007 Reasons Bond Kicks Ass

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have viewed all the James Bond movies, the 23 by Eon Productions, plus the David Niven/Peter Sellers parody version of Casino Royale and the 1983 Connery movie Never Say Never Again. I even found a one hour version of Casino Royale that was done live on CBS in 1954 featuring Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre and Barry Nelson as CIA agent Jimmy Bond.

So, after all that Bonding, what do I have to say about the James Bond franchise?

Let's get it out of the way right at the start- these movies are mostly ridiculous. The situations, the stunts, the way he gets into and out of hot water. If you are looking for stark realism, you have definitely come to the wrong place. That being said, however, if you suspend disbelief just a smidgen (okay, sometimes quite a bit more than a smidgen,) you have a really entertaining franchise going for you.

So, here is a list of the 007 most awesome things about the James Bond movies, along with a corresponding groan inducing misstep, and a lament for what might have bee.

007- Awesome- The man can do anything. Just watch as he skis, scuba dives, flies planes and choppers, and drives like a NASCAR pro. At one point, he even uses the skid of a shot up snow mobile as a snow board. That's not even mentioning his prowess with the Walther PPK.

Groan Inducing- Attention to details. Alright, reality is not this movie series strong suit, yet there are some disbeliefs that are harder to suspend than others. In the original movie, Dr. No, before setting off onto Dr. No's fortress at Crab Key to find out exactly what the hell is going on there, Bond discusses with CIA Agent Felix Leiter the time crunch they are under. So, what is the first thing that Bond and Quarrel, the local who is assisting him, do when they get there? Hunker down to get some sleep. Good plan, James. I also had big problems with the scenes of all the soldiers on Ft. Knox falling over in response to Pussy Galore's pilots flying by, not the only because the message about faking the fainting would not get to all the soldiers, not only because there would inevitably be civilians around who were not informed of the plan and wouldn't react properly, but because it was expressly stated that the operation would be taking place on a Sunday, so none of those masses of troops would really be formed up doing drill and ceremony all throughout the post. (Sorry, 23 years in the Army, four and a half of them at Ft. Knox, make me a bit more sensitive to that one that most other people would be.)

Lament- Everybody has a favorite James Bond. For most people, that favorite James Bond is not George Lazenby. What of the actors who could have been Bond, but things just didn't work out? Many people know that Pierce Brosnan initially missed his chance to be James Bond in 1987's The Living Daylights because of obligations to filming his television show, but that narrow miss was rectified in 1995 with Goldeneye. What I am really thinking about is the initial casting of the role. Yes, the franchise hit it big when they put Connery in the role of 007, but among the candidates for the role was Cary Grant. Yes, Cary Grant was probably a bit long in the tooth when the franchise first started filming, but he had everything you could wish for in a Bond. He was suave. He was charming. He was good looking. He had the accent. (Alright, he really had a cockney accent, which absolutely would not do for bond, but he was really good at affecting an upper class accent also.) Cary Grant was everything you would want in James Bond. Who else could have stepped into the role but never got the chance? I think Daniel Craig has done a fine job in the role, but I think Clive Owen would have been a better choice.

006- Awesome- Mr. Bond is a man who is almost defined by his vices. Though he seemed to have given up smoking some time in the 1970's, James Bond always remained a drinker, almost to the point of alcoholism. But more than a mere drinker, he was a connoisseur of alcohol, preferring the Dom Perignon 1953 to the 1955, at least until Bollinger started the product placements in about the third movie. And his vodka martini was always shaken, not stirred, except for that one time in Goldfinger when it was said incorrectly. Actually, this one is a bit of a surprise, being that Bond is the most British of Brits, why would he prefer his martinis with vodka instead of gin, which is much more associated with England? Hell, a vodka martini isn't really a martini anyway, but it is still really cool that Bond likes to get his drink on. Then there is the gambling. For much of the series, baccarat was his game, though James could also be counted on to be successful at blackjack, and, more recently, poker. This, of course, ignores the random killings in which he is involved.

