Die Hard II: Essential Die Hard Moments and a Mission to Moscow

McClane Dying Hard 2As the fifth Die Hard film is released for home viewing pleasure, the third and fourth parts of a dissection of a franchise that’s hard to kill. In conclusion, the essential moment of the Die Hard films and where the second trilogy has, so far, fallen down.

FOR THE RELEASE OF A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD IN MULTIPLEXES ACROSS THE GLOBE I CONDUCTED A TWEET NOTE DIE HARD RETROSPECTIVE AND DISTILLED THE 12 RULES OF DYING HARD. These are a set of rules mostly laid down by the definitive first film and then picked up, followed through, used or abused as seen fit in the subsequent four sequels. They become even more interesting when set against a franchise which has gradually diluted its central premise. The box office may not quite register the diminishing returns, but while the series has broadened its scope from time claustrophobia it’s also slided down the ratings. Part Five, A Good Day to Die Hard (AGDTDH) which Bruce Willis himself suggested had hardened up after part four, gained a 12 advisory rating in the UK. It must be said that in America the film was given an uncensored R rating and director John Moore is working on a director’s cut which may well cement its place in the franchise – but in any event, the toughness of the first film is long diminished.

3. Essential Die Hard Moments

mcclane-dying-hard a

Of the 12 Rules of Dying Hard, Rule 12 may be one of the most crucial. The franchise is called Die Hard. While comprehension about what the name actually means may differ, the clout of the name can’t be ignored. It’s the words Die and Hard aligned in a beautiful piece of Hollywood 80s action nonsense. As examined in part two of this essay, much of the Die Hard franchise has been tacked together through adaptations, something which had added interesting depth and nuance. With that title and that eager star, it was a readymade to form the pinnacle of 80s actioners while injecting enough parody to nail the genre it sat atop. The second film built on the first film’s promise, though not quite reaching the same heights, while the necessarily delayed part three arrived in the mid-90s and set a new template. Shallow 80s films had continued well into the ‘90s with shallower action heroes, but in reality there would never be another classic 1980s action film released without Shane Black’s involvement (1989’s Lethal Weapon 2 or surprisingly, this year’s Iron Man 3).

In a franchise where dying hard is really the anti-objective, there should always be a killer scene in each film. Nailed down to one example per film, these key Die Hard moments have simple rules of their own. They must combine scale, John McClane, fire and one or more other massive jeopardies.  So:

  • Die Hard – The Hosepipe. Evading the exploding roof of Nakatomi Plaza via hose pipe McClane soon meets reinforced glass and then gravity. Truly the ultimate Die Hard moment. Never bettered.
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder – The Ejector Seat. Quickly losing all the advantage he had engineered, McClane find himself trapped in a bullet riddled cockpit surrounded by primed grenades, his only hope is ejector seat from ground level.
  • Die Hard With a Vengeance – The Tube Train Explosion. Separated from Zeus for the first time, McClane cleverly locates the hidden bomb but can’t stop it exploding.  Lt. McClane remains remarkably polite throughout this process.
  • Die Hard 4.0 – The fuel lines. McClane doesn’t understand the internet (as stressed at length throughout the film) but having diffused a kung fu situation with a Jurassic Park homage riff, he quickly understands that he is at the hub of thousands of natural gas fuel pipes.

For the first three films, these Die Hard moments are definitive.  They are  often as promotional clips for the respective films, but Die Hard 4.0 bucks the trend by having its most famous action scene – the helicopter car ad lib – replace the Die Hard moment as its memorable scene.  Nifty it may be, but that stunt is not a Die Hard moment as there is precious little dying hard going on.  that there should have been is another issue.

With AGDTDH, it’s difficult to find a Die Hard moment.  This might be expected in a film where so much publicity revolves not around stunts but the highly grazed father and son standing next to each other. The final Helicopter confrontation may have made the grade, but it feels  derivative. The way it’s shot, the fact there’s a pool underneath, that it’s part of the villain’s rather strange kamikaze run… It just doesn’t make it.

4. The Second Trilogy: Die Rights and Die Wrongs

AGDTDH achieved almost universally bad reviews.  It was the first of the franchise to do so, but a little unfair. In hope that the director’s cut will cement the film’s status as not quite a disaster, the film’s main problem is that it uses the Rolling Stones’ Doom and Gloom as its end credit song. Misplaced irony if ever it appeared in a cinema.  Some people were fortunate to walk out before the end credits when I saw it.  but really, if you accept it’s not going to be Die Hard (which you really should) then it’s not all bad.  Masochistically vewing a new Die Hard film just to hero worship the first film is not only pointless but rather odd.

