Monday, September 22, 2008

Quantum of Anticipation

This year has been a pretty good one for movies, from surprising blockbusters like 'Iron Man', an even better than expected Batman sequel; quirky, cool indie flicks like 'In Bruges' and the return of the western via Ed Harris's engaging 'Apaloosa'. Then there are small, satisfying flicks like 'Vicki Christina Barcelona', 'Man on Wire' and 'The Duchess', that take the stench out of stinkers like 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' and anticipated clunkers like Frank Miller's take on 'The Spirit'. But with that said, the movie event of the year for me is on November 14th, with the release of the 22nd James Bond adventure, 'Quantum of Solace'.

I've been a hardcore Bond fan since I was a kid, watching 'Goldfinger' on ABC's Sunday Night Movie. That was one of the few times my parents would let me stay up late to watch television (the other was anytime the Temptations were on tv). As a child, I couldn't tell the difference between the spry, inspired Sean Connery of 'Dr. No' and 'From Russia With Love' and the bored, chunky Connery in bloated (but enjoyable) epics like 'Thunderball' and 'You Only Live Twice'. All I knew was that Connery just definited manly cool and the gadgets were not to be believed.

In later years, I've come to appreciate George Lazenby's sole attempt at Bond in one of the series' best films, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', but I've never been able to reconcile Roger Moore as James Bond. Too stiff, too fragile, boring. Didn't believe him fighting or romancing and his films were parodies for the series that I took so seriously. Even when he tried to play it relatively straight ('For Your Eyes Only'), I still couldn't buy it. In fairness, He was saddled with the worst wardrobe of all of the men who have essayed Ian Fleming's classic character.

Moving onto Timothy Dalton, he proved to be an unpopular choice; a fine actor who lacked charisma. I was just happy to see someone replace Roger Moore, and take the series serious again. Unfortunately Dalton tended to play Bond so serious that he bordered on neurotic. That resulted in an inability to handle the lighter part of the character and the 'cool' which is so essential to 007 was lost.

Following Dalton came the man who many felt should have been Bond for many years, Pierce Brosnan. Originally set to replace Roger Moore following 'A View to a Kill', NBC exercised their option to renew Brosnan's 'Remington Steele', preventing the popular Irishman from fulfilling a career dream. Ultimately it worked out for the best. Had he got the role at the initial offering, Brosnan was still somewhat boyish, and following the light humor of 'Remington Steele', there's a good chance that the Bond series would have stayed in the paperweight vein of Moore's previous films. Fortunately, by the time Pierce signed for 'Goldeneye', he'd matured into a sophisticated, serious man with credible acting chops.

Throughout his run as Bond, Pierce Brosnan brought the expected effortless sophistication, charm and panache', but added unexpected gravitas during the more dramatic passages and an earnest conviction in his action sequences. By the time he got to his third film, 'The World Is Not Enough', Brosnan was clearly comfortable as Bond, he had the right look, attitude and confidence. While the film had its flaws, his performance was the best of his quartet of appearances.

By the time of 'Die Another Day', it was clear the filmmakers were fuzzy on what to do next with Bond. Unfortunately, the result was the worst of the Brosnan Bonds and one of the worst of the series. Aside from the exciting fencing sequence, the film has nothing going for it. Many people cite Halle Berry as the film's saving grace, but while she looked amazing, her performance was nearly as bad as Denise Richards' in the previous film. Add an invisible car, a jowly, bored Brosnan and the most heinous special effect (Bond 'water skiing against a green screen) in the entire collection of Bonds, and the future of the franchise was bleak.

When Eon surprisingly announced that Pierce Brosnan wouldn't return for a fifth film, a variety of names were bandied about: Ewan McGregor, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Colin Ferrell, to name a few. Each name that entered the rumor mill filled me with dread. Then I heard that Daniel Craig was considered and then snagged the role. I was shocked but very pleased. Ever since seeing him in 'Layer Cake', I felt that he was a star waiting to happen. I followed his career and saw most of the art house films that he appeared in, proving repeatedly that he had an incredible range.

