Warning: I’ll be getting into a very thorough discussion of Skyfall here, on the presumption that you’ve already seen it. If you haven’t, take in my non-spoilery review of Skyfall first, then go and watch the damn thing, then come back.
Is it really two years since this all started? Two years since BlogalongaBond became a thing, and without which I wouldn’t have sat and watched
a Bond film a month for two years Bond films at increasingly random and desperate intervals. (It also wouldn’t have spawned goggle-eyed love child BlogalongaMuppets, but that’s another story, one to be told halfway up the stairs.) I set out to prove that Bond films have had an unerring effect on each other and also on cinema in general, that fifty years of history have developed a template from which Bond films are now almost able to be produced like vodka martini flavoured jelly from an Aston Martin DB5 shaped mould. So for a series of articles based on what the future effect of a series of films has been, how the chuntering thunderballs do I write about a film that’s only been out a week? In the words of our very own M, The Incredible Suit, “you didn’t think this through, did you?”
First, I’m going to distract you with a review of what’s gone before, and some Bond Legacy stats. I’ve been back over the past 22 Bond Legacy posts, and totted up that I found 91 legacies in total, all of which can either be felt in effect in subsequent Bonds or in cinema in general. I then worked out, giving the slight benefit of the doubt to two or three borderline cases, the number of that 91 which can be seen in Skyfall. Here’s what I found:
So out of 22 previous Bonds, eighteen have an element in them which was seen for the first time in a Bond film, but reoccurs in Skyfall. Out of the 91 total legacies, 48 can be seen in some way, shape or form in the film itself or the surrounding hype and marketing. That’s now one heck of a formula. If we’re trying to find the most influential Bond films, then clearly From Russia With Love and Goldfinger continue to set the pattern, sharing 13 legacies between them, although in terms of percentages, it’s the last two Brosnan films that have a 100% record, followed by Dr. No at 80%, and four Bond films (Moonraker, Octopussy, Tomorrow Never Dies and Quantum Of Solace) have no identifiable element unique originally to them which appears again here. Sadly, the wait for another double-taking pigeon goes on.
Of those 48, some are more influential than others, no doubt the increasing desperation of me in small part to keep the theme going all the way to the end. If you’re looking for a formula, though, then I’ve picked out the top third of that list for a slightly more detailed look.
1. Dr. No: Product placement. Lots and lots of really, really obvious product placement.
Yes, product placement has been in place ever since Dr No, but instead of a small British production company run by two ex-pat Yanks, we now have one of the biggest studios in the world protecting its profit margins by putting a brand on everything that isn’t nailed down, and a few things that are. But it has been, and always will be, a friend to Bond, and at least Daniel Craig hasn’t had to resort to making any dreadful commercials. Much.
2. Dr. No: The theme tune. Dum-ba-da-ba-dum-bum-duma-dum-ba-da-ba-dum-ba-da-da-BAAAAA-ba-ba-ba…
There are two regular Bond themes, one which makes an appearance in every film in some form – and be aware, Eric Serra, if you don’t put it in they’ll hire someone who will – and Thomas Newman takes the opportunity to sprinkle the theme liberally through the score. It won’t go down as one of the great Bond scores as it’s a little generic, but it feeds enough Bondy moments to soothe the senses rather than angering them.
3. From Russia With Love: First appearance of Q. Now pay attention, 007…
One of the biggest problems for twenty-first century Bond has been how to fill the void left by Desmond Llewellyn’s portrayal of the man who ensures Bond has manly guns and a good supply of exploding toothpaste. Ben Whishaw’s Q is a reinvention for the 21st century, happy to give Bond a gun and a radio and do all of the techy stuff himself, leaving Bond more the blunt instrument than ever. I don’t want a return to invisible cars, but it would be nice if the tech department could give Bond some more gadgets next time for, y’know, actual spying?
4. From Russia With Love: Bond soundtrack pattern. The case of the mysterious Wendy Crumbles.
I do think Adele was the right choice for a Bond theme (although I’d still like to hear what Muse could do with it; sadly my dream of the Manic Street Preachers performing one is probably now long gone). However, there is one big issue with that theme; many of the best soundtracks, from either John Barry, David Arnold or the occasional greats from others, take either the opening or closing title song and weave it through the score. But Paul Epworth’s orchestration for Adele’s song is so Bond-based in the first place, when the orchestral version of the title track kicks in as Bond enters Macau kicks in it feels as if the film is about to disappear up its own arse. Also, Adele’s lyrics are sometimes incomprehensible – I cannot now hear the track without thinking about the infamous Wendy Crumbles – and she also seems to be shoehorning in references to what Lolcats would think of Bond. Zat Skyfallz, indeed.
5. From Russia With Love: Bad guy with a hidden face. Hidden in plain sight, it seems.
Now here’s an interesting wrinkle on an old chestnut. Blofeld’s face was hidden out of sight for the first two and a half films he was in, building up to a big reveal. We see Javier Bardem’s gurning blond mug after just over an hour, but it’s not until he discusses the effects of his poisoning and removes half his face that we see the true nature of evil. One of the most satisfying and disturbing moments of the otherwise saggy middle of this Bond.
6. Goldfinger: Evil plans that defy rational explanation.
“So James, here’s my plan while I touch the inside of your thigh. I’m going to steal a hard drive which you’ll only fail to take back when one of your own team shoots you by mistake, which I’ll then use to moderately threaten the government of a former world power. I’ll then let you kill my rather dull henchman, allowing you to track him down via his gambling habit and then I’ll have a woman seduce you to bring you to my run down lair who I’ll later shoot for no reason. But it’s fine, because I know that even though you’ve failed your physical and mental tests at MI6 after being repeatedly shot, you’ll be good enough to capture me with perfectly timed helicopters, where you’ll take me back to your base so I can then escape again and kill my old boss in front of anyone watching dull government boards of enquiry on satellite news channels. If anyone tries to prevent my escape, probably you, then I’ll drop a Tube train on their head. This is all because I hate my old boss. I will then probably forget all about the other secret information I’ve stolen.”
“Really? Her flat is really easy to break into. I break in and sit in the dark all the time. Sometimes it’s hours before she comes home.”
7. Goldfinger: The coolest car in the world. Unless you get excited by VW Beetles.
One of the biggest gripes of nerds who need to get out more – in other words, people just like me – is that we get a brand new Bond who acquires a brand new Aston Martin in Casino Royale, but it appears he still has the fully kitted out one, with machine guns and ejector seat, in a dodgy lock-up in London somewhere. The look he gives when Silva blows it up, though, is priceless, and it’s good to see the man still has priorities. However, if he doesn’t get Q to kit out the one he won in Casino Royale with all the same gadgets, I’d be astonished; I’m willing to bet the winnings of a high stakes poker game that’s not the last we’ve seen of the Aston.
8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Bond’s complex relationship with women, especially closest to him. If this is a male fantasy, it’s not one I’ve had often.
Casino Royale was the first time that Bond didn’t end up with the girl. In this one, there are three main women; one who shoots him, and is so generally incompetent she has nothing better to do than to go halfway around the world to give Bond a wet shave before eventually taking a job as a glorified PA; one a a former sex slave who Bond immediately shags, then tosses off a casual witticism in an attempt to look cool around the lads when she’s shot in the head, and the third who’s become virtually a surrogate mother to him over the past three / seven films, he fails miserably to protect from becoming ever so slightly more dead. Good work, James.