What A Good Day to Die Hard got right

While AGDTDH is barely a Die Hard film in comparison to the original, it actually manages to tick more boxes than you might think. Having tweet-noted the first four films as seen here I dutifully popped along to see the new film in a refreshingly child-free cinema so I could add it to the DieHardathon Nakatomi Christmas party (not on Valentine’s Day I may add). While tweet notes will have to wait, I was as pleasantly surprised as I was horrified with what unfurled during those paltry 98 minutes. AGDTDH actually registered fairly highly on the Rules of Dying Hard as follows:

  • Literal interpretation of Rules 1, 2, 4, 9 and 10
  • A little reference to Rules 3, 8 and 12
  • Very basic reference to Rule 11 and Rule 5
  • Missing in Action: Rules 6 and 7.

Shoeing in three quarters of the Rules of Dying Hard is more than expected this far into the franchise.  As the middle film in the second Die Hard trilogy it lays out its cards and in doing to, it hopefully sets up part six nicely. AGDTDH is film obsessed with aging gracefully. It’s highly reverential to the franchise itself. Within minutes there’s a joke about Frank Sinatra – of course the actor who had first refusal on the part of John McClane. It’s a joke that also neatly plays on and subverts the McClane and foreigners trope(Rule 4). Later, the rather non-descript villain henchman consciously refers to McClane as a cowboy, earning a wry smirk. This is a very forced return to the Mantle of the Hat that McClane carried three decades ago.  Shorn of its nuances, such laboured scripting may well have earned a wince instead.

Part of AGDTDH’s success within the series is its relocation to Moscow, handled far better than part four’s American vacation.  Moscow and, bizarrely, Chernobyl provide a gritty and ravaged landscape which is a step up from part four’s high tech complexes. I’m not a fan of a Die Hard film that works without a specified time limit, but the multiple location aspect was an unfortunate addition brought by the otherwise excellent Die Hard with a Vengeance. AGDTDH’s twist is alive and well and probably on a par with the third instalment. Extra points are also warranted for using the twist to mirror the McClane family lynchpin.

Because that’s what it’s all about, as the silent final scene proves. AGDTDH wants to resolve all those family issues that have been central to the franchise for years and it sets a bit of a trap for the sixth instalment in the process (Rule 2 s twisted completely).  Inevitably and eventually pairing McClane Sr with McClane Jr there’s the requisite awkward bonding and excruciatingly clichéd  father to father redemption scene, of course overheard by McClane Jr. Those scenes are always going to lull. While it’s always interesting to see the minor stretches in John McClane’s character – uncomfortable and taciturn taking to his son, all cocky machismo when a gun’ s in his face – it makes you pine all the more for when Die Hard’s emotional beats took place in the middle of the action.

And then, at one point, the unthinkable happens. McClane tells his son it’s actually been quite a good day. It’s the fruition of the Die Hard parody, but still resolutely straight-faced. It’s been a good day, and well it might be. The former trope of McClane stumbling awkwardly through everyday boredom (Christmas party, pick up from an airport, collapsed across a bar) is all gone. Here the strange opening scene in a NYPD shooting range is followed by a strangely truncated travel scene before McClane’s off – foot literally to the pedal as he tries to save his son from murder in Moscow. It’s not your average day and there’s no pretence about it. In AGDTDH, there’s no room for the rather reflective sadness of earlier films, where innocents die and the end credits cover a rather pyrrhic victory, where McClane’s body and soul is one of the main losers. Here McClane has rescued his son and together they’ve taken down some Russians.

AGDTDH quickly becomes a simple chase movie, where there’s a simple tipping point where the McClane’s take control setting time constraints of their own  – a far cry from early Die Hard films but allowing plenty of bonding time. AGDTDH’s structure may almost benefit from flashbacks if such things weren’t inherently un-Die Hard.

Fundamentally AGDTDH is a simplistic take on Die Hard, but one that wrestles with the central tenets of Rules 1 and 2. Again, the travel aspect helps, and the cold war-laden setting for the finale not only harks back to the series ‘80s roots, but also provides an ideology for the film to play with just as the first had seized on capitalism.

