Bond never gets a scratch nor raises a sweat. He is untouchable… unless you are a supermodel.

And frankly this is why I never give the Bond franchise a second thought. The last Bond film I saw was License to Kill in the 80s – on VHS! I can’t honestly remember what I thought of the film, what I do recall is that Die Hard came out a year or so later, and that John McClane was the polar opposite of James Bond.

With a cinematic fork in the road in front of me my ingrained love of the underdog took over, and I chose the sweaty balding shoeless singlet wearing guy over the dapper white suited smooth gent.

Never regretted my choice for a second either.

Then a few years ago the Bond franchise got a shake up with the introduction of a slightly younger, slightly more dangerous 007 in Daniel Craig. Since his debut in Casino Royale I have listened to the plaudits, skimmed the positive reviews and endured the BBQ conversations when someone couldn’t believe I hadn’t watched a Bond in over two decades.

Then Skyfall arrived in cinemas and everyone gushed about the new bold direction that the franchise was headed into.

I thought the time was right to give James Bond a chance, but as a completist I had to draw the line somewhere – I can’t and won’t be reviewing all twenty-something films. So I have decided to look at the most recent trilogy since Daniel Craig donned the suit and started modelling for all the high end products that this franchise markets two hours at a time.

James Bond is like Batman at the end of the 90s, after decades of existence it took a change of tack, nay a reinvention, before society could once again take it seriously.

(And by the way, I wrote that previous sentence BEFORE seeing Skyfall…)

casino-royale-casino-royale-125567497Casino Royale

The first hour of Casino Royale barely pauses for breath, and in reality it is merely the prelude to the core plot, a 60 minute chase scene across many nations where the famous James Bond can’t even take a 15 minute break to bang a nubile and willing young woman.

And it is pretty awesome stuff actually.

Then everyone stops, dusts themselves off and dresses up to play a game of cards in the swish surroundings of the Casino Royale, and I had 40 odd minutes of ‘me time’, which I used to wonder why they would derail a potentially great action movie to highlight a ‘sport’ played by obnoxious gifts in sunglasses and backwards baseball caps…

But let’s do this in orderly fashion.

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After a cheesy animated opening credits sequence and a pompous rock balled belted out by Chris Cornell – neither of which do the film any favours – newly minted ’00 agent’ James Bond hurtles headlong after a bad guy through a construction site in a breathtaking sequence that instantly forgives the sins of the opening credits bowing to tradition.

The foot chase scene is filmed from a distance, with sweeping camera shots that clearly allow us to see all the action, as Bond pursues an expert in parkour travel using a more standard approach, running full bore on, over and where necessary through obstacles.
20 minutes in to an eight hour marathon and we may have just seen the best sequence.

And it might not be the end of the world if that is the case.

Pausing only to be rebuked by M (Judi Dench) for killing the wrong bad guy. Bond embarks on some (suggested) leave to the Bahamas, but really he is on the trail of another bad guy along the chain.

In the time it takes most mortals to check in and unpack, Bond has made contact with the bad guy across a hotel poker table, taken him for a substantial sum of money and his flash car, and moved on to show the man’s wife what 007 may really refer to…

… A few hours later and Bond is in another country stopping a fuel truck from crashing into a new high tech plane scheduled for its maiden flight.

Its a great first hour, and only at the conclusion of it do we finally find out what the film is really about (and here it is summarised): an especially bad guy is using terrorist funds for his own benefit, and Bond needs to enter a high stakes card game to send him – and the terrorists – broke.

Teaming with fellow agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) posing as his wife, and brazenly breaking cover instantly under the assumption that his presence is already known, Bond dons a spiffy suit and heads to Monte Carlo, where the weepy eyed asthmatic maths genius Le Chiffre welcomes him with a warm embrace, a welcoming smile and promises of a grand old time… Actually the opposite of those last three things.

CasinoRoyale_3And with this all momentum is lost as we await with bated breath to see what cards the writers decided would be most surprising to us. Seriously I know that the Bond films are synonymous with high class pursuits, spectacular backdrops and flashy belongings, but this entire scene is all momentum killing superfluous filler.

Bond and Vesper flirt under the guise of verbal interplay and one-upmanship, only their verbal discourse continually left me cold. As did the supposedly delicious positioning and tactics employed between Bond and Le Chiffre.

Not surprisingly it takes a heart attack to picks things up and bring the film back up to speed, with a spiralling and aerobatic car crash announcing a return to formalities. (By the way I am not one that needs a huge amount of violence and bloodshed to be entertained, but it sure beats watching guys sitting around the table for an hour staring blank eyed.)

Alas the effects of the defibrillation is short lived, and 15 minutes later momentum once again grinds to a screeching halt, with a lengthy romantic interlude preceding the finale, which while OK is not near the equal of the opening chase.