9. Diamonds Are Forever: The increase in poor quality jokes. A secret agent walks into a bar…
When Bond hit the Seventies, it went from a spy adventure with occasional titting about in the bosses’ office and the lab to a full on gagfest with gags that left much to be desired. Poor old Roger Moore gets the stick, somewhat unfairly, for a lot of that, but Skyfall was too much of a compensation to the humourless and dry Quantum Of Solace on a couple of occasions; if there’s a version available on Blu-ray that doesn’t have any of the stupid scenes in the Underground, I’ll happily buy it.
10. Live And Let Die: The use of swearing to look proper hard. Language, Timothy!
Live And Let Die had the first “holy shit!” of the series, and Dami Judi kept up the PG swearing in Quantum before letting rip with the first ever F-bomb here. When driving home afterwards, Mrs Evangelist felt that an opportunity for the Denchmeister to let rip with a full, hard 18 rating torrent of f-, c-, m- and possibly even q- words was now sadly lost forever (her suggestion of “c***tacular almost caused me to drive off the road). Maybe Fiennes will be up for it.
11. For Your Eyes Only: The regeneration game. It’s all the same to me.
Despite a constant need to reinvent itself, up until the Craig Bonds the series did its best to maintain that this was always the same secret agent, who with the best will in the world would either now be into his mid-Seventies or going into carbon-freeze in between missions, so that Moore, Dalton and Brosnan all at various points mourned the loss of Tracy, even though technically none of them married her. Or did they? Skyfall takes this a step further, and goes out of its way to suggest that this is the same Bond we’ve always had, we just saw him get his first two kills six years ago, but somehow he’s magically earned fifty years’ worth of backstory. I look forward to John Logan’s next two films telling us the story of how Bond won World Wars 1 and 2 single-handedly.
12. A View To A Kill: The game’s the thing. Although I always preferred Sonic myself.
Yes, continuing a trend that started with A View To A Kill, there is game content available so that you can pretend to be the world’s greatest secret agent in the comfort of your own living room. The 007 Legends game has DLC (that’s downloadable content to anyone over 35) relating to Skyfall, which means you too can play as Patrice or Eve Moneypenny if you’ve got a PS3, each character having their own special gifts. (In Moneypenny’s case, it’s light typing and not being able to shoot straight. It does make the game really hard to finish in one sitting.)
13. The Living Daylights: Putting the (re-)boot in.
Despite all being one interconnected story, somehow the Bonds manage to reboot themselves every couple of films, with each new actor giving a different take on the same character, even though it’s regularly made explicit that this is the same character all the time. (Bond’s shrink must be on a massive retainer.) This is the third and most egregious Bond reboot of the last three films, with us now getting a new version practically every time, and this time we appear to have been rebooted right to the end of 1964. From shunning all of the trappings of the character and using a stripped down version, by the end of this film we now are totally in Bondage again; let’s try to stay there for the next one, and keep our hands off the reboot button, shall we?
14. Goldeneye: A relic of the Cold War.
Goldeneye was the first film where Bond had to justify his own existence; Skyfall takes that a step further and asks all of MI6 to state its place in the world. Dame Judes does this by rocking up at a hearing and, rather than making detailed statements about policy or effectiveness, just quoting some Alfred Tennyson. Classy.
15. Tomorrow Never Dies: No material from the novels.
Skyfall has to once again rely on an original plot, for most of the novels and short stories have now been adapted and there’s little to draw on. Significantly, one thing that Skyfall does do is delve deeper into Bond’s past, featuring the ancestral home and even the gravestone of his departed parents. Maybe future instalments will tap further into this peripheral history of Bond; for example, after his parents lost their lives, young Bond went to live with his aunt, Charmian Bond, in the village of Pett Bottom, and if that’s not an open goal waiting to be scored, I don’t know what is.
16. Die Another Day: The anniversary waltz.
After Die Another Day clumsily shoehorned in references to the rest of the series, including Q having Rosa Klebb’s shoe from From Russia With Love in his workshop, Skyfall imbues the golden film and diamond book anniversaries with some more subtle nods to the rest of the series and a few other tips of the hat, including Bond’s favourite whisky, a 1962 vintage. The going rate for a bottle of that make and era would set you back around £1,250 these days; if that’s how well being a spy pays, where do I sign up?
So, as you can see, the template is well in force; these are just a sampling of the most significant, but there are over 30 other cultural references from the Bond series that are in some way to be seen in or around Skyfall. Given that Bond films could now just recycle that for evermore, without ever having to invent anything new – and if the initial box office is anything to go by, they could do that very well – what will be the enduring legacies of Skyfall when we come to look back in a few years’ time? I thought I’d have a go at picking out four of the most likely things that crop up in Skyfall that we might see again someday.
1. China in your hand: I think we’ll see more trips to China
Bond’s been to Chinese territories before, including Macau and Hong Kong, and also to Chinese waters, but Skyfall marks the first time the series has been set in actual proper China. Following an increasing trend of films to have Chinese set sequences, and building off the back of the significant increase in box office that Quantum saw in the Chinese territories, it’s a big market which the Bond films will have to be increasingly creative if they’re going to continue to exploit. But one thing which Bond’s never done on screen is active military service in time of war; maybe if rumours of a two part story are true (even though Craig’s said they aren’t, but after Naomie Harris no-one’s going to believe anything any of them ever say again), then maybe Bond could infiltrate China as they look to take on other big world powers like the USA, Russia and Papua New Guinea? (All right, and Britain.)
2. Bond might be keeping the British end up in more ways than one
In the pivotal scene when Bond and Silva first meet, Silva makes some suggestive comments to Bond, only for Bond to dismiss the idea that it would be his first time. We’ve seen Bond take down any woman in his path, but the closest he’s come to bedding a minger is Grace Jones. What if Bond really had to suck it up for queen and country, and bed a woman with a face like a hippo’s arse? Or maybe Bond’s sexuality is actually a little more complex than we’ve all been led to believe, and actually he could bed both women and men on the path to world domination? The possibilities are potentially endless, and the template might have to be edged rather than pushed, but we live in more enlightened times and Bond’s bed hopping is one area ripe for further exploration now his psyche and his family have been laid barer.
3. Techno techno techno techno: Q Branch will keep the gadgets to themselves
The Bonds have moved further into the world of techno-terrorism, with Q Branch seemingly less keen to spend their cash on gadgets for dunderheaded spies and more keen to buy rooms full of servers and dodgy Sony Vaios. I give it about four Bond films before James loses it completely and tries to eradicate all of the world’s geeks to take us back to the dark ages, when men were men and women were, er, women. (Genuinely don’t know where I was going with that.) But cybercrime looks to be the way of the future, as long as it can be made to look interesting on screen.
4. The look of love: Skyfall could be the dawn of the auteur Bond
I’ve already mentioned it a lot across the three Skyfall-related posts I’ve written, but Skyfall was the best Bond visually by every one of the country miles between London and Scotland. Now that big names in their fields such as Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins have been allowed loose, and other contributors such as second time editor Stuart Baird and composer Thomas Newman have had their say, that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson will have the confidence to let others loose. I will go to bed tonight dreaming that a Nolan / Pfister Bond may one day become a reality. (With a David Arnold score, of course.)
And that’s it. I don’t think I missed any significant legacies, although there were probably a few minor moments that slipped my gaze, and if I watched the whole lot again, maybe that fresh insight would leap out. (Not for a few years, though.) Still, if you’ve spotted a genuine legacy I’ve missed, then get commenting, always keen to receive feedback from my readers, which is normally people telling me where I’ve gone wrong. Why break the habit of a lifetime?
Next time: Bond returns in two years in Bond 24. The increasingly shorter titles to allow for Twitter hashtags and the like suggest Risico of the remaining titles, although equally short alternative options might be Bang, Phwoar or Oof. So, see you in 2014 for Oof, then.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day / Casino Royale / Quantum Of Solace
Go deeper for the full BlogalongaBond experience, courtesy of The Incredible Suit.
Science is well on the way to answering most of life’s great questions. Thankfully, science hasn’t yet found a way to take care of some of life’s more trivial matters, such as applying rigorous techniques to putting a series of motion pictures featuring the same central character into increasing order of quality, based on nothing more than personal preference. Whether he’s simply a violent, prurient escapist male fantasy taken to extremes, or actually the embodiment of everything desirable about popular culture wrapped up in a smart suit ordering cocktails, I’m still not quite sure after all this time, but at least watching all 23 films has enabled me to gain the gratification of ranking them into some sort of order.
Here is the list of all 23 official EON Bond films, in increasing order of competence. In case you are wondering, I loathe Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again, so they wouldn’t make a top 23 with a wider scope anyway. (Ha.)
23. A View To A Kill
Diamonds might be forever, but every Bond should know when it’s time to pack it in and hand over the Walther to the next fellow. AVTAK is a poor film in almost ever respect; Christopher Walken is weird but never menacing, Grace Jones is menacing but never sexy, Tanya Roberts is so anonymous her own family might struggle to recognise her and most of the rest is either old men toddling around the French countryside or one old man clambering about laboriously in various parts of California. We should all be relieved that this embarrassment didn’t kill the franchise stone dead.
22. Die Another Day
If this had actually been made as a cartoon, some people would still have griped over the lack of realism. Die Another Day sets itself up as a gritty, realistic take in the style of the films that followed it, then abandons that for abysmal CGI, charmless direction and a grating Madonna cameo. Your ears will feel abused listening to the Madonna song, not even the slightest fit for the opening credits, the bad guys are wet and their plan nonsensical and Halle Berry is less sexy here than she is in just about anything outside of Monster’s Ball. I have less of an issue with the invisible car than most people, but it’s still daft as a box of frogs.
Not so much bad as just eyeball-clenchingly dull, Sean Connery’s obvious ennui already after four films in four years and the unfortunate fact that Kevin McClory has to be involved after Ian Fleming handled their script badly doesn’t do anyone any favours. Sequences underwater which could have been exciting instead become interminable, and although it’s not one of the longer Bonds it certainly feels like it. The fact that Connery then signed up to the unofficial remake should make him and everyone else ashamed, and we can only be thankful that Kevin McClory’s passing spared any of the other Bonds a similar fate.
There are large stretches of Octopussy that are worse than anything in Thunderball, but it gets more credit with me for at least putting in some effort. The opening and closing airborne set-pieces are largely satisfying, Louis Jourdan is a suitably smarmy villain and the East German scenes do generate at least a modicum of tension. Roger Moore is by now in full-on arched eyebrow mode and Maud Adams is less effective here than she was in The Man With The Golden gun, but Octopussy isn’t a ride entirely without entertainment or intrigue.
19. Diamonds Are Forever
Anyone who thinks that the transformation of Bond into a more light-hearted, less ruthless entertainment vehicle rather than a cold-blooded killer who had any woman he wants started with Roger Moore obviously hasn’t watched Diamonds Are Forever in a while. It’s a Roger Moore type of film, and not a great one at that, in every sense other than its star, with yet another, increasingly uninteresting, version of Blofeld and Jill St. John’s brash, stroppy Bond girl being at time the cinematic equivalent of nails down a blackboard. The only real characters of interest, even if they are a sign of the times, are Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, but most of the rest is poorly handled and eminently forgettable.
Yes, it’s the one with the now infamous double-taking pigeon, but if you don’t mind it being an all-out romp that only exists because of Star Wars, then there’s reasonable amounts of fun to be had here. Bringing back Jaws is handled badly, turning him into a figure of fun and failing to gain sympathy, but the rest of the film never stands still long enough for its major flaws to become apparent. With a reasonable equal in Lois Chiles’ Bond girl and a decent villain from Michael Lonsdale, Moonraker is still the kind of Bond film to be reasonable Bank Holiday afternoon entertainment, but it’s about as far from Fleming’s vision as the series ever got.
17. Tomorrow Never Dies
Pierce Brosnan’s sophomore effort suffers slightly from never being quite sure what it wants to be. Michelle Yeoh gets to be dominant and agressive more often than sexy, which is a good match for Bond but isn’t compensated by Teri Hatcher’s flat portrayal of a woman Bond supposedly has a history with. (Of all the women he’s met, he’s coming back to this one?) The pre-credits sequence is a cracker, but the momentum of Goldeneye slowly dissipates after that, and Jonathan Pryce is at the bottom end of the Bond villain scale. There was a great movie to be made exploring tensions between the British and Chinese; this, sadly, isn’t it.
16. The Man With The Golden Gun
TMWTGG has one thing absolutely in its favour, a class act in the title role in the form of Ian Fleming’s step-cousin, Sir Christopher Lee. Whenever Lee’s on screen, the film instantly becomes more compelling, and it’s a shame he’s a peripheral figure for long stretches. There are other highlights, including (if you put your fingers in your ears) the spectacular bridge gap jump, but the more comedic approach that had started with Diamonds Are Forever really starts to take hold here, bringing back Sheriff J.W. Pepper for even
more less comedic effect than in Live And Let Die and also playing the ending for laughs as well. A mixed bag, but by no means the worst Moore film of the series.
15. The World Is Not Enough
It all started so promisingly, with the boat chase along the Thames, Bond’s injury and subsequent cold shoulder from M and the early scenes with Elektra. Then about half way through we catch sight of Robert Carlyle attempting to be threatening from underneath a challenging look, but that’s nothing to the attempts (if you can call them that) to pass off Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. Add more flailing from a poor decision to bring back Robbie Coltrane’s thickly accented Russian, and the second half of TWINE gets weighed down by its baggage. It was the first seeds of what Bond has become in the last decade, but those seeds were choked back by a few difficult weeds.
14. Quantum Of Solace
If I’m being completely honest, about 75% of what I love about Quantum Of Solace is Daniel Craig. I was one of the doubters before he first took the role but he’s nailed it so convincingly that even a film of at best middling quality, hamstrung by not enough rewrites from one striking writer and further on-set dabbling, can be elevated significantly by his performance. The first direct sequel of the series, it does make Casino Royale feel like a film of seven acts, as if someone had recognised it had Lord Of The Rings-levels of endings and lopped the last few off into a new film, but between Craig and Judi Dench’s increasing presence in the series as M, QoS does a lot to compensate for some of its more obvious flaws.
13. Licence To Kill
Don’t get me wrong, I love both of Timothy Dalton’s portrayals as Bond, but Licence To Kill is trying far too hard to be a generic American action film rather than a Bond movie – even down to Michael Kamen’s score and some of the desert settings that make it feel oddly like a British Lethal Weapon spin-off – and two weak Bond girls and some uncomfortable lurches in tone do Dalton no favours. It’s a shame this was to be his last entry, but having six years of breathing space actually did Bond a few favours, making this an odd post-script to the first great era of Bond.
12. Dr. No
You can tell I’m a humble blogger and not a practised, literate film critic, when the best description I can come up with of Dr No is “it’s all right”. I’m resolutely whelmed by Sean Connery’s first attempt at the role; it’s got some great moments, from the iconic casino introduction to the cold-blooded bedroom killing, but it never quite takes off, suffering now by comparison to the later films and suffering from hindsight rather than benefitting from it. It does have one of the better villains, and puts a decent number of the regular ingredients in place, but this was a good start, rather than classic Bond.
11. Live And Let Die
The first Roger Moore Bond, and the first to be heavily influenced by other factors in popular culture at the time (other than the general love of spies and secret agents in the Sixties, of course). Moore manages to avoid aping Connery, and Yaphet Kotto manages to overcome the identity shenanigans of the plot to put in a solid baddie. Solid just about sums up Live And Let Die, it’s never truly spectacular in terms of either action or characterisation but never disappoints, as long as your J.W. Pepper tolerance levels are reasonably high. Points also for what remains the best Bond theme to date; even Guns N’ Roses managed a decent cover version of it.
10. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Regarded by many as the best Bond, and it would undoubtedly have placed higher on my list if it had featured Sean Connery. Actually, it would have placed higher if it featured anyone who could act. Lazenby, having blagged his way into the role in the first place, does his best but frequently looks out of his depth and also helps contribute to a few saggy sections around the middle. The ending has had an impact on pretty much ever Bond made since, and Diana Rigg is undoubtedly one of, if not the, best Bond girls of all time. Sadly, Telly Savalas doesn’t quite work as Blofeld either, and we’re left with a great film with two holes of varying sizes at its centre, but you can see how it’s inspired the likes of Christopher Nolan on to great things.
9. For Your Eyes Only
The last of the three decent Moore Bonds, it would have been a fitting cap to his years in the role. As it is, FYEO is still an effective Bond movie with more weight to it than you’d expect. That’s undoubtedly down to the strong story and themes of revenge that motivate the characters, and even Lynn-Holly Johnson’s role as the annoying youngster with a crush on James doesn’t manage to unbalance the overall effect. The marked reaction to the spacefaring of Moonraker makes for a more grounded Bond, but there’s still cracking set pieces (especially the assault on the cliff top) and there’s a tension here that’s lacking in most of Moore’s other Bond films.
8. You Only Live Twice
Probably the most spoofed of all the Bond series, with likely the most iconic set of elements outside of Goldfinger. It’s not often that a production designer can become a household name, even if only among movie geeks, but Ken Adam’s work on You Only Live Twice helps to mark it out as one of the most memorable Bonds in a visual sense. The Japanese theme gives a different tone to proceedings and helps to mark time until the final, all out blow-out, the grandness of which even this epic series of films has sometimes found hard to top since. Roald Dahl’s script does recycle a couple of Bond staples and Connery’s not at his best, but these are minor distractions.
For someone who seemed such a natural fit for the role and was connected with it for so long, it’s strange that there’s only one genuinely great Pierce Brosnan Bond film, and one in which he hadn’t totally nailed the demands of the role. Occasionally a little too cheesy, he still manages the required gravitas in more serious scenes and handles the mix of tones well. Where Goldeneye scores bonus points is for the Bond girls, the best in the roles in many years, with Isabella Scorupco’s feisty Russian finding Bond’s heart, and if you don’t enjoy Famke Janssen’s utterly over-the-top performance, you maybe need more joy in your life. (Especially her delivery of the line, “He’s going to derail the train!”) Tina Turner’s pounding title song helps ease the pain of Eric Serra’s excellent but completely inappropriate Bond score, and the fight between Sean Bean’s agent gone bad and Brosnan must rank in the top five fist fights of Bond.
6. The Living Daylights
Stepping in when Pierce suddenly found himself otherwise occupied, Timothy Dalton helps to resurrect the series from the worst excesses of the latter day Moore and gives a polished performance with dark undercurrents as Bond starts to steer back closer to Fleming’s original intent. The Living Daylights makes the most of the changing political landscape of the time, taking a plot based around various factions of Russian military power and bolting it to some superb action sequences, with one of the great car chases of the series and a truly insane stunt hanging out of the back of a cargo plane. Maryam D’Abo’s Bond girl is a bit wet at the best of times, but pretty much every other actor is on top form and director John Glen doesn’t waste the opportunity of finally having some decent material and a good Bond to work with. It’s a crying shame Dalton only got to make two, but at least we have this one to savour.
The latest Bond, in a fiftieth anniversary tale that paradoxically draws on the rich history of Bond and attempts to work once again with key elements, but in other ways is keen to put its past behind it and to find its new place in the world order. It’s a strange balancing act to even want to attempt, to be so in love with the past but in need of staying relevant for the future, but somehow Skyfall manages it, for the most part. Javier Bardem is 12A rating threatening, Dame Judi drops the first ever F-bomb of the series (and who’d have thought it would be her) and Bond gets to work closely with both Q and Tanner for the first time, in a surprisingly UK heavy set film. It’s a Bond film that looks gorgeous, is stunningly shot and calmly directed with both a sly wit and a general charm missing from Quantum Of Solace, but that never quite has the action beats to put it among the finest of the series and a plot that follows a recent blockbuster trend of relying too heavily on coincidence. If the remaining Daniel Craig Bonds can couple what’s great here with some of the finer action moments, then there’s still the potential for a best in series in Daniel Craig.
For anyone that’s seen even a good selection of Bond films, the standard to beat is always felt to be Sean Connery’s third outing in the tux, and the first where some of the more outlandish elements of the series first came into play. From Shirley Bassey’s theme song to the Aston Martin DB5, and with the single most famous quote of any Bond film, Goldfinger feels like it should be the best Bond, so it feels somewhat heretical to pick at its flaws. But flaws do exist, not least in the saggy middle that so many Bonds seem to suffer and which also afflicts this one, and from occasionally feeling just a little too far over the top. Connery’s at his laconic best here, often a man of few words and smouldering glances but his reliance on almost supernatural powers of seduction rather than any serious amount of sleuthing leave Goldfinger as the silver standard of Bond movies, rather than the somewhat more appropriately-coloured one.
3. The Spy Who Loved Me
Two days ago, I saw a man outside a cinema pointing at a poster, attempting to encourage his very young son to take an interest in James Bond. I’m not sure Skyfall is the best entry point into the series, but mine was The Spy Who Loved Me and it still works as an excellent introduction, blending together most of the traditional Bond elements and beating just about any other Bond hands down for pure, old fashioned Saturday matinee-style entertainment. When Carly Simon sings “Nobody Does It Better”, it’s hard to disagree, as TSWLM succeeds in marrying You Only Live Twice-style excess to Goldfinger levels of Bond iconography and to make Roger Moore seem stylish and enviable. There’s not a single weak link, although it’s a shame that Jaws’ impact here is retrospectively lessened by his return in Moonraker. (Although when Carly Simon’s next line is, “but sometimes I wish someone could,” do you think she’s still pining for Connery? You’d think this would have cured her of that.)
2. Casino Royale
An all new Bond for a new era, and for the most part a Bond that wasn’t afraid to take chances. Martin Campbell might have returned to the director’s chair again after Goldeneye, but the reinvigoration he performed there is nothing compared to the kick up the backside the series gets here. Craig’s Bond can be brutal, almost thuggish at times, but also has the effortless charm of the best of his contemporaries, and in his pairing with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd one of the greatest pairings of the series. Bond is damaged goods, and despite being a reboot of sorts (but still with Dame Judi in the top chair) Casino Royale wastes no time in damaging him a bit more. The swap to poker for the central card game works in the context of the film and the modern setting, as do so many of the other choices, the only real failing being a lumpen story structure that feels like it’s carrying an unwanted epilogue. Mads Mikkelsen’s ocularly challenged baddie threatens but never dominates, but the blend of all the elements – especially a number of truly breathtaking action sequences – is pretty much spot on.
1. From Russia With Love
If Goldfinger has turned out to be the stereotype that much of the series followed, and Dr. No remains the prototype, then sandwiched between them and often unfairly overlooked is the archetype for the Bond series. It’s as close as the Bond formula has ever come to being perfected, from the SPECTRE training base and the first glimpses of Blofeld to the stunning train face-off between Bond and Red Grant. Everything is as you’d want it in a Bond film without being taken to excess, and a number of series firsts (including Desmond Llewellyn’s first outing as the quartermaster and Matt Munro’s first song with the title of the film in it) helping to make the Bond formula that still exists today. The recent Bonds have steered closer and closer to this template without ever successfully emulating it, and if only Skyfall had been this successful at both plotting and also a triple whammy of an action finale that just doesn’t let up. The cool, calculating charm that attracts women and makes men just a little bit jealous is all rooted in Russia, and it’s the Bond film I love the most.
Wow. Is it really only nearly two years since The Incredible Suit first had the idea of watching, and blogging about, a Bond film a month until the new one came out? That long ago, all we knew was that more Bond was coming, and we didn’t even know that it would be called Skyfall. Happier times. (Still don’t like that title, but seeing the film may change my mind. We’ll see.) When the twenty-odd bloggers embarked on their mission, many were providing their own take on the films in the form of a review; I sought the option to provide a different angle, so chose to look at the impact that the Bond films have had on both each other and on popular culture. But how do you assess the legacy of a film which only came out four years ago, when you haven’t even seen its successor yet?
Quantum Of Solace is a tricky beast, in that it not only bears the hallmarks of a history of nearly five decades of film making, but also that the legacy of that era was in turn now also starting to have an impact on Bond. The last decade had seen the emergence of two other high profile government agents with the initials JB in popular culture, and Jack Bauer bore all the same hallmarks of the Craig bond, but with the added ability to hack off people’s heads or shoot his boss if the need arose. It’s the other one, though, that had the most direct influence on this Bond, with second unit director Dan Bradley having also performed the same duty on the two Greengrass Bourne films, and here leaving his mucky paw-prints over all the action scenes.
That has, in the mind of many, left Quantum Of Solace feeling like warmed-over Bourne, when it’s actually just warmed over Bond in most respects. I really enjoyed Quantum the first time I saw it, and although that enthusiasm has waned over time, I can still see what drove it; Daniel Craig’s performance at the heart of the film remains as strong as it was first time around, and if anyone is going to be able to put together a run of consistent films to challenge the common perception that Connery / Dalton / Moore (delete as appropriate) is the best Bond, then Craig has two strong personal entries, in one excellent and one reasonable Bonds.
There’s still a lot to like, if not to love, including reasonable Bond girls and some exotic but gritty settings. The two weakest elements are the script and the bad guy, the former left horribly confused by the credited writer being on strike and by an uncredited writer performing re-writes on the day and the latter just a little weak and anaemic. If the Bond Legacy has proved one thing, it’s that your bad guys do need some distinguishing feature, even if it’s a personality.
Quantum Of Solace does tick off a number of firsts, including the first Bond not directed by a subject of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth, a Bond that premièred in India before the US, the first Bond film with an actual car chase in the pre-credits sequence and the first Bond released in a year that ended in eight. Mark my words, I predict there will be more Bond films released in years that end in eight. It’s also the first Bond to be a direct sequel, and I also feel that it mightn’t be the last. But what could the lasting legacy for Bond be from this, most recent, film?
1. All those vodka martinis finally take their toll
The one consistent element throughout all of the Bond films is his love of a drink. What we’ve not seen until Quantum is Bond actually starting to get a bit squiffy. I’d be fascinated to see this taken further in later Bonds, with a bearded, bedraggled Bond raging through the streets, Special Brew in hand, firing off his Walther at pigeons that look like they might be doing a double take. Or, possibly a more serious explanation of how a man who drinks this much hasn’t completely screwed his internal organs by now. Anyway, it was nice to see that enough cocktails can make even the great man a little worse for wear.
Next time: I’ll be taking a look into the far future, to examine the legacy of Skyfall. Before that, a review of the film itself and my breakdown of the Bond films, ranked into order.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day / Casino Royale
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How would you cast a new James Bond? Would you be looking to take a mould of Sean Connery, then cast another from it? Is tall, dark and handsome enough to make a Bond, or is there some other ingredient required for the perfect suave, sophisticated spy? Ian Fleming had a very certain idea of what Bond looked like, and Daniel Craig certainly wasn’t it. In the novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond is described as:
“…certainly good-looking … Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”
That’s not Craig; but nor does it reasonably describe any of the other Bonds, save for possibly Welshman Timothy Dalton. In the novel of Casino Royale, Vesper also describes Bond as reminiscent of Hoagy Carmichael, but also “cold and ruthless.” In that pure description lies the heart of Daniel Craig’s performance, but what Craig also brought to the part was a sense of humanity and maturity. He also might as well have been green with pink spots as it might have caused less controversy over his looks.
But no matter, all of that CraigIsNotBond nonsense is well behind us now, and it goes to show that it’s not what it looks like, it’s what you do with it that counts. Emboldened by finally being able to exercise the rights option it got to the first Fleming novel in a swapsies deal for Spider-Man rights in 1999 (seriously), the studio embarked on a full-on reboot, taking the idea of reinvention at the fore since Dalton’s first and taking it to its logical conclusion. But Casino Royale captures something that no Bond before it has managed, not even the early Connery films, and that’s to capture a relationship between a man and a woman that doesn’t feel like either a series of cheap jokes or the inevitable advances of a man who’s bathed for a month in pure pheromones.
So without further ado, I present my legacies for the twenty-first EON production, based on the first Fleming novel.
1. James Bond finally comes of age, by going back to the start
We finally get the first adaptation in the official series of the James Bond novel that started it all, the last major novel of Fleming’s series not to be made by EON. In order to adapt this, the series is effectively rebooted, and for the first time all of the history is washed away; Bond is a clean slate, to be started with afresh and with no emotional baggage for an indeterminate number of years weighing him down. As long as you ignore the fact that M still looks the same as the last Bond’s did. Moving swiftly on…
But not only does the film take a fresh approach to the stunts, mixing in a greater sense of realism to the scaffolding-scaling antics, and is also not afraid to take big risks with the structure, devoting most of the second act to the poker game, but writer Paul Haggis seems to be the first person to attempt to take the words of long time story writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – or indeed, of anyone else – and to make them sound as if they were emerging from the mouths of two grown adults. Often in the past Bond has sounded close to mature, only to be undercut by a mop-headed Bond girl, or just occasionally (*cough* On Her Majesty’s Secret Service *cough*) the other way round, but here the dialogue sparkles, the performances radiate and even two people flirting on a train is an absolute joy to watch. Just in case you’ve forgotten, see how efficiently Craig and Green even manage to skirt over the obligatory product placement.
It’s this sensible approach, favouring this kind of sparring over cheap chat-up lines, which carries through Quantum Of Solace – admittedly in a slightly more po-faced fashion – and one which I steadfastly hope is keeping pace through Skyfall, and many years of Bond to come, until the pendulum inevitably swings and we end up back at the gurning antics of the later Moore era, probably with Rupert Grint as the first ginger Bond.
2. No Moneypenny, no Q
The other notable achievement of Casino Royale in setting the template for the future is to break it even more wide open. While Live And Let Die had managed to get by without the quartermaster, Casino Royale really does strip it back to the barest bones, with both Q and Moneypenny getting the boot, and staying off for QoS, proving just what it is possible to drop from the percieved “formula” and still make a successful Bond film.
3. Black and white opening, black ending
The other bold decisions, at least in the context of the series, range from the stylistic to the dramatic. At the beginning, we see a black and white sequence, and while the series dabbled with slo-mo as far back as the Sixties, it’s the first time that the colour palette has been drained completely. Now anything goes, opening up Skyfall for the likes of Roger Deakins to come in as DoP, and the sky blue is the limit. Or the green with pink spots.
The ending is also a first, in that in every one of the previous films Bond gets the girl, even if she gets shot in the end. See that rule book? It’s just been torn up and tossed in the bin. Take that, authority, there’s a new Bond in town. Craig’s Bond ends both of his first two films alone, unless you count Dame Judi at the end of Quantum as the Bond girl. (No. Just no.)
Next time: If you had a choice of the remaining Fleming titles, would you pick:
a) The Hildebrand Rarity
c) 007 In New York
d) Quantum Of Solace?
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day
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Reader, I think we’ve known each other for long enough to be honest with each other. Hopefully you’ve come to understand my love of movie stats, my fondness for everything from Hitchcock to Haneke and my desire to see films shown in the best cinemas possible. So I hope that you won’t judge me too harshly when I make this candid admission: I saw Die Another Day twice at the cinema, and I didn’t think it was that bad.
I know, I know, I was young, I was foolish, I should have known better. Certainly there were parts that stuck out at the time as not working, most of them involving Madonna Louise Ciccone, but I thought it was a fun romp in the grand tradition of previous Bonds. Two things can be said about my film watching habits at the time: I was still very much resolutely watching blockbusters (I visited Leicester’s premier art house cinema, the Phoenix Arts, once in the seven years I lived there – the period when DAD came out – and that to watch a Michael Moore film), and that I still felt Bond worked best as an escapist fantasy with outlandish gadgets, mainly through my love of the Roger Moore films.
Ten years on, a lot’s changed, not least me. I don’t know if I have a completely refined palate now, but watching Die Another Day back in the context of my new appreciation for cinema, and after nineteen other, very varied Bond films, it’s clear that Die Another Day really isn’t much cop. Certainly, in keeping with the previous film there are some good and bad sequences, but the latter now significantly outnumber the former. It’s often said that the Bond series is more of a producer’s series than a director’s one, but Lee Tamahori brings a certain amount of visual style to the series’ 20th entry, most of it consisting of awkward editing and frustrating visual tricks. The well publicised reliance on CGI varies from middling to cringe-worthy, and whoever decided to leave the kite-surfing sequence in, rather than editing around it, frankly wants taking out and putting out of their misery with a Walther PPK. John Cleese just doesn’t work as Q (thankfully his only time in the role), and Halle Berry later managed the unfortunate distinction of becoming both an Oscar and a Razzie winner, and her performance here is nearer the latter than the former.
If only the film had followed the tone set by the pre-credits sequence. Still Bond yearns to be darker, but again the EON machine only has the guts to go dark for a brief period, and even the first film of the post 9/11 era can only stay solemn for the length of a TV sitcom episode, before descending into the level of humour and camp theatrics of a bad TV sitcom. After Brosnan hit the heights of his portrayal in the last film, this feels again like Bond by the numbers: not necessarily his fault, as even the darker scenes leave him very little to get his teeth into, but the performance of Die Another Day and more behind the scenes legal wrangling leave Brosnan as having made approximately one and a half very good Bond films in his tenure.
Despite that, Die Another Day has, for better and for worse, had an impact on the rest of the series.
1. No more gadgets, at least for a while
I did say, at the time of Live And Let Die, that I don’t have a problem with the invisible car. Not because it’s supposedly based on real military technology – a technology that only works at a distance of several miles – but that in a series that’s supposedly based on the same character being played by different actors, a fact confirmed by references to Bond’s past in earlier Brosnan films, a world where tarot and card reading is 100% successful and therefore real, and where a previously untrained astronaut can end up on a space station surrounded by hundreds of men in a giant fight with laser guns, a stealth car is not the most idiotic thing the series has ever done.
But the two things that stick in the mind of any reasonable person about Brosnan’s last Bond film are that awful, awful theme song and the invisible car. The musical choices continued to be reasonably eclectic under the rest of David Arnold’s tenure, but the one thing that Die Another Day seemingly killed off for the foreseeable future (as even the gadgets in Skyfall seem to go no further than the kind of personalised gun that Dalton had twenty years ago) is those wonderful gadgets. No more jet packs and sofas that eat people for a while, it would seem.
2. Dancing the anniversary waltz
Back in the days of Sean Connery, Bond was knocking one off on an annual basis. Over the course of time, that gap widened as the demands of post-production increased, but the first three year gap in Brosnan’s tenure was designed for an entirely different purpose; to give the opportunity to show off bond in an anniversary year, in this case the 40th year since films began and the golden anniversary of the first novel. Consequently there are references to every single previous Bond film, laced through like the Easter bunny started taking crack and went a bit mad with the Easter eggs.
Having not seen it yet, this is a little speculative, but I understand from reports that Skyfall also features a few nods to the past for the 50th / 60th anniversaries. Consequently, I would expect Bond films released in 2022, 2037, 2062 and 2962 to also draw heavily on their heritage. Feel free to check back in around ten / twenty-five / fifty / a lot of years to see if I was right.
3. Here comes the fuzz
And to think poor old Lazenby got the boot for turning up at the première in a beard. How times change.
Next time: Bond goes back to his roots – but keeps the blond hair – in Casino Royale.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough
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The Bond franchise had been many things over the years, but one it had suddenly and almost unexpectedly become after the success of Goldeneye was a guaranteed money maker. But, like a small American child slapped in too much make up and thrust uncomfortably into a beauty pageant and a series of commercials, Bond’s new parent decided to use their favourite offspring to try to boost their upcoming stock offering. MGM wanted Bond, and it wanted it quick; in the Sixties, churning out a Bond film a year was never an issue, but the requirement for more extensive post-production, and the lack of Fleming heritage to be able to call on, gave the second Pierce Brosnan Bond a somewhat troubled birth.
The difficulty of that gestation and the rush to get the film onto screens is right up there on screen for all to see. The opening sequence, self contained and with just a little set-up for the rest of the film, is a cracker and up there with the best pre-credits sequences of the whole series. It’s after another of Daniel Kleinman’s superb title sequences that things start to go rapidly downhill. The main problem with Goldeneye seems to have gotten even worse, with both Brosnan and the film itself unsure of the tone they need to pitch, and instead both end up veering more wildly between brutality and banality. The cheeky one liners which Moore tossed off feel ever more cheesy and uncomfortable emerging from Brosnan’s mouth, while the way in which everyone from Teri Hatcher’s weak Bond girl to a bunch of British soliders are casually slaughtered feels more Dalton era than anything else. Thanks to the unevenness of tone and the short development window, Tomorrow Never Dies never feels fully formed, but there are enough enjoyable moments to make it a modest success.
While legacies are becoming ever more thin on the ground in the rather stagnant Brosnan era, there’s still some fun to be had, not least from the Spot The Famous Face drinking game. If you can spot Julian “I wrote Downton Abbey” Fellowes as a minister, take a sip; the likes of Julian Rhind-Tutt and Hugh Bonneville in the navy also deserve a brief swig, but spotting Gerard Butler in a blink-and-miss-him scene on the boat deserves at least a mouthful and if you pick out Alex Reid outside Carver’s party as a German policeman, then finish your drink immediately. Spotting all of those famous faces might not make TND more enjoyable, but hopefully the strong drink will, and if not then Vincent Schiavelli’s entirely over-the-top henchman should still provide a few chuckles.
All this, though, is a distraction from the real business here, which is whether or not Tomorrow Never Dies has had a lasting effect on either the Bond movies themselves or action films in general. While the law of diminishing returns is definitely kicking in, Tomorrow Never Dies does mark a couple of key moments in the franchise.
1. You’re on your own now, 007
Tomorrow Never Dies is the first film in the entire series to take only the recurring characters: M, Q, Moneypenny, raging innuendo, etc. from Fleming’s novels or backstory. Admittedly we’d already reached the thin end of the wedge, as Licence To Kill was falling back on the short stories for ideas as well as the novels, and Goldeneye was simply the name of Fleming’s house, but Tomorrow Never Dies marked the first time that the films had to exist beyond what Fleming had provided, to prove that they really could stand on their own two feet.
Key to that is the idea that the legacy has provided, a framework to which it should be possible to stitch any appropriate story and turn it into a Bond film. Tomorrow Never Dies does that, but in a way that’s part of its problem: occasionally sticking too slavishly to a formula almost as a cinematic comfort blanket. It will be a few films yet before the Bond producers feel confident enough to start letting the series truly off the reins, but certain elements, for better or worse, will always be a part of Bond; hopefully, that in turn means that Bond will outlive all of us.
2. A man with a score to settle
A musical score in this case; after the catastrophe of the Goldeneye score from Eric Serra – which I still firmly believe is not only a fantastic score in its own right but also the worst Bond score ever, apart from the one bit he didn’t write – the producers were looking for someone to replicate the musical success of John Barry, who had scored eleven of the previous seventeen Bonds. Those which weren’t Barry scores, from the likes of George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch and Michael Kamen, had met with decidedly mixed success, so it needed someone who could not only write well for the blockbuster, but also understood the musical needs and heritage of Bond.
Step forward David Arnold, who had not only enjoyed blockbuster success and acclaim for his work on Roland Emmerich films such as Stargate and Independence Day, but had also put together a Bond album of cover versions called Shaken And Stirred, featuring everything from Pulp’s cover of All Time High to a Propellerheads version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Arnold scored every movie through to Quantum Of Solace, bowing out for Skyfall due to an unfortunate clash with his Olympic commitments, but in the five films he’s scored he managed to successfully mix the traditional Bond theme orchestral sound with his own music and innovation, even including his own motif (known as “Suspense” in four of his five films).
His work on Tomorrow Never Dies guaranteed him a decade of work on the series, doing just what Barry did so well, including in this case taking k.d. lang’s version of his own song Surrender and weaving its themes through the rest of the music, as well as another collaboration with Propellerheads on the music for the garage car chase. Here’s hoping that we’ve not seen the last of Arnold and Bond working together.
Next time: The World Is Not Enough, apparently. Well, that’s gratitude for you.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye
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When BlogalongaBond first started, there were two certainties as far as Bond was concerned; that Sean Connery would be held up as the gold standard to which all others would be compared, and that pretty much everyone would have a different favourite Bond. My mother won’t actually watch Bond films any more, so convinced is she that Connery is unimpeachable in the Bond stakes and that anyone else would pale so much by comparison that they wouldn’t even be worth her time. For pretty much everyone else, the grimness of the later Moore years is over, and we come into the modern Bonds. For me and for many others of my generation, Timothy Dalton was the first new Bond in my lifetime. He was also the first new Bond in the sense that my house got its first VCR in 1985, so the Dalton Bonds were the first that I was able to watch in the comfort of my own home about the time that they were released. Thus Timothy will always be the tiniest Bond in my overly literal mind.
But it takes a big man to impose himself in a series that was becoming so stale you could practically see the fetid bacterial cultures forming up there on screen. That man, a long time candidate who now seemed in prime position, was Pierce Brosnan. Sadly for Pierce, some scheduling shenanigans at NBC kept him tied to his Remington Steele role for six more episodes, just long enough to rule him out of the Bond timeframe and instead to let someone who’d been thought of even longer as a possible Bond sneak in. Step forward one Timothy Dalton.
Both Dalton and The Living Daylights get a lot of things right that the series had been getting badly wrong. Dalton is belivably stern and occasionally patronising, but in a very satisfying manner, where Moore had lost that sense of quiet authority as age overtook him, and where Dalton’s quips are frothy and entertaining, Moore had become dangerously lecherous and positively leering. The action scenes are also ratcheted up by several levels of intensity, and the set pieces are some of the best in the series since the Seventies. The overall tone is more even and some of the wilder excesses are reined in, making The Living Daylights the most satisfying Bond film since The Spy Who Loved Me.
But enough of that, what we’re concerned with in Bond Legacy is the lasting impact that these films have had on each other and the world at large, and there’s still mean on them bones even fifteen films in.
1. Putting the (re-)boot in
With a new Bond came a change in tone and a leading man as different to his predecessor as Lazenby was to Connery. But this time that change drove a shift in the tone, and it wouldn’t be the first time in the next couple of decades that a change in personnel would drive a change in ethos in the Bond films. The Living Daylights was almost conceived as a prequel, intented as a full reboot of the franchise, but that fresh slate was another twenty years away, and even then it still had Dame Judi Dench sprawled all over it.
But the coming of Dalton, Brosnan and Craig has seen a rethink in style and tone each time, and The Living Daylights was the first to really show that the mould really can be broken, or even thrown away and started with afresh, as long as you keep enough of these legacy elements to ground the audience.
2. Double trouble
There was one change afoot on the musical front as well, as while John Barry was still providing excellent music (and even gets an onscreen cameo this time around), the main public focus as far as music in Bond is concerned has always been the title track. Duran Duran had hit number 1 in the US with A View To A Kill, a first for the series, and that in trun reinforced the need in the producer’s minds to have a big name act to write the theme tune, and indeed sing the theme tune.
So Chrissie Hynde got shuffled to the end credits, and A-ha burbled out The Living Daylights once John Barry had sufficiently Bonded up the backing track. (Hynde can also be heard on the evil milkman’s Walkman, so she didn’t do badly.) But this started a trend of different tracks on the opening and closing credits, with often the composer’s first choice – and consequently the better tune – getting shunted to the end credits, rather than being an accompaniment to the usual parade of scantily clad ladies in fantasy settings that kicks off proceedings.
3. The name’s Aston. Martin Aston. No, wait…
The other notable feature about The Living Daylights is the return of the Aston Martin. James Bond’s vehicle of choice had been a prominent feature in the Sixties, but apart from a blink and you’ll miss it showing in Diamonds Are Forever had been largely absent. Dalton’s debut might have seen a V8 Vantage Volante rather than the earlier DB5 or DBS, but The Living Daylights sees the return of the classic car maker with some tooling about on the ice that was
ripped off homaged in Die Another Day. Only two of the Bond films made since this one haven’t featured an Aston of some variety, and for many men, myself included, an Aston Martin would be near the top of the shopping list if our numbers ever came up on the lottery. Ideally one with giant rockets and an ejector seat. (Well, if money’s no object…)
Next time: Somehow I have to break the news gently, that I’m not a huge fan of License To Kill. Gulp.