Crucially there are two problems with AGDTDH. One is the overt play on McClane. True, in real life he may question why these things happen to him, but then in real life it wouldn’t happen at all.  So, so confront this so obviously? Perhaps it needed to be confronted, but not in the one Die Hard film where McClane actually has to get a plane to his bad day. Along with the cowboy barbs, the film constantly tells us that McClane is the wrong guy in the wrong place. That is simply not true, as anyone who sees him with a machine gun can testify. He’s the right guy in the right place.  The wrong guy in the wrong place is surely McClane at a Nakatomi Christmas party all night if Hans Gruber’ s van had stalled…

Secondly, the fundamental Rule 6 of Die Hard is completely absent. In fact it just gets blown up with the courtroom. There is not only a lack of jobsworths, slease bags or media, but barely any Russian police – even when a Gunship totals a Moscow building. To show how important this rule is, even Die Hard 4.0 gets it right. Often authorities are exploited by the films’ villains to achieve their true goals, often in a very similar way:

  • Die Hard – Standard FBI procedure stipulates a block power shutdown, the equivalent of an EMP that releases the Nakatomi building’s sophisticated safe for Gruber’s lackeys’ waiting hands.
  • Die Hard 2 – Also part of the twist, the escalated response is of course in the villain’s hock.
  • Die Hard With a Vengeance – Procedures are used to the villain’s advantage once again.  The bomb found and then helped to detonate by McClane covers a huge heist in a nearby gold reserve. The police dutifully expect dump trucks to turn up to clear the wreckage while the bank’s alarms are disrupted by the blast.
  • Die Hard 4.0 – Possibly the neatest since the first film, a series of targeted online attacks culminates in an anthrax alert at FBI headquarters, triggering a copy of all America’s financial information to be downloaded to just one ‘secure’ facility.

One, three and four are very neat. In five, the odd high level political wrangling is obscure and its otherwise complete lacking in the escalation of authority the series was previously so dependent on.

So, considering that AGDTDH lacks authority escalation, overdoes McClane’s character parody and even lacks a definitive Die Hard moment, it’s remarkable that it registers so highly on the Rules of Dying Hard. In fact, it’s remarkable that it got so much right when its predecessor didn’t.

Where Die Hard 4.0 went wrong

Die Hard 4..0 was always going to have an upward struggle, coming 12 years after the fifth part. True to form, it was an adaptation of the script for WWW3.com. Returning to McClane so much later was one thing, but tying it to the vast world of cyber crime when its prequels had solely lived pre-internet was a step too far. However, what’s really unforgivable is that Die Hard 4.0 missed

a massive trick that’s central to the franchise.

On paper, translating the action to Washington, is a nice one, but in reality the four states solution comes up short. McClane treks to Washington DC from New York overnight – a rather problematic plot lull – and he doesn’t stay put. He then cavorts to West Virginia and two stop-offs in Maryland,  propelled by the cheap fuel of coincidence.

The series had previously constrained McClane in an LA building, Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and the entire of New York City. There was an escalation, but four states was an odd misstep. Particularly in the view of the film’s MacGuffin:  Although the internet is inherently un-Die Hard (bar the sole comedy hacker), it also captures the essence of the series.

With a foe who can control the (cyber) infrastructure of America, Die Hard 4.0 could have easily provided McClane with the largest playground but the most claustrophobic day of his life. The film does touch on the idea, but fails to deliver on a McClane whose every move is monitored and anticipated. The backdrop of the whole of the US would have neatly referenced Die Hard while continuing the location escalation in a very satisfying way. It really is one of the greatest tragedies of Die Hard; that they continued the franchise but stalled on the idea. True, it was nine years after Enemy of the State brilliantly picked up on a man’s every move under surveillance (while referencing 1970s classics such as The Conversation). But Die Hard 4.0 was also released just a year before Eagle Eye made a fairly decent stab at the same idea. Just think, that film but with Bruce Willis instead of Shia LaBeouf.

In the event, the family element of Die Hard 4.0 feels quite stuck on – and undermines the overall danger in a way his wife on a plane in part two never did. It’s as if they remembered some off the Rules of Die Hard mid-script; too late to save it. Another miss is Matt Farrell, a poor addition to the strong line of McClane allies. While Zeus’ problem solving and links to a particular school in Die Hard with a Vengeance is a stretch, in the world of cyber crime it’s all far too contrived. That’s Rules 2 and 5 diluted while Rule 1 just leaves a massive crater. McClane’s fish out of water essentials are reduced to puzzled grunts whenever firewalls are mentioned. History now records part five as the weaker and lower profit film.  While it didn’t make up for Die Hard 4.0, it showed that the Rules of Dying Hard can be massively diluted – and some pretty definitive parts of Die Hard ignored – but it can still stay on track.  That that may come to bode well.

