Some thoughts on Quantum of Solace

free stats

I will have to wait for the DVD release of Quantum of Solace to issue a full analysis — I’m not afraid to admit that I didn’t understand a lot of it the first time around. The key question of my Bond analysis – “What does James Bond actually do to save the world?” is still a little vague for me twelve hours after watching the movie. I know he goes to a whole bunch of places and kills a whole bunch of people while on the trail of this Dominic Greene character, but I’m not exactly sure why he’s doing it and I’m not exactly sure how he’s going about it. If I had watched Casino Royale earlier in the morning I would probably be better oriented, and if you have that kind of leisure time at your disposal I recommend doing so — a number of key plot-points revolve around things that happen in the earlier movie.

Read more

Casino Royale (2006)

(For those coming in late, I’ve been watching all the James Bond movies in order. You may read my other Bond pieces here.)

As this is a recent movie, I’m going to go ahead and say SPOILER ALERT.

James Bond is one cold bastard. He’s recently been promoted to “double-O” status — I may have missed what he was before that. Was he a “regular-O” agent? Did he have a license to hurt? What was he doing for MI6 before they decided he would make good assassin material? Whatever it was, M seems to have a good eye for talent — Bond seems to enjoy killing people almost more than he enjoys boinking the ladies. He’s also young, untried, cocky, reckless, bossy, impatient, quick on his feet and more physical than any five previous Bonds put together.

I’m old enough to remember that there was once a great movie star named Steve McQueen, and I’m also old enough to remember that the Bond people once seriously considered casting him as Bond. Steve McQueen was, of course, demonstrably Not British, but Daniel Craig not only bears a startling resemblance to McQueen, but also plays the part much in the way I imagine McQueen would have — human-scaled, silent and strong outside, vulnerable and unprepared inside. It’s the first truly multidimensional portrait of Bond we’ve ever seen, and Craig is, I would have to say, devastating in the part. I liked Connery, I liked a couple of the Moore pictures and I loved Brosnan, but Craig is playing a whole different ball game here. More on why this works later.That said, it’s a little weird to see Bond be born again again at this late date. It didn’t trouble Pierce Brosnan that he was both 35 years old and a relic of the cold war. It didn’t concern Roger Moore that women young enough to be his daughter were falling for him as though hypnotized. But it seems that somewhere between Die Another Day and Casino Royale there was some kind of Bond-backstory event, a “Crisis of Infinite Bonds” perhaps, and it was deemed necessary to pretend that the other 20 movies never happened. Most of which serves Casino Royale very well indeed.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? One of the many new-to-Bondworld innovations in Casino Royale is the nature of the bad guy. Le Chiffre (“The Number” or, more literally, “The Figure,” both things are of importance to the world of Casino Royale) has the least megalomaniacal and most human scheme of all Bond villains in history. His devious, world-ending plot involves not a giant space-laser or a scheme to blow up Fort Knox or the theft of two nuclear weapons.  He doesn’t have a gigantic subterranean lair or a secret labratory or a fluffy white cat.  His nefarious plot involves nothing more than short-selling some stock and then winning a high-stakes poker game. Sounds like an average day at Bear Stearns, if you ask me. Of course, his stock-selling scheme involves the dramatic blowing-up of an airplane, but even then he sets his sights low — the plane is empty, and parked on the ground. This is truly a new style of Bond villain — not a monster, not a sadist, not a deformed freak — well, not much anyway — he is, gasp, recognizably human, which is something that extends to the rest of Casino Royale.

Le Chiffre, it seems, is an investment banker for bad guys. He takes the money of an African warlord and uses it in this short-selling scheme. When Bond foils the airplane-blowing-up part of the plan, Le Chiffre has to figure out how to get the African warlord’s money back — hence the high-stakes poker game. He doesn’t dream of world domination, he’s a desperate man in debt to some very bad people. It’s even weirder that he dies at the end of Act III — in a four-act movie — but more on why that all ends upworking later.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Bond kills a double agent at the beginning of the movie — two, actually, if you count the one in the flashback. Wait! What? A flashback? Since when does a James Bond movie have a flashback? Next thing you know, there will be exotic cinematic techniques showing up all over Bond movies, rack zooms and parallel action and shaky-cams and sunburst flares. Is nothing sacred with these heartless bastards?

Anyway, so Bond kills a pair of double agents before the titles roll, one of whom is actually a Brit — another first for the Bond series, if I’m not mistaken (Jonathan Pryce doesn’t count — he was playing an Australian). Next he goes to Madagascar, on the trailer of a bomb-maker. After a stupefying chase at a construction site, a scene of endless leaps, falls, punches, dives and gunplay, he tails the bomb-maker to an embassy, which he promptly destroys. (I swear, Bond exerts himself more in the first 20 minutes of Casino Royale than he does in the totality of Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.)

M, angry with Bond for blowing up the embassy, throws him off the case. Does Bond comply? Yes. He does. He spends the rest of the movie relaxing and hanging out with his buds. No, wait, no he doesn’t — he ignores M’s orders and goes to the Bahamas to try to find whoever the Madagascar bomb-maker was working for.

The Madagascar bomb-maker was working for a d-list villain named Dimitrios. Dimitrios functions essentially the same way a movie producer does, bringing together talent (bomb-makers) and money (Le Chiffre) (all puns intended). Dimitrios has a wife, and Bond seduces the wife to get to the guy. He trails Dimitrios to Miami, where he contacts another bomb-maker just in time to make Le Chiffre’s deadline for blowing up a parked airplane. Bond, as I say, spoils the airplane-blowing-up deal and then enters the high-stakes poker game to make sure Le Chiffre doesn’t make his money back. The plan is that, once broke and desperate, Le Chiffre will turn himself over to MI6 and spill all he knows about his shadowy employers.

Huh. You know, now that I’m looking at it spelled out like that, this plot seems to actually seems to resemble something amazingly like intelligence work. You’ve got terrorists and financiers, you’ve got people who blow up stuff for stock swindles through complicated plausibly-deniable contacts, you’ve got undercover agents and cell-phone traces — by jiminy if that doesn’t sound convincingly real. What the hell are they doing to my movie franchise?! Why, not once does Le Chiffre say to a henchman “Find him and kill him.”

Once Le Chiffre is beaten, he comes to Bond’s side and gladly, gratefully even, turns himself in. Oh wait, no, I’m sorry, what I meant to say is he kidnaps Bond and his girlfriend, tortures them both, then gets shot in the head by his shadowy employers.

And, bizarrely, the movie isn’t over yet. Bond takes himself, the poker money and his MI6-accountant girlfriend to Venice, where he learns, too late, that the girlfriend is (reluctantly) in league with the bad guys. Upon learning this, he takes the only logical course of action — he destroys a Venetian building and kills a bunch of people. Then he tracks the shadowy employer (“Mr. White” — doesn’t sound very shadowy to me, and I for one was very disappointed that, with a name like that, he was not played by Harvey Keitel) to, I’m gonna say Switzerland, and shoots him in the leg.

Whew! What a workout for Bond in this, his longest movie ever. And, I would have to check my notes, but I’m gonna say that this is also the most complicated of Bond plots, although Live and Let Die would probably come a close second. And yet, Casino Royale never feels labored or dense — it flies along through a mid-movie plot shift, an abrupt and improbable love story and a very long poker game (for the record, we see exactly three actual hands of poker in that game, interrupted by two fist-fights, two deaths, four dress shirts, a poisoning, and a heart-re-starting).

WOMEN: There are two women of note in Casino Royale. Three things tie them together thematically — they both make love to Bond, they both are tied to men absurdly below their station (one has a unibrow, the other wears sunglasses with only one dark lens — how bargain-basement Bond Villain could you get?! Dude, you’re Bond Villains, can’t you get a metal skull or prehensile toes or something? Oo-ah, look at me, I’ve only got one dark lens on my glasses! Fear Me!), and they both wind up dead.

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd has the heaviest lifting to do — she shows up halfway through the movie and has to go from “I couldn’t care less about James Bond” to “Omigod, I just totally saw a bunch of guys get freakin’ killed!” to “Help! I’ve been kidnapped!” to “I think I love James Bond after all” to “I am tragically, hopelessly screwed up and don’t want to live any longer” in an hour and fifteen minutes, interrupted by poker hands and killings and emergency medical procedures and car-crashes and torturings and mass destruction. And Craig has to believably answer her.

Guess what? For the most part the love story totally works. I don’t exactly buy a couple of scenes, but not only does Vesper Lynd count as the first Bond Girl with more than two or three attributes to play, but the love story comes off as the first credible one of the series. Lynd doesn’t just fall into Bond’s arms, he has to work at earning her trust, and then her lust. The early scenes of the two of them giddy about their high-stakes adventure are smashing, and I wish they went on for longer. I especially like the scene about the tux, where Bond objects to the one she’s picked out and they argue about fashion. (I’ve only seen high-stakes poker games on ESPN, and I would have loved — loved — to see Bond come swanning into the poker room in his tailored tux to find a table full of guys who look like this.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Le Chiffre has a scar on his eye and weeps blood. That’s pretty cool, but the filmmakers seemed to feel that only one minor physical deformity for their bad guy would be short-changing their audiences, so they’ve also given him asthma. Asthma! How the hell are we supposed to be scared of a guy with asthma? Why not a cleft palate or webbed toes? Le Chiffre overcomes his lame disability with style however, and stands as one of the most compelling bad guys of the series, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t even get a cool, spectacular death at the hands of Bond.

NOTES: I dislike the title sequence for this movie,and I don’t care much for the song either, although it’s growing on me. I like the animation, but Bond firing hearts out his gun and punching bad guys into shattering animated diamonds strikes me as dire and lame.

I love the beat where the Madagascar bomb-maker throws his gun a Bond and Bond catches it and throws it back. Was that in the script, worked out during the fight choreography, or improvised on the set?

Due, apparently, to budget cuts at MI6, M no longer has a Moneypenny to flirt with Bond, so she must take on the job herself. I applaud Dame Judy Dench’s playing of these scenes and look forward to some hot Craig-on-Dench scenes in a future installment.

I like his car, and I like very much the spectacular crash that ends its life, but I can’t for the life of my figure out why they would put a defibrillator in the glove compartment.

Giancarlo Giannini, I’m happy to report, survived getting disemboweled, hanged and thrown out a window by Hannibal Lecter, and shows up as some Italian guy who may or may not be a good guy.  His and Felix Leiter’s main roles in the movie seem to be explaining to the audience how Poker is played, revealing the meaning behind obscure terms like “stake” and “tell” (Felix: “I’ll stake you — that means I’ll put up the money for you to play.”  GG: “There’s his ‘tell!’ That’s how we know he’s bluffing!”) as though anyone walking in from the street to see a movie called Casino Royale would be ignorant of what actually happens inside a casino.

Jeffrey Wright is surely the greatest actor to ever play Felix Leiter and here’s to hoping he comes back for the next movie (although he is not listed as such.)  Geez, if the real Felix Leiter was as smart and efficient as Jeffrey Wright, 9/11 would never have happened.

After Bond is tortured by Le Chiffre, is it just my imagination or does he recuperate at a hospital located near Senator Amidala’s house on Naboo?  I kept expecting to have Bond look over to see Anakin Skywalker wooing his beloved with his killer lines about how she’s nothing like sand.

Act III of Casino Royale revolves around a poker game.  The filmmakers get around this action-movie non-starter by having the game constantly interrupted by fights, killings, showers, poisonings, and no less than four changes of clothes (six if you count Le Chiffre and Vesper).  After each one of these events, the characters in the movie go back to doing exactly what they were doing beforehand.  Most disappointing of these pulse-raising events is when the African warlord breaks into Le Chiffre’s hotel room and threatens his girlfriend’s arm with a machete.  He pulls his punch at the last second, and while I in no way wanted to see the girlfriend’s arm cut off, I was disappointed that the ruthless African warlord turned out to be ruthful after all.

I am also a little disappointed to see Bond relying so much on wireless technology (and I’d love to know if it’s actually possible to get a signal in the middle of the Laguna Veneta).  The second time Bond is interrupted in his love-making by a ringing cell-phone I expected him to throw it out the window.  The third time I expected him to shoot it.

What makes all this work?  The makers of Casino Royale seem to have made a decision early on in the process, one unprecedented in the franchise history.  That is, they decided to make a movie about James Bond.  Le Chiffre’s death at the hands of some guy who’s name we don’t even know, 3/4 of the way through the movie, works because the movie isn’t about him, it’s about Bond.  The love story, absurdly complex by Bond standards, works because the movie isn’t about sex or conquest or gadgets or style or violence, it’s about this guy and his, you know, character.  Get this — when this Bond kills a couple of guys in a stairwell or gets thrown off a speeding truck?  He still has red marks on his face and hands in the next scene!  This Bond, amazingly, takes a moment to steady himself and think about what he’s doing before he heads into a dangerous situation.  Did Roger Moore ever take a moment to look at himself in a mirror and wonder if perhaps he’d made a wrong decision?  Can one imagine Sean Connery expressing gratitude to a woman for falling in love with him?

The script manages to pull off this feat without making Bond self-obsessed or self-pitying, and, indeed, without actually telling us very much about the character.  Other Bonds have been stylish and seductive and funny and charismatic, but this one is something like an actual human being, and, as every real filmmaker knows, there is nothing more intriguing than that.

hit counter html code

Die Another Day

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is having a really bad day. He’s been captured by the North Koreans after trying to sell them some “conflict diamonds” in a sting operation, and he has been treated — gasp — the way a captured spy is generally treated in these circumstances. That is, he’s been tortured and interrogated and thrown in a filthy cell, instead of being handcuffed to a nuclear bomb or dropped into a shark tank or strapped to a laser table (that comes later). This has pissed him off. The torture and confinement is probably bad enough, but to add insult to injury, when he is released by the North Koreans he looks almost exactly like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, drawing one of the most unfair invited comparisons in the history of filmmaking.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? You’d never guess, but the bad guy has, unbelievably, a big space laser. After Diamonds Are Forever, after Goldeneye, after Austin freaking Powers, the bad guy has a big space laser. This time, he’s a Richard-Branson-esque capitalist who is really a believed-dead North Korean Army officer who’s gotten some kind of face transplant or mind-meld or something. He promotes the big space-laser as a “second sun” (ironically, he is, himself, a “second son” of a North Korean general) and calls it Icarus. So apparently he either has a keen sense of irony or else he believes everyone on the planet is a complete idiot.

Anyhoo, Mr. Diamond Merchant Who’s Really A Presumed Dead North Korean Army Officer builds a giant space laser so that he can blow up the DMZ at the border of North and South Korea, allowing North Korea to invade South Korea. If it wants to — I can’t remember if they even mention that in the movie.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Bond, as I say, is captured by the North Koreans, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured. He’s let out, kicked out of MI6, and goes looking for this Xao fellow, a North Korean guy who happened to be standing nearby when a suitcase full of diamonds exploded. He tails Xao to Cuba and meets Jinx, who’s apparently some kind of American girl spy or something. He and Jinx try to get Xao, but he gets away.

