50 Years of James Bond: Part 2

Alec Trevelyan: "I might as well ask you if all those Vodka Martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you've killed... or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect."

The second part of my 50th Anniversary James Bond retrospective. In this part I take a look at the twilight years of Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton's brief tenure, the rise and fall of Pierce Brosnan, and the arrival of the controversial first blond Bond.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)


New decade. Same old Bond. Emphasis on old. Moore was in his 50s when he starred in this film and it showed. A back to basics Cold War thriller that sees Bond trying to stop the KGB from getting their hands on a British decoding machine, For Your Eyes Only was made as a direct reaction to the OTT excess of Moonraker. Despite that film's massive box office success (it was highest grossing Bond film at the time), Cubby Broccoli was keen to bring 007 back down to earth for the 12th Bond adventure. But even this stripped down approach couldn't keep out the silliness that was typical of the Moore era. Moonraker may have had a pigeon doing a double take, but that is nothing compared to this film's cameo by 'Margaret Thatcher'.

Octopussy (1983)


Like Moonraker, Octopussy is all over the place. It's silly, but fun in a 'we know it's crap' kind of way. The Indian portion of the film is a total farce that plays on obvious clich├ęs and lazy cultural stereotypes. Steven Berkoff and Louis Jourdan are on bad guy duties, both operating at opposite ends of the acting spectrum. Berkoff is all crazy eyes and manic shouting. Jourdan is all laid back charm. Roger Moore was seriously thinking of hanging up his Walther PPK before this film went into production. In case he decided to finally retire, Cubby had James Brolin waiting on standby (yes, that James Brolin). But with a rival, unofficial 007 movie also due out that year (starring Sir Sean no less), the producers ultimately offered Rog more cash because they didn't want to risk breaking in a new Bond against the might of Connery (not that the dire Never Say Never Again offered much of a challenge).

A View to a Kill (1985)


Moore's last, and worst, outing as 007. AVTAK is bad. Really bad. Far worse than any movie with Christopher Walken as the bad guy has any right to be. The plot is just Goldfinger with Fort Knox substituted for Silicon Valley. May Day is Oddjob but scarier (seeing Grace Jones and Rog in bed together is an image that will haunt me for the rest of my days). The action scenes are forgettable, with only the final fight on the Golden Gate Bridge sticking in the memory. By his own admission Moore was way too old to still be playing Bond. 007 has become an aging lounge lizard, preying on girls who look young enough to be his granddaughter. In fact, the entire British Secret Service looks like it should be claiming its pension. That said, there is a definite boyish thrill in seeing James Bond and John Steed team up to fight bad guys and save the world.

The Living Daylights (1897)


With Roger Moore now out of the picture, Cubby Broccoli was on the hunt for a new actor to play Bond, James Bond. After failing to get the man he wanted (more on him later), he finally chose Welshman (and future Time Lord President) Timothy Dalton. Dalton makes for an angrier, more cynical Bond, one far closer to Fleming than the Safari suit wearing superhero Moore played. In sharp contract to his predecessors, this Bond romances rather than seduces his leading lady. But Dalton struggles whenever the script gives him a typical 007 one-liner to deliver. He just never seems comfortable with them the same way that Roger and Sean did.

The Living Daylights isn't quite the fresh start the producers hoped it would be. Despite the grittier, more realistic tone, the film is often pulled back towards the more fantastical world of Moore (the escape from the USSR via cello case being the best example). This becomes more problematic in the second half when the plot dumps 007 right in the middle of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (where all the Mujahideen commanders naturally went to Oxford). Previous Bond films had existed in their own little world, one similar to our own but far more outlandish. So it's rather odd seeing Bond, and his rocket powered new Aston Martin, placed at the centre of real world conflict, especially one that was still going on at the time. The film also suffers from a pair of feeble villains. You never once buy that these guys could be a threat to 007.

License to Kill (1989)


The mid-late 80s was the era of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and the like, where the success of an action film was judged solely on how high the body count was. Arnie, Sly, Bruce and Mel were the new action gods. Next to these guys, Bond looked tame and old fashioned. License to Kill was the series attempt to keep up with and compete with the big boys of 80s action cinema. The result is a rather generic 80s revenge film, full of the same type of gratuitous violence we expect from films of that era. Most of the time it feels like it is doing its best not to be a Bond film, which is why it is somewhat jarring when loveable old Q, with his laser camera and explosive alarm clock (guaranteed to never wake up anyone who uses it), joins 007 on his bloody rampage of revenge. But all that extra blood and violence would be to no avail. Up against Batman and Indiana Jones, LTK performed badly at the box office. Since then no Bond film has dared open in the summer.