What Part Six needs to do… Die Hardest

Willis has signed on for the sixth part of the franchise, which you can only hope will be the final instalment – and so the chance to redeem the second Die Hard trilogy and do the whole series justice. It’s a tall order, but it’s essential that the film’s creators go right back to basics, taking cues from the Rules of Dying Hard and ticking as many boxes as possible.  References to earlier parts of the series are essential, but without dipping further into parody and Bond style-invincibility. Early rumours suggest a Japanese setting and the promise of a return to a Nakatomi building is a tantalising one.  Family has to be there as does really a tip of the hat to New York. A fiendish plot and jut one location.  And it must be Christmas.  It’s been a while.

My punt?  A retired John McClane, one Christmas Eve searching desperately to get his grandson the hottest kids toy in New York’s newest state of the art mall.

Call me Fox, yippee kai call me.

James Bond: Microfilm A – Bonding Time

Bonding time

Following the complete #Bondathon that marked the enduring super-spy’s 50th birthday on film, the first of a closer look at a facet of Bond lore… And this time it’s about time. We know the world is not enough, but Bond has shown little respect for chronology either… And it#s something that may have ensured his longevity.

Nb. This article refers to the ‘modern day’ at points – that will always refer to the time contemporary to a book, film or videogame’s  release.  Also: includes spoilerific references to recent films.

ONE THING THAT ASSURES BOND’S CONTINUED ENDURANCE IS ITS REVERENCE FOR TIME; as well as its complete lack of respect for it.  Beyond the villains, gadgets and girls, think of a Bond film and it’s likely that the first one you think of is defined by a certain time.  Just as Connery is very 1960s, so Brosnan is very 1990s. Right?  Well, no – not really. Four of the six screen actors have crossed decades, each extolling the excess of various decades at points.  Still, the decade-a-Bond-idea remains the general consensus through Q Branch multi-tinted sunglasses.

Any long-running franchise is liable to become an indicator of time – and by doing so it’s at risk of parodying itself.  In a wise series that will trigger a responsiveness to the contemporary and while that will extend its life it will also increase its date-ability.  It’s difficult to say when the Bond franchise became conscious of this, but it’s likely that it was 1971’s Diamonds are Forever.  Not only does that film look wholly early 1970s compared to Connery’s 1960s films but, not coincidentally, it was the start proper of the post-SPECTRE films. In the Bond universe, that equates to post-Cold War.  In less than a decade, Bond had removed itself from 1960s espionage and when the Cold War later returned to the franchise it was in a far different form of détente. Just two years and one film after Connery’s swan song, Live and Let Die was happily picking up on contemporary exploitation cinema trends; Bond had become a hero out of time and was far more defined by culture.

Not all franchises lend themselves to both a chronological and random retrospective but with Bond all bets are off.  Any way you look at the 23 canon films, different facets of its simultaneously dated timelessness are clear.

Continuity

Of course, any franchise lasting 50 years struggles to sustain continuity let alone consistency, so if there are any hopes for longevity you might as well not start with any.  It was that hope of longevity that led the Bond producers to opt for Sean Connery over a more established actor like Cary Grant in the early 1960s.  That and, perhaps, a spot of money.

Despite those optimistic intentions and no doubt thanks to the rapid production of the initial four films between 1962 and 1965, the first five Connery films are fairly consistent. Cast, structure and logic suggest a chronology.  Where there are exceptions – such as the constant recasting of Felix Leiter – it adds a neat trick: although accent and manner changes, as you never knew who the American in the sharp suit was film-makers could repeat the same ‘is he a villain, oh not it’s just Felix’ ruse each time.  Very early on, Bond was a franchise very aware of itself and its pulp strengths.

Reboot on the other foot

The only time consistency and chronology can be said to have been a real concern was Bond on film’s most substantial reboot: Casino Royale(2005), which brought Daniel Craig to the role.  In the film we not only saw Bond claim his requisite two kills to gain his Double-O status, but also the origin of the iconic barrel sequence.  To think all those years…  We were looking at a toilet.

