My James Bond Retrospective: The Actors.

While much can be said for the gadgets, cars, and women, there would be no James Bond without the man himself, and there would be no film series without the actors that have portrayed him over the years.

Now, it’s easy to get caught up in the debate about who the best Bond was. That’s not what this post is about. I’ll tell you right off the bat; my personal favorite Bond was Pierce Brosnan. Does that mean I think he was the best? Nope. He’s just my favorite.

This post is simply here to take a look at the various traits of each of the actors and their interpretations of the character. And so, without further ado, let’s take a look at James Bond through the years.

connery

Sean Connery is the father of the cinematic Bond. Because he was the first to play the character, his Bond is the one by which all other actors’ portrayals have been (and will be) measured.

Connery, a Scotsman born in 1930, was a relatively new actor when he starred as James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No. He didn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film and wasn’t really used in the marketing for the movie. The same was true for the second film, From Russia with Love (1963).

By his fifth appearance in You Only Live Twice (1967), perspective had shifted quite a bit, and Connery was perceived as the real James Bond. Marketing reflected this sentiment stating that “Sean Connery IS James Bond.”

While Connery didn’t really look like Ian Fleming’s description of Bond, he had an allure that was all his own. Dashing, debonaire, and certainly quite deadly, Connery’s Bond was a blunt instrument that lit fires wherever he went. He was abusive of women and physically dominating. His portrayal of Bond was slightly cheeky, and he liked to play around quite a bit. He wasn’t terribly professional, but he did his job well.

Connery’s Bond liked to get his hands dirty, and if there’s one thing he’s known for, it’s his physicality. This Bond would prefer to use his fists over his Walther PPK whenever possible, even when it wasn’t the smartest course of action.

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George Lazenby will forever be known as the man who replaced Sean Connery. Much controversy surrounded his arrival and even more controversy surrounded his departure from the role. Nevertheless, he played the part, and I, for one, am thankful for that.

Lazenby, an Australian car salesman, had no acting experience prior to becoming Bond. While his performance was good, his ability to work with the director and his costars was suspect. He didn’t fully understand the rigors of filmmaking, and responded poorly to various methods employed by those working around him.

Despite this, Lazenby did a fine job as Bond. While he didn’t have the opportunity to carve his own interpretation of the character, his work in the franchise will be remembered for having been a part of one of the finest Bond films of the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

Lazenby’s Bond is a bit more believable as a spy. He’s physically more intimidating than Connery, and he moves with a bit more sophistication as well. He’s not as suave as his predecessor, and in many cases he’s somewhat stiff, but that probably comes from not being comfortable in the role.

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Roger Moore is almost as synonymous with James Bond as Sean Connery is. Moore, who was born in London in 1927, is a classic Englishman, having served as a captain in the Royal Army Service Corps.

Moore’s portrayal of Bond differed drastically from both Connery’s and Lazenby’s. His Bond was much more sophisticated and charming, and rather than manipulate women (as Connery’s Bond so often did), Moore’s Bond lured them.

His Bond was far more professional than Connery’s, preferring to keep his distance from the work. Whereas Connery’s Bond often brawled, Moore’s Bond would prefer to snipe.

He was always quick to add humor to any situation, and if there’s one thing Moore’s Bond is known for, it’s his quick-witted sense of humor and consistent addition of one-liners to relieve the tension in any situation.

Unfortunately for both Moore and EON Productions, Moore spent far too many years playing James Bond. His character evolved from believable spy in Live and Let Die (1973) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to comic book hero in Moonraker (1979) and Octopussy (1983). He had aged so much over his tenure that his plausibility as Bond was stretched to the point of being laughable. And yet he was so inexorably tied to the role that finding a worthy replacement proved more difficult a task than anyone was ready for.

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Because of how comical Moore’s Bond had become, the studio went in a decidedly different direction for the next Bond feature. They aimed for a darker, more adult-oriented film that was less gadget-obsessed and sex-crazed and focused almost exclusively on good storytelling. They turned to Timothy Dalton.

Dalton, a Welsh Shakespearean actor born in 1946, took Bond in a much darker direction than Connery and certainly Moore ever had. The Living Daylights (1987) didn’t play to his strengths as an actor as the film was written with Pierce Brosnan in mind for Bond. (Brosnan was originally considered for the part before a clause in his contract with the television show Remington Steele made him unable to play Bond for the film.) Licence to Kill (1989) did, and it will always be known as one of the darkest, most serious Bond films of the series.

