Daniel Craig Is Right to Hate James Bond

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bond film ‘Spectre’ a license to chill.

James Bonds have come and gone over the years, and though they’ve all been different, they’ve also been mostly the same suave superspy armed with a quick wit and a license to kill. Whether you are a James Bond addict who knows all 24 films nearly by heart or a reluctant cinemagoer who wishes that the series would just mercifully end, you will likely agree that Spectre starts promisingly enough.Their arrival in their respective blockbuster films, Spectre and The Peanuts Movie, signals a halt to weeks of films that were expected to enliven multiplexes and spur Oscar talk but instead did the opposite.Mark the date, James Bond fans: In 2015, a 007 movie finally asks whether, in this age of mass surveillance and oversharing, we even need superspies anymore.

While Craig’s Bond status remains up in the air, a team of such Bond aficionados donned casting caps to determine exactly which ingredients are necessary for a boffo Bond. “Bond has to be a rather overwhelming, daunting and physical presence,” said film historian and Canada’s self-declared James Bond Expert Murray Gillespie. “I don’t think you could have someone who’s 5-6, 130 pounds playing the character.” “He’s supposed to be a spy, he’s supposed to be a secret agent, he’s supposed to be able to blend into a crowd,” said John Threlfall, a University of Victoria instructor who teaches a class on Bond. “The very first actor to play Bond was an American named Barry Nelson, so there’s precedent,” said University of Leicester film professor James Chapman, author of Licence To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films. “Before they officially cast Sean Connery in Dr.Austrian actor Christoph Waltz has made quite a name for himself — and picked up a pair of supporting actor Oscars along the way — by playing those roles we all love to hate. At some point, the director starts cutting as 007 dispatches bad guys, collapses buildings, and wrestles with a villain in a suddenly pilotless, upside-down helicopter. No, the producers showed their wives his screen test and asked: ‘Do you think this guy is sexy?’ And the wives were like: ‘Oh, yeah,’” laughed Threlfall. “No. 1 on the list is you have to appeal to women as much as men. The Bond of “Casino Royale” was brash and arrogant, a sociopathic antihero, the equivalent of an analog punch in the mouth in an increasingly digital world.

The first is in the movie’s subplot, which focuses on a new head of the Joint Intelligence Service who’s set on discontinuing MI6’s 00 program and replacing its agents with wiretapping and drones. Cue the opening titles and a visit to M’s office, where it initially appears as if we may be returning to the old Bond formula: “minimovie” teaser, mission briefing, mission. And if the prize Bond is after — a ring with an octopus-y Spectre symbol — seems kind of minor for all that mayhem, it does lead nicely into the film’s titles, Sam Smith’s melody-challenged, but suitably sultry “Writing’s on the Wall” backed by gorgeous women writhing with octopus tentacles, bullets trailing inky jets. Instead of the buxom babe coming out of the water in a bikini, in Casino Royale we had Daniel Craig coming out of the water in his briefs with his rippling muscles.” “The Bond films really from the start have had elements of humour — slightly parodic, not sending up the genre, but they were aware … that it was a rather ridiculous character in ridiculous circumstances,” Chapman said. Moore was nearly 58 years old upon the release of 1985’s A View to a Kill, and Bond experts agree that the character should not be portrayed by someone nearing his MI-60s. “Jesus, by the time he was done with A View to a Kill, it was just embarrassing how old he was,” agreed Threlfall. “It really showed onscreen.”

Over the course of the film’s 150 minutes, it becomes clear that nearly everything we have witnessed in the previous trilogy was merely a lead-up to this latest adventure. It’s great news for film studios that have seen such star-driven vehicles as Our Brand Is Crisis, Burnt, Rock the Kasbah, Steve Jobs, Suffragette, Truth and other high-profile pictures perform below expectations this fall, some seriously so. Which seems to be the operating aesthetic this time out: everything you could wish, and then some, for an epically overstuffed 2 hours and 28 minutes. Bond’s personal history is explored in great detail; the doings of great nations and even greater terrorists depend upon old grievances; plans for world domination come second to settling scores.

