B for Vendetta

B for Vendetta

I didn’t want to start with this cliché, but Bond is back. This time, loaded with wrath in his heart, distrust in his mind and ammo in his gun. Instant hit Daniel Craig returns for his second performance in the first ever sequel to a bond film. And intriguingly Marc Forster takes the control of the Titanic, much to the concerns of the fans. And to negate the anxiety, the film has been shot in more locations than ever. So, does Quantum of Solace bring back the sheer fun of Goldfinger or does it bring the dreaded minutes of Die Another Day? Or plainly, does it have the licence to thrill?

Quantum of Solace takes off from where Casino Royale (2006) left us with the most stylish Bond ending ever. Bond has just learned his first lesson – one of intense mistrust and callousness. He is shattered by Vasper’s (Eva Green) death and is sets out on a roaring rampage of revenge (sorry Kiddo!). With the help of Eva’s endnote (not another Bond pun!) and Britain’s own forensic service, he traces the whereabouts of Vasper’s extortioner which brings him to Haiti. Almost immediately, he meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a borderline femme fatale who herself is on a venture of personal vendetta and intends to avenge the death of her father. Bond finds out that she has close relations with an environmental activist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and employs her to get to him.

Greene says to Bond in one scene: “You make a fine couple – you are both, what is the expression? Damaged goods.” and that is what it is. Camille is Bond’s female counterpart in all sense of the term and equipoised as far as emotional state and instability is concerned. Both of them have lost the ones that they loved the most and both of them are determined to kill for personal relief. They feel tangled in a game they desperately want to finish. Bond helps alleviate Camille’s anxiety but she is unable to reciprocate, in spite of her wishes to free him from the vicious circle of survival and death. With the help of Camille, bond comes to realize that there is more to Greene’s plans than meets the eye. He tracks down Greene’s contacts, which reveals his unimaginable reach only affirming Bond’s now-natural suspicion.

Almost as a generalization, it is the megalomaniacs in Bond films that make them most interesting. Of course, there have been genius inventions such as Goldfinger and Scaramanga and gross mishaps such as Dr. Kananga and Gustav Graves. But it becomes their unwritten duty to make the films quirky, perhaps even lovably cheesy and essentially make them disparate from contemporary franchises such as Indiana Jones or Die Hard. Though the character of Greene is grossly underwritten (like Renard of The World is Not Enough (1999)), it is a very interesting one. He is not a man with steel teeth or huge underground lairs. For heaven’s sake, he does not even carry a gun. But his short stature, the slight hunch and mafia-like charm has enough to make him seem formidable. But as they say in the business world, it is the result that matters. And Greene’s character remains underdeveloped and green (I’m really sorry for that one!).

It is fascinating to see how the franchise has grown in the 46 years of its cinematic existence. From the incessant thriving on cold war and relationship with the Soviets in the Connery era, to chemical warfare and the space race in the Moore era, moving on to the post-Soviet world and the media’s intrusion in world affairs in the Brosnan era and the contemporary issues of terrorism and ecological threats with Craig, the humungous series has reinvented itself time and again to suit and sometimes succumb to the changing face of world culture and politics. The sexist tag on Bond has been discussed, M, a person with immense political power, has been made a woman, and Felix Leiter is now an African American, for crying out loud. All this is evidently a response to the gradual opening up of social outlooks of this mercurial world.

In Quantum of Solace, Greene doesn’t even care about the exhaustive oil race, but for something more rooted in the future and something more dreadful to the human race as a whole – a global issue that has been getting worthy attention in a lot of films off late – although the plot isn’t even relished explicitly by the baddie and not even its consequences stressed upon (another uncharacteristic quality of a Bond film, where the evil plot is usually the driving force for the narrative). Bond finds out Greene’s plans which he executes with the help of the legal privileges of Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), a general who has been trying to overthrow the Bolivian government and the watchful eyes (or rather the absence of it) of the CIA. And like the narrative, Bond does not care much about it and his sole intention is propelled by his need for vengeance.

The film’s basic premise reminds us of the Timothy Dalton starrer Licence To Kill (1989). Both follow Bond’s adventures as he sets out on a personal revenge in order to avenge the death of a beloved. And in both, the grim Bond is considered out of control and his licence to kill is revoked. However, in the older film, Bond never tries to kill almost throughout the whole film. Licence to Kill maintains a kind of tense atmosphere where the upper hand is gained by deceit and espionage and brutal action is but a luxury. And this is where Quantum of Solace itself goes out of control. Mr. Bond thinks by his gun and his primary objective remains dodging the next bullet.

