The Sixth Storified set of ‘Tweet notes’, concluding a complete (canon) Twitter #Bondathon up to and including SkyFall, the film released on the franchise’s 50th anniversary – whether that’s at the cinema (UK) or on DVD (USA). Typos as guaranteed as a pulse-stopping savage battering. Spoilers very much guaranteed.
ANY EVALUATION OF THE EVER ALIVE AND HEALTHY CRAIG TENURE MUST CAST A RATHER SAD SHADOW IN PIERCE BROSNAN’S DIRECTION. Surely in this new realistic universe, the reputation of his films will fall the furthest? It’s hardly any fault of the man himself, often talked about favourably for his portrayal despite his over-reliance on one-liners. In truth his tenure took the same number of films to jump the laser-equipped-shark as Roger Moore’s. Brosnan might have expected to have been given the same chance as his predecessor, and indeed suggested Casino Royale as his For Your Eyes Only style reboot… But he may also have expected to receive the boot when he was quite so passionate about Quentin Tarantino taking the reins.
Now it’s easy to dismiss Brosnan as the Bond who, when eventually laying his hands on an Aston Martin, made it vanish in a diamond haze of post-90s excess, while Craig brings us a serious and palpable Bond for a never ending recession.
Still, in the mid-2000s, Brosnan was loved. Despite his last film arguably being the nadir of the series up until that point, his roguish charm contributed greatly to the rather unfair reception Craig received when he turned green on the way to his reveal. Then, in the midst of what seemed like one of the longest film shoots, speculation ran rife – mainly about some blue swimwear. Signs were good, but there were worries – and four year breaks in Bond are never good… But… When it arrived; bloody hell, it was fantastic.
Casino Royale. To think a 20 film old franchise still had the option to film the original book. It was an incredible opportunity and one they seized. An oddity of the film, effectively three distinct parts rather than acts, it hangs around the sturdy spine of Fleming’s novel – a massive strength which showed up its flimsy recent predecessors. It was excellently cast and shot in the returning and capable hands of Martin Campbell. While his CV may show that he’s not infallible, he certainly knows how to steer a Bond reboot.
Much was made of Bond’s survival in the post-Bourne age. While Casino Royale certainly acknowledged it, again the luxury of a much older franchise meant that there was no need to rush Bond Begins. Having stripped out the most recognisable, and therefore parodied, elements, they could reintroduce them at their leisure. While parts of Casino Royale, such as the stupendous Quantum organisation – an excellent successor (predecessor) to SPECTRE – deserved further exploration, the choice to run it through a Vesper red mist proved a mis-step.
Quantum of Solace, though a stunningly beautiful film, suffered badly in almost every respect. A weak plot, dull delivery and no sense of threat amid inexplicable references (Oilfinger?) left the masses cool. It made a tremendous amount of money, but it seemed that Craig had quickly followed Moore’s lead of delivering a poor follow-up to a fantastic debut. Of course, Quantum was hit by the writer’s strike in the late 2000s. There were excuses, good excuses. But nonetheless, the honeymoon was over and there wouldn’t be immediate reassurance.
No. Once again money issues hit the franchise as its major stakeholder MGM struggled to maximise its assets amidst debt and litigation. It would prove once again to be a four year wait. Craig however, never seemed worried, despite a history of such waits taking leading scalps. At least this time the franchise had a valuable MGM stable mate in the form of The Hobbit. There was actually plenty of activity keeping the franchise afloat. Prominent literary additions by Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver were voiced by high profile video game entries. Craig not only lent his voice and likeness to a new Bond game, but even replaced Pierce Brosnan in a remake of the legendary GoldenEye. It’s a lesson to us all how out of date the then 15 year old GoldenEye game was. No, things were moving slowly. And as the rights to the Blofeld character fell back to the stable, plans grew for the franchise’s 50th anniversary. It became clear there would be a film. And so it arrived.
A recent summary described the plot of SkyFall, the villain’s motives as: ‘humiliate and kill M’. That’s it. Simple, effective, playing to the strengths of the existing cast and supplementing them with the strongest roster of acting talent a Bond film had yet seen. that it also had an Oscar winning director no doubt helped with the casting. And what’s better: the director was British and a James Bond fan. The result was a film well done; beautiful and neat in its simplicity. It made over a billion dollars worldwide, knocking its nearest high-grossing prequel into a steel-rimmed hat. For once, a four year wait had really done the trick.
SkyFall is not the best Bond film, as subjective as that is. It’s too simplistic and too reverential to take that crown but it does get a lot right. There’s little coincidence, a strong line in cause and effect and the return of two Bond staples (characters). Mostly, the script is witty and fluid without nearing parody. Bond had previously begun, then it had begun again in a forgettable coda. Now, it returned to its basics. By exploring Bond’s personal origin, the franchise could simultaneously nod the hat while releasing itself from nostalgia. With SkyFall Craig found his swagger. I may not quite buy into Bond’s educational history through the characterisation, but he had finally arrived at his definitive Bond. In the distance, Brosnan shares plunged once more.
It’s most important perhaps is to look at Craig’s films as constituent parts. Perhaps it’s no surprise in the complicated and interconnected celluloid worlds of spies and superheroes, Bond has become similarly inter-contextual.
For the first time since 1981, when people had been allowed to discuss On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond was not emotionally defined by his lost wife. That reached a peak in License to Kill and then the rather depressing The World is Not Enough. Now that young Bond was pre-marriage, the films would be shaped by his first love Vesper instead. There was no marriage there, just the only comprehension blunt Bond could lend it: the bitch is dead. Just as Fleming wrote – in fact, as the end line of his first book. Aside from this, several other changes to the Bond formula looked set to stay. The key was not watching Bond learn, but how he was shaped. In this, Craig’s performance ramped up the turmoil of Bond the hollow assassin that had been relatively ignored since Fleming put pen to page.
Extraordinarily, it took until SkyFall for Craig’s blunt instrument to actually kill a main villain. And that’s no innuendo; the three films have similarly taken him near the beds of (possibly) only four women. A line of humour runs increasingly through all Craig’s films, though seemingly undetectable to some as realism holds the most sway. Villainous henchmen are no longer caricatures. They are all similar: professional, competent and deadly. Patrice in SkyFall was a good example, but the airport assailant of Casino Royale was exemplary. Often prolonged foot chases show Bond to be far less competent than his adversaries but with raw grit and stubbornness. This deficit often leads to a finite outcome and a running joke involves Bond’s inability to get a job done without killing an important witness. This often leads M to inquiries and minister debriefings where she has to defend her protégé. ‘What’s today’s excuse?‘ asks Tim Pigott-Smith’s Foreign Minister in Quantum of Solace, ‘That Bond’s legally blind?’. However, there are consequences to unleashing this Bond of mass destruction. It is Bond’s inability to complete a mission in SkyFall – although admitedly, not solely down to him – that leads through meetings, inquiries and retirement to fatality.
But she would always defend Bond, and he her. Was it mutual admiration for each other’s skills? Was it a natural familial affinity? Well, it was nuanced, and formed the main driver of Criag’s films; something that SkyFall played on to the hilt. The mother/son relationship of M and Bond. Other Ms had fathered Bond, granting him leeway; Silva may well be right that he was previously M’s favourite. In any event, it formed the lynchpin of the recent trilogy and looks to inform the future.
It’s tempting to think that at the end of SkyFall Bond has just stepped into M’s office for a posting to investigate the disappearance of the Jamaica section chief. Yes, the ’64 Aston Martin messes that continuity, but what’s inter-contextuality without a little fun. Signs are good and the franchise is booming. With Craig signed, Mendes seemingly about to and the phenomenal John Logan supposedly scripting two films with that gun barrel firmly bolted to the back, I’d say Bond will be beginning for some time.
To start, just give it a one word title and have Adele sing the theme.
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
James Bond will return… Looking remarkably similar but with an even bigger swagger.
Previous #Bondathon and generally Bondish essays can be found in this underground volcano lair!