GoldenEye (1995)


GoldenEye was the first Bond film I ever saw at the cinema and is still one of my favourites. At the time of its release, legal disputes had kept the series on ice for six years. During that lengthy hiatus, Timothy Dalton had decided to resign from the role. If a new Bond film was to be made, the producers would need to find a new James Bond. Enter Pierce Brosnan. He was Cubby Broccoli's original choice to replace Roger Moore but was denied the chance when NBC unexpectedly renewed Remington Steele for another season. While he was later seduced by the Moore side of the force, Brosnan's Bond started out as a fusion of the best bits of his predecessors, mixed with the type of boyish enthusiasm of someone who is relishing the chance of getting to play one of his childhood heroes.

With GoldenEye, the franchise returned refreshed and re-energised after several years in the cinematic wilderness. The film brought Bond firmly into the modern era while at the same time acknowledging and celebrating its past. In this way the film is like a well put together Best of Bond compilation. No great Bond film would be complete without some great villains, and GoldenEye has some of the best in Sean Bean's treacherous 006 (the recipient of my favourite Sean Bean on screen death) and Famke Janssen's Xenia Onattopp, who has a very, ahem, creative way of killing people. There are a few down sides, though. Alan Cumming annoys as a Russian computer hacker, and I don't know what Eric Serra is trying to do with his score, I only know that I don't like it. Where was David Arnold when we needed him?

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)


I don't understand why so many people write off Tomorrow Never Dies. While not up to the same high standard as GoldenEye, this is a rather fun outing for 007, with some exciting action sequences, one of the best Bond girls ever in Michelle Yeoh, and an exceptional score by David Arnold. The only thing that lets the film down is the villain. Jonathan Pryce's Rupert Murdoch substitute isn't nearly as scary as the the real thing. The film's best bad guy is actually Vincent Schiavelli's assassin/forensics professor, Dr. Kaufman (he's very good at the celebrity overdose). But, alas, he's dispatched far too quickly.

The World is Not Enough (1999)


The big problem with The World Is Not Enough is that it peaks before we've even got to the main title sequence. Once that blistering boat chase down the Thames is out of the way, the film settles into the standard Bond pattern as our hero races to stop a terrorist who feels no pain, and a beautiful heiress with a secret from destroying a major city with a makeshift nuclear bomb. Wait a minute, that all sounds strangely familiar. Oh well, at least Nolan had the good sense not to do anything as absurd as cast Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist named Christmas.

Die Another Day (2002)


Produced to mark the franchise's 40th birthday, Die Another Day wanted to be every Bond film all at once. This resulted in a film that is a complete and utter mess. This is the Moonraker of the Pierce Brosnan era, only half as fun and twice as ridiculous. It is far easier to believe James Bond can jet off into outer space than that he drives an invisible car. If that wasn't bad enough, someone foolishly thought it would be a good idea to not only let Madonna sing the theme tune, but have an actual acting role in the film as well.

Casino Royale (2006)


Die Another Day may have done big business at the box office, but it did so at the expense of what was left of the franchise's credibility. Post-9/11, Bond needed to change. At the time everyone was quick to say that Bond was copying Jason Bourne, that young pretender with the same initials, but I would say Christopher Nolan was a far greater influence. Casino Royale does for Bond what Batman Begins did for Bruce Wayne, stripping everything down to the essential elements and returning the series to its roots (in this case Fleming's first Bond novel).

Director Martin Campbell had revived Bond once before with GoldenEye, and he was able to do it again with this film. Casino Royale completely reboots the franchise, recasting Bond as a young agent who has only recently earned his 00 status (depicted in the brilliantly moody monochrome pre-title sequence). After the CGI horrors of DAD, the action scenes (notably the free run chase through a Madagascar construction site) feel authentically Bond. In place of blunt innuendo there is genuine wit in the banter between Bond and Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, the second woman to win (and break) Bond's heart.

Although many scoffed at the idea of a blond Bond, Daniel Craig was quick to make them all eat humble pie. Benefiting from having a director and script that were both completely in-tune to his performance, Craig restored 007 credibility as a action star while at the same time giving the character some genuine emotional vulnerability, making him more complex and interesting. The only holdover from the Brosnan days is Judi Dench's M, changed here from stern boss lady to mentor and mother figure. Her relationship with Craig's rookie Bond is one of the highlights of the film and the entire Daniel Craig era so far.