Then, like in A View to a Kill, the plot completely changes halfway through the movie. Unlike A View to a Kill, the second half of the movie turns out to have something to do with the first half. This guy Gustav Graves shows up and he’s got a big space laser. Bond doesn’t like him because he deals in conflict diamonds, so he goes to the guy’s fencing club and challenges him to a duel. The duel ends up taking over the entire club (and destroys Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy,” which, I’ll bet you didn’t know, hangs in a private fencing club in London).

Bond then pursues Graves to this place with a lot of ice, where Graves is showing off his big space laser. Bond has come with MI6 agent Miranda Frost. Jinx is there too. Bond is certain Graves is connected to Xao somehow. What he learns is that Graves is actually Xao’s brother, believed dead but actually having a face transplant or something and calling himself a British diamond merchant now.

Anyway, Bond finds this out (or Jinx does, I think) and Xao shows up and chases Bond across the ice. Graves turns on his big space laser and melts a giant piece of ice, forcing Bond to surf, which he actually does twice in this movie. And at a certain point your mind just snaps, because there are no two activities more incongruous than surfing and big explosive action thrillers (Point Break notwithstanding).

Oh, and Miranda Frost turns out to be a bad guy.

Bond and Jinx team up to stop Graves from blowing up the DMZ in a big action set-piece featuring a sword fight between two women on a plummeting, flaming 747.

WOMEN? Jinx, the good girl, is played by Halle Berry. Miranda Frost, the bad girl, is played by Rosamund Pike. Guess which one is memorable?

Halle Berry won an Oscar while working on Die Another Day but she still ends up having to be rescued by Bond, not once but twice.

Madonna, in addition to singing the title song, shows up as a fencing instructor. It’s almost like the 1967 Casino Royale, with stars big and small showing up to do their cameos.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Gustav Graves isn’t cool at all. He’s a sneering, obvious bore. Having a literally fake face is no excuse. Xao is slightly more cool as the Second Villain, but I have to wonder about the diamonds imbedded in his face. Did his doctor, when operating on him, say “I have bad news for you, you will lose all your hair, all your skin pigment, and your irises, and worst of all, it is impossible to remove the diamonds imbedded in your skin”? Or was it more like this:

DOCTOR: Those diamonds imbedded in your face look painful. I’ll have to operate.
XAO: Are you crazy? With a gimmick like this I’m sure to make Lead Villain for sure!

WEATHER ANOMALIES: The sun shines in Cuba, giving everything a golden, summery glow. It does not shine, however, in North Korea, where everything is dingy and gray. Which I guess means that Communism is not, in and of itself, capable of extinguishing the sun. All of this explains why Graves is interested in creating a sun of his own — he didn’t get any of it in North Korea.

NOTES: I watched this movie with actor/blogger James 

in attendance, so forgive me ifI’m not getting everything in the plot right. It was weird to watch this, the 20th Bond movie, after watching the other 19 in a row, and watching no other movies in between, with a comparative Bond neophyte. He kept vocally protesting the movie’s detachment, artificiality and dramatic inertia, all things that moviegoers generally overlook when watching Bond movies. Here I was appreciating the lighting and the relatively complex plotting, and Urbaniak is trying to compare it to a real movie. Which, at the end of the day, it is not.  (As a kind of palette cleanser, we watched the opening of Citizen Kane — as head-snapping juxtaposition of artistic realities as I think is possible on a movie screen.)

A note (sorry) on music: During the action-packed climax, Urbaniak made note of the Carmina Burana knockoff playing on the score.  I noticed it too, and noticed another Carmina Burana knockoff playing under the climax of Pirates this weekend.  And I realized that Carmina Burana has, somehow, in the past 20 years or so, become a staple of a certain kind of film scoring.  How did that come to be?  Dr. No gets by with “Three Blind Mice” but Die Another Day must bring in Carl Orff.  But whenever there’s some kind of high-stakes action sequence now, here comes the furiously chanting choirs again.  How did film scores become showcases for 20th-century classical music?  In fifty years will people watch movies like Die Another Day and Pirates and think “Wow, those Early 21st-centuryers sure loved their imitation Orff!”

I don’t remember noticing all the gadgets when the movie came out, but they sure stick out now. They’re all over the place. I didn’t mind the invisible car when it showed up in 2002 but it bothered me now. Who knows, maybe in ten years everyone will have invisible cars and we’ll watch Die Another Day and chuckle at how outdated and clumsy Bond’s Vanquish is.

I also remember enjoying Cleese’s performance as Q in the theater, but it seems just as dreary and unfunny now as any late Cleese performance.

It never occurred to me before, but there’s a scene in the beginning where the North Koreans find a photo of Bond and he’s a dead ringer for Peter Jennings. And suddenly the career of Peter Jennings became 100% more interesting.

Xao, as I say, chases Bond across the ice in his Jaguar. Like Bond’s car, Xao’s is outfitted with rocket-launchers and machine guns and so forth. Now, I can see why Bond’s car has all that stuff (or, to be honest, I can’t see why it has all that stuff, but I’ve grown accustomed to the tradition of it) but I can’t for the life of me understand why Xao feels he needs to have a chaingun and rocket launchers in his Jaguar. And the whole sequence falls apart for me there. I don’t know why that’s the breaking point for me in a movie that includes a big space laser, a hotel made out of ice and Madonna as a fencing instructor, but here we are.

Bond sneaks into the bad guy’s arctic lab, a glass dome that is, of course, made up of hexagons. Nothing futuristic was ever accomplished without hexagons. Hugo Drax knew that.

Bond and Jinx sneak into the bad guy’s airfield using — what? I’m sorry, they use what to breach the airfield’s security system? Wirecutters? To cut through a chain link fence? Does Bond’s watch no longer have a miniature buzz saw on it?

In the explosive climax, Bond and Jinx bail out of a crashing 747 by climbing into a helicopter in the plane’s cargo bay and starting it up as it plummets toward earth. I could be wrong, but I’m not entirely sure it is possible to do that.

There is a valedictory aspect to Die Another Day, a kind of summing-up. Lots of in-jokes, clever references and navel-gazing. Or maybe I’m confusing “valedictory” with “not having any original ideas.” The problem with the Brosnan Bonds is that they feel the constant burden of The Bond Movies, that they’re part of a tradition, that they have something to live up to. In Die Another Day the whole construction, the whole hall of mirrors, finally collapses like, well, like an ice-hotel under the beam of a big space laser.

hit counter html code

Who is Bond?


“I think what’s most fascinating about Bond is the fact that he’s a self-righteous, stone-cold killer. Where Zorro is more of a rebellion, in all reality, Bond is an antagonist. He’s stopping the action started by these insidious Moriarty-esque characters, because he believes that his country is so absolutely right. Harry Palmer was more of an indentured servant than a true-believer, but James Bond believes in his country so much that he’s willing to kill its supposed enemies that are always biting at its heels. I guess that’s respectable. A man so confident in his beliefs that he can command such charisma, sexuality, and judgement with such little effort.

“About the rights thing, Holmes, Dracula, and Zorro have persisted due to its rise as popular folklore, while Bond was quickly dumped out as a character in the books, then quickly packaged as a product. He’s a capitalist creation for people to profit on rather than to merely retell stories about. Bond is no dime store novel, he’s more a mutli-billion dollar piggy bank than a spy thriller to its rights-holders.”


Well now: is Bond self-righteous? He’s certainly smug, and he does move with a certain license (so to speak). But I don’t know if I’d call him self-righteous. It always feels more like he’s got a job to do. I sit down and try to figure out how to make a hit movie out of a board game, Bond puts on a tux and blows shit up. When the job is done he goes home — or rather, he goes on vacation, usually in a boat, definitely someplace warm, always with a (new) girl on his arm (or under his pelvis).