Dalton’s Bond is a weapon. He’s clearly uninterested in all the sex and games that Connery’s Bond and Moore’s Bond were. He uses every fighting technique at his disposal: whatever gets the job done quickest. He’s much more professional than any of his predecessors and, while more willing to use his equipment than Connery was, wasn’t afraid to get his hands a little bloody.

Dalton had indeed read Fleming’s novels and clearly wanted to shape his interpretation of Bond after the version found in the books, creating a darker, more serious, and more lethal character than audiences had ever seen before.

While Dalton was ready to star in his third Bond film, legal disputes held the franchise in limbo for several years, during which time he decided to walk away from the role.

Dalton had originally signed a three-film contract, but was given the freedom to break his contract when a third film—which should have been released in 1991, two years after Licence to Kill—was still nonexistent in 1994.

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After a long period without a new Bond film, during which Timothy Dalton departed from the series, Bond returned with a fresh new look. The man for the job was none other than the original successor to Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan.

Brosnan, an Irish actor born in 1953, played a much more understated Bond than previous incarnations of the character. His Bond evolved similarly to Moore’s however, going from believable spy to centerpiece of a comic book.

In some ways, Brosnan’s Bond reflects Moore’s. He’s a bit more playful than Dalton’s Bond and enjoys indulging in the sophisticated side of his life. However, he channels a bit of all of his predecessors in other ways—he’s cold, calculating, and detached like Dalton’s Bond; physically brutal like Connery’s Bond; and suave, charming, and dashing like Moore’s Bond.

Brosnan was a victim of his scripts, however. He had one huge success in GoldenEye (1995), a mediocre outing in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), a decent jaunt in The World Is Not Enough (1999), and a massive flop in Die Another Day (2002). Unfortunately he’s the only Bond actor who never had the opportunity to act in a Bond movie based on an Ian Fleming novel.

Brosnan signed on to do four Bond films, fulfilling his contract in 2002.

craig

After the extreme camp in Die Another Day, the studio decided to take the franchise in a new direction yet again. Much like Timothy Dalton’s films, this new set of films would be darker and grittier than the previous set. For this new tone, they turned to Daniel Craig.

Craig was born in 1968 in Chester, Cheshire, England. He took on the role amidst a lot of controversy. Many critics of his casting stated that he was too short, too blond, not attractive enough, etc. However, all of those criticisms were laid to rest when his first Bond film, Casino Royale (2006), was released.

Craig’s Bond hearkens back to the physicality of Sean Connery’s Bond. He’s grittier, more brutal, and tougher than any of his predecessors. Like Dalton’s Bond, Craig’s Bond carries a disdain for the suave sophistication that he seems required to bear. He’s more of a brawler than any of his predecessors and will likely be known for creating a much more physically intimidating version of Bond.

When he was cast for Casino Royale, Craig signed on for three films. Upon the release of his third Bond film, Skyfall (2012), Craig signed a contract for two more films, bringing his total Bond film count to five—one more than Brosnan, one fewer than Connery, and two fewer than Moore.

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My James Bond Retrospective: Bond Girls.

In the 50 years that Bond has been in cinema, few things about the movies are more glamorous or iconic than the women of the franchise. Clearly, the Bond movies are not known for their progressive sexual politics, but therein lies the allure. There’s a traditionalism and machismo (I’d even say misogyny, but I’ll save that for a different post) that betrays a yearning for yesteryear, and the Bond girls serve to fulfill that desire.

Here’s a list of my seven favorite Bond girls. No, they’re probably not all going to be your favorites, but I chose them for my own reasons. I chose each Bond girl not so much for her looks as much as her chemistry with Bond, the depth of her story, and her ability to captivate the audience with her story.

007. Claudine Auger, “Dominique ‘Domino’ Derval” in Thunderball

Claudine Auger was born in Paris, France, where she attended the Paris Drama Conservatory. Kevin McClory first saw Auger while vacationing in Nassau, and he suggested that she audition for his upcoming film Thunderball. Her audition was so impressive to the producers that they rewrote the character (who was originally an Italian named Dominetta Petacchi) to better fit her French roots.

While Auger’s acting wasn’t necessarily superb, she did a decent enough job to sell me on her character. Domino is Emilio Largo’s mistress until Bond (played by Sean Connery) seduces her and reveals the truth that Largo is the man behind her brother’s murder.