Groan Inducing- How many different members of the leadership of SPECTRE has Blofeld killed off? Why? Usually it is for some forgivable faux pas. Yes, if you are the leader of an evil organization, you probably will take violent action against somebody who is stealing from you, as was the case of "Number 9" at the beginning of Thunderball, but for simply not having your scheme go as expected because it was thwarted by the good guys, as happened to "Number 5" at the end of From Russia With Love is something else entirely. Sure, James Bond totally screwed up the entire scheme, so maybe a reprimand was in order, but death seemed a bit harsh, especially since he did have at least a partial point that his plans could have been better executed. Killing the leaders of your organization is not generally recommended for building cohesion. First of all, he was one of your top lieutenants for a reason, and is probably not going to be that easy to replace. Then there is the entire loyalty thing. If your underlings think you don't have their back through honest mistakes or failures, what do you think they will be doing when things start getting shaky? They will be looking to make a deal as quickly as possible with whoever it is that can protect them from you, that's what they are going to do. Yes, I understand that it reveals more about what type of organization SPECTRE is, and what type of leader Blofeld is, to kill off people at his whim because they let failed, but it doesn't seem like the best way to build an organization.

Lament- Shaky cam. Yes, this is a lament about the rebooted Bond franchise that started with Daniel Craig stepping into the role of Bond. From the first appearance of Sean Connery in Dr. No through Pierce Brosnan's final appearance in Die Another Day, everything that happened before was part of the legacy of Bond. That changed with Casino Royale. It was a brand new start to the series, with that exploit being Bond's first mission as 007. It is also, apparently, when they lost the budget for tripods. The action sequences have become much more garbled and confusing, and get filmed with the herky-jerky motions of a hand held camera. In addition to this, there are several more cuts per sequence often from several points of view, so one does not get the sense of continuity that one would from just putting the camera on a tripod with a wide view and letting the audience see what is developing.

005- Awesome- While there are many things for which you can fault the character of James Bond, what you can never deny is his devotion to England. The man is a patriot. Even in the events where he has disagreements with M about the what he should be doing, most notably in License to Kill, his devotion to protecting queen and country are admirable.

Groan Inducing- I understand, Bond is a British secret agent, so the stories have to be a bit Brit-centric, but in the modern world, how many of the schemes conjured up by the villains would really be concerns of the Brits that the Americans weren't all in trying to cover? Would Felix, the CIA spook, really have left it up to Bond to investigate Dr.No's Crab Key when it was NASA rockets being shot down? Would Elliot Carver have steered a British ship into violating Chinese territorial waters in Tomorrow Never Dies? I don't think so.

Lament- This series of movies needed a much better fight choreographer early on. Much of what was happening between the combatants in hand to hand combat scenes looked like the clumsy fumbling of under rehearsed extras in a zombie apocalypse flick. I realize it is probably hard to get people with only limited training in real fighting or martial arts to make things look like a tangle between Jet Li and Michael Jai White, but for most of the Connery/Lazenby/Moore and even a bit into the Dalton era, the fights were kind of disappointing. In fact, the best fight scene in the entire series didn't involve Bond at all. It was the fight in which Wai Lin, played by Michelle Yoeh, kicks the collective ass of about 5 assailants in Tomorrow Never Dies. The fight coordination improved when Timothy Dalton took over the role in The Living Daylights, and improved some more with Brosnan. I would say that the fights in which the current Bond,  Daniel Crag, finds himself do not have the artistic choreography of his two predecessors, but they do honestly convey brutality and one gets the sense that the combatants are playing for keeps when watching them.

004- Awesome- Theme songs. The James Bond theme itself is extremely cool, with the horns and guitar riff. Perhaps only Star Wars and Jaws have more iconic theme music. Then there are the theme songs that play over the opening and closing credits. The best of the bunch is "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney, with additional shout outs to "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me, and "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell from Casino Royale. Obviously, not every song was a hit, but the music was usually on it, but sometimes you have to take a-ha's "The Living Daylights" to go with Adele's "Skyfall." The same theme song was usually played over both opening and closing credits, but for a few films in the Brosnan era, they had a different song for the start and the finish.

Groan Inducing- I am a great fan of the action sequences throughout the series, and am more than willing to turn off my disbelief for the sake of entertainment. I did, however, have a huge problem with seeing Bond use a parachute and a makeshift board to surf a tidal wave caused by a glacier collapse in Die Another Day. Yes, they established that James knew how to surf in the opening scene of that film, but it was really just too much. I think even Snake Plisken surfing the tidal wave in Escape From LA was more realistic. Normally when seeing a super stunt in the Bond flicks, my reaction is "That's cool!" even when Bond had to climb out of a helicopter in flight to get from the back passenger area to the pilot's seat to take the controls, but this time I saw what was on the screen in front of me and my reaction was "That's not happening."

