James Bond: “Choose your next witticism carefully…” Goldfinger turns 50

Sean Connery Goldfinger

50 years since the Goldfinger was released… More than just another excuse to watch not only the most iconic Bond film, but also his most irresistible. This si surely the major golden anniversary for James Bond…

WHEN GOLDFINGER WENT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN THE UK, 50 YEAR’S AGO THIS WEEK, WHAT WERE AUDIENCES EXPECTING? Following the colonial titling and crime procedural of Dr No and the cold war intrigue of From Russia with Love, which direction would the superspy’s third outing in three years take?

Goldfinger’s film adaptation retains many plot points from Ian Fleming’s original novel of course, despite twisting the ending to a far more ingenious scheme.  But the film’s classic status has far less to do with the well documented changes made to its source and far more to do with the elements it introduced to the Bond cinematic film universe; elements that not only entertained those cinema-goers, but came to define the series. Read more…

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

James Bond: You Should Have Brought Lilies: Dalton #Bondathon

The fourth 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 a cigarette in Q Branch.

WHAT A SCARY GUY THIS BOND IS. Even the way he says the word ‘that’ in his first tip of a hat to a one-liner… This guys is hard as nails, physically nasty, bloody quick with a gun and full of ruthless ideas.  Do not mess, generally.  Do not mess.  Or he’ll actually steal your cigarettes.

Dalton is probably still edging it as the closest screen representation of Fleming’s Bond.  Unlike Moore, he relished the nastiness of the character but was also able to effortlessly switch to romance mode.  There are significant benefits to having a brilliant actor on board but more important perhaps was the physicality.  Almost every stunt scene has Dalton acting the fall guy, a considerable leap forward from Sir Rog.  He’s also more sweary and takes a beating – to a staggering level in Licence to Kill.

In other scenes, Dalton’s  all round chemistry is brilliant – it’s just a bit of a shame that his Bond girls were all round  a little tenuous.  This Bond is clearly an established spy;  one who’s bloody good at his job and respected for it.  Unfortunately we never see him in naval uniform although he’s called Commander more than any other iteration in Licence to Kill.  His knowledge of global politics is significant and his loyalty to his peers palpable –  often resulting in revenge of some sort.  That said, this Bond has a cordial relationship with Russians when necessary, a strong relationship with Q there is even a welcome return to a fatherly/one-upmanship relationship with M.

Off screen, The Living Daylights  was evidently a shot in the arm for all involved.  It has a sense of spectacle, cinematography and fine plotting that had been missing fro the series for some time. As film-making, it’s by far John Glen’s finest directorial effort.  As the Cold War melted, it had the nouse to dip back into espionage as almost a last hurrah. It brought back Fleming’s world of SMERSH, a concept that even the 60s had barely touched on, instead veering towards the Volcano bases of SPECTRE.  It really isn’t an understatement to say that The Living Daylights is not only the best Bond film of the 80s, but probably the strongest Bond since the 60s.

The reach for authenticity in the Dalton era has been skewed by Craig’s current reign.  Licence to Kill, for all its reputation, actually features a higher number of one-liners than The Living Daylights, but is popularly regarded as Bond getting too serious. Aside from the hiatus that followed, the real problem seemed to be the merging of Bond’s greatest defence mechanism (exploitation) with a quest for realism. It surfaced as excess.  While it’s a knee-jerk response to cinema trends (80s American action films) was the same as Live and Let Die or Moonraker responding to popular, contemporary genres, Licence to Kill carries it through every part of the film. Villain, plot, score, location, script – all of it shouted 1980s action film.  Bond the Brit could feel particularly out of place there, but Dalton’s solidly angry performance carries it off. the problem was that the 80s actioner was already past its best in 1989.

The two years between Dalton the films saw the sharpest shift in cinema since 1977, and this time Bond came off worse.  There were hints in 1987, but while the superb The Living Daylights beat off Lethal Weapon and Die Hard convincingly, Licence to Kill was rather crushed by their respective sequels as well as the Connery starring Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and especially Batman.  It wasn’t a sea change at the box office, more obliteration. While Batman featured an older fictional character than Bond, it signalled a new kind of blockbuster mentality that persists today.

Arriving alongside this was a new introspection.  By the late 1980s, the critical reaction to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had completed its 180 flip and duly provides a strong backbone to Dalton’s final performance and the plot’s storyline of revenge – if only it had been You Only Live Twice.  In that respect, not only was the loss of Dalton a shame, but also the hiatus that ground this momentum to a halt.

The second wayward son of the franchise, Dalton gets a rather unfair wrap in general, even two Bond’s later.  On many levels he’s at the head of the pack if not leading, but he’s undone by the fact that his tenure lasted only two films.  Perhaps his greatest function was to act as a perfect 80s segue between the financially successful Moore and Brosnan eras.  Think Licence to Kill is misguided?  Perhaps.  But its shadow certainly hangs over the Craig era: from the license revocation scene in Quantum of Solace through to the spy’s back-story and even the gun optical palm reader in Skyfall

Dalton really was the difficult middle child of the franchise, but like the short-lived Lazenby before him, that legacy is larger than the screen-time suggests.

The Living Daylights (1987)
Licence to Kill (1989)

DALTON #BONDATHON ON STORIFY

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