Thunderball wasn’t a particularly good film, but it wasn’t terrible either. Domino helped to ensure that the movie wasn’t a total flop. She was a believable character who’s motivations were clear and who served not just as eye candy, but also a way to move the story along and give Bond the impetus needed to take Largo down.

Claudine Auger won the title of Miss France in 1958 and continued acting in European film following her appearance in Thunderball.

006. Carey Lowell, “Pam Bouvier” in Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill was one of the darkest Bond films, and the character of Pam Bouvier reflects this. She’s a former army pilot who works as an informant for the CIA and presents a challenge to Bond. While she can be useful, she can also get in the way (from his perspective) as she often feels the need to complete the mission her way. When Bond (played by Timothy Dalton) first encounters her, she’s working undercover as a courier for the drug lord Franz Sanchez. They end up working together to get Sanchez.

Lowell plays Bouvier as smart, dangerous, but still subject to the same emotions everyone deals with, jealousy, in particular. When she sees Bond with Lupe Lamora, she’s heartbroken, thinking Bond was never in love with her.

Carey Lowell was born in Huntington, New York. She began her career as a model for Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein before turning to acting. Lowell continued her acting career after her appearance in Licence to Kill, starring in the TV show Law & Order.

005. Izabella Scorupco, “Natalya Fyodorovna Simonova ” in GoldenEye

Izabella Scorupco was born in Białystok, Poland, and moved to Bredäng in Stockholm, Sweden, where she learned English and French. She traveled around Europe working as a model and even made the cover of Vogue. In the early 1990s, she had a successful, though brief, career as a pop singer, releasing an album in 1991 that was certified gold.

GoldenEye is still my favorite Bond film, and Natalya Simonova is part of the reason it remains my favorite. She’s a level 2 computer programmer working on missile guidance systems at the Russian Severnaya facility. She’s a fiery character who doesn’t take any BS from anyone. She’s one of the first Bond girls to openly challenge Bond, directly asking him what makes him so cold. Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) responds to her with guarded interest, knowing that she is touching on many of his insecurities and exposing his weaknesses.

Following GoldenEye, Scorupco continued acting and has recently resumed her singing career as well.

004. Honor Blackman, “Pussy Galore” in Goldfinger

Honor Blackman was born in Plaistow, Newham, London. She began training as an actress at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Before starring in Goldfinger, Blackman had already developed an extensive résumé in film.

Pussy Galore is a pilot and personal assistant to Auric Goldfinger. Along with her flying circus, Pussy helps to set in motion Goldfinger’s plan to rob Fort Knox. But thanks to Bond (played by Sean Connery), she changes allegiances and helps Bond thwart Goldfinger’s plan.

Galore is a tough character. She doesn’t fall for Bond very easily and presents more of a challenge than he’s used to. She’s determined, hard working, and dangerous. Interestingly enough, she’s the first Bond girl to appear completely clothed throughout the movie (though clearly not in her publicity photos).

003. Sophie Marceau, “Elektra Vavra King” in The World Is Not Enough

Sophie Marceau was born in Paris, France. She began working as a model and actress when she was a teenager and has one of the most prolific résumés both prior to and following her appearance in a Bond movie.

Marceau’s character isn’t a Bond girl in the strictest sense of the term; she’s one of the many femmes fatales that have been a part of the Bond franchise. However, she is arguably the best out of all of them.

Elektra King is the daughter of British oil tycoon Sir Robert King. After his death, she emerges to continue his work on a new oil pipeline. However, unbeknownst to any interested party, she had been scheming to claim her father’s wealth and title as her own, going so far as to kill him and cast suspicion on a terrorist known as Renard. As part of her plan, she seduces Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) and sends him on a wild goose chase searching for her father’s murderer before he puts the pieces together and discovers her involvement.

King is a complex character. Marceau plays her masterfully, carrying across the subtleties of the lie that her character is living. One of the finest performances by a Bond girl to date.

Marceau continues her acting career to this day, starring primarily in French cinema.

002. Diana Rigg, “Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ di Vicenzo” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Early on in the series’ history, it wasn’t very common for the leading lady of a Bond movie to have a solid acting résumé. In fact, the only one who had at this point was Honor Blackman, who had played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. And then along comes Diana Rigg.

