Sunday, 2 September 2012

Bourne Again Bond

From the ridiculous to the sublime.  After the debacle of Die Another Day came a substantial wait for new Bond film with a new Bond.  And there was so much scepticism when Daniel Craig was cast.  I remember seeing him bouncing down the Thames in a dinghy and a lifejacket.  Shaking my head at his blue eyes and blond hair, still we knew that realistically Brosnan couldn't carry on.  We also knew deep down that Bond had to change and it was the beginning of another new franchise that kickstarted the reboot.  That's a bit harsh. It wasn't just The Bourne Identity that required Bond to have a radical rethink.  The early 21st Century saw changes.  9/11 was a game changer in the action movie arena so much so that The Bourne Identity was given a different ending after a test screening.  There was a new reluctance to simply fill films full of exaggerated explosions whilst having to reconcile a new face of evil.  The Bond franchise had been struggling since the 80s to replace the Russki or communist threat and so we'd had yuppies and drug barons as main villains.  Now terrorism is the new vogue for a villain.

One of the most surprising things is that the writers of Die Another Day were given the chance to adapt Fleming's first novel.  They pulled it off.  Casino Royale is excellent because it is so different to what came before.  From the black and white Sin City stylised pre credit sequence to the fact that Daniel Craig isn't truly James Bond until he delivers the film's last line we can see that everything has been shaken up.  The appalling CGI has largely been abandoned, gadgets are relegated and Bond has to make do with what he's got, and to begin with, that's not a lot.  That's not to say that Casino Royale alienates it's predecessors. Sure, there's no Moneypenny, there's no Q but we're given a SPECTRE for the 21st century, represented by Mr White.  We're dropped off in Miami, harking back to Connery's glory days in Goldfinger and all the while we see a rough and ready newbie James Bond develop and become the double 'O' agent we all know.

After getting his required statistics to become a double 'O' Bond is sent to Madagascar to find  a terrorist.  Meanwhile, Le Chiffre, is being introduced and he's a bit of a gambler with a penchant for shorting stocks.  What ties this together is he's guaranteeing the stock price's crash by using the bombmaker being chased by Bond.

Good job it's not a Blackberry
Bond is a blunt tool at the moment.  He has his target and will go through anything to get to it.  Bond's lack of subtlety and finesse is perfectly shown by his Hulk smash through plasterboard as the free running bombmaker bounces away like a gazelle.  Bond eventually gets his man and makes a right mess of an embassy before revealing that he's quite nifty with a smartphone and a laptop.  On the strength of a cryptic text message Bond hops off to the Bahamas.  It's actually believable and real, unlike some of Roger's leaps of faith.

The Bahamas are what you'd imagine except they seem to be exclusively populated by Ford cars.  Getting hold of an Aston Martin looks like a fool's errand.  But Bond has found his next 'slimy bugger' to track and sets about kicking his arse at poker acquiring, not only, said Aston Martin, the bad guy's missus but a couple of bars of Monty Norman's Bond theme as well.  A gentle nod that the Bond jigsaw is being put together.  Bond is still lacking finesse as his idea of foreplay is basically an interrogation of Dimitrios' missus.  By luck it works and Bond is off to Miami to save a massive jumbo jet from being messed up by Le Chiffre's scheme.

Look, I'm creepy and I can count, so don't mess
Bond is shown as a smirking killer who likes running, lots of running, as Le Chiffre's plan fails to go up in a petrol driven mess.  Even Connery wasn't shown as this much of a bastard.  The Miami police and airport security really aren't very bright as they happily shoot away at a petrol tanker whilst Bond displays some handy driving skills. The Number shows his maths skills by working out exactly how much money he has lost ($101,260,000).  Never fear, he's got a plan B.  The eponymous Casino Royale will be home to a $100 million poker game which Le Chiffre reckons he has a good chance of winning although it just so happens that Bond is the best player around.  So, our villain is a compulsive gambling asthmatic who leaks blood.  Not exactly Mr Big.  In fact, Le Chiffre is a bit rubbish.  So who is the real baddie?

