Sunday, August 15, 2010

No, Mr Bond, I Don't Want You To Die: The End of James Bond?

About three weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about James Bond. Over the past few months we'd been hearing the stories about the fact MGM was having money problems, to the point where there was speculation that the studio would fold. As a result, the planned 23rd James Bond movie was indefinitely postponed. My friend said “I don't think we'll see Daniel Craig as Bond again.” He basically believed that the money problems were so severe that it would be years before another one would be made. When it was, the producers, (Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson), would decide to reboot the series and recast. I said, "there's no way. Craig's a great Bond. I can't see them doing that."

Cut to three weeks later and this week's cover story in Entertainment Weekly magazine, “Goodbye, Mr. Bond.” The magazine predicted almost exactly what my friend had said. They wrote that the last time there was a delay like this – six years, in fact – the studio returned with a new Bond when Pierce Brosnan replaced Timothy Dalton. The difference between the last long delay and now is that they've got an absolutely perfect Bond in Daniel Craig. As M (Judi Dench) said in Casino Royale (2006), “I'm not sure a blunt instrument such as yourself will understand, Bond.” Bond is and always was an uncouth blunt instrument who happened to be on our side. The reason Craig was such a refreshing return to form after a VERY LONG fallow period was because he was a boxy, thuggish, though handsome brute who would go to any lengths to achieve his ends. The last time we had a Bond this good was, of course, Sean Connery. Yes, I know I'm in a minority in this, but Pierce Brosnan (who's been very good in other films such as The Matador (2005), The Tailor of Panama (2001) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)) was completely awful as Bond – a purse-lipped pretty boy who was completely unconvincing as 007. Hell, Roger Moore was better (at least in the early pictures like Live and Let Die (1973)).

Let's talk briefly about the Bond films. Growing up in small-town Ontario, I didn't catch up to 007 until about 1968 when United Artists started releasing the older pictures as double bills. So, I saw Dr. No (1962) paired with From Russia With Love (1963 – still my favourite Connery Bond) or Thunderball (1965) with You Only Live Twice (1967). I didn't see Goldfinger (1964) until a bit later. The first Bonds I saw on first release were the hugely underrated On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971). By then, I was addicted. I started reading the novels and anxiously awaited the next Bond. I was actually a big fan of Moore's Live and Let Die, because it was sort of the first Bond I could call my own. On Her Majesty's may have been the first Bond I saw in first run, and I think Lazenby was actually very good as Bond, but he was a one off, so I don't count it; Connery returned right afterwards, but it wasn't quite right (having recently rewatched Diamonds Are Forever I have to say it's really pretty bad). So, Moore became my Bond only because I saw almost all his films in first run. However, as his work progressed, and the films became increasingly asinine, I became more and more disenchanted with my hero. It was when video tapes came out in the late 1970s that I embraced the older Bonds and realized that, except for Live and Let Die, the Moore Bonds weren't much good either. I actually didn't even see his last one, A View To A Kill (1985), until about five years ago (and boy, did I not miss much).

His replacement, Timothy Dalton, I think was unfairly maligned as Bond. He tried to return the character to his dour, tough ways. It wasn't his fault that the scripts for the two films seemed to be bad leftovers from the Moore era. After the break, I had mostly lost interest in Bond as they became more and more farcical. I tried to watch the Brosnans. I saw GoldenEye (1995) a few years after it was released, and it was okay, but after I watched the ridiculous Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), I gave up. So I was actually happy when Broccoli and Wilson announced Brosnan would be replaced by Daniel Craig. Having seen Craig in Layer Cake (2004), I was mighty intrigued by his casting as Bond. I was so convinced he was going to be good, I actually went and saw the film very close to opening weekend. Something I'd not done for a 007 picture in over 25 years.

Now, after watching Casino Royale four or five times over the last few years, I'm convinced that the Martin Campbell-directed film is the best, most complete Bond film in the entire series. The plot was credible, Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre was a great villain, the action was exciting and wonderfully thought out, and then there was Craig as Bond. He was so completely believable in the role that you could easily forget all those who came before him (save early Connery and maybe Lazenby). There are a few weaknesses, namely Eva Green's awful English accent (the actress is French -- though her performance is otherwise very good as Vesper Lynd), plus some of the lovey-dovey Bond stuff near the end that gently undermines some of the film's earlier toughness, but otherwise it was an almost complete joy to watch. So, it came as a huge disappointment that the follow-up film, Quantum of Solace (2008), had a rotten script and an incompetent director. Craig was still very good, but almost nothing else worked. The choice of director, Mark Forster, was an utter botch. What the hell did the director of dramas such as Finding Neverland (2004) and Monster's Ball (2001) know about directing a hardcore action film? Nothing much, it turned out. Directors who have no idea how to shoot action (I'm looking at you, Christopher Nolan), think the best way do it is to jam the camera in really close and then cut the images to ribbons. For Forster, that was his only visual idea. It didn't help that the script, by Paul Haggis (co-writer of Casino Royale) and others, was rushed because of an impeding writer's strike.

What I'm getting at here is this: if the Daniel Craig era of James Bond is over, as my friend and Entertainment Weekly have predicted, I only wish it had gone out on an incredible high, such as Casino Royale, and not the big low of Quantum of Solace.

-- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He will launch his first novel, The Empire of Death, on Tuesday, October 19th. More details to follow.


  1. Bitterly prescient it seems, too bad if it is ACTUALLY true about Craig being done.

  2. A little late to the party, but this video just dropped this week: Goodbye, Mr. Bond: