Words About Bond: Part VIII

When I began my reviews(with spoilers) of the various James Bond films, I intended it to be a single post. After reviewing three films, I realized such an undertaking could not be accomplished in a single evening, and broke it up into an almost weekly feature. Now we are at the eighth installment, the final for now, at least until the next new film. I hope you have enjoyed my Words About Bond.

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Words About Bond, 1-3
Words About Bond, 4-6
Words About Bond, 7-9
Words About Bond, 10-12
Words About Bond, 13-15
Words About Bond, 16-18
Words About Bond, 19-21

22The World is Not Enough
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Villain: Renard, Elektra King, (Sophie Marceau)
Bond Girl: Dr. Christmas Jones(Denise Richards)
Henchman: Cigar Girl

Some things work in The World is Not Enough, while others do not. The opening sequence is amazing. After an explosion in MI6 headquarters takes out Elektra King's father, Bond pursues the Cigar Girl who triggered the detonation, grabbing a prototype speedboat and launching out into the river. The chase sequence is one of the finest in the series, save for an unlikely shortcut across land, and ends with the assassin in a hot air balloon which she explodes rather than face capture.

The villain Renard also has an interesting concept. After being shot by another 00 agent, he has a bullet lodged in his brain that is slowly killing him, but also cuts off his ability to feel pain. There's a very cool sequence in which Renard's condition is shown to Bond via a sophisticated holographic display, almost too futuristic. I half expected Mon Mothma to point out Renard's weak spot in the display.

The film also has something of a changing of the guard as Q introduces a new assistant, R, played by John Cleese. Given an almost father-son moment between Bond and Q, as well as the arrival of a new gadget master, it seems like the filmmakers were preparing for this to be Desmond Llewelyn's last film, after a record of portraying Q in 17 of the 19 films thus far. Tragically, the 85-year-old perished following a head-on car collision shortly after the movie was released.

After Renard kills Elektra King's father, it falls to Bond to protect her. Unfortunately, while a captive of Renard's Elektra had fallen for him, and was involved in her father's death. In one of the elements of the film that doesn't work, Bond teams with a nuclear physicist played beautifully by the ridiculously hot Denise Richards. Note that I said “beautifully” and not “well”. Her performance as a scientist is as convincing as Tara Reid's in Alone in the Dark. The Bond series has had convincing actresses in intellectual roles, such as Holly Goodhead in Moonraker, but Denise Richards is unfortunately not one. She's basically there for the inevitable pun at the end about her name, “Christmas”.

Elektra and Renard plan to use a nuclear submarine to contaminate an oil shipping route, leaving only her father's pipelines and making her rich. Bond is tortured by King but kills her after the intervention of Valentin Zukovsky(Robbie Coltrane). He frees M, who had been friends with Elektra's father and taken prisoner after Bond and Christmas faked their deaths. 007 then proceeds to the submarine to save Christmas and battle Renard, wrestling in the sinking vessel and ultimately impaling the villain on a plutonium rod.

23 Die Another Day
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Villain: Gustav Graves
Bond Girl: Jinx(Halle Berry
Henchmen: Zao, Miranda Frost, Mr. Kil

Brosnan's final outing as Bond, and possibly the last film in a continuity followed since 1962, is a fitting end to the series. After a battle with and pursuit of an arms dealer in North Korea, his quarry apparently goes over a cliff and perishes, leaving Bond the prisoner of the dead man's father. Throughout the opening credit sequence, in a deviation from past films, we see Bond tortured throughout his captivity to the tune of a repetitive theme song by Madonna, who has a cameo in the film as a fencing instructor.

We pick up several months later, where the now bearded agent is freed in a trade for a North Korean prisoner, Zao, whose face was embedded with diamonds during an explosion caused by Bond at the beginning of the flm. While under quarantine he escapes, and begins his own investigation of Zao. He teams with Halle Berry's Jinx, an NSA agent who emerges from the sea in an entrance that parallel's Honey Rider's in the first Bond film, Dr. No.

John Cleese reprises his role, now using the “Q” designation and referring to Llewelyn's character as his predecessor. Once M tracks down Bond and his investigation becomes official, Q meets Bond at a lab hidden in a subway station. The place is something of a Bond museum, and I spotted the crocodile submarine from Octopussy as well as the jet pack from Thunderball, among other nostalgic items. Q supplies Bond with his most sophisticated car yet.

Bond and Jinx eventually learn that Zao is being helped by the wealthy Gustav Graves, unaware that Graves is in fact the supposedly deceased corrupt son of the Korean general, and faked his death. Through genetic manipulation he changed his appearance, and from a fortress of ice planned to use satellite mirrors powered by diamonds as a super weapon, masquerading it as a source of light. As a side effect from the treatment that changed his appearance he can no longer sleep, and needs to use a dream-inducing machine to preserve his sanity. There's a great chase sequence across the ice as Zao's car has concealed weapons and Graves uses the laser. Bond's car turns invisible though, so he has the advantage.

Perhaps Die Another Day went too far in its use of technology. Besides the car's cloaking device, the audience is fooled not once but twice by a virtual reality device. The first time, MI6 headquarters seems compromised and many of Bond's allies, including Moneypenny, are killed. Bond comes upon an assassin holding M hostage. He shoots through her to get the bad guy, and as the simulation ends he explains he made sure her wound wasn't fatal. The second time, Bond returns late to the office and engages in his usual flirting with Miss Moneypenny. This time, it seems the pair might finally get past the tension and consummate their attraction, but as they make out on the floor, Q walks in to find Moneypenny wearing the VR helmet. It's a cheesy plot device, and not nice to mess with fans. Where else could the series go after this installment?

24Casino Royale
Bond: Daniel Craig
Villains: Le Chiffre, Mr. White
Bond Girls: Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Solange
Henchmen: Alex Dimitrios, Gettler

After Die Another Day, the only logical way to revive the series would be a reboot a la Batman Begins. Because Casino Royale is so new, I won't be as liberal with spoilers as I was with the other movies I've reviewed. I will say it accomplishes what Batman Begins did, taking a character back to his roots while updating it at the same time.

I think people with doubts about Daniel Craig may have missed his performance in Layer Cake. Back when they were casting a new Bond, Alexis Denisof would have been my choice. As the rumored list was narrowed down, Goran Visnjic was among those I didn't think would work. When I heard Craig got the part, I thought that might be the right move.

In a gritty, black-and-white opening reminiscent of Sin City, we find out how Bond first attained his 00 status. At first, I wasn't too impressed by the opening credit graphics, a bit too heavy in the playing card imagery and lacking the artistic female forms of its predecessors. The Chris Cornell theme song, “You Know My Name,” is awesome though, and I hope no one noticed me bopping my head and tapping my foot in the back of the dark theater.

Though set in the present day, with Judi Dench reprising her role as M, it's a true origin story. During a conversation with the lovely Vesper Lynd, we even get hints to Bond's past as she speculates that he was an orphan and went to a private school, a poor child picked on by the other kids for his origins. The scene made me realize how much of a mystery the character has been throughout the series.

There are no fancy gadgets, no invisible cars, and no holograms. It's back to basics, and the feel of the early Connery films is pervasive. It's as if Craig were the first Bond patterned after the original, since Dalton. Brosnan was more of a hybrid of Connery and Moore. Craig is pure, the emotionally detached “blunt instrument” who remains invulnerable until he meets a woman he truly cares for beyond doing his duty.

Bond chases a suspect through a construction site early in the film in a breathless parkour segment. The filmmakers have learned from modern action heroes like Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne. Yet for all the action, the film works during the quiet moments as well. Somehow, people sitting around playing cards is interesting, and the tension as to whether or not the villain is bluffing as the stakes get higher held my attention as well as any chase or fight.

There's one section near the end of the film that falls a little too slow, my sole complaint. It's obvious that the extended denouement is a false one, and the final threat has yet to be neutralized, but they take a little too long getting to the payoff. When they do, especially when the last line of the film is delivered, it's totally worth it. While this Bond is deadly serious, the dry humor is there and he delivers 2 or 3 great quips, good ones and just the right amount to balance out the darker elements of the film. This Bond will return, and I for one cannot wait.

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As of this writing, my favorite Bond films are, in chronological order:

Dr. No
From Russia with Love
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Live and Let Die
The Man with the Golden Gun
For Your Eyes Only
Licence to Kill
Casino Royale

Craig was so good in the role, he's now my favorite after Connery. While Moore was my favorite as a kid, having only seen a few films, after watching the entire series in order he's fallen to the bottom of the list.

Words About Bond will return!



Blogger SwanShadow said...

TWINE and DAD were worthwhile entries in the series. I was skeptical of Brosnan as Bond at the time of GoldenEye -- too much the pretty boy for my purist tastes -- but I think that by the two latter film in his 007 tenure, he'd grown into the role fairly well.

I haven't yet seen Casino Royale, but I'm looking forward to it. Based upon his existing body of film work, Craig promises to be the best actor who's ever carried the Licence to Kill.

11/20/2006 9:37 PM  
Blogger Gracchi said...

Good review of Casino Royale- like you I was impressed with Craig- and thought he had gone back to Connery.

12/01/2006 9:58 AM  

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