In fact Casino Royale is almost like a film in reverse, if it opened with a burst, followed by the romance, the cards and then a breathtaking chase climax, somehow I think this film would be better for it. Instead Casino Royale is as frustrating late as it is exhilarating early.

Patchy isn’t bad, but it’s still patchy… And Great films aren’t patchy.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. Pleased to meet you Mr Bond. We’ll see if this convivial relationship continues.

quantum-solaceQuantum of Solace

Picking up immediately after the events of Casino Royale, we rejoin the world’s most well known undercover secret agent behind the wheel of a flashy European car hurtling along a picturesque mountainside road and being pursued by equally flashy and expensive European automobiles.

Before we can even ponder if this is indeed a return to former ‘untouchable’ values, Bond revisits the best moment of Casino with another footchase, this time across terracotta roofs. The scene finishes with a spectacular fall, giving the fallen (and we the viewers) a brief pause to take a breath.

Only once again the film has trouble rebuilding momentum after this early crescendo (hey Bond is nearly 50, the days of two or three a day are probably well beyond him).

Maybe it’s the criss-crossing the globe in the pursuit of killing without ever having the luxury of doing some sightseeing? Maybe it’s the stress caused by having so many nice things but being unable to prevent himself from destroying them? We may never know the truth, but the fact is that this Bond is plain old grumpy in this film… and frankly, brash, arrogant, rude and kill-happy.

M in particular gets the cold shoulder even as Bond leaves dead bodies aplenty the world over for her to clean up and explain. She openly rues his actions from afar and even takes measures to try to slow his roll, but Bond is in no mood to downshift gears, and he powers headlong towards his prey.

So after a hard day’s killin’ it must seem like Christmas when Olga Kurylenko summons Bond into her car as he steps onto the street – even if the Euro-hottie is strangely orange in complexion throughout the film. But this is no mid-street booty call, merely a mistaken identity (in his favour) which puts him on the trail of another Eurotrash bad guy (who looks too similar to the last one for my liking) posing as a pro-environment businessman.

'Quantum Of Solace' film - 2008The familiar (as I understand them at least) ingredients are here; Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton supply the eye candy, several characters from Casino return (including Jeffrey Wright) and of course there are action sequences aplenty. But as mentioned the bad guy is so forgettable that I’ve already stricken him from memory, and the action sequences lack the ‘Wow!’ factor that made the first half of Casino Royale hum.

After Casino Royale introduced a new era James Bond not afraid to get a little sweat on the suit or some dirt under the fingernails, the question was would they stick with ‘blue collar’ James or retreat to the cosy confines of plush hotels, mixed drinks and smooth moves.

Unfortunately Quantum of Solace wasn’t the film to answer the question, and it is a frustrating two hours of Daniel Craig trying in vain to find a Bond that he could call his own amid a decent but hardly ‘007-worthy’ action film.

If anything the film experiments by veering even further from the ‘larger than life, cocksure and confident’ image of Bonds’ past until it almost encroaches on Statham territory. Now there are almost as many Statham fans as Bond fans, but not many Statham fans buy the expensive watches, cars and gadgets from his films.

In releasing ‘just another action flick’ after the standard Bond hoo-ha promotion and hubbub, the fans might be a little nonplussed but loyal enough to wait until the next edition. But the Gods of Product Placement would not have been pleased…

(If you think this theory is inane, consider this: up to a third of the production costs of Bond films is covered by paid product placement.)

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Quantum of Solace finds Bond suffering an identity crisis. Is he still the super-smooth indestructible ladies man? Or is he resigned to an era where he and Jason Statham vie for the title of the heir to John McClane’s throne?

skyfallSkyfall

I don’t think this particular trilogy benefits by being watched in the same week. Try this for size; ‘the film opens with a chase sequence – this time on motorcycles across and rooftops but still – while M nags away and second guesses her staff’s actions from afar’.

Surely by now we know what the ‘M’ stands for; ‘Maybe you should do something yourself for a change?’

Half way through the chase Bond is shot in the chest – which he dutifully acknowledges by touching the entry wound and grimacing – before charging headlong at his attacker. In the chaos that ensues Bond is shot again, this time by a hottie (proof that perhaps MI6 should hire staff based upon their abilities, and not how many Revlon ads they’ve starred in)…

Now Bond has no doubt been shot by guys before, but having an attractive woman nail you is a new and unpleasant experience.

In the wash up to the disastrous operation Bond is declared dead, and M is told that she is retiring whether she likes it or not, by newly appointed big-wig Mallory (Ralph Feinnes).

Then things change suddenly when MI6 is attacked by a cyber-terrorist (really?) who hacks into and then blows up headquarters, taunting M by email and threatening to unveil the identities of 5 deep cover MI6 operatives each week.