Lament- Judi Dench continued her role as M in Casino Royale. As mentioned before, between Die Another Day and Casino Royale, the slate was wiped clean, and everything that came before no longer existed, as far as the James Bond universe was concerned. While Judi Dench did a fine job as M, I think keeping her on after the re-boot was a mistake. Not that she didn't do a wonderful job in the role, but a clean slate should have been a full clean slate. A different actor could have brought something to the role we hadn't seen before. I am looking forward to seeing what Ralph Fiennes does with the role as director of MI-6, and it is nice to see an actor of his reputation in the series, but I would have liked to have seen the change of actor earlier.

003- Awesome- Some say that you are known by the company you keep, others by the quality of your enemies. James Bond usually had a few doozies for villains. From the mysterious Dr. No swatting NASA rockets out of the sky to the shadowy organization known as SPECTRE with its leader Ernst Stravo Blofeld, these were people with big plans and cunning, sneaky and brutal ways of bringing them to fruition. Perhaps not every enemy had a nuclear device ready to blow, but there was always enough menace to make your knees quiver. That is before even mentioning the henchmen, who were often more memorable than the main villain of the film. Who can forget Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, or Oddjob from Goldfinger?

Groan Inducing- Why did it seem that the entire MI-6 headquarters was always shadowing Bond on his missions? Moneypenny, M and Q would show up everywhere, from a scuttled ship in Hong Kong to submarines in the middle of the ocean. I would have thought with the entire organization to run, and 8 other members of the double-oh series working other missions presumably just as important as the one Bond is conducting, why does it seem they are always popping up? Stay back in London and control things from there. A couple of encrypted message would usually be all that is required to get Bond the little background information you are able to give him.

Lament- Villains again. Didn't I just write that the villains are awesome? What is there to lament about the villains? Perhaps the quality of the actors playing the role. Blofeld was played by a few different actors in the flicks that actually showed his face. It would have been nice to keep a single one from one film to the next. But the quality of the actors playing the villains wasn't always the greatest. Playing a Bond villain is a big role, and should be able to garner some of the top names in the business. Yes, we get to see Telly Sevalas play Blofeld in one film, but who portrays the chief bad guy in For Your Eyes Only or Die Another Day? Would you not have preferred Claude Rains in the role of Auric Goldfinger? Would Robert De Nero not have been a better choice than Robert Carlyle in The World Is Not Enough? Also, occasionally the goal of the baddie is in need of some work. The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker had bad guys with basically the same scheme, kill off the planet so that the remaining few can live in what the baddie deems paradise, under the ocean in the former case, out in orbit in the latter. Who would I want to see as villains in the future? There is a lot of hype for Benedict Cumberbatch, who would be good if the situation is right, though he is getting a lot of exposure in villain roles elsewhere. I have thought that Idris Elba would make a great James Bond, so why not a great Bond villain? How would you like to see Jet Li as a henchman? There have not been very many women a the chief antagonist other than Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough. Maybe the time for Meryl Streep or Glenn Close has passed, but can we look forward to a scheming Milla Jovovich? Can I nominate Scarlet Johansson to have a scene torturing Bond?

002- Awesome- Where would James Bond be without all those gadgets? Yes, they are definitely on the fiction end of the science fiction spectrum, but who doesn't want a watch with a magnet strong enough to change the course of a bullet, or a car that shoots heat seeking missiles? In the first movie, Dr. No, the only thing Bond gets from Q is a Walther PPK. Bond does not want to trade in his Baretta for the Walther, but M would hear no objections and reminded Bond that he spent a good six months in the hospital because the Baretta had failed on him, so Bond reluctantly took it. Ever since that first upgrade, Bond has had to stroll through Q's developmental department in each new film, and Q is always acting annoyed by his presence and seeming lack of seriousness or regard for the equipment.

Groan Inducing- Everybody knows not only who James Bond is, but his MI-6 designation as 007. Every time an enemy has him in custody (which happens surprisingly often in the franchise) his captor reads off the dossier; "James Bond, double oh-seven, license to kill." How effective an agent could he really be if everybody knows that the man with the Universal Exports business card is really one of the elite of Britain's secret service? While he does not use his own secret designation as 007 when speaking to anybody outside of MI-6, he is not too careful about giving away the information about others. When strapped to the table in Auric Goldfinger's manse, he tells the villain he will never get away with his plans because they will just send 008 in his place anyway. He doesn't say "somebody else," he says specifically who they will send and what his MI-6 designation is. But it does seem that everywhere Bond goes, his reputation precedes him. I would have thought that he would make a lot better use of aliases, and keep his designation number a more closely guarded secret.

