Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bond Watch: Daniel Craig

The following obviously entails whopping great SPOILERS.

Go see the film.

You’ll thank me for it.

Golly, that what amazing.

Even the Dr wants to see it again.

Which never happens.

That enough space to ward off the unwary?

Right, then…

Craig is (as I predicted re: “Goldeneye” – hooray!) Her Majesty’s terrier. Just be glad he’s on our side.

Casino Royale is stylish and exciting to look at, the black-and-white pre-titles sequence establishing a mythic, noirish quality and the promise of something Quite New. The lurid animation of the titles themselves are like nothing else Bond has ever done. It’s also more about him than the pretty ladies, I notice. And for all there were worries about that tune, it works exceptionally well in context.

Lots of people have mentioned the Bourne Inheritance, though I think this Bond owes more to Jack Bauer. As well as the blond-and-blue-eyed look to the bastard, this 007 barely fits within the anti-terror outfit, and has no time for civil liberties. He’s happy to “sweat” friends to be sure they’re not baddies.

He’s a thug: fighting messily, breaking into his boss's home, not knowing how to take his vodka martinis. It’s often shockingly brutal. There’s no grace to how he fights, which makes a marked contrast to Pierce Brosnan. Pierce wouldn’t have the same trouble with the bloke in the toilet, nor crash through walls in pursuit of the lithe free-runner. They are simply not the same chap.

This also makes him unpredictable – we really don’t know how he’ll react to any situation, and that makes him even more thrilling. Knowing the ending of the book, I wondered if Bond would even try to rescue Vesper from the trapped elevator. But it’s even more surprising how desperately he tries to save her, knowing all that’s she done. In doing so, we see Bond’s capacity for mercy and love, and even a shot at redemption. This is again nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

That said, it’s still often very funny, with a hard-edged humour that works very well. Big belly laughs for Bond distracted from his game because of Vesper’s behind, and also for him asking if she’s okay when he’s the one who just carked it. The dialogue often leaves blanks for us to fill in, working the audience and demanding our attention.

Even the chases have stories to them, building the stakes and the character as Bond continually takes a battering. Not sure about the collapsing Ventian house, though, which risked being too much a set piece and reminded me of the boat-chomping propeller in the same city from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. The Dr suspects, from the distinctive Gothic windows, that the building is also a real one, and one of John Ruskin’s own favourites.

The frenetic pace is full of nice details: spot Richard Branson going through security, or the allusions to “Don’t Look Now”. There are nice nods to the creation of the 007 we know: the origin of the gun barrel, and how he gets into tailored clothes and Aston Martins. Would have liked to see Cleese among the excited boffins who explain what to do with the poison.

I even think they manage the product placement nicely. Paul Cornell’s analysis shrewdly spots the hard sell to the Ford people: “He drives your car until he realises he’s better than that.” And we don’t actually see his Omega.

To my surprise (and delight) most of Fleming’s book makes it to the screen. I don’t think they’ve shown this much fidelity to the novels since “Thunderball” – the opening scene in “Living Daylights” excepted. It even works in Fleming’s own thing for married women, which makes relationships “simpler” (and the women easier to play).

Yet it also makes everything very contemporary, with international terrorism and the security at airports. We see Bond working all over the world. But note that none of the baddies are in anyway middle eastern. Which is also rather refreshing.

I especially liked seeing M having to answer questions about Bond amid the lavish old parliamentary buildings. It establishes boundaries, that Bond is still accountable. Likewise, I loved Bond getting splashed in the papers. He’s been in the news before – his death announced in “You Only Live Twice” and, almost, in “Tomorrow Never Dies”. But this is the first time his being newsworthy actually has genuine consequence.

M has never been more powerful, keeping her distance and keeping him in line. Even so, we see her house and a significant other (if not the offspring referred to in “TWINE”), the first suggestion of a life outside the office since Roger Moore’s house in “Live and Let Die”.

Yet for all the people and resources behind him, Bond is ever the loner – cross when he has to work with inferiors and barely able to accept any help. The appeal of Vesper when they meet on the train is that she gives him as good as she gets. He likes them to fight back. It’s a bravely pathological move for the movie to have him learn not to make any friends.

The 21st Bond film is his coming of age (I wonder if they did that on purpose), and this previously unheard-of character progression, from his first killings to his being “Bond, James Bond”, works extremely effectively. Rob – who doesn’t like that final, unbook scene – also says, “I don't want to be” this James Bond, but right at the end, yes I do.

Craig is as brilliant as I’d hoped when they cast him. Casino Royale is amazing, but I fear it can only be a one-off.

How far can they push all this in the next ones? Where else can they progress the character? He reaches the archetype at the end of this one, and after that it’s all as we knew him. Isn't it?

Bond admits himself that double-Os have a short life expectancy. Which would be a good excuse were Craig not to do many more outings.

Do, please, prove me wrong on this.


Anonymous said...

Yeay - I loved Casino Royale too! Enjoyed your review, but my creaking old brain is telling me that it was in GoldenEye, not The World is Not Enough, where we hear mention of M's offspring - am I forgetting something?

0tralala said...

Er, yeah. The bit in TWINE where she says not negotiating with Bob Carlyle was against all her instincts as a mother.

Perhaps your creaky brain is due to lack of kip. Something been keeping you up nights?

Anonymous said...

Actually she mentions it in both... in Goldeneye she says to Bill Tanner if she wants sarcasm she'll talk to her children...

And bring back Cleese? I don't think he would fit into this new style Bond... he is a legend, but lets face it he was rubbish in the last two.

I think the next film will have Bond going after the mysterious organisation which we got a hint of in Royale.... could it be the new Spectre? After all terrorism was part of their mandate... and lets not forget that the original films replaced Smersh with Spectre as the bad guys so as not p off the Ruskies. In the same vein it would work very well to use a Spectre style villain and not a Middle Eastern one in these new films and still keep it contemporary. Playing off both sides, as they did in FRWL, Thunderaball and YOLT.

And he'll meet Vespers other half to... who'll most likely turn out to be a baddie...


Anonymous said...

"Actually she mentions it in both... in Goldeneye she says to Bill Tanner if she wants sarcasm she'll talk to her children..."

Yeah, that's what I was thinking of.

Anonymous said...

Re Cleese:
>he is a legend, but lets face it he was rubbish in the last two.<

I seem to be facing in the other direction.

CR was fab, but so was Cleese. Just in different ways.