The comparison with Zorro is instructive because we don’t need to know anything about the history of California to root for Zorro. All we need to know is that he’s a rich man pretending to be a blackguard in order to defend the peasants against the military regime that’s taken over the region (Robin Hood was a nobleman who had had his title taken away, Zorro kept his title but put on a mask to disguise himself — both were fighting for the rights of the peasants against a cruel, wrongfully empowered, dictator).

So let’s remove Bond from the Cold War, Kruschchev, Kennedy, Cuba, Castro, all those hard K’s, and examine who he is personally.  Bond is a half-formed manchild, an eternal adolescent, good with tools, good with destruction, bad with forming long-lasting relationships. In the books he drinks too much and smokes too much and pays the price for it, in the movies Bond would never drink to excess and would certainly never have a hangover and hasn’t had a smoke since Roger Moore retired.

What does Bond want? What is his primary objective? It’s not to serve his Queen and country, although George Lazenby makes a gesture toward that in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s not to please M, although Bond does respect M and does follow his orders, more or less. (M, we could say, is Bond’s father figure. Bond does what he’s told because he’s a good boy, but he’s going to get the job done his way. This is, I think, why Q becomes an important character — Q is the father-figure whom Bond can disobey. To M, Bond is all “Yes, sir, right away sir,” but to Q he’s rude and dismissive and rebellious. And it drives Q crazy. M may purse his lips at Bond’s indiscretions, but underneath he wishes he were in Bond’s place, young enough to still have sex in a spaceship after blowing up a villains orbiting headquarters.)

(Does that make Moneypenny Bond’s mother? The sexual tension between them says no, and yet what would Freud say? Why can’t Moneypenny feel both maternal and lustful toward Bond? Isn’t Bond’s devotionto his work part respect for M [father] and lust for Moneypenny [mother]? Or is Moneypenny “family,” a sister or cousin, always flirting, never consummating, because to consummate would be the end of everything? [Casting Judi Dench as M makes the parental aspect of the character clearer than ever — M for “mother,” no doubt, with still plenty of sexual tension between her and Bond.])

(Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny is, for my money, the best of the bunch, because I really believe in the attraction between her and Bond. I feel like Bond travels the world screwing women who don’t matter to him but at the end of his adventure he always comes back to Moneypenny. Christmas Jones is the woman you date, Moneypenny is the woman you marry. Or does Moneypenny symbolize home itself, the home Bond “loves” but also is happy leaving at the drop of a hat [just like the overgrown teenage boy he is]? And is that why Bond is always introduced tossing his hat into Moneypenny’s office?)

Forget the Queen, forget England. None of that makes any difference to Bond. He doesn’t believe his country is right; he never gives a moment’s thought to his country at all (and when he’s being played by a Scot, an Irishman or an Australian, who can blame him?). Politics is all a show to Bond, just symptoms of an eternal power struggles, left and right, capitalist and communist, they’re all meaningless, flags of convenience, in and of themselves.  Most of the villains he fights don’t impact England directly anyway, and when they do (as in Goldeneye) the audience says “He’s going to blow up England? What kind of lame supervillain sets his sights on blowing up England?” When someone says to Bond that he’s doing something for Queen and country, they’re teasing him, calling him a momma’s boy.

The attacks in Bond’s world are, narratively speaking, attacks not on Queen and country but upon Bond’s family of M, Moneypenny and Q (again, made explicit in the ambitious but tangled TWINE). M provides authority, Moneypenny provides the “home fires,” the warm bosom waiting, ever waiting for the hero’s return, Q provides the tools that every handsome prince needs to go forth and slay dragons. To continue the medieval spin, M is the aging Arthur, Moneypenny is Guinivere, Q is Merlin. That would make Bond, hm, Lancelot I guess, or maybe Percival, going forth to seek the grail.

I think this is why Bond can’t be 60 years old — he has to be believable as an adolescent boy (which is what Fleming said he was) — rebellious, sex-mad, perpetually eager to experience life, fast on his feet, a good improvisor. He honors his parents and will always come home, but he might also take off with the car/boat/hovercraft/yacht/spaceship/submarine and use it to pick up girls when he’s done running his parents’ errands.

Bond is certainly a capitalist creation, a consumerist creation more precisely (Bond doesn’t make a very good capitalist, but he makes a wonderful consumer), but I think it’s a mistake to believe that he holds no intrinsic value. If he were valueless as an idea he would have faded away long ago.
hit counter html code

What is Bond?

As the sun begins to set on our analysis of Things Bond, I am again forced to ask myself the key question: What is Bond?

To begin with, how to quantify this phenomenon?  If it’s a mere formula, what does that formula consist of?

It’s not simply “Martinis, Guns and Girls,” if that were the case, there would be dozens of other franchises equally as successful and enduring.

It’s not the Cold War, or else Bond wouldn’t have survived the fall of the Soviet Union.  This is a franchise, a “brand” if you will, dating back to when my father was a young man.  Few other things (say, the ’65 Thunderbird) have retained the same appeal over the years.  And yet with a few exceptions, the early Bond films do not feel dated.  The best ones hold up just fine, feel timeless at the same time as they transport us to another time.  One has to remind oneself about the Cold War aspect of the Bond movies — they work perfectly well outside of the history that produced them.

It’s not Sean Connery, because Bond has survived many different casting hurdles, including Connery’s two returns to the role.  And each Bond has been different, yet somehow still the same.

Is it the character himelf?  If so, what about him?  Is it the clothes, the consumerist aspect, the ability to score with women even when one has crinkly neck-skin?  Is it the license to kill, the gadgets, the ability to negotiate a complex world with sang-froid?  Do men look up to government assassins?  Do women?

It’s not love of England, is it?  Queen and country?

Is it partly that we know so little about him, he’s a blank slate, we can put ourselves in his place?  Then why was the new, character-rich Casino Royale such a hit?

It’s not the direction; all the major “Bond Directors” have both superlative and substandard Bonds on their resumes.  One doesn’t scan the opening titles to see whether it’s Guy Hamilton or John Glen on this one.  And yet imagine how an Indiana Jones movie would be received if it was not directed by Steven Spielberg.  If you have trouble imagining that, think back to how Jurassic Park III was received.

Is it the producers?  All the “off-Brand” Bond movies have met with dismal posterity.

Let’s try to think of another character who has survived this many incarnations, from original novels to 21 movies to new novels and now video games.  Sherlock Holmes?  Dracula?  Frankenstein’s monster?  Bugs Bunny?  Mickey Mouse?  And yet, none of those fit either.  “Dracula” isn’t a character you care about — or is it that Dracula wasn’t guided through the production process as skillfully as Bond, he had his brand diluted through too many unlicensed product, and superseded by “vampires” in general?  Can you imagine Bond being replaced in the public imagination by “spies” in general?

Come to think of it, this goes back to the Cold War question.  Because Bond not only exists outside of the history that produced him, he exists outside of the genre that produced him.  One would not watch a Bond movie on a double feature with, say, The Bourne Identity or Gorky Park or Three Days of the Condor.  He’s his own thing; part spy, part detective, part superhero, part action star, part sex-machine.

But what, if anything, makes a Bond movie a Bond movie?  What must a Bond movie be or else it is not a Bond movie?

If the villain does not have a gigantic headquarters, is it still Bond?  I can count only one Bond movie that does not climax in a humongous, over-appointed room, and that is The World is Not Enough.

Must the villain capture Bond (and preferably the girl) at the end of Act II, leading to a protracted, silly, woefully inefficient murder attempt?  Why is this plot-point still tolerated, decades after being pointed out as silly?

We have found that the Bond movies gather many different genre disciplines, both in design and narrative.  Some emphasize detective skills (sometimes laughably) some emphasize action (almost always skillfully) some emphasize revenge, or suspense, or even romance.  There seems to be no set narrative template for a Bond movie.  They instead seem to have a dozen or so narrative strategies that get shuffled and re-shuffled at will, making each adventure seem fresh while actually being recycled.  But you could say the same thing about Star Wars.