Diana Rigg was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire (West Riding of Yorkshire at the time). When she was two months old, she moved to Bikaner, India, where she became fluent in Hindi. She returned to England when she was eight years old to study at the Moravian School in Fulneck, near Pudsey. She trained to be an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

She made her professional debut in The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1955 when she was just 17 years old. After that, her career was wide ranging; including a five-year stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company that ended in 1964. In 1965, she became famous for the role of Mrs. Emma Peel in the hit 60s television show The Avengers.

Her character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a tragic one. Teresa was the only daughter of Marc-Ange Draco, head of a powerful international crime syndicate. Her mother had died when she was very young, so her father sent her to a boarding school in Switzerland. She entered a gang lifestyle, committing one crime after another before her father cut her off from his wealth. She then married Italian Count Giulio di Vicenzo. Di Vicenzo took all of Teresa’s money before leaving her for one of his mistresses. He died in a car accident. During this marriage, Teresa had a child with the count, but the child died due to spinal meningitis.

Teresa attempted to commit suicide by drowning herself in the sea, but Bond (played by George Lazenby) showed up to rescue her. Bond proceeds to court Teresa and eventually marries her.

Tracy is one of the strongest characters in the whole Bond series. She’s emotionally captivating, and her friendship and romance with Lazenby’s Bond is one of the most believable character interactions of the series.

001. Eva Gaëlle Green, “Vesper Lynd” in Casino Royale

Eva Gaëlle Green was born in Paris, France. She studied acting at St. Paul Drama School in Paris, Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in New York City. She made several theatre appearances before making the switch to film. Her film debut was in the controversial film The Dreamers (directed by the infamous Bernardo Bertolucci), in which she had many scenes that included full frontal nudity and graphic depictions of sex. Despite its controversial nature, the film helped to launch her film career, garnering the attention of Ridley Scott, who cast her in his 2005 epic Kingdom of Heaven. A year later she appeared as Ian Fleming’s Vesper Lynd.

Vesper Lynd is one of the most complex and tragic characters of the series. When Bond (played by Daniel Craig) enters a high stakes poker game in Montenegro using government money, Lynd, a British officer for Her Majesty’s Treasury, is sent to monitor his progress and ensure the safekeeping of the money.

Unbeknownst to Bond (or anyone she is working for, for that matter), she was emotionally connected to the mission as her boyfriend had been killed by the villain’s employer, Mr. White. Mr. White offers to let Bond live if she steals the money from him and gives it to Mr. White’s organization.

Vesper is the first of two women Bond actually falls in love with (the second being Tracy di Vicenzo). She connects with him so well that he is willing to give up everything to spend the rest of his life with her.

The romance between Green’s Vesper and Craig’s Bond is one of the most convincing romances I’ve seen in any film, let alone in the Bond movies. Green plays her character so well, I really believe that she and her character are the same person. Deadly, beautiful, and disarming, Vesper Lynd is, in my opinion, the series’ best Bond girl.

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My James Bond Retrospective: Casino Royale

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Before Die Another Day went into production, MGM purchased the rights to the 1953 Ian Fleming novel Casino Royale—the book that introduced the character James Bond 007. Because of this acquisition, there was much speculation that the twentieth Bond film would indeed be the “official” film adaptation of the initiatory novel. Instead, the studio released Die Another Day.

Following that film’s release, anticipation began to grow as news of the new Bond film started to spread. Rumors of a film directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring Pierce Brosnan as Bond and Uma Thurman as Vesper Lynd, began to spread. However, as Brosnan’s original deal included only four films, it seemed he would not return to the series. Brosnan was approaching his 50th birthday, and it was becoming clear that he was not going to attempt what Roger Moore had attempted. In February 2005, Brosnan announced his departure from James Bond, and the search for a new 007 began.

daniel-craig-is-announced-as-the-new-james-bond-1350415778-view-1According to producer Michael G. Wilson, there were over 200 actors in consideration for the role of James Bond, but only three months after Brosnan announced his departure, rumors spread that a new James Bond had been selected. On October 15, 2005, Sony Pictures and MGM announced officially that Daniel Craig would be the new 007.

The news was not well received by Bond fans. Many announced that they would boycott the film, and an Internet campaign known as “Daniel Craig is not Bond” began.

When the news hit that Casino Royale would be a complete reboot of the series (and not just a “refresh,” as GoldenEye had been), more controversy arose. This was the first time a new Bond actor had been chosen during the Internet age, and websites everywhere were covered with strong (mostly negative) opinions about the upcoming film.

