Review: James Bond (No.21 – No.22)

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.

We have reached the end of this endless journey! Now we have two remarkably stand-out films to review as part of Daniel Craig’s ongoing era as the super spy.

It is impressive to see that even now, fifty years on and after twenty films the franchise can still find some solid ground without resorting to parody or remakes. True, Casino Royale is technically a prequel (and ignoring the Peter Sellers spoof, not a remake!) but that is at least forgiveable isn’t it?

So let’s see how we get on with this new, edgy James Bond. There will be free-running and rooftop chases, endless Poker games, angry, angry revenge and slimy villains. It is the Craig era.

Casino Royale (2006)

Four years on, James Bond gets a face lift the only way movie franchises know how: with a prequel!

Daniel Craig takes over the role as the special agent when he is given his 007 status from M (Judi Dench reprising her role) and he is given the task to investigate Le Chiffre, a terrorist money dealer and notorious poker player. MI6 sends Bond to participate in the Casino Royale poker game and prevent Le Chiffre from keeping his criminal finances and turn his clients against him.

After directing Pierce Brosnen’s first outing Goldeneye, Martin Campbell returns to direct this fiercer, bolder and grown-up Bond outing. Craig has great presence as Bond, going from icy intensity to playfully and relaxed with ease. Eva Green is also a competent Bond Girl, to the point where she might not be considered a “Bond Girl” in the traditional sense.

The film is perhaps the most solid Bond film I have ever seen, it feels like a story with integrity; we aren’t dealing with some doomsday device intent on world destruction, just a banker with a bleeding eye. Okay, so there are some unusual elements. The film has huge, lengthy action sequences strung together with Bond’s character development, and the action is kinetic, real and immersive! (Then again, the last time I saw him; he was para-skiing through icebergs while being chased by an orbital solar laser beam…)

It is a grown up Bond film, and even more integrated and complete than the Dalton films (or at least more so than Living Daylights) some people may find its pacing too slow and its story lacking in “wow” factor; the third act does get a little lost. The villain here is pedestrian compared to previous films too, but I like the film a lot simply because it is showing the potential Bond films have. They had better not screw up this potent mixture!

This one is excellent in my opinion, it may not be for everyone, and it does have some teething problems, but it shows great promise.

Additional Marshmallows: The decision to almost completely ignore the traditional James Bond theme throughout the entire film (give-or-take) may irk a lot of fans (John Barry did not work on Casino Royale) the soundtrack is comprised of Chris Connell’s theme “You Know My Name” for the majority. This is however quite thematic, as the film is witnessing the birth of the vengeful, famous Bond we all know and love.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum of Solace
, much like its title, is hard to quantify; I want to say I enjoyed watching it, only it doesn’t allow me too.

A cold, hate-filled Bond pursues the nebulous villains behind the schemes of Le Chiffre, taking him across the globe and risking the lives of everybody around him in the process.

In a unique move for the franchise this film is a direct sequel to Casino Royale, picking up where we last saw Daniel Craig’s super spy, capturing the only suspect who knows about a global criminal group that MI6 has no knowledge about. This leads Bond to investigate an environmentalist who is secretly taking control of the world’s natural resources.

The film is very different from Casino Royale. Like the flip-side of a coin; Casino was often moody and slow paced, while Quantum is a frenetic action sequence that never ends! Not in a good sense; the editing is rapid, we have that shaky-camera action filming and a lot of CG stunt elements (for a Bond film, often praised for their physical stunts). You could say it lacks conviction with its content too; it is a film of story padding, you can’t shake the feeling that there should be more going on, even its finale feels quite lacking. This likely stems from the weak villains, who make Le Chiffre appear multi-layered and threatening, and over-reliance on action sequences.

But the film does look great. It has lush visuals, a great moment of espionage where Bond gets the upper-hand against the mysterious organisation at a theatre, and the general sense of bottled rage from Bond is exciting to watch (if not entirely capitalised upon) Craig is still an excellent Bond.

It is certainly a weak individual film, and even when watched after Casino Royale it feels directionless and poorly executed. Here’s hoping the following films can make up for this unintelligent stumble!

Additional Marshmallows: Quantum of Solace is the first Bond film to not use the traditional opening montage of Bond shooting towards the camera! Instead it is tagged onto the beginning of the end credits…

Well, I have to say I am now completely stoked for Skyfall’s release next week! I only hope it is more like the Dalton films and less like Quantum of Solace… Given the film industry’s current obsession with “more action, less integrity”, Daniel Craig’s time as Bond could descend into a mash of brainless action and explosions. James Bond films need to have espionage, those moments of slowness where we can appreciate what’s happening and appreciate Bond’s wit and sophistication.

From the looks of Skyfall’s trailer, there’s plenty of action but also a more stand-out villain played by Javier Bardem (see No Country for Old Men for his credentials in playing villains!) which is much needed in this series now. We can only hope that more of this secret organisation is revealed, and a proper spy story can develop along the way.

Director Sam Mendez has stated he grew up watching Roger Moore’s first film Live and Let Die… Well, so long as Sherriff Pepper doesn’t make an appearance, I’ll be at ease!

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