Must the villain have a grand, slightly fantastic scheme to take over the world?  He does not in For Your Eyes Only, the movie probably least-remembered of the entire series, in spite of being skillfully written and directed, and featuring Roger Moore’s best performance.  If the villain were realistic, or if the villain were presented in a different way, would it still be Bond?  Could you switch the antagonists of, say, Goldfinger and The Bourne Identity?

Come to think of it, look at this: many of our greatly-loved espionage thrillers have had terribly pessimistic, anti-authoritarian stances, where the bad guy turns out to be the protagonist’s boss.  Can you imagine a Bond thriller where the government itself turns out to be the bad guy?  And yet it begs the question, what country does Bond live in, if the people with all the money and power never use it for evil ends?  How is it that the Bond movies could imagine Dr. Kananga, a prime minister who is also a drug pusher, but not imagine a monster on the scale of Margaret Thatcher, who gets playfully lampooned in, I think, A View to a Kill (or is it For Your Eyes Only)?

Must the women be disposable, replaceable and meaningless?  Could the brand survive a genuine love story?  Must the brand have any love story at all?  How many government assassins take time out to seduce every woman who crosses their paths on their ways to saving the world?  What would happen if Bond were married, or even had the same girlfriend two movies in a row?

Must Bond be flawless?  What if he screwed up now and then, if only for the purposes of suspense?  He’s so goddamn capable, always has the answers, always knows how to get out of a jam.  And if he can’t get out of a jam, knows someone who will come and get him.

Must Bond have gadgets, fast cars, action set-pieces?  If Bond never left the office for the length of a movie, would we still watch him?  That sounds ridiculous, and yet there are plenty of suspenseful thrillers that get by without action set-pieces.  All the President’s Men is one of the most nail-bitingly suspenseful movies ever made, and it’s 2 1/2 hours of men talking on phones.  And we already know how the story ends.

Is it, as one writer put it, that the world changes, but Bond doesn’t?  Is that his appeal, that he is always one step removed from the world he (and we) move in, casting a jaded eye at the turmoil and contortions of whatever time it is, knowing that, whatever the details, human villainy always comes down to sex and power and greed?  (Key line in Dr. No: Bond sighs and says “The same old dream, world domination,” as if there were nothing more predictable and boring than a gigantic organization of supercriminals with limitless resources at their disposal.)

Who, if anyone, can relate to Bond?  He’s a lower-class thug who’s somehow gotten into the ruling-class world.  There’s a kind of Esquire “Man at his Best” quality about him: he’s just as comfortable garroting a bad-guy as he is wearing a tux.  And what man is comfortable wearing a tux?

hit counter html code

The World is Not Enough

Bad news: Elektra has a medival torture chair. Good news: Dr. Jones has a wet t-shirt.

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is getting older but hanging in there. Things don’t come quite so easily to him these days. Why just today he recovered $5,000,000 from some bad guys, got involved in a knife fight, dove out a high window in Bilbao, came home to London, handed the money over to its rightful owner only to find out that the money was booby-trapped, survived a massive explosion and assassination attempt, stole a speedboat, drove it through the streets of London, dangled helplessly from a stolen hot-air balloon and tumbled helplessly down the side of the Millenium Dome. In the old days, that would be a doddle for James Bond, but today he suffered an injury to his collar-bone. Ow! Hurt collar-bone!

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? Renard has a bullet in his head. This is not all good news for Renard. It means he can feel neither pain nor pleasure. Renard is one of those terrorists that exist nowhere in real life but exist everywhere in movies: the terrorist with no political agenda. He’s the terrorist that’s too crazy for other terrorists to work with. How crazy is he? Well for starters, he likes to kill people with a squadron of flying snowmobiles, which strikes me as pretty freaking crazy.

The big tangle in TWINE, of course, is that the Lead Villain turns out to actually be the Second Villain, which, if I was a terrorist with a bullet in my head, would be just the thing to put me over the edge.

But essentially, what Renard wants is what everyone wants: to sacrifice his life and blow up Istanbul so that his weird girlfriend can take over the oil industry.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? I believe TWINE is the most plot-heavy of Bond films, but let’s lay this out to find out for sure.

Bond is sent to Bilbao to recover a suitcase full of money for a wealthy friend of M’s. Right there my brain comes to a screeching halt — M sent Bond to Bilbao to recover a suitcase full of money for a wealthy friend? Is that what MI6 is there for, to run errands for plutocrats? And yet, it turns out this is not a plotting error; one of the key innovations of TWINE is to actually examine the role of MI6, its power in the world and the way well-intentioned, interest-conflicted politicians screw everything up for working men like James Bond and the people of Istanbul.

He brings the money back, the money blows up and kills the wealthy friend. Okay. So Bond is sent to protect the wealthy friend’s daughter, Elektra. Elektra does not seem to be afraid of any terrorists; she’s got other fish to fry, she’s got a massive oil-pipeline to maintain in Azerbaijan. Bond follows her to Azerbaijan and even though Elektra does not seem to appreciate having Bond around (he did hand her father a suitcase full of exploding money, after all) they go skiing together. That’s when they get attacked by the flying snowmobiles.

Bond wants to know who sent those flying snowmobiles, and golly, I do too. He pulls a little Moonraker-style detective work where he wanders into someone’s office looking for nothing in particular and stumbles upon a murder! He instantly makes the decision to abandon his bodyguard role to pose as a member of Renard’s gang, hitch a ride on a helicopter to a nuclear-bomb-dismantling facility somewhere in some dusty place where they speak Russian.

There he meets Dr. Christmas Jones, a beautiful American nuclear physicist whose job is dismantling nuclear bombs in some dusty place where they speak Russian. He’s checking out Dr. Jones’s nuclear-bomb-dismantling operation when he runs into Renard who, as luck would have it, is just then in the middle of stealing a nuclear bomb (even though we just saw him killing a guy in Azerbaijan twelve hours earlier). Bond tries to stop Renard, but Renard gets away with his bomb.

Bond and Jones team up (for some reason) and go after the stolen bomb. MEANWHILE (because this isn’t complicated enough), M gets kidnapped because, in the big twist, it is revealed that Renard is not the Lead Villain after all. No, it turns out that Elektra is the Lead Villain, and has been plotting with Renard all along, ever since Renard kidnapped her years earlier and apparently turned her against her father, his riches and all of his friends, including M and Bond’s Russian informant Zukovsky. So M is tossed in a cell and given X hours to live (Why don’t Bond Villains just shoot people? Why?)

Bond and Jones recover half the plutonium from the stolen nuclear bomb but need to get the other half. As it turns out, Renard is on his way to hijack a Russian nuclear submarine and inject the stolen plutonium into its reactor, which apparently will cause a Chernoble-style meltdown in a port in Istanbul. He wants to do this because Istanbul is a major oil port and contaminating Istanbul will give Elektra power over the oil industry.

What Renard doesn’t know is that Elektra has been playing him all along (I think even since the kidnapping, but I’d have to check). Renard wants only to sow anarchy in world oil markets, but Elektra has been reading the Bond Villain Playbook and knows that by wiping out her competition she can gain a virtual monopoly in an important market (like all Bond Villains, she didn’t get to the part where Goldfinger ended up sucked out of an airplane and Zorin got thrown out of a blimp).

Anyhow, Bond gets kidnapped by Elektra who reveals her evil scheme to him while slowly torturing him to death. Bond gets out of the trap, regretfully kills Elektra, sneaks aboard Renard’s stolen Russian nuclear submarine, tells him the bad news, kills Renard and swims to the surface.

Whew! And I left out the part with the helicopter with the giant buzzsaw attacking the caviar factory.

WOMEN? Another key feature of TWINE is having a surprise female Lead Villain. I applaud this twist and I wish it worked better. Elektra is a complex character with dark motivations and many layers to her personality. Unfortunately, she’s played by Sophie Marceau, an actress incapable of expressing any of that. Luckily, the movie is saved by Denise Richards, who is totally believable in her subtly nuanced, brilliantly accomplished performance of the role of Dr. Christmas Jones, beautiful young American nuclear physicist trying to escape her dark past by dismantling nuclear bombs in some dusty place where they speak Russian.

Okay, so TWINE kinds of blows it on the women. And yet, there are three love scenes in this movie and I believe every one of them. This is how good Pierce Brosnan is. In fact, I will go so far to say that, as far as Bond Love Scenes go, Brosnan scores a higher believability rating than any other Bond, Connery and Craig included. There, I said it.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Renard is a great idea for a character and Robert Carlyle is great in the part. He’s spooky, creepy and seems to think he’s in a real movie. The bullet-in-the-head idea is swell, but the filmmakers do absolutely nothing with it, except have Renard pick up a flaming rock and ponder the limitations of faith.

ON DRIVING A BOAT THROUGH BUSY CITY STREETS: When Roger Moore drove his gondola through the streets of Venice, he arched his brows and tried to look dignified (and failed). When Pierce Brosnan drives his speedboat through the streets of London, he sets his jaw, grits his teeth, and drives with a flinty air of grim determination. I have not yet decided which approach is the best way for an actor to approach this unique acting challenge.

NOTES: TWINE, conceptually, is full of complex, interesting ideas, moral ambiguities and multi-dimensional characters. It also has ludicrous action set-pieces that are a perfect illustration of “pointless spectacle.” The complex espionage thriller making room for the ludicrous set-pieces results in a script that is a tangled mess.

The first scene is set in Bilbao, that hotbed of international intrigue located in rural southern Spain. Bond goes to Bilbao, I’m guessing, so that he can run past the Guggenheim Bilbao, which looks cool. In front of the Guggenheim Bilbao, it happens, is Jeff Koons’s “Puppy”. Putting James Bond in the same frame as Jeff Koons is a pop-culture masterstroke that will make my head explode if I think about it too much.

I would now like to address the problem of flying snowmobiles. If I am a Bond Villain and I want Bond dead, I have to ask myself: is a squadron of flying snowmobiles the most efficient way to accomplish this task? But attack the squadron of flying snowmobiles do, and miraculously survive Bond does. And then what? Bond frets about who might be trying to kill him.

Well now wait a minute, Mr. World’s Greatest Detective. You just got attacked by a squadron of flying snowmobiles in Azerbaijan. How many different people do you suppose are capable of operating flying snowmobiles? Why don’t you go to the local flying-snowmobile school and make some inquiries? How many places in Azerbaijan do you suppose sell flying snowmobiles? Why not head over to the local flying-snowmobile emporium and ask if, perhaps, recently a bald man with a bullet in his head came in asking about hiring a squadron of flying snowmobiles to be piloted by a team of daring flying-snowmobile-piloting assassins? Or did the team of assassins come with their own flying snowmobiles? Are they a team of flying-snowmobile pilots like Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, perhaps out of work and looking for a little side employment as a team of crack flying-snowmobile assassins?

(The flying-snowmobile assassins turn out, of course, to be hired not by Renard but by Elektra, which makes even less sense. Hey Bond Villain, when you hire someone to kill Bond, don’t hire them to kill you as well. THAT’S JUST STUPID.)

And while we’re at it, later in the movie Elektra sends a helicopter with a giant buzzsaw to go destroy the caviar factory of an enemy. Okay, let’s think this out, Ms. I-Want-To-Take-Over-The-Oil-Industry. You’re in the middle of a gigantic, once-in-a-lifetime scheme to destroy Istanbul, take over the oil industry and kill all your enemies. It would be a good idea if you were not caught doing these things. You know what’s a good way to kill a guy? Shoot him. Poison him. Cut his throat. You know what’s a bad way to kill a guy? Send a helicopter with a giant buzzsaw to destroy his factory. Especially when the helicopter with the giant buzzsaw has your oil company’s logo painted on the side in bright red letters. The local police show up to investigate the big caviar-factory destruction in the morning and find all the buildings sawn in half; I’m guessing the list of locals who own helicopters with giant buzzsaws is a pretty short list indeed.

And while we’re discussing the helicopter with the giant buzzsaw, who is flying that helicopter anyway? Does Elektra know a helicopter pilot who can operate a helicopter with a giant buzzsaw and is also a ruthless assassin? Because we see the helicopter earlier in its daily routine cutting tree-branches away from a roadway. I buy that there are helicopters with giant buzzsaws fulfilling useful functions for oil plutocrats, but where are you going to find a ruthless assassin who can also operate such a machine?

I give credit to TWINE for having a genuine mystery in it and genuine twists worthy of an actual suspense thriller. I take away credit because I spend far too much of the movie thinking things like “We’re going skiing now because why?” “Renard lives in a cave surrounded by flaming rocks why?” “We’re going where now to do what because why?” “Bond’s booby-trapped car just happens to be parked on the dock of the caviar factory because why?”

In the scene with Moneypenny, Bond offers her a cigar. I’m guessing this is a Clinton reference.

This movie has the final appearance of Q. Good riddance. I hate him. He’s an idiot.

It is announced that Q is being replaced by John Cleese. This is a brilliant idea. Cleese is a natural fussy headmaster and one of the most accomplished comic actors in history. Unfortunately, for TWINE he’s forced to play buffoon to Desmond Llewellen, which makes for one of the least funny Cleese moments in history.

Another wonderful innovation in TWINE is the total lack of gigantic Villain HQ. The villains in TWINE live in perfectly ordinary locations furnished with perfectly ordinary medieval torture devices. When Renard steals a nuclear submarine, the set startles because it looks exactly like a nuclear submarine. It’s not huge, it has no vaulted ceiling or armies of bad guys. Then, to make the innovation even more startling, the nuclear submarine upends in the spectacular action climax and does exactly what you would expect an upended nuclear submarine to do. This would be a great sequence in any thriller but having it show up in a Bond movie gives it that much more of a kick.

hit counter html code

Tomorrow Never Dies

Yeoh, Jimbo! (sorry.)

WHO IS JAMES BOND?  James Bond is, largely, the guy he was in Goldeneye — a little less haunted, but not kidding around, not parodying himself.  Borrowing from himself, absolutely, but not parodying.  Still good looking, masculine, knows his way around toys.  Popular with the ladies, but not known by sight all over the world.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT?  Elliot Carver, kind of a cross between William Randolph Hearst, Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, with a dash of Steve Jobs thrown in as well (not to mention Faye Dunaway from Network) wants to start a war between the English and the Chinese so that he can cover it with his brand-new satellite-driven media empire.  Imagine, back in the innocent, wonder-filled days of 1997 it counted as the fanciful stuff of movie spy-thrillers that a media mogul would start a war just to profit from its coverage.  What Elliot Carver doesn’t seem to realize is that the technology existed, even in 1997, to do exactly what he’s doing totally legally and without building an extremely large “stealth boat” (whatever that is) to start his fake war.

In a poorly-developed subplot (which I actually had to look up to figure out) Carver has also made a deal with a renegade Chinese general  wherin Carver will help put the general in charge of China in exchange for broadcast rights to Chinese television.  Why Bond Villains feel they need to have secondary evil plots thrown in as an afterthought is beyond me.  Is it not enough to start a war so that your satellite network can profit from it?  Why scheme with a renegade general as well?  And who’s to say that the renegade general is going to keep his promises once he becomes the new leader of China?  Why the hell would you trust a renegade general?  Any general renegade enough to stage a coup in his own country isn’t going to give a damn about some media mogul in a flashy haircut.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD?  Bond must track down a CIA high-tech whatsit that Second Villain Henry Gupta has bought from some terrorists.  M has figured out that Carver has used the whatsit to steer a British ship into Chinese waters, sparking an international incident (he has also sunk the boat with a giant underwater torpedo-drill).  Bond goes to Carver’s HQ in Hamburg, where Carver is celebrating the launching of his new satellite dealy.  He tries to get to Carver through his wife, whom he has had an apparently serious affair with in the past.  This plan backfires and Mrs. Carver winds up dead.  Bad guys come after Bond, who escapes Hamburg with the whatsit and flies to the South China Sea, where he tracks down the true location of the sunken British ship.  There he hooks up with Wai Lin (what, no obscene pun for the girl?), a Chinese spy.  They are captured by Carver’s men, taken to Carver in his HQ in I think Shanghai.  (Why do Bond Villains insist on having Bond brought to their headquarters so that they can explain their evil plan to him?  Can’t they do it by telephone?)

Where was I?  Oh yes.  So Bond and Wai Lin escape from Carver’s clutches, get their act together, and go blow up Carver’s stealth boat before it can launch a stolen missile at Beijing.

After the heavily-plotted Goldeneye, it’s actually kind of nice to see a Bond movie with a plot closer to something like Thunderball, with the emphasis on action set-pieces instead of complexity of motives or mystery.  In fact, come to think of it, there’s no mystery to Tomorrow Never Dies at all, and I must congratulate Mr. Bond for the re-dedication of his detective skills.  When this Bond enters a room, he’s actually looking for a specific thing, he’s not just walking around poking at things.

WOMEN: For what I think is the first time in a Bond movie, I actually believe that Bond had a somewhat meaningful relationship a woman.  His scenes with Mrs. Carver actually indicate that their affair ended in something resembling painful awkwardness.

Of course, no sooner does Mrs. Carver die but she is replaced by Wai Lin and forgotten.  And no sooner does Wai Lin prove herself to be a supremely capable equal to Bond does she get wrapped up in chains and tossed into the ocean for Bond to save.  It shouldn’t bother me at this point but it does.

That said, the fact that both Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh make impressions as actual characters in a Bond movie (two women in one movie!), and two actual sort of unique presences in Bond narratives, has to count as some kind of miracle.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY?  Elliot Carver seems okay cool to me.  His plan makes sense for the most part and he doesn’t do anything gratuitously stupid or careless.  His Second Villain is Mameteer Supreme Ricky Jay (little does he know that the Americans have BritishMameteer Supreme Colin Stinton working for them).  His Third Villain (or Head Henchman) is a pale imitation of Donald Grant from From Russia With Love; they’ve tried to make up for this definciency by naming him Stamper.  His Fourth Villain (that’s got to be some kind of record) is Milos Forman regular Vincent Schiavelli as a forensics expert who specializes in staging accidental deaths.  That’s a great idea for a character but there’s no time spent with him, so he’s forced to sit down and explain to Bond who he is and Bond has to sit there and listen before he gets the chance to kill him.

He’s got a ridiculously oversized stealth boat (I still don’t know how that’s supposed to work) that is the size and shape of a Ken Adam set — honestly, who needs to build a gigantic stealth boat, with 100-foot ceilings and massive piles of high-tech stuff in it?  All it needs to do is launch a torpedo-drill and then later a missile.  And why oh why does Carver need to be on his stealth boat when he launches the missile?  I would think, if anything, in this day of satellite communication, Carver would prefer to be in Hamburg or Shanghai or wherever — he is, in fact, shown running his world-wide network from there earlier in the movie.

Major points are also deducted for bringing Bond to his headquarters, letting him escape after blowing shit up, then having him brought to his headquarters a second time, aboard his stealth boat.

I actually enjoy the torpedo-drill, which has the power to chew large holes through battleships, then continue to chew its way around the ship in any direction its owner likes.  If I ever had the need to chew my way through a battleship, Carver’s torpedo-drill will be at the top of my list of ways of accomplishing that task.

NOTES: Terrific opening sequence, I wish it had more to do with the rest of the movie.

The title sequence, to my eye, is the first to actually look expensive.  No laser-light shows projected on women’s bellies here — full-blown cg psychedelia.

The car chase is splendid, but I’m sorry, not even James Bond can make a BMW sedan look cool.

And I also have a question about Bond’s cars.  After he leads the bad guys through a hair-raising chase and inevitably crashes his car, he always just walks away from it.  Isn’t that tantamount to blowing his cover?  When the local police come to get the wrecked vehicle, aren’t they going to notice the rocket-launchers in the roof?

I object to Helpful Animal Jim Wade as a replacement for Felix Leiter, but at least he’s played by the same actor two movies in a row.

Why must all high-tech spy stuff be kept in eerily-lit, expensively-designed, glass-fronted, concealed cabinets?  Why not just a cubby-hole behind the radiator or something?

I haven’t read all the Bond novels, but Tomorrow Never Dies struck me as the first Bond movie to take as its source material only other Bond movies.  I lost track of all the different plot devices lifted from other Bond movies, but I’d lay even money that there is something lifted from every single movie in the series and given a high-gloss 90s polish — the capitalist trying to corner a market, the big boat starting a war between two countries, the gigantic chase through the poor Asian neighborhood, the investigation of the undersea wreck, the Scaramanga island, the bad guy futzing with the navigation systems of a country’s war machine, the renegade general staging a fake war to seize control of a country, the high-tech whatsit falling into the hands of a madman, the list goes on and on (which is another way of saying I can’t think of any more — but don’t let me stop you, dear reader).  The fact that none of this bothered me while I was watching it probably means that Tomorrow Never Dies is a pretty good movie.

hit counter html code


Bond, for the first time in what seems like a very long time, is actually a handsome, young, glib, charming man. Effortlessly capable, he carries the most absurdly difficult tasks with the easy heft of a favorite old backpack. The one-liners don’t feel forced or leaden and one can imagine that women may actually be attracted to him.

Okay, listen. I’m a married man with two children, I’m secure enough in my sexuality that I think I can post this on my blog for all the world to see and not worry about what people will think:

when this movie came out, I hadn’t seen a Bond movie since Moonraker. I hadn’t seen a Bond movie since Moonraker because the last Bond movie I saw was Moonraker. So I was greatly reluctant to see Goldeneye and I didn’t know Pierce Brosnan from a hole in the ground (in fact, I routinely confuse the two even to this day). Then I saw a trailer for Goldeneye and there was one moment, perhaps 12 frames long, where they showed Bond leaning up against a concrete pillar, trying to set a timer or something, whilst a squadron of goons shoot machine-guns at him. And a bullet hits the concrete about an inch from his face and Brosnan makes this face like, like, well how to describe it? He looks annoyed, as though a kid just shot a spitwad at him. He’s not cold, he’s not angry, he’s not emotionless, he’s just…annoyed that a squadron of goons are shooting machine-guns at him. And that one split-second moment made me think: “hm, I want to know more about this guy.” Even then it took me a number of weeks and a dead-end evening in Los Angeles (are there other kinds?) to get me into a theater showing Goldeneye.

And I had the time of my life.