Quantum of Solace (2008)


Winner of the most confusing Bond Title of All Time Award, Quantum of Solace is the first direct sequel in the franchise's history, picking up right where Casino Royale left off. As Bond films go, it is a decent effort, but the more times you watch it, the harder it is to ignore its many faults. For starters, there is barely any story. The script was done in a rush before the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike kicked off. By the time the film went into production, the strike was in full swing and no changes could be made, forcing the cast to improvise a lot (something Daniel Craig was not happy about). The action scenes are frantic and for the most part forgettable. And Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene is one of the most feeble opponents 007 has ever faced.

And so concludes my look back at 50 years of 007. I hope you all enjoyed reading as much as I did writing it. James Bond will return in Skyfall.
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Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

6 comments:

JimGfromWI said...

Thanks for part 2! Roger Moore - I was pretty happy when his turn as Bond came to an end. While I did enjoy some of the Moore movies, they were just too much of a joke to me. Bond was serious - I had read all the books, and while Bond had a quick wit, Moore's portrayal of him was always, to me, way over the top. I actually liked Timothy Dalton quite a bit, and enjoyed his two outings. But I remember there being such a huge amount of excitement when Brosnan took over, and like you Mark, Goldeneye is probably my favorite Bond movie. But the last Brosnan outing, Die Another Day, I thought was pretty bad, and I was again happy to see a new face in Daniel Craig, who I think has done a great, great job - maybe my 2nd favorite Bond, behind Connery. I can't wait to see Skyfall. Love the Bond movies, though, all of them. And like another British cornerstone of entertainment, Doctor Who, the periodic changing of the lead role has kept the franchise fresh and going strong.

ChrisB said...

Wonderful second part, Mark. I really enjoyed reading it. Do let us know what you think of the new one. I am hearing mixed reviews.

CrazyCris said...

To answer your final question, YES I definitely enjoyed reading these two posts! Great job Mark! :o)

I'm realising I probably haven't seen any of the Roger Moore films! Although I'm sure I must have seen at least one, I don't remember anything! Definitely not his last 3!

"Never Say Never Again" isn't Bond??? HUH??? Because I remember that one mostly because of the gag of the title making fun of Connery for being Bond again after saying Never... :p

I might have seen a Bond before on TV, but I'm not sure... the First Bond I remember seeing (and it was in the cinema) was The Living Daylights. And I remember being thrilled! But I don't remember anything else about it! I've seen all the subsequent Bonds in the cinema and remember Licence to Kill as being to over the top. I really liked GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies (Michelle Yeoh, yay!). The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day ugh.

Casino Royal really rebooted it and did a fabulous job. It felt REAL! And has become my favourite of all the Bonds. And then they had to ruin things with the non-sensical Quantum of Solace and now Skyfall. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Die Another Day was really bad. Not only did Madonna happen, but Halle Barry was in it too.

I was one of the people being not a fan of the Daniel Craig casting. I prayed for Julian McMahon to be cast but Nip&Tuck crushed this idea.

I am not sure if I think Daniel Craig is a good actor but I think the way Bond is written in this last three films with him suits his ability. And stripping Bond of all the fancy gadgets and make him more human was a really clever and much appreciated move.

I´m not a fan of Judi Dench and her portrayal of M either. Doesn´t fit for me.

I´m really looking forward for your Skyfall review since I saw it a week ago in Germany.

Billie Doux said...

Did The Living Daylights really come out in 1897? Pretty progressive for the 19th century.

Terrific rundown, Mark. I know he wasn't everyone's fave, but I like Timothy Dalton -- although it's probably because he was my favorite Rochester (I have a deep fondness for Jane Eyre). I never liked Pierce Brosnan. I thought I had seen every Bond movie, but I guess I haven't; I never saw some of the Brosnan movies, I think I missed a Roger Moore or two, and I still haven't seen Quantum of Solace. Casino Royale was amazing, though.

Anonymous said...

Dear lord, Die Another Day is so bad it hurt, for me at least. I love GoldenEye and Sean Bean as 006 (and Alan Cumming, sorry). I must admit I remember very few things from Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough, but I remember I enjoyed them. I loved Casino Royale and thought Quantum of Solace was a good effort, but not that good. Even so, I love that it picked up right after CR and we had Bond's development as a character.

I remember now that I had a list of all Bonds movies in my diary back in 2004, and I would crossed when I had seen it. Nostalgic.