The producers turned to director Martin Campbell to helm the new film. Campbell’s first Bond film was GoldenEye, the first refresh of the Bond franchise, and the producers felt that since his first foray into the world of 007 was a huge success both critically and financially, he could repeat his success.

Casino Royale premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square, the Odeon West End, and the Empire simultaneously in London on November 14, 2006. Despite all the controversy leading up to the film’s release, it was very well received by fans, critics, and general audiences alike, quickly topping Die Another Day as the highest grossing Bond film to date. It was also the fourth-highest grossing film of 2006. Critics praised the new direction for Bond; Roger Ebert said, “Daniel Craig makes a superb Bond: Leaner, more taciturn, less sex-obsessed, able to be hurt in body and soul, not giving a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred. . . . It’s a movie that keeps on giving.”

The movie opens with Bond killing an MI6 section chief who had been selling classified information. Upon killing him and his contact, Bond receives his 00 status. His first mission as a 00 agent involves tracking down a bomb maker named Mollaka. Bond kills Mollaka and discovers a message on his phone which he traces to a man named Alex Dimitrios, an associate of the terrorist financier known as Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre has been holding money for Steven Obanno, a Ugandan warlord and member of the Lord’s Resistance Army. He loses the money, however, when one of his stock-shorting schemes fails after Bond intervenes. In order to recoup his losses, Le Chiffre enters a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro.

Bond enters the game as well, aided by Vesper Lynd, a British treasury officer sent to look after the governments interests, and René Mathis, a local MI6 contact. Bond loses his initial stake in the game, so he asks Vesper to free up the $5 million needed for a re-buy-in. She refuses, so Bond elects to simply assassinate Le Chiffre before he can win his money back. CIA agent Felix Leiter, who is also playing in the tournament, stops Bond before he can kill Le Chiffre and offers to fund his stake in exchange for American custody of Le Chiffre. Bond agrees and continues playing, beating Le Chiffre in the final round.

Le Chiffre retaliates by kidnapping Vesper and torturing Bond in an attempt to get access to the money. He’s unsuccessful, and someone from his organization eliminates him, apparently freeing Bond and Vesper.

Casino Royale is a testament to great filmmaking. It is by far the darkest and most serious film in the series, diving into much of what shaped Bond into the cold killer that he becomes. While the movie doesn’t have the explosive action that has become a mainstay of the franchise, the dramatic tension throughout does a more than adequate job of providing the edginess necessary to keep you fixated to the screen.

The film is in many ways a drastic departure from the tropes of the franchise and doesn’t apologize for being as different as it is. The new pre-title sequence that did away with the traditional “gun-barrel” opener served as an indicator that Bond was headed in a completely different direction.

CasinoStill01eCraig does an excellent job as 007 in the film, shedding almost all of the humor that had characterized his predecessor. Instead, he opts for a grittier, angrier version of the character, and one that is far more believable as an assassin. This new Bond is clearly a sharpened weapon.

If there’s one complaint I have with Craig’s performance here, it’s that he wears Bond’s sophistication with disdain. He’s not a charmer (not that Bond should be one), but ever since Connery, Bond has always had an allure about him that drew people in. Craig’s Bond is an assassin and not much else.

The movie speeds along at a brisk clip; the film’s pacing is fast and intense, keeping you on the edge of your seat for pretty much the entire thing. Rarely does the movie pause to look at the landscape, and when it does, it’s an important story element. Pacing is not an issue at all with this film (although, I would argue that pacing problems had pretty much disappeared from the series after A View to a Kill).

The film is also a big departure from the standard Bond formula. Bond movies always started with a big action set piece, moved to the title sequence, then there’s probably a scene with Moneypenny. Shortly thereafter, M gives Bond his assignment, he meets a couple babes, beds said babes, encounters the villain, and then saves the day. Sometimes the formula worked magnificently, and other times it flopped. But at any given moment in a Bond movie, you always knew where you were in the formula. Casino Royale changes all of that. Yes, it has all the elements (sans Moneypenny), but they’ve been jostled about to the extent that you really don’t know what’s coming next. The movie is as unpredictable as Dr. No was when it first came out back in 1962.

The villain Le Chiffre is well played by Mads Mikkelsen. He’s creepy and sinister, while maintaining a certain level of relatability. He’s not the best villain of the series, but he’s ideal for this movie and is certainly among the top villains in the franchise.