Some Bond purists rebelled ("He's too short!" "He's f____g blond!"), but the public at large gave 'Casino Royale' a shot, resulting in the best reviewed and highest grossing James Bond film ever.

Eon, the company that produces the films has been staid and safe for so long that it was hard to imagine that they would go back to basics and reboot Bond, eschewing gadgets, Moneypenny and M, for a look at the circumstances that created the 007 that we know and love today. In addition to Daniel Craig's rugged, relentless but sensitive Bond, Eon recruited the director of 'Goldeneye' to kickstart the series again with a dramatic, action packed adventure with an acutely telling love story right in the middle.

From the title song and retro credits to the debut of Craig in Bond's uniform of classic black tie, for me, 'Casino Royale' was everything I ever wanted a James Bond film to be. Craig isn't to everyone's taste as 007, but as far as I'm concerned, he nailed it better by far than anyone except the originator, Sean Connery. It's been said that each generation gets the Bond that mirrors his era. If that's true, Craig is definitely the man for these tough, unnerving times. Capable but cockier than he ought to be, able to get the job done, but sometimes to proud to ask for help, Daniel Craig's James Bond reflects our lives and times right back to us.

From what I understand, 'Quantum of Solace' picks up right where 'Casino Royale' ends, becoming the first real sequel in the canon. It also clocks in at 106 minutes, becoming the shortest Bond movie ever. The director, Marc Forster says that it's 'a more compact, emotional intense, journey than 'Casino Royale'. From the trailer, it looks action packed and has plenty of Daniel Craig's now patented intensity. Everything I've seen about the film looks like it's going to better than 'Casino Royale' and after seeing how much better 'The Dark Knight' was than the excellent 'Batman Begins', I can't wait. However, it must be said that the theme song 'Another Way to Die' by Alicia Keys and Jack White is among the absolute worst James Bond theme songs EVER!!

I've been to one James Bond premiere, the dismal 'Die Another Day', where I was sitting in the midst of a gang of Eon executives, so I couldn't even groan out loud. Determined not to let that be my only Bond premiere, I'm working hard at getting tickets to the London premiere of 'Quantum of Solace' on October 29th. If I get there, I'll take pictures and post them on the blog. That will be the highlight of my year, only eclipsed by a personal experience that began on July 7th and continues to this day. Neesh, that's what I call real talk.


brianc33 said...

Indeed, there were some bad times with Roger, but the 70's and 80's were a tough time to do anything with gravitas (the sequence where we meet him at his flat early in LALD is the most dandified piece of Bond ever, with his damned espresso machine and mortal fear that M and Moneypenny will catch him with his fullsome friend.) But I came to like, even love, Roger's agent though not necessarily as 007. To me he was a very conceivable 008, 006 or 009 -- a bona fide member of that rare crew, but with his own style separate from his colleage Bond. An interesting film could be made if, by some miracle of dealmaking and CG age reduction, several of the Bond actors got together on screen at once as the complete 00-section for a Bondbuster like no other. As the camera pans those faces during the briefing in M's office you would know you could die happy.

Anonymous said...

"From Russia With Love" was always my personal favorite...the hand-to-hand combat fight scene between Connery and Robert Shaw all within the confines of a train compartment is truly awesome. - JVB

hey fella said...

I always found Roger Moore unbearable as well.

Yes, the Robert Shaw fight scene is a classic. As is the fight in the elevator in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Bond and tight quarters fighting is great....although Bambi and Thumper are also great in that film.

The trailer is awesome...this promises to be better than the last one. I would have never imagined the Bond franchise would be reset to such health. Thank goodness for Bourne, not just for those films, but for setting the bar higher for the folks at Ion. Competition makes champions.

Matthew Best said...

Let me know if you're in London next week! I'll go to my old flat and wave at you from the window as you go into the premiere...