Having established Craig’s as ‘brand new Bond’, learning the ropes became very much a part of the story.  The internal logic led to the first semi-sequel in the franchise, the not entirely successful Quantum of Solace (2008), which was effectively a (very) long coda to Casino Royale.

But Casino Royale, for all its self-conscious reboot, was hardly risky nor unexpected.  After the Brosnan era broke through the 1990s into what looked like the ridiculous 21st century of Die Another Day (2002), there were shaken and stirred calls for a strong shot of realism.  Bond’s issues were many, but a clear one seemed to be the popular and gritty Bourne franchise.  Bourne was darker and ‘realistic’, chucking convoluted plots at the audience from the shadows while Bond was… Surfing CGI icebergs.  At the time, as I completely omitted in my overview of the Craig years, there was some weight to the idea that Bond’s appropriate course of action was to reset to the 1960s.  This would create a neat Bond-esque universe, where the superspy could flex his dinner jacket in both a heightened fictional, stylish and dramatically constrained environment.

The early 21st century was not, of course, the first time that the franchise had found its authority threatened at the cinema and each time its response was the same.  There was the aforementioned exploitation cash-in of the superb Live and Let Die, but also the Star Wars cash-in of the utterly brilliant/truly awful Moonraker.  Later, when 80s actioners had taken a fair amount of 007’s market share, Bond produced the harder edged utterly brilliant/truly awful License to Kill.  In the event, it was perhaps no surprise that Bond once again took to mimicking aspects of his closest competitor at the time.

The results of this Bourned-up Bond were rather good.  However, it did mean the chance for a 1960s period Casino Royale were gone – for some decades at least.  Quite why the 1960s felt synonymous with Bond rather than the 1950s I don’t know.  I presume it’s down to the still romanticised fug of the 1960s; a heyday of optimism as much of it seemed, between the war-shocked latter rationing of the 1950s and three day weeks of the early 1970s.  It was also shorthand to both de-modernise and evoke the heyday of Connery.  But those people who thought Connery was a way to escape gadgets clearly hadn’t seen Thunderball (1965) or You Only Live Twice (1967) recently.

Bond. Period. James Bond

Considering Bond as a period creation is interesting.  It’s partly the antithesis of his continuing (and now actually growing) popularity.  Period settings are a difficult concept to define, particularly for literary characters very much created by the film age.  It seems obvious, but it’s a cultural paradox:  When Bogart first played Marlowe it was contemporaneous, and ultimately definitive.  If Chandler’s books hadn’t been filmed for 20 years, any attempt to recreate noir would have been as ostensibly period as they are now.  Despite the rather good 70s-set Long Goodbye, an adaptation of a 1950s book, anyone seeking to bring Marlowe into the early 21st century would find a good many people choke on their Camel cigarettes.  Watch when it next happens.

It’s worth noting that there are technological concerns, but only to a point.  The arrival of the internet and mobile phones should simply lay down new challenges for writers to overcome, not necessitate a cheap and cynical reboot.  It’s a situation many franchises, including Die Hard have had to accommodate.  Harry Potter (which in the book world concluded in 1997 – he’s slightly older than me, yes!) – was written in a pre-universal internet and mobile world, but of course had a rather nifty and magical get out in any event. A huge swathe of Hitchcok’s ouevre wouldn’t work structurally post-1995 – but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t make the same genre now.

The rather nice snobbery between literature, theatre and film has a microcosm in films that modernise Shakespeare. He was a bard not afraid to modernise any number of stories himself, but repeat the trick and there will be guaranteed umbrage to some degree. While such a comparison is overstated, it serves to show that Bond has never really been modernised, nor Fleming by association.  Arguably since the beginning, and certainly since 1971, Bond has existed in roughly the year that each film was released.  Oddly, this is slightly skewed by the franchise’s penchant for instantly seizing on new tech and placing it in any given film, such as jet skis or Little Nelly.  That part of the franchise almost made it super-contemporary and again, ripe for parody.

The Spy Immortal

Bond’s main gift to himself in abandoning reality is his unique and earned quality to either respect or completely abandon chronology as it sees fit.  This is so sewn into its fabric that it’s almost pointless to show us any kind of Bond Begins.  It’s a set of circumstance that would be hard to repeat in a franchise today – unless the many comic book reboots development at the moment signal an attempt. Bond’s real schism came in 1969 when producers decided to quite blatantly abandon continuity in response to the arrival of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Having foisted the world’s largest film set on the world in You Only Live Twice, producer Harry Saltzman took control of the reins for Lazenby’s debut – and what proved to be his finale.  The result was one of the most faithful Fleming adaptations ever put on film. As with Casino Royale 36 years latter, the respect to Fleming paid off however, it also distorted the chronology. A film series that had been relatively faithful up to that point had now shown the first meeting of Bond and Blofeld in two successive films.