The real show stealer was Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. The character was by far the most well developed Bond girl in the series. She’s smart, mysterious, sexy, and dangerous. But her mystique betrays a sadness and desperation that is disarming. Lynd is far and away my favorite character in this film. She is also my favorite Bond girl (with Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King, Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya Simonova, Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier, and Diana Rigg’s Tracy di Vincenzo rounding out my top five).

Green’s performance is stellar. She gives the movie that extra level of je-ne-sais-quoi that turns Casino Royale from being a good Bond film to being one of the finest Bond films. I found myself drawn to her performance and rooting for her character far more than I did Bond. She held the movie together. The craziest part about her character is that she’s probably the most “traditional” Bond girl we’ve seen since Kara Milovy in The Living Daylights, showing us that you don’t need computer programmers, government spies, or nuclear physicists to have successful Bond girls who can be Bond’s equal; you just need a strong female character who can draw out the best in Bond.

Vesper is such a deep character that her interactions with Bond develop into the most convincing romance of the series (granted, there is only one other romance between Bond and a leading lady in the whole series; the rest are simply Bond’s conquests). The relationship is so passionate that it drives Bond to resign from MI6. If the romance weren’t believable, his resignation wouldn’t be taken seriously by the audience; it would be a laughable moment. At one point in their interactions, Vesper says to James, “If the only thing left of you was your smile and your little finger, you’d still be more of a man than anyone I’ve ever known,” not in response to anything he did as a British spy or any of his charm, but in response to his willingness to give everything he has for her. The most powerful scene in the movie was an almost silent moment between Vesper and James where he comforts her after she had witnessed the killing of two men who had been chasing them.

This is quite possibly the best Bond film to date. While it is sorely lacking in humor (save some small comedy relief in a scene that is otherwise a dark and brutal scene), it has all the elements of a great Bond film and then some. Not only is it an excellent Bond film, it’s an excellent film in its own right. If you watch no other Bond film, watch this one. It’s certainly not the archetypal Bond film, but it does everything that a Bond film should do.

Next up, Quantum of Solace.

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My James Bond Retrospective: Die Another Day

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2002 marked the 40th Anniversary of James Bond films, and EON Productions wanted to pay homage to the franchise with the release of the twentieth Bond film, Die Another Day. The film featured Pierce Brosnan as James Bond 007 once again and, in honor of the longstanding film series, included several references to each of the preceding Bond movies.

2002_die-another-dayDie Another Day premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in London on November 18, 2002. Despite a lot of criticism, the film performed well at the box office, becoming the highest grossing Bond film to date. The movie opens with Bond infiltrating a North Korean military installation where Colonel Tan-Sun Moon is illegally trading African conflict diamonds for weapons. Bond’s cover is blown when Moon’s assistant Zao receives a call revealing that he’s a British spy. Moon escapes in a hovercraft, and Bond gives chase. The hovercraft goes over a waterfall, evidently killing Moon. Bond is then captured by the North Korean military.

If there’s one word that comes to mind as a descriptor for this movie, it’s disappointment. The story starts off well—Bond is captured by an enemy government, tortured, seemingly left to die when a prisoner exchange is arranged in order to get him out of the prison because he’s suspected of hemorrhaging information. When he’s brought back, he’s disavowed, stripped of his 00 status, and kept prisoner by his own government. Naturally he escapes and attempts to find out who betrayed him to Zao, instantly becoming a rogue agent.

Unfortunately, after that setup, the film quickly goes downhill. From the stilted dialogue to the vapid character of Jinx (the studio actually considered a spinoff featuring her. . . God help us if it were to actually materialize) to the superfluous use of CGI, Die Another Day was rife with late-nineties popcorn flick clichés.

There are too many problems with this movie to list in a review, so I’ll stop here. While Bond’s 25th Anniversary gift was an enjoyable jaunt in The Living Daylights, his 40th Anniversary gift was a mangled mess that was more concerned with nods and winks to the fans than actually telling a good story.

What’s frustrating about this film (and the Bond films of the 1990s) is that Pierce Brosnan could have been an excellent Bond. He had all the right elements as an actor—the look, the charm, the seriousness, the bravado. He just got stuck with some fairly mediocre screenplays. Don’t get me wrong; Brosnan’s series had its high moments. He burst onto the scene with GoldenEye, arguably one of the best films in the franchise. Sadly, Tomorrow Never Dies was a bit of dull, and The World Is Not Enough, while a good Bond film, failed to capture the magic found in GoldenEye.