For those of you writing their ‘In Memoriam’ pieces for 007 don’t fret. He wasn’t really totally dead, merely banging the local hotties and drinking with scorpions. He returns just in time to pick up the case.

So Bond is back. Bigger, badder and Bond-ier… and this time he’s brought along his Mum.

xdaniel-craig-judi-dench-skyfall.jpg.pagespeed.ic.512Xvmwkyj

Some Bond girls hold on for too long…

In what is quite obviously an attempt to replicate the success that Christopher Nolan had reinventing the Batman Trilogy, Skyfall systematically tears down the Bond image so that it can be reconstructed for a new era.

With M far more than a long distance pen-pal at long last, Bond pursues the man behind the dastardly plot, a disgruntled ex-agent, strategic genius and tech guru named Silva (Javier Bardem).

Ironically enough, the filmmakers chart James Bond’s transition into the 2010’s New School by having him lose everything, forcing him to use decidedly Old School tactics (granted with some help from tech whiz and equipment supplier Q (Ben Wishaw)) in order to get his mojo back.

At the film’s conclusion the reconstruction is complete and the comparisons to Batman Begins become unavoidable. Like that film all semblance of the ‘former Bond’ has been scrapped and left prone on the floor like so many forgotten female Bond-Girl conquests.

Regardless of what you call it; Bond 2.0, Bond Begins, Bond Re-Bourne of Bond:Origins… iBond (?), James Bond is a new man in a new world. This might appall the purists who yearn for a return to the smooth talking and unflappable ladies’ man, but I think it bodes well for a franchise that frankly I never had any interest in…

… until now.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Maybe it did fix something that wasn’t all that broken, but the new version looks promising. Skyfall is a ‘good-not-great’ action film, but it could well be the first step toward making the name ‘Bond’ synonymous to Event Films once again.

Just like that caped guy a few years ago…

james_bond_007The Unpopular Opinion

The strength of Bond begins and ends with the name and reputation. Every mid-level star in the planet has dreams of playing James Bond (the series will never chase an A Lister, because no one actor can be bigger than the character.

The James Bond series is that the film is always about the appeal of James Bond and the action. The Bond girls are interchangeable. The toys, drinks and cars look flash but belong in the glossy pages of yuppie mags, not action films, product placement for gullible eyes. Nothing else matters.

With Daniel Craig the series has a Bond that is handsome, rugged and physical enough to handle the requirements. With the monumental budgets, companies lining up to have their products associated with the franchise (and CGI assistance where necessary), the action quotient will always be there.

The franchise will always have the power to attract compelling supporting characters like Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Javier Bardem and Ralph Feinnes.

So let’s tune up the rest.

Every hot woman on the planet dreams of being a Bond girl, but the 007 films all seem testosterone fuelled affairs. By all means continue with the hot chicks, but how about getting someone beyond the most recent SI Swimsuit winner? Find someone who can give him either a good looking sidekick or a kick in the side that looks good.

For my money the answer is simple: get Gina Carano for the next Bond film!

"Room for me James?"

“Room for me James?”

(While I’m here how is it that Bond bangs two or three of the hottest women in the world in each film, many of which die afterwards, and it’s the personality free Casino Royale chick that he pines over?)

The surprise for me with the Daniel Craig trilogy was just how faceless the Bond villains all were. Now I wasn’t expecting the man in the giant egg chair stroking a cat, but I thought it fair to at least aspire to create someone who presents more of a challenge to James Bond than the three other guys he chases and kills in well executed seven minute chase scenes.

The more I think about the best moments in the three films I watched, the more I realise that the chase, not the fight that ensues after it, that elicited the oohs and aahs. These films have a villain per chase, at the end of which he (always a he) is shot and Bond looks for a phone so that he can confess his latest sins to M.

In fact the films really aren’t about the villains at all – but the chases themselves. The most memorable villain was of course Javier Bardem’s Silva, but he and Bond share only a couple scenes, and you will only remember Silva because of his awful blonde wig and clichéd gay affectations, not his brilliant mind, compelling plan or physical skills.

If they’re serious with the Bond Begins Nolan rip-off, how about giving Bond a nemesis worthy of being chased for two or even three films in a row? You know Bond fans will stump up to the next film anyway so they won’t think it a tease, and it gives them something to look forward to besides the brand of watch that he’ll be rocking next time.

Speaking from a Bond noob’s perspective, I could care less about the integrity of the character, the Bond-lore or the mythology. My primary wish is to watch a decent action film, I have no interest in paying twenty bucks to see a bunch of product placement (and I can google the hot women in my own time).

Until the opening hour of Casino Royale I never looked to the Bond franchise to cater to my action palate. Now with Skyfall the Bond film series can veer into literally a dozen different directions. I still don’t plan on queuing up on opening weekend for the next film, but for the first time in my lifetime I am actually interested in where they decide to take the next film.

OGR

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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