Along with Lazenby’s rather self-aware opening one-liner, avid Bond audiences must have been rather non-plussed in ’69. Perhaps even more so when Connery returned in 1971 and, despite his single-minded pursuit of Blofeld, M and Moneypenny keep giving the recent widower short shrift for his ‘time off’ (of course, this is because the producers had decided to quietly remove the under-performing OHMSS frm history).  A decade later, Moore would gain his revenge on (presumably) Blofeld  and lay flowers at the grave of his deceased wife Tracy (d.1969, “we have all the time in the world” – of course, by now the producers had to acknowledge just how bloody good OHMSS was).  In the last 20 years, there hasn’t been such obtuse chronology, but the last three films do suggest that Bond has also had two fiirst meetings with Dench’s M.

Pulp Hero

 


The changing audiences of the past 50 years raise another interesting point.  There are no doubt very few people who have avidly attended each Bond screening since Dr No(1962).  When that film arrived in cinemas however, there’s a good chance that a large proportion of those cinemagoers had at least leafed through a Bond book.  Conversely, of the many who contributed to Skyfall’s (2012) billion dollar haul, I suspect very few of them have sampled Bond on page.  Bond has steadily become a predominantly cinema-based beast in a way that the far more photographed Sherlock Holmes hasn’t. In some ways that’s opened up a new facet in the Bond universe.  While  Bond has seen many successors take on his character on the page over the years – Kingsley Amis and John Gardner are notable – recently prestigious single- entry authors have taken up the mantle with a noticeably freer rein than was previously possible.  Sebastian Faulks wrote as Fleming for his 1960s set Devil May Care, while Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche found Bond spying in the modern day.  For his upcoming addition Solo, William Boyd has chosen 1969.  The latter is described as the ‘classic Bond era’; though marking the 60th anniversary of Casino Royale’s publication, it seems that the 1960s remain definitive.

Microdots

 


That has also been a safe assumption on the videogame side of the franchise.  Having taken over the Bond videogame rights in the late 1990s and achieved a rather lukewarm reception, EA turned back to the 1960s in 2005 – just a year before Casino Royale rebooted in the ‘modern day’.  The result was an interesting experiment, a videogame adaptation of From Russia With Love (with added jetpack and DB5) which achieved the rather spectacular feat of enticing Sean Connery back for voice-over duties.  As with the film, my namesake Matt Monro was sadly absent from the main theme.  The game sold over 250,000 copies and then the franchise rights moved on to Activision.

A later #Bondathon microfilm will focus on four particular video games in the Bond canon, but there is one example that is worth mentioning here. It shows a notable blending of Bond’s disregard for time and also how he is characterised in it.  In 2010 Activision remade the legendary and oh-so Brosnan GoldenEye videogame, this time utilising Craig’s Bond and with a new script by original film writer Bruce Feirstein.  Despite being made just 15 years after the original, certain plot changes were deemed necessary.  Boris the hacker was completely removed as hackers were considered… Well, there’s probably one looking at you right now.  Also, villain Trevelyan no longer had a Cossack blood vendetta – the Second World War was just too far past.  Feel old now.  Into this came Craig’s take on Bond.  there were no one-liners as such and most tellingly, while Brosnan’s Bond bungee jumped from a dam, the hard as nails blonde version just jumped off it.

In essence, the reason cinematic Bond endures is that early on he was positioned as a caricature.  Rarely dwelling into past or personal life beyond broad and blunt character points – Orphan, Oxford, SAS – he is simply a set of spy ideals.  It helps that he was rather conflicted creation from the beginning, sitting on the cusp of Empire (resolutely un-historic on screen: Jamaica actually gained its independence between the production and release of Dr No – a film where Bond is neither a member of OSS nor Mi6, but Mi7); 50 years on he is still a fulfilment of traits that responds in an expected set of ways. Yes, the old archetypal superman.  While each Bond adds a different facet, it’s just like watching Bond at different points of time, irrespective of the plot, location or actor.  Viewed this way, Bond is more than capable of both earning his Double-O and being stripped down as a Cold-War throwback by Dench’s M.  This broad stroke ‘type’ is of course also true of the franchise’s supporting characters, from Q to the gender-shifting M to the never gender-shifting Moneypenny.  It’s something the film creators are certainly not afraid to play with.  When Craig repeat’s Connery’s ‘You must be joking’ to Q in Skyfall it’s an in-joke and continuity tool, much as the same as it would be between Doctors in Dr Who.

