Saga Review: James Bond (No.17 – No.20)

That’s right, with Skyfall releasing later this year I am opting to give you my thoughts on all of the Bond films! There’s twenty-two films, and when I started this challenge there were twenty-two weeks before Skyfall, sounds good to me!
I grew up in the six year drought of Bond films, between the Dalton and Brosnen Eras, so my definition of Bond is Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights and License to Kill, while Goldeneye is one of my top favourites. It took me a little while to watch all of the other James Bond films, but they were regularly shown on television, and while the Brosnen films quickly worsened I would never grow to like the Roger Moore era. At least not yet.

Because there are twenty-two films I am breaking my reviews down into eras as best I can, and quite possibly Pierce Brosnen’s reign as Bond proves to be the most intriguing. I remember them well, especially Goldeneye as that was the first Bond film I saw in cinemas, and of course the Nintendo video game of the same name. But almost immediately we can sense the franchise struggling to find identity in this new era; Goldeneye was a success after the six years hiatus, but after that the magic and power ebbed away at an increasing rate.

What would happen would be a downward spiral, but what can we expect from this wild, flailing era? Awesome and unique villains, I can say that much, but also helicopters with chainsaws, Solar death-rays, newspapers, the Goldeneye theme, ice palaces, invisible cars and awful casting choices. The list goes on, and on!

Goldeneye (1995)

Pierce Brosnen revives the Bond franchise six years later with a bombastic, entertaining return.

When the key and access codes to a sophisticated weaponised satellite are stolen, James Bond must stop whoever is responsible before they use it to destroy the modern world. But while he is teamed up with a rogue Russian computer technician a dangerous femme fatale wants him dead, while the mastermind behind the plot seeks personal revenge.

Goldeneye is a leap into the 1990s, and a positive all-change for the franchise. Judi Dench takes over as the first female M, and Samantha Bond plays the third Miss Moneypenny, while the film itself is riddled with tech-talk and “internet hacker” jargon that has most certainly dated the experience! The film’s soundtrack is all over the place, feeling disjointed and awkward.

However, Brosnen does a great job as Bond, coming somewhere between Dalton and Connery. Bond’s darker, merciless side is hinted at in conversation, while Brosnen has the correct amount of wry comedic timing without hamming it to death! He and Desmond Llewelyn’s scenes in Q’s lab are genius, and possibly the best in the series!

The other actors, except for Sean Bean as an excellent and original turncoat villain, are a little… over the top; there are some questionable accents being thrown around, while Famke Janssen topples all previous villainesses with a truly psychotic (and memorable) character.

But, I do love it. As the first Bond film I saw on release, how can I not? Sure it is 1990s, but Goldeneye has the first use of computer graphics (okay, some satellite shots are dodgy) and it is the first Bond film to come on DVD. It also has the most use of models and miniatures of any Bond film and it shows, with some excellent effects. Tina Turner’s opening theme is still incredible, and tops all the others, while the opening itself (with new designer Daniel Kleinman) is a much needed breath of fresh air for the franchise!

It is punchy, incredibly fast paced yet maintains the sense of danger and espionage nicely. Brosnen’s reign as James Bond looks very promising indeed. Right? … Right?

Additional Marshmallows: If you are like me, and anyone growing up with Goldeneye as their Bond film, you will have obsessed over the tie-in Nintendo game on the N64. It is very, very hard to watch it again without thinking “God, that level was murderous!”

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

It seems like Tomorrow Never Dies gets a lot of criticism thrown its way, but personally, I think it is the only other good Brosnen film next to Goldeneye!

After military unrest is caused between the British and the Chinese when a secret GPS encoder was used to mis-direct battleships, Bond is sent to investigate the intelligent but power hungry media magnate Elliot Carver.

Goldeneye was quite the act to follow, but asides from a few clichés and glib expositionary dialogue, Tomorrow has a massive amount of action and a consistent pace, making it very easy to watch yet with new ideas to spin some intrigue.
Jonathan Pryce plays Elliot Carver, a transparent but unique villain, and I for one fully appreciate this character; at least he gives an impression of having a plan that works. The naysayers really should watch Moonraker some time, for an example of a stupid, stupid villain. The film also features Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, possibly the most capable Bond Girl we have ever seen! We also continue to get great scenes between Bond and Q, Desmond Llewelyn and Brosnen have some great chemistry in these scenes.

The theme by Sheryl Crow could never beat Goldeneye, but thank god the film’s score rises head and shoulders above its predecessor! This soundtrack actually has an identity, grounding the film in its own surroundings and story, and being punchy and loud when it’s supposed to be.
There is however a dip in Bond’s darker presence… and while this only gets worse in later films, it is already happening here; Bond is almost always jovial here and the one-liners are tumbling out. You could also say Joe Don Baker’s recurring character is like the Moore era’s Sherriff Pepper… but at least Baker’s character has a purpose in the story!

I definitely enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies. It may have its flaws, but I’ve been through eighteen Bond films now and I can say none of them are without flaws; at least this one has some unique features, memorable moments and some grounding in reality!

Additional Marshmallows: Did you know this was the first Bond film to not use any Ian Fleming references? While Carver’s German bodyguard Stamper was originally drafted to have a brain injury that made him register pain as pleasure… a characteristic altered and adapted for the next Bond film’s villain.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

There begins the sagging demise of Pierce Brosnen’s Bond career. While nowhere near as bad as Roger Moore’s worst, this certainly has too much overly juvenile stupidity.

The World is Not Enough begins with a merciless terrorist who cannot feel pain (due to a bullet lodged deep within his brain) killing a oil baron and targeting his daughter next. Bond must protect her while uncovering the terrorist plot.