When Connery appeared as Bond, he owned the part in a second. When Lazenby came along it was “Thank you, we’ll call you,” when Moore came along he was great in Live and Let Die but took the character in such broadly comic directions that it was hard to care about him any more, and then Dalton went in the opposite direction and made him driven, dour and grim. Now Brosnan comes along and, for the first time since Dr. No, he waltzes right in and immediately owns the part as much as Connery ever did. He looks great, he easily sells the pithy lines, he moves with grace and dignity, and there’s something going on behind his eyes.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? There seems to be a common flaw with Bond Villains, which is that they have at least two too many motivations for their crimes. Here, the bad guy wants revenge on Bond, wants a whole pile of money, and wants to plunge Britain into the stone age, because he’s the son of a guy who was something called a Lienz Cossack. That’s just too damn many motivations. Goldfinger is a great Bond Villain because his motivation is pure and simple and his plot is ingeniously demented and evil. The bad guy in Goldeneye has three motivations (Bond abandoned him on a mission, he wants money, he hates Britain for what they did to his parents) and it makes for a complicated mystery to solve, which is good, but it weakens the guy.

I mean, look here — the guy is agent 006, which is a great idea, and Bond left him for dead on a mission. So he becomes a Russian gangster and pledges to one day have his revenge on Bond. There, that’s a great idea for a Bond Villain right there. But no, he also wants hundreds of millions of dollars, which he plans to get by, well, let’s face it, he plans to get it the same way Blofeld tried to get it, by aiming a giant space-laser at a country until they cough up the dough. That would have been a good enough plot right there too (and, in fact, was a plot of at least three earlier Bond movies). But no! In addition, the bad guy wants revenge on Britain for something that happened at the end of World War II (or, that is, well before he was born). My guess is that the guys who wrote the screenplay for Goldeneye (the first new guys since the beginning of the series, thirty-three years earlier) had been waiting a long time to write a Bond movie and wanted to put in every single idea they ever had for a Bond Villain. As a result, the bad-guy plot loses a little focus — we like the revenge part of the plot because we are there when Bond abandons him during the mission, but then the “Lienz Cossacks” thing gets dredged up in the middle of the movie in the worst possible way — a long monologue from the villain in a dark junkyard. And then the money angle gets tossed in in the middle of Act III, like “oh yeah, and we’ll make a lot of money too.”

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? In spite of the overly-complicated bad-guy plot, I will now aver that Goldeneye is the best script for a Bond movie so far. The mystery is satisfying, the plot is propulsive and compelling, the character work is by far the richest as yet. I believe James Bond is a (rather extraordinary) living human being, with likes and dislikes, friends and enemies. He exists in a richly-imagined fantasy world of spies and gadgets, close-calls and outrageous stunts. He never winks to the audience, although he certainly knows they’re there.

In the pre-title sequence, Bond is on a mission with 006 in Soviet Russia. The mission goes south and Bond leaves his partner, thinking him dead. Nine years later, he’s zipping around Glamorous Forieign Mountainland when he stumbles upon Xenia Onatopp, a zesty, maniacal driver and gambler. He investigates Onatopp and discovers, too late, that she’s also a crack helicopter thief. The helicopter Onatopp is stealing is a new prototype that is not affected by electro-magnetic pulses.

Turns out, Onatopp was stealing the helicopter for a guy named General Ouramov. Ouramov, we think, wants to take over Russia. To do this, Ouramov wants to get his hand on this Goldeneye space-laser thingy. The Goldeneye space-laser thingy projects an EMP that blows shit up. Ouramov steals the yellow ball that makes Goldeneye work and blows up the place with the space laser, killing everyone at the Goldeneye station. He and Onatopp get awayin the special anti-EMP helicopter.

After the Goldeneye station goes blooey, Bond goes to St. Petersberg to find out what happened. He hooks up with a Russian Gangster, who hooks him up with Janus, who’s kind of the Darth Sidious of the Russian gangster-world, and who turns out to be 006. 006 tries to kill Bond in a typically inefficient Bond-Villain way, and Bond ends up arrested by the Russian army. Ouramov shows up with Onatopp to kill Bond but Bond gets the drop on him and gets away again. Around the end of Act II, 006, Ouramov and Onatopp trap him and The Girl in a train compartment that’s about to go blooey. Bond and The Girl track the gang to Cuba, where the bad guys have built another Goldeneye station and plan to make their bid for taking-over-the-world-ness.

WOMEN: Xenia Onatopp, as played with ferocious intensity by Famke Janssen, is a cartoon but one you can’t take your eyes off. Like all Second Villains, she has a gimmick (she has, apparently, pneumatic-powered thighs that can crush a man’s ribcage), but Janssen plays her madness and eroticism so over-the-top that her gimmick seems almost an afterthought.

As a countermeasure, the Good Girl, Natalya, is a more-or-less genuine female presence. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, resourceful, and doesn’t take shit from anyone, Bond included. She’s important to the plot and doesn’t ever cede her agenda to Bond’s. She does not whimper or go wide-eyed when in danger and we almost believe Bond’s seduction of her, coming as it does seconds after they have escaped from an exploding train.

HELPFUL ANIMALS: Bond has a CIA contact in Russia, but it’s not Felix Leiter. No, instead it’s Jack Wade, played by the villain of The Living Daylights, Joe Don Baker. Baker is a swell actor and his chemistry with Brosnan is potent, but why couldn’t he be Felix Leiter? What, did the producers really say “Well, people won’t be able to accept him as Felix because Felix got his leg bit off in the last movie?” He’s been a different actor in every single movie and now they’re worried about continuity issues?

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Pretty cool I guess. As another 00 agent, he’s got the same understanding of gadgets that Bond has. He hangs out in a spooky junkyard full of broken-down Communist monuments, which is pretty cool. He has overspent on his HQ, of course, as Bond Villains tend to do. I mean, it’s a radar station, you don’t need forty-foot ceilings and grand, winding staircases.

NOTES: The “big idea” of Goldeneye is that James Bond has a past. James Bond’s “past” seems to consist solely of the 17 movies that have been made about him. Everyone seems to know him, but they seem to know him only from his movies. And why not? Everyone does know him from his movies. A six-year-old could tell you what kind of car James Bond drives and how he takes his martinis. This device, meta as it is, serves to both give the character some depth (which he hasn’t really had up til now) and congratulates the audience for staying with the guy long enough to get the jokes (it also proves that, as Stanislavsky said, character is nothing more than habitual action). Brosnan’s blithe, breezy performance creates a tension with all the backstory, so as we fall in love with his devil-may-care aloofness, everyone else keeps dredging up all this stuff he’d prefer not to think about. It’s the most complex imagining of the character yet and a far cry from the Bond of, say, Diamonds Are Forever.

The glamour is back in a big way, and yet doesn’t feel forced or arch. The superb direction by Martin Campbell makes the only-slightly-unbelievable action feel playful, witty, sexy and seductive.

When all this is over, don’t forget to remind me to tell you about the Bond one-act I almost wrote.

hit counter html code

Licence to Kill

WHO IS JAMES BOND? Bond here is presented on a more human scale than ever before. He’s got friends, he goes to weddings, he hangs out, makes mistakes (sometimes big mistakes). He changes his mind about things, weighs alternatives, learns lessons. He is, apparently, now best friends with Felix Leiter, played for the first time by a returning actor, David Hedison. It’s nice to see Felix played by the same actor as in Live and Let Die, as it gives the character a history he quite baldly has never had before, but it begs the question of who James Bond is then. If Felix is the Felix of Live and Let Die, why is Bond clearly not the Bond of Live and Let Die?

The Living Daylights

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is 40-ish again, which is a good thing.  He’s not nearly as “cute” as he used to be — he hardly ever arches his eyebrows or pulls silly exasperated faces any more.  When he goes in to kiss a girl, his face now stays put.  He’s driven, professional, a little pissed off.  He doesn’t take guff from nobody and seems less amused by his world-saving work than ever.  This is not all good — there’s something missing from a no-nonsense, professional government assassin.  If your Queen pays you to travel the world and kill people and you can’t get any joy out of it, what’s the point?

Smiert Spionem

« Previous PageNext Page »