Enough time to pack in a whole bunch of bad guys from pencil pushers to bodybuilders to Christoph Waltz, an extravagance of exotic locales, from Moroccan meteor craters to a Rome-the-eternal-city that feels like a racetrack with palazzos, and — of course — a bevy of beauties, who do what Bond beauties do. The $5.1 million for celebrity chef drama Burnt represents the second major flop this year for Bradley Cooper, who earlier saw his high-flying summer comedy Aloha crash and burn. Monica Belluci, whom Bond divests of widow’s weeds as he’s introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond,” is easily the most compelling (though she’s accorded the least screen time). In fact, he’s kind of a great guy: He frees Django, gives him his first beer, drives around in a stagecoach with a giant tooth on top and even (spoiler!) takes a bullet for his beliefs. In fact, the screenplay is pretty consciously tilling old ground, with shout-outs to all three of Craig’s 007 movies, and also to those of his predecessors, including a compartment-smashing fistfight on a train that echoes camera angles and even a couple of Sean Connery’s punches from From Russia With Love. (For more on the shout-outs to earlier 007 exploits, check out my colleague Chris Klimek’s ruminations.) There are hints that the filmmakers aren’t just going for nostalgia but would also like to be of the moment — talk of “smart blood,” drones and online surveillance to drive the plot — but none of it feels especially urgent, even when red digital readouts are counting down to imminent explosions.

Bond himself was still dismissed by his critics, onscreen and off, as “a relic of the Cold War.” Indeed, those words were spoken by Judi Dench’s M in Goldeneye (1995), the first post-USSR Bond movie. When Dench, in the same in-joke of a scene, refers to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond as a “misogynist dinosaur,” she was both echoing critiques of the series and trying to disarm them. Similar fan dynamics drove the dino-thriller reboot Jurassic World to stellar results this past summer and they’ll send into the stratosphere ticket receipts for the Dec. 18 rollout of Star Wars: Episode 7 — The Force Awakens.

Instead she continues with “something you can’t tell anyone because you don’t trust anyone,” an explanation so unnecessary you half expect Bond to call her on it. For those of us who want our escapism to provide an actual escape, the Brosnan years were a slog, marred by meta humor and increasingly slapdash directing. He, however, is too busy being tortured by Waltz, dressed down by new “M” Ralph Fiennes, dressed up by costumer Jany Temime in form-fitting formal wear, and put through his sharply staged and shot action-hero paces by the director.

This is that real-life wall street type of bad-guy that haunts our 401k nightmares. “What could I do to be more scary?” Chudnofsky jokingly implores of James Franco’s character while holding an absurd double barrel hand gun to his head. There’s a new security chief in town (Andrew Scott, who plays Moriarty on the BBC “Sherlock” reboot), who is determined to create a global surveillance state and shut down the 00 program while he’s at it.

The Craig films that followed—the glorious Casino Royale, the dreadful Quantum of Solace, and the overrated Skyfall—made a different error: They delved too deeply into Bond’s psyche and backstory, saddling the character with uninteresting baggage, and, like so many of our era’s blockbusters, confusing darkness for depth. But it features beloved characters Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Woodstock, Lucy, Linus and others in a story illustrated and voiced with scrupulous fidelity to the memory of Charles Schulz’s comic strip classics and their TV spinoffs. And though M (Ralph Fiennes) grounds him, James heads to Rome, where he uncovers a global criminal organization headed by an old friend (Christoph Waltz).

What isn’t drawing people to theatres this fall, and rarely does so anymore, is the lure of a star who sells a movie regardless of its quality or content. And fans will doubtless find them pleasantly diverting, though even the most rabid will have to concede there’s been a falloff in emotional resonance since Bond’s last outing. The attempts to humanize 007 have long felt inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but it was the portentousness and self-seriousness of Nolan—and not the technical skill—that had leaked into the franchise’s filmmaking. Sci-fi drama The Martian is a career peak for actor Matt Damon, but the film is based on a bestselling novel and it’s directed by hitmaker Ridley Scott. In that one, this same director, star and writing team (augmented here by writer Jez Butterworth) managed to outfit the action with all sorts of feeling — feeling that made Skyfall feel more substantial than most Bond pictures.

Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of a former nemesis, who would love to be with James if only she thought he could stand to give up his day job. If a film doesn’t sort of line up in our minds happily, if it doesn’t seem to have those elements that we want to go see, then it’s no good.” There are still movie stars, larger-than-life people like Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie.

The fear of a surveillance state, while timely, is barely explored, and the twisted web of Bond’s past, the villains he’s faced, the women he’s loved, never seems as important as it should. But they tend to do best at the box office when they’re part of a franchise like Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven and Jolie’s Kung Fu Panda series. The brand is stronger than it has been since the mid-1960s; box office grosses are astronomical; even critics, who traditionally have greeted 007 with good-natured if wary shrugs, have gushed over two of the previous three films.

Monica Bellucci, the exquisite Italian actress, gives herself — and what she knows — up to James so quickly that it’s almost insulting, and the shift in Madeleine from frustration to flirtation to love is, simply, unbelievable. The constant online focus on celebrities and their foibles “doesn’t allow people to dream anymore,” she said. “To be a star, that requires glamour and secrecy.” “I think she’s spot on.

James Bond has always had a complicated relationship with women, or perhaps, until this James Bond came along, it wasn’t complicated at all, because it was always on his terms, and he never stuck around for breakfast. The whole of celebrity culture, as it exists on the Internet, has done so much to sharpen our almost vengeful glee if these people make fools of themselves. “So many dark and dirty stories come out now about stars because they are not protected by studios in the way they used to be. Once upon a time a star was a studio product and even if something horrible had happened in a star’s life, the studio would take great care to conceal it so that your whole image of that star was not spoiled.

As the film unspools, it’s clear that Bond has a secret he is keeping from everyone and that the villain (played by Christoph Waltz) has some sort of unexplained vendetta against 007. Spectre is far from a disaster: The locations are impressive, the Bond-Q relationship works wonderfully well, and the first two-thirds of the movie generally go down easily enough. Their eventual escape is nicely executed, but rather than closing credits, we get another half-hour in London, with an unsurprising twist, and several more plodding, fun-free encounters between heroes and villains. The plot keeps bogging the characters down: After trying to kill Bond for the entire film, the villain reveals that he actually had planned to keep Bond alive for a final showdown.

Sure, the earlier films in the series had gaping lacks in logic, many of which were gleefully exposed by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies. (Anyone who can explain the plot of The Man With the Golden Gun is smarter than I am, and I’ve easily seen it 30 times.) But those films were not trying to be “serious” movies. Even worse, the film literally stops dead with several boring debates about the merits of drone warfare and NSA-like surveillance vs. good old-fashioned spying. The script’s idea of being pro–civil liberties is to romanticize the notion of British secret agents going around the world killing anyone they please.

It’s all more than a stone’s throw from earlier Bond adventures and even from Casino Royale—which, despite being a weightier film than its predecessors, is nonetheless full of lighthearted moments. If you compare the romantic train scenes in that film and in Spectre, you will notice that Spectre’s is weighed down by an exchange in which Swann predictably asks Bond why he is an assassin.

Even in a cultural era obsessed with moral complexity, it’s hard to imagine that the mood of the franchise would have gotten quite so dark or that there would have been quite so hard a push to make its protagonist more complicated if an actor of Brosnan’s limited abilities had stayed in the role. Craig has recently declared his annoyance at having to play Bond—the orneriness that he shows onscreen doesn’t seem entirely a matter of acting—and so it’s possible that Spectre will be his last outing.

No one wants to see Vin Diesel grunt his way through ordering a martini, but maybe an actor incapable of more complexity would force the filmmakers to return to their original mission of making purely entertaining movies.

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