So where are we with Skyfall?  The answer is just about anywhere you want.

Retreating back to Whitehall,  Bond has reclaimed the shadows that Bourne so successfully borrowed, but in a strong and terribly British way.   For me, it’s tempting to think that Bond has just started working for Bernard Lee’s M, just in the form of Ralph Fiennes (it’s the horse painting). Of course, Bernard Lee’s M would never have been held captive by the IRA in real continuity.  Similarly, the modified DB8 seen earlier suggests that Goldfinger took place before Skyfall and far enough back in time that it could be just after Quantum (it adds a slightly different nuance to Bond’s discovery of golden girl Jill Masterson if he found Strawberry Fields oiled-up  –  too crude!? –  just months previously) .  In any event we still have a  Bond under the shadow of Vespa rather than Tracy.  That kind of broad theme swap is about as complex as we could hope for… Or want.  In the Bond universe, time remains a movable and conflicting feast, but all the characters and what they represent remain consistent within it.

Currently I’m adding the earlier part of GoldenEye, Dr No and probably From Russia With Love in between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.  SPECTRE and Quantum be damned; they can fight about it amongst themselves.  A Bond villain remains a Bond villain whether they’re collecting stolen nuclear warheads from beneath a volcano, remotely hacking the head of Mi6 or operating a dubious newspaper from a stealth boat.

And long may it continue.

James Bond: Everyone Needs a Hobby – Craig #Bondathon

Craig Bonds

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)
SkyFall (2012)

CRAIG #BONDATHON ON STORIFY

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!

James Bond: Just a Professional doing a Job – Brosnan #Bondathon

The fifth Storified set of ‘Tweet notes’ for each film in a complete (canon) Twitter #Bondathon leading up to the release of Skyfall and the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Typos as guaranteed as terrible one-liners.

FEW ACTORS HAVE HOVERED AROUND THE BOND ROLE WHILE SO NEARLY MISSING OUT.  But the fall of Bond movie profits and the inevitable legal issues that the early 1990s brought actually did Pierce Brosnan a favour. After contractual obligations forced him out of the running in 1987, he was able to make a superb entrance in 1995 and with that history it’s no surprise that when he put on the tux, it fitted like a glove. His Bond was the best of everything.  Ruthless but professional, a dead-shot and a wit.  Oddly, his hit the psychopathic brink more than any other while still delivering more one-liners than Roger Moore.

It’s rather a shame that Craig’s era looks likely to obliterate Brosnan’s.  True it’s dated quite considerably, but its main problem was one that had blighted the franchise before.  Roger’s Moore’s debut was a cool and confident one which, while it dated quickly, set a new direction for the series.  While Brosnan didn’t fall into the same trap of a lame second film, it only took him three films for the bar to rise beyond ridiculous.  The World is not Enough is a fairly preposterous epic, caught up with the Mi6 family that the Brosnan era honed, wonderfully filmed though it is.  Even there, the Scottish segments bring the Casino Royale spoof to mind.  However, it was Die Another Day that administered a death blow that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.  It’s pure science-fiction involving DNA manipulation and invisible cars.  Even in the heightened reality Brosnan era, it just ‘looked’ like sci-fi.

It really was a crushing disappointment, not least because it came with all the bluster of the 40th anniversary.  And as for the Technicolor CGI surfing… Well…

But perhaps this rapid shark jumping was unavoidable.  The franchise always had to cater for and respond to changes in the real world as well as the cinematic one.  And here, while cinema success was never in doubt, the reality posed a real problem.  The Brosnan films had to cope with the arrival of mobile phones and the internet, killer blows to any a spy franchise that couldn’t ignore them.  Hoisted on its own techni-petard, a return to Fleming was the only sensible option – they even toyed with setting it in the 1960s – and Brosnan was never given the chance to redeem it.  After Die Another Day, actually Brosnan aided his exit by constantly pushing for a Casino Royale adaptation directed by Tarantino.  That sounded good and, well, he was half right…

GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World is not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)

BROSNAN #BONDATHON ON STORIFY

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