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Finally, the end of the road, a Bond film for which even Roger Moore thought he was too old. He was, of course, quite right. Let’s not beat about the bush, A View To A Kill is awful.
What? You want more? Where to start. There are very few moments that A View To A Kill actually feels like a proper Bond film, except when it’s ticking off the occasional past legacy. But Rog is absolutely going through the motions at this point, and he’s going through them slowly and with some difficulty because he’s quite clearly past it. The rest of the cast resembles a freak show that would put Britain’s Got Talent to shame; Christopher Walken is in full on weird mode, but fails at any point to come over as threatening; whoever thought Grace Jones could act needs to be taken out and shot; and poor old Patrick Macnee looks like he’s stumbled in off the set of an entirely different film and is now being kept as Rog’s slave.
(A note on those old legacies, though: while I didn’t list it out originally, pretty much any Bond film with either a large set of henchmen or international investors gets them together and sits them round a table, and the cunning twist here is that the table has been set up in – an airship! What larks. It is the most Bond-like moment in the whole film, so thanks to whichever film did it first. [hurriedly scrambles back to start watching Sean Connery Bonds again])
If any of the action scenes redeemed it, it mightn’t be so bad, but there’s some Paris-based rumblings that are faintly ludicrous at best, and a chase on a fire engine that feels like a deleted scene from Herbie Rides Again rather than a main set piece in a Bond film. Almost no-one involved with the production has fond memories, and we should just be thankful that this finally convinced everyone it was time to put The Amazing Eyebrow out to pasture and get someone younger and better in. Given that much of the talent behind the camera, including the screenwriter and director, came back again next time, quite how they got it so badly wrong here all round when that can’t all be blamed on the practically octogenarian star is a matter that’s probably not worth expending much time contemplating, but is still somewhat strange.
Anyway, despite being as ripe as a six month old pear at the bottom of the fruit bowl, A View To A Kill still managed to show the power of the Bond brand by having a further legacy or four on the rest of the series.
1. It’s all in the game
A View To A Kill holds the distinction of being the first Bond film to be represented by a computer game. The likes of Goldeneye on the N64 were but ten years away at this point, but the fact that the Bond franchise has produced some high quality games and that one all time classic probably couldn’t have been guessed from the amazingly shoddy graphical adventure unfolding on the C64 and other comparable platforms. Still, we’ve all got to start somewhere. There was almost a game for Octopussy, but it was never actually released; the mind can barely grasp what 8-bit innuendos we’ve been denied by that decision.
2. It’s all in the family
Speaking of talent in front of and behind the camera, one of the most regular names to appear on Bond films is that of Michael G. Wilson. Having had a hand in writing every Eighties Bond, he’d also acted as an executive producer since Moonraker, but AVTAK marks the first time that Cubby’s stepson stepped up to join the big man as a fellow producer. When Barbara Broccoli then joined him on producing duties from Goldeneye, the family template was set and Wilson and Broccoli continue to steer the direction of the Bond series to this day. He’s also had cameos in a remarkable fourteen films of the series, making him the Stan Lee of the Bond movies. (Is it too late to get Stan? He’s ace. Oh, okay.)
3. Board of Bond?
Despite the stunts being mainly ropey, one of them turned out to become iconic after all, and it’s probably a moment that will send shudders down the spines of most Bond aficionados. Snowboarding, despite having been done for around 20 years, was still a niche sport, attracting no attention outside the hardcore skiing world until an old man’s unconvincing stunt double slid down a hill on a converted ironing board to the accompaniment of The Beach Boys. Thirteen years later, it was an Olympic sport. See, even the worst Bond films can be a force for good.
4. The name’s the thing
And just a final note on a legacy first mentioned in From Russia With Love. The tradition of naming the next Bond film in the end credits went slightly askew last time, when Octopussy predicted the next in the series would be called “From A View To A Kill”. Maybe in a sense of embarrassment at getting the title so shamefully wrong, A View To A Kill simply stated that “James Bond Will Return” and left it at that. Without even realising, the Broccolis had given an early indicator of the uncertain future the Bond films were about to start facing…
Next time: Come on, Tim! It’s The Living Daylights.
For more Bond related japes and in-depth analysis, visit BlogalongaBond.
So, the time has come. The time I’ve been dreading since we started BlogalongaBond all those months ago. If I had to pick one film that I thought would be a struggle in coming up with legacies – and I did – then it would have been this one. The name with the biggest innuendo in any Bond film title has a reputation that precedes it of being somewhat of a dog’s dinner of a film, and I didn’t have particularly fond memories of it from my childhood. But, for thirteen months, I’d lived in fear of coming to this, coming up empty handed and for the Bond Legacy dream of every Bond film leaving a mark.
In one sense, I needn’t have worried, for Octopussy does a fairly good job of helping to leave a lasting legacy that no-one likes Roger Moore James Bond films. The likes of The Spy Who Loved Me feel a distant memory whenever it comes to thinking of Roger Moore, as it’s this arse end of his overlong run of films that stick most in the memory nearly thirty years later. By any convention, Octopussy is a fairly desperate film, and it’s actually a relief that there wasn’t a new Bond for this one, as if he’d ended up with similar material it might have killed his career stone dead.
In terms of what actually works here, there’s the opening stunt with the Acrostar, which is part of a fairly efficient opening sequence, and the final plane stunt is also pretty reasonable. Moore’s not really doing anything different here than he has been previously, other than occasionally being even more lecherous than before, but it’s to Octopussy’s shame that his performance and the two book-ending stunts are about the only major positives to take from this one.
But actually, there are just a few tiny morsels to take away that show that even this dated mess has still had an influence on what followed. (That rushing air sound you can hear is me breathing a huge sigh of relief.)
1. The age of enlightenment? Not quite.
As I’ve mentioned before on this journey, Roger was older when he started than Connery was when he finished. 1983 is a significant year in the Bond world for another reason, and it’s mainly the reason that poor old Rog got dragged back for another round of lasciviousness and eyebrow raising. Shir Shean Connereh was 53, but was offered flipping great wodges of cash to make an unofficial Bond based on Thunderball whose title, I must remind you, we can never say. Never one to miss out on some cash himself, Roger was nearly persuaded to appear again in Sean’s film in a climactic scene, but in the end we just got Lord Connery of Sell-Out winking at the camera. Probably for the best, that dirty old winker.
Consequently, maths being what it is Roger was still older in 1983 than Sean was, and Roger had reached the ripe old age of 56 by the time of Octopussy. While he has, again due to maths, continued to get older since, Octopussy was the first time that Rog looked genuinely past it, yet with the application of plenty of soft focus, long range camerawork and unconvincing stuntmen it was possible for a man nearer sixty than fifty to still be an action hero. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 3? 56. Liam Neeson in Taken? 56. Bruce Willis when he started filming Die Hard 5? You guessed it, 56. If it hadn’t been for the
desperate lure of lining their pockets with even more cash Roger’s heroic example, none of those would have been possible.
2. Always be careful what’s on the menu when sitting down to dinner in India
Of course, India is a third world country, and rather than the refined delights of foie gras, haggis and black pudding that would grace many fine dining menus in this country, in India all they eat is sheep’s head and monkey’s brains. Such an elegant menu deserved to be rolled out again for special occasions, as it was a year later in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Is it wrong that I’d be prepared to give monkey brains a go?
3. Ever wondered why so many people think clowns are scary?
Next time: Old father time decides he’s had enough. It’s A View To A Kill.
For more Bond related japes and in-depth analysis, visit BlogalongaBond.