Best worry about that later as despite a new Bond we have the same old mistakes.  Bond gets on a train.  AGAIN.  This time he gets away with it as there aren't any freaks hiding in the wardrobe, just an introduction to Vesper Lynd.  She's 'the money', 'every penny of it' and sets about starting some glorious word sparring with Bond.  The flirting and one upmanship is hundreds of times better than Roger smarming over Triple X.  Lynd's barbs result in Craig's Bond making a series of unusual faces, the best one makes him look like he's been startled whilst passing solids.  So, now we have also done away with the traditional Bond girl that had been so caricatured by Jinx and have something entirely new.  Lynd is an integral part of the story, essential to Bond's progress and is closer to Lady Macbeth than we're probably comfortable with.

More use than Mathis
Lynd and Bond meet Mathis who serves as nothing but an infodump at various points in the film.  Until his apparent betrayal  Mathis is largely irrelevant and only serves to tell silly Americans how poker works.  Imagine if the producers had stuck to Bond tradition and had him playing Baccarat.  Mathis would probably have had to talk directly to the camera like Garth in Wayne's World.  The poker game rumbles on and is punctuated by some scenes that are quite violent for a Bond film.  The film's pacing is corrected by Bond's tumble down the stairwell in a fight scene that is pure Bourne and yet after this we see Bond at his most compassionate and vulnerable.  The shower scene with Lynd isn't what you'd expect but now we have an emotionally vulnerable Bond and he's falling in love.

Now Bond is angry and this leads to him making mistakes.  The security is lax enough in the hotel but Bond is oblivious to the fact that he's about to be poisoned.  Rohypnol must be rife in this hotel.  Our rebooted Bond show's a resourcefulness that would make Moore's head spin as he grabs a salt shaker.  It's only when he staggers back to his car for a conference call and a defibrillator that things get a tiny bit silly.

Angry, but not Rain Man
With the help of a very quiet Felix Leiter Bond defeats Le Chiffre and then things get a little confusing.  In the roll of a car, Le Chiffre is taken by the CIA, but not, Lynd is 'kidnapped', Mathis becomes a traitor and Bond is tied to a chair.  Out of nowhere the story has exploded and it won't be until the end that we'll be able to put the debris together properly.

The torture of Bond is probably the most graphic that a Bond film has ever been.  The violence and claustrophobia perfectly balanced by Bond's ball scratching quip.  It's a bleak situation before deus ex machina in the form of Mr White.  He's back and we still don't know who he is.

Bond is whisked away for hospitalisation and some r and r.  I'm still not entirely sure what Lynd was expecting him to be capable of with his bashed up meat and two veg, but I suppose they're in love.  Now we know from previous experience that Bond isn't allowed to fall in love and so it transpires.  Another doublecross and a well placed text message sees Lynd expire and Bond come back to the fold.  His half hearted escape from MI6 comes to an end in Venice and praise be to God that there's no sign of that fucking pigeon. The Venice sequence presents us with a few questions that niggle long after the film.  If you're going to be a double agent like Vesper surely you'd put a password lock on your phone?  Or if you're that guilty about it all let a few things slip to the bloke sleeping next to you or maybe he was to involved with that Sony Vaio?  Who are 'the Organisation'? Oh, and who the bloody Hell was the bloke with the eyepatch?

Apparently Daniel Craig got the role of Bond due largely to his turn in Layer Cake.  If this is true than the end of Casino Royale is a cheeky homage to this.  Standing over Mr White on the hotel steps Craig delivers his first 'Bond, James Bond' line and now we see him truly become Bond and the full theme kicks in.

Now he's Bond and he's a fucker with a mobile

James Bond will not return. He will continue in Quantum of Solace and hopefully the title song will be a bit better.