Much talk is going on about how this film is so uncharacteristic of Bond and how un-Bond the franchise has become (yes, I know. No “Bond, James Bond”. No Q, No Moneypenny. No “Shaken, Not Stirred”, No puns…). So has Bond lost his suavity and panache? Yes and No. One should see that the age of Connery thrived on the elegance of the lead and his funny but daring escapades. The style part of the film arose because of the way the character was written and the uninterrupted shots that filmed him. The franchise was more of a spy series than an action till the age of Brosnan after which there has been a marked difference in the way Bond has been catered to the audience. Probably, fuelled by the financial debacle of Licence to Kill, Eon productions was hesitant to perpetuate the series and it was not until 1995 (GoldenEye) that they realized that the character should be marketed differently, perhaps as an influence of the CG wave. And now, the style aspect of the film rises from the progressive technology and the way it is utilized to furnish the high mojo quotient to the series. So it is true that Bond now isn’t what Ian Fleming imagined him to be, but only as a inevitable necessity owing to the changing times. But having said that, there is definitely a scope for marriage of the two eras and decidedly a possibility of restoration of Bond’s lost magic.

With a filmography that is highlighted by films such as Finding Neverland (2004) and The Kite Runner (2007), one wouldn’t place the odds in favour of the debutant Bond director Marc Forster. Perhaps, Forster himself was out on a mission – to prove that he is capable of experimenting with genres. The film seems Coppola-esque in a couple of scenes and Inarittu-ish in another, but maintains a Michael Bay-ian mindlessness almost throughout. High on action, with almost every alternate scene being a high octane automobile chase or a hand to hand combat, the average shot length for most part of the film is perhaps less than half a second and is at times (actually, many times) distracting. It feels like having no space to think or even breathe and of course, no quantum of solace. All of it seems acceptable when one is introduced to the third act. It looks as if the director has chopped off a good twenty minuets off the last act and as a result the whole showdown at the Bolivian desert feels abrupt and hurried.

All said, what is the bottom line? Another high-flying action extravaganza in this year’s tryingly long queue is satisfactory. Not as refreshing as Casino Royale and definitely not as pathetic as Die Another Day (2004), Quantum of Solace is a good film to watch for people who are new to Bond and they wouldn’t have any reason to complain (By the way, the film has a snazzy title track by Jack White and Alicia Keys). But for guys who have been boasting about Bond countdowns and ranting about the best and the worst of Bond, better stick to Connery!

Verdict:

P.S: This brings me to the end of the long and mostly enjoyable Bond marathon. Hope you enjoyed it too.

-FILE CLOSED-

Casino Royale (2006)
Martin Campbell
Bond, James Bond: Daniel Craig
Arch Rival: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen)
Bond Girl: Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Craig becomes the sixth man to don the role of the British secret agent in Casino Royale. The film follows the early professional life of Bond, just after he has been elevated to the 00 status. He is naïve and trusts women he sees. In this installment he follows Le Chiffre, the investment giant who deals with the money lent to him by the leading terrorist organizations and multiplies it using Poker matches. Bond is sent to play him fair and square and turn him bankrupt, forcing himself to run out of business. He is aided by Vesper Lynd, responsible for handling the huge sum of money sent along with Bond, and Mathis, the local agent for MI6. Sure enough, the ordeal becomes one involving more than Bond’s brawns. Meanwhile, it is revealed that the match is not just between Le Chiffre and Bond, but a third hand too.

Bond is no more (or not yet!) the smooth talking, ever punning, suave gentleman. He is a mean killing machine and lives by his code of duty. Daniel Craig is an instant hit unlike someone like Roger Moore who had to convince us for a couple of movies or three. His USP remains his barely legible accent and I-mean-business attitude. Immensely stylish and high on production value, Casino Royale is still a bit unconvincing perhaps because of the nature of Bond himself. The opening stunt scene easily features in the best of Bond and one only wonders what they will come up with in the next one.

Die Another Day (2002)
Lee Tamahori
Bond, James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Arch Rival: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens)
Bond Girl: Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry)

Die Another Day (2002)

Die Another Day (2002)

Brosnan’s final film as Bond is a mess, to say the least. Strong contender for the title “1001 bad puns”, this installment follows James Bond after he is captured in North Korea following a betrayal by a fellow agent. He is exchanged for a notorious terrorist Zao, but not after being tortured like hell. He gets out of the confinement imposed on him by M and goes on a journey of personal vendetta and tries to get back Zao, in the process discovering an Icelandic diamond giant’s connections with Zao. Bond now travels to Iceland to meet this man, Gustav Graves and his assistant Miranda. He is also aided by another agent Jinx, as he tries to hunt down the person who betrayed him.

Perhaps the worst Bond film ever, Die Another Day goes on and on without even noting that nobody cares beyond the 70 minute point (and that is for the patient viewer). Toby Stephens as the villain seems like a high school kid who has stolen his father’s pistol and is threatening his fellow school kids. And what were they thinking when they put in the invisible car? A monumental showcase of characteristic Bond puns and double entendres, Die Another Day feels like His Girl Friday for its judicious use of runtime, only that it isn’t even half as funny. It feels like the dreaded days of Roger Moore again, for the bond between the films is so evident (oops!).