After Die Another Day, the Bond franchise was in desperate need of some course correction.

Next up, Casino Royale.

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My James Bond Retrospective: The World Is Not Enough

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Once again, it wasn’t long before another James Bond film began production. Two directors were initially offered the job of putting the nineteenth Bond film together: Joe Dante and Peter Jackson. Barbara Broccoli changed her mind about Jackson after seeing The Frighteners, and the job was ultimately given to Michael Apted. Jackson later remarked that though he was a longtime fan of the Bond movies, he would likely not get another chance to direct a Bond movie as EON Productions often chose relatively unknown directors, and The Lord of the Rings had rocketed Jackson’s popularity.

This is the first Bond film to not be released by United Artists as its parent company, MGM, had since taken over distribution rights of the Bond franchise. This would also be the final Bond film to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Although Llewelyn was not officially retiring from the role, his character was shown as preparing his replacement, played by John Cleese. Llewelyn died in a car accident shortly after the film’s premiere.

1999_the-world-is-not-enoughThe World Is Not Enough premiered on November 8, 1999, at Mann’s Village Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. It premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on November 22, 1999. It was the third EON Productions Bond film to premiere first outside of England, the first being A View to A Kill, which premiered in San Francisco, and the second being GoldenEye, which premiered in New York City.

The film opens with Bond meeting a Swiss banker in order to retrieve money for Sir Robert King, a British oil tycoon and one of M’s longtime friends. In reality, Bond is there to investigate the murder of an MI6 agent who was killed for the stolen report that King was buying. Bond asks the banker who the murderer was, but the banker’s assistant kills him before he could give Bond the name. Bond escapes with the money.

Back in London, Bond and M find that the money is booby trapped, and King dies in the explosion. Bond travels all around Europe to find out who the insider was that set King up. He discovers that Renard, the terrorist who had kidnapped King’s daughter, Elektra (an event that took place before the start of this story), may be the one behind the assassination. M sends Bond to protect Elektra, but as he continues his investigation, he discovers secrets about the King family that cause loyalties to shift.

The World Is Not Enough has all the parts of a good Bond film. Exotic locales, menacing villains, beautiful women, and that panache that’s characteristic of Bond and his movies. Brosnan definitely looks more relaxed as Bond, and I’m beginning to really see him as the quintessential 007. While this film isn’t nearly as good as 1995’s GoldenEye, it’s a vast improvement over Tomorrow Never Dies, and shows signs that the franchise may be headed in the right direction.

While Denise Richards is less than believable as a nuclear physicist (and her acting isn’t terribly convincing either), she doesn’t overshadow the larger film, and she’s not as stiff as some Bond girls that have come before her.

Robert Carlyle plays the villainous Renard, a terrorist with no apparent motive at first. In the events that led up to the story in the movie, Renard had been shot in the head by Agent 009. The bullet didn’t travel completely through his skull at the time and is currently making its way through his brain, killing off his senses before ultimately killing him. Carlyle is ruthless, but he’s not nearly as intimidating as other Bond villains. This is forgivable, however, given his relationship to one of the other characters in the film.

The real show stealer was Sophie Marceau as Elektra King. Her character was multifaceted and complex, and she has fantastic chemistry with Brosnan’s Bond, even evoking one of the most emotionally charged performances by a Bond actor ever. She does her character justice and presents a new type of Bond girl: one who isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with Bond, challenge everything about him, and in almost every way, proves that she is indeed far superior to Agent 007.

I won’t call The World Is Not Enough my favorite Bond film. It’s far from it, in fact. It’s formulaic—painfully so at times. It lacks the uniqueness of a film like GoldenEye and hearkens back to the Roger Moore era a bit too much. While the film does steer clear of camp, it doesn’t hesitate to nod in that direction a bit. It has a good balance of humor and weight, but you can see that humor is beginning to find a more prominent place in Brosnan’s Bond films.

What makes me like this film so much was the way it drew from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in powerfully subtle ways. The film’s style, Bond’s portrayal, and the emotional connection he builds with Elektra King all remind me of the greatness of George Lazenby’s Bond film. While it’s nice to see, there’s nothing about any of it that felt new; rather, much of it felt like a rehash of that film.

Overall, I liked The World Is Not Enough. Honestly though, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it. I remember watching it when I was younger and being somewhat disappointed. But watching it in the context of all the other films helps me to appreciate its value. It really is a good Bond film. It’s just not a great one.

Next up, Die Another Day.

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