Okay, I have to get the negative out of the way first, because it was becoming painful throughout the film… Denise Richards. It has been ten Bond films since I saw this sort of pathetic excuse of a Bond Girl; I thought we were past this! A nuclear physicist who runs around in a sleeveless shirt and hot pants… give, me, a, break. She does next to nothing except spout exposition so Bond knows what to do and otherwise makes it look like Brosnen’s dragging around a blow-up doll. She could have easily have been written out of this for the movie’s benefit.

The film feels choppy, as though there were several ideas churned together, individually eye-catching, but together they feel disjointed. We have a man who feels no pain, parachuting ski-mobiles (“Parahawks”, Google it) and helicopters wielding buzzsaws, the latter was indeed in an early draft of Goldeneye. Certainly the best elements of the film are the villains, and while I usually attest to a good villain making a good film… here they just feel wasted, especially Robert Carlyle’s Renard, I mean what an interesting casting choice!

It has its moments; the opening includes a motorboat chase around London and the Thames River, ending on the Millennium Dome, the villain’s plot is relatively interesting. But the character of Christmas Jones is just a travesty; some of the dialogue is more juvenile than even Moore standards, while Brosnen himself is looking less-and-less invested.

Intelligence and integrity are buried under needless stupidly here, pushing aside unique ideas in preference for overloaded campiness. Better than I remember, but possibly due to comparison with previous Bond films!

Additional Marshmallows: The film features an absent-minded farewell to Desmond Llewelyn as Q and his replacement by John Cleese. Unfortunately Llewelyn died in an automobile accident soon after the film release, he had commented on wishing to return in the next movie. The video and DVD of The World is Not Enough features a tribute to his appearance in the last seventeen Bond films.

Die Another Day (2002)

Should have been called “Parody Another Day” or “Overripe Garbage”.

Where to begin…

The twentieth outing for super-spy James Bond was going to be special, a triumphant celebration of forty years of movie magic. Shame that all we get is an infantile mash of explosions, pointless gadgets and pointless characters, with an overwhelming amount of padding, and literally endless one-liners!

Bond is captured and tortured in North Korea while investigating diamond smuggling and arms dealings, only to later defy MI6 and uncover the connections between these illegal trades and an overnight diamond billionaire developing an orbital space weapon. Meanwhile, Halle Berry is in this.

So, the good aspects are easy to list, since there are only two. The villain’s henchman Zao (played by Rick Yune) who could have carried the entire film had he been given the chance, and the brand new Aston Martin Vanquish and its final ice-skating car chase!
Unfortunately, everything else is bad. We can assume the twentieth Bond would have some cameos, some references to previous films, but did they need to replace the story with them? We have laser torture (ala Goldfinger) we have ejector seats, we have Union Jack flag parachutes, jet packs, knife shoes, and oh yes, Halle Berry butchering the original Bond Girl’s (Ursula Andress from Dr No.) entrance, replacing subtly for brazen slow-motion, rivets of water and breasts.
It is a messy, choppy and nonsensical action film that strays so far from what Bond is that it goes beyond parody; this is jumping the shark in almost every scene. When the villain dons an electric power-suit akin to Power Rangers, you wonder just what the hell you are watching!
This is a shame, because the opening isn’t too bad, it starts with surfing. SURFING! I’ve never seen that; they’ve finally replaced skiing with something different (although I still don’t believe hovercrafts can safely traverse minefields) and Bond being captured and tortured was also unique (although this too is ruined with that selfishly “standout” theme from Madonna…)

Ultimately, Die Another Day fails at almost everything it attempts; everything good is countered with something bad i.e. cool looking car = they make it invisible; strong female character = they cast Berry; different setting with North Korea = they turn the bad guy British… wait what?

There’s so much wrong I cannot list it all. 2002 was a bad year for film franchises, seeing Resident Evil begin and Star Trek: Nemesis, and like Nemesis, Brosnen’s last Bond film is a jumble, a mess without any coherence; bubblegum for the eyes.

Additional Marshmallows: Did you know that Halle Berry was looking to start a spin-off series with her character Jinx, “The first Bond Girl to get her own film”? I cringe at the thought, fortunately it was canned and she went on to film Catwoman. Hah.

Now I am going to hit you with a revelation I’ve had… I believe that Pierce Brosnen is the weaker actor.

I know, I know!

… Stop throwing the cabbages, tomatoes and grenades at me!

I’m not saying the films themselves are the worst (certainly not; Moore and Connery have some of the worst stories/plots/villains of the series) but Brosnen only ever looks comfortable as the character once… and that is during Goldeneye.

This and the fact that Bond becomes an unmoving cliché of himself in these films, he requires more interesting characters around him to make things dynamic. Michelle Yoeh from Tomorrow Never Dies, Robert Carlyle in The World is Not Enough, and in Die Another Day Halle Berry practically steals everything from Bond in becoming his equal!
Maybe he isn’t as bad as Roger Moore as the character… but at least Moore felt consistent (horrendously consistent, yes) and fairly confident throughout, and if you like that sort of thing… then that’s… good? Brosnen does look and sound the part.

The actor himself has been quoted as being uncertain about the character, that he “never really nailed it”, and how he may have wanted to portray Bond in a slightly edgier manner than the Moore-like comedic route; “a more ferocious way”.

However you look at it (and perhaps you really like the Brosnen films as they are!) there is a lack of confidence underneath the films, either with the character or the storytelling in general.

But this is all quite harsh because I really enjoy Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, in fact Goldeneye was the first Bond film I owned, even before Licence to Kill! The films have some great ideas, great villains, and are entertainment (all the way down to the most basic definition of the word) I would rather watch these four twice rather than the seven Moore films!

Next time, things get dark and gritty. We are no longer watching happy-go-lucky, suspension of disbelief action anymore, Bond is getting a realistic edge now! The last and current Bond, Daniel Craig arrives in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace!

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