I begin with an admission. I am no fan of Daniel Craig’s interpretation. From his first foray into the character in Casino Royale it was clear he presented us with a one-dimensional psychotic killer and not much more.
I cannot find it in me to admire his arrogant swagger and bum-freezer suits. And he keeps pouting. Shame on me, I know. At six-foot two inches, Connery was a tailor’s dream. Anything draped on him was sure to look good. He gave us more than a cold killer. His modus operandi is blow it up, kill it, or screw it.
A humourless thug
Craig’s Bond is without humour, has no snobbish conceits, is troubled by lack of fatherly guidance, and thinks ‘M’ is his mother. There are hints of homoerotic love. Women are for sex. Men are for loyalty and devotion. The only strands remaining from the original are Aston Martin cars, Miss Moneypenny now black and beautiful, and the Bond theme, the original based on Indian sitar music before John Barry orchestrated it.
Nevertheless, Craig gives us a plausible character if an operatic one. It’s pure fantasy, over-the-top action, and a decent length for your ticket money.
Bond films work best with an operatic villain; the larger than life the better, Goldfinger being the apogee. As soon as the arch-villain is low-key most of the tension is lost. We have to have a madman who wants to take over the world. Yes, you can have a villain who prefers the shadows but that dictates everything and everyone else should be played there.
Bond villains always come clean shaven
Christoph Waltz, the latest villain, is a very fine actor, but here he plays a kind of psychiatrist as baddy, and it is not quite clear who he is playing. “I am the author of all your pain” he says, wicked smile intact, but which villain from the past? Like all the others he talks too much and too long once he has Bond in chains. Don’t talk. Shoot!
Making the plots operatic makes the story implausible and diminishes the brand. We get another boys own comic superman rather than a tough man in tough situations. It makes the suspension of disbelief harder. Look how easily 007 escapes from being tied and harnessed in a dentist’s chair, hands manacled behind him, drill prod in his skull.
Bond overcoming obstacles works if we feel them to be man-made, not movie made. Connery got bored with the role when he was sent into outer space. Moore loved it up there among the stars. And he got to wear blue safari suits. Craig has fights in swirling out-of-control helicopters, and manages to survive collapsing buildings while running for his life. It can’t be a coincidence Craig has voiced his weariness from the role when SPECTRE gives us action sequences no one could survive.
Connery brought Fleming’s snobby spy to life, Moore almost killed him off, Brosnan brought him back but as an English gentleman with an Irishman’s wry humour. The other actors didn’t figure, both Lazenby and Dalton without the charismatic attraction the character needs for us to forgive his excesses. And Bond has plenty of excesses.
World’s worst driver
007 must be the world’s worst driver. He destroys everything he drives, plane, train, car, boat or army tank. His taste in women leans heavily to the cold and the remote, women of easy virtue who probably keep a vibrator in their handbag. They don’t need a man, and only sleep with rich, famous men.
Fulfilling an adolescent’s wet dream isn’t enough. Snazzy clothes are just as important. Bond owns an endless laundry rack of shirts and suits that appear like magic without him ever carrying a suitcase. Le Carre’s spy on the same salary and expenses can barely afford a raincoat.
What would we do if there was no Aston Martin? We get both old and new and a ton of product placement, though more subtly depicted this time round.
Bond screws up every situation he finds himself in, except the last. Yet Craig holds his own, even though the movie is all breathless action, rushing through a series of sequences that are derivative from previous movies, the train sequence, for example, in From Russia With Love. Actually, it hellishly derivative: unzipping dresses, chess sets, a white fluffy cat, tuxedos, a henchman who has no nerve ends, Aston car chases, and so on, and so forth.
The producers and director, Sam Mendes, promised a more Bourne Identity style. Like Bourne the film is wonderfully photographed, the exotic locations thrilling, especially The Day of the Dead Mexican parade, the pre-title sequence.
The pace rarely lets up, but as soon as the obligatory love moments arrive it is time to run up and down the cinema aisles. Craig is down as co-producer so he must shoulder some of the criticism for the imbalance.
A walk on for Monica Bellucci
The femme fatales are all good to look at and good to listen too, given decent dialogue at last, and not “James, James, why don’t you love me?” French Léa Seydoux is particularly believable as a woman of independent mind, until, that is, the moment she gives in to Bond’s non-existent (to me) eroticism. And what a terrible waste of Monica Bellucci, brought in as a grieving widow only long enough to be seduced by Craig for no reason.
Then there are all the English Empire motifs. One would think after the Scottish Referendum, and the political fracturing of the British state, anything with a Union Jack on it would get shunned, but the flag keeps appearing, as it did on Moore’s parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me. “The things I do for England”, says Bond in each film, and Craig again in this one. He never does it for the United Kingdom. It’s either British or English.
There is a redeeming factor. The gross surveillance Edward Snowden warns us about is shown in this Bond to be unacceptable, MI5 headquarters in London duly ‘removed’. That’ll keep the liberals in the audience happy. Nothing we can do about those Scottish separatists – the ones still clinging to Fleming’s idea of Bond as half-Scots.
The franchise looks tired, very tired. It is recycling old plots and old plot twists. You watch it entertained, you leave knowing you have seen it all before. Craig is on record expressing his weariness of the role. “I’d rather slit my wrists”. I expect he will do one more.
The less said about Sam Smith’s wailing falsetto theme song the better.
To my mind only Connery had genuine sex appeal, Moore next, and Brosnan the thinking woman’s lay. But only Connery walked like a panther.
Who would I choose? That’s easy. Russell Crowe – slim again.
- Rating: Three-and-half-stars
- Director: Sam Mendes
- Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux
- Music: Thomas Newman
- Writers: John Logan +5
- Duration: 2 hrs 30 mins