Lament- This is probably just an extension of my previous lament, but other than his fellow members of MI-6, there is not much continuity in casting for Bond roles. In particular, I am thinking of CIA agent Felix Leiter, who appears in 9 of the 23 Eon Production films and was played by 7 different actors. Jack Lord was the first to play him in Dr. No, but wanted too much to reprise the role in Goldfinger. Since then the character has bounced from actor to actor until License to Kill recalled David Hedison to the role after a 16 year break. In that film, the character is fed to sharks by a drug cartel and loses a leg. He is not seen again until the Casino Royale erased the history and allowed for the character to return, though not in as close a friendship with Bond as previously. Now Jeffery Wright has played the role twice, and could continue the with it in future films. It would have been nice to once or twice see a Bond girl reprise a role, but other than a few character actors, such as Robby Coltrane as a Russian gangster, you usually do not see too many actors reprising their roles in the James Bond movies.

001- Awesome- The Bond Girls. I love candy, and eye candy is no exception. You might have noticed that I left philandering out of the vices section earlier. That is because I had a premonition that this topic might appear later down the list. James Bond gets the girl. Always. He is the type of charmer to make a evil woman turn to gold, a frigid woman melt and a lesbian eschew the company of women. The only men in history who had an easier time with women are Elvis and Cassanova. And the women were always hot. Not local prom queen hot; we are talking lead melting hot on an international scale here. Interestingly enough, my favorite Bond girl appeared in the only movie with my least favorite Bond. Diana Rigg played the Contessa Teresa di Vicnezo. Not only was she my favorite Bond girl, but apparently she was also James Bond's favorite, as she was the only one who he married. Whoever your favorite is, you can pretty much be assured that the Bond girl, whatever her acting ability, whether she is an ally or an enemy or even a little of both, will be a delight to watch.

Groan Inducing- Okay, super evil genius criminal masterminds, what the hell is wrong with a bullet to the head? As much trouble as he causes your organizations, and as little as you all seem to have against killing, why is James Bond alive at the end of any movie? He is either in the villain's custody or control in pretty much every movie, but they all decide to keep him alive thinking that he will not be able to upset their plans. So, how'd that work out for all of you? I think the most egregious example of this is from Goldfinger. Bond is unconscious and in Goldfinger's control. At the time, Goldfinger just wants Bond dead. So, does he put a bullet in his brain and end it all there in one fell swoop? No. Goldfinger has Bond tied to a table so that he can regain consciousness and be cut in half with an industrial laser. Still, not a bad way to kill someone, if  bit delayed. The problem is that Goldfinger lets Bond talk him out of killing him, so Bond is alive and well to foil the plot to radiate the gold in Ft. Knox, making it unusable, which would shoot the price of gold up like a rocket, making Goldfinger a much richer person than he already was.

If you ever become a villain (not that such sweet, affable people as my readers would ever consider becoming villains, but, hey, mental diseases happen) and a goody two shoes (maybe too drunk and oversexed to be a real goody two shoes, but you get the drift) comes around trying to thwart your schemes of world domination, do not hesitate to bury the guy. Unless that guy is, as unlikely as it might be, me. If I come around attempting to thwart your evil schemes, just give up quietly and let me bring you in. It will be a lot less painful for all involved, (especially me.)

Lament- At one time in the early 1980's, Stephen Spielberg expressed his desire to direct a James Bond movie, though he said that he thought nobody would ever let him. Upon hearing this, George Lucas said that he had another option, and we have three wonderful (and one damned near god-awful) Indiana Jones movies as a result. My lament is not that Stephen Spielberg has never directed a Bond movie, because, to be honest with you, I really would not want to see that, but the men chosen to helm the Bond movies never seem to be on the A-list of directors. When I first started my binge watching earlier this month, I saw Dr. No and From Russia With Love and thought that it would have been absolutely awesome to see a 007 movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. What kind of a take would Sam Peckinpah have on the franchise? Usually we end up with good films with a lot of action, but how would the world of Bond look if we handed the megaphone to some of the really top tier director talent available? I have read that the producers really don't want to give up the control of the franchise that top directors would require, which is what I really lament.

1 comment:

tankdemon said...

In retrospect, I probably could have divided this one up into a few different posts and run them out over a week or so. It is a bit of a long slog for a single post.