The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Michael Apted
Bond, James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Arch Rival: Renard (Robert Carlyle)
Bond Girl: Christmas Jones (Denise Richards)

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The next piece in the huge series would be The World Is Not Enough and follows Bond’s mission to Europe to investigate the rat in the family of Richard King, the wealthy oil giant with a project of a lifetime on the anvil, after his murder at the MI6 headquarters itself. Bond tracks down the person responsible to be Renard, a terrorist whose accident has rendered him incapable of any physical feeling. As Bond tries to restore the hurt pride of both M and the organization, he stumbles across the truth about King’s murder. Bond, in the process, meets an obviously and phenomenally miscast Denise Richards as Christmas Jones (Get ready for the cheesy gags), the nuclear physicist (cough, cough) who tugs along. Like GoldenEye (1995) Bond is caught in another moral conflict as he has to choose between cold formalities of duty and warmth of relationships.

This version scores on the action sequences with lots of eye-candy involving both incredible computer graphics and genuine stunts. However, Renard’s character, which could have been converted into one of the best Bond villains, is wasted primarily to share his screen space with his sweet heart.  One of the best soundtracks of the series features a spectacular title track by Garbage (!).This one definitely shows that Bond is not an anachronism and is inching towards the new generation.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Roger Spottiswoode
Bond, James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Arch Rival: Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce)
Bond Girl: Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh)

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Pierce Brosnan would don the role of James Bond for the second time in Tomorrow Never Dies. In this part of the series, A Media Mogul named Elliot Carver, whose wife had been one of Bond’s many old flames, plans to induce war between the British and the Chinese governments in order to win the exclusive broadcasting rights of his satellite channel in China, the only country he hasn’t yet been able to get his hands on. He creates his news and executes them, thereby becoming the first one to publish and broadcast them. To gain advantage in China, he rigs up attacks on the defense forces on either country in order to trick them into believe that the other government had started the war. Enter Bond, who teams up with Chinese media official (?) Wai Lin to blow Carver’s cover and destroying his offshore operations and prevent war before things go out of hands.

There is a marked difference between Tomorrow Never Dies and the previous films in the series. Bond undergoes a much needed makeover and it works. The way issues and characters are handled is more refined (save Carver) and so is the suavity. The actions scenes are intact and issues handled are more pertinent to the age. It is refreshing to see no Soviet characters running all over. One of the better films of the series.

GoldenEye (1995)
Martin Campbell
Bond, James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Arch Rival: Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean)
Bond Girl: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco)

GoldenEye (1995)

GoldenEye (1995)

It is now time for the fifth actor to step into the shoes of the world’s greatest secret Agent. It is not just Pierce Brosnan who is new to the world of Bond, but even the new M is a lady, played by the no-nonsense Judy Dench. GoldenEye follows Bond’s adventures in Russia just after the collapse of Communism as he tries to dig into the mysterious character Janus, whose agents destroy the GoldenEye control center and steal its powering source. As the identity of Janus is revealed in the process of tracking down the criminals, Bond’s past is dug up. Bond meets up with Natalya, a programmer who luckily escapes n the massacre at the control centre, and both of them go to Cuba to trace out the other GoldenEye control centre. They have to stop Janus, who is planning the biggest bank robbery in history, from disrupting the computer systems of all the Banks in England. With Bond’s guilt plaguing him, can he act by the mind and not the heart?

Golden Eye remains the most delayed bond film ever, releasing six years after the previous installment. Yes, both Bond and M have changed, but the Russians still speak English among themselves with a Russian accent. Wittier and funnier than many bonds, GoldenEye tries to shed Bond’s macho image to an extent and delve into his personal life of harsh loneliness. Brosnan is good with his lover-boy looks and gives Bond a much required makeover in this otherwise regular Bond fodder.

Licence to Kill (1989)
John Glen
Bond, James Bond: Timothy Dalton
Arch Rival: Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi)
Bond Girl: Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell)

Licence to Kill (1989)

Licence to Kill (1989)

Timothy Dalton takes up the role of James Bond for one more time in the sixteenth offering in the series. In this one, Bond must avenge the murder of Della, wife of Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter and that takes him on the trail of a Mexican drug lord Sanchez, who has established a huge scientific base for the production of narcotic material and has planned to expand his control to as far as East Asia. Bond, with the help of CIA friend Pam Bouvier, flies across the country and infiltrates Sanchez’s loyal group, virtually becoming one of them. He is also helped by Sanchez’s beautiful mistress Lupe Lamora, who seems to have fallen for Bond. He starts his double crossing game and puts down his rivals using Sanchez himself. But Sanchez isn’t as big a sucker as he seems.

Timothy Dalton gives a one-two punch with Licence to Kill after immensely impressing with The Living Daylights. It is a pity that Dalton didn’t play in more Bond films, for he is the best Bond after Connery. The film brings back Bond’s off-the-cuff humour back and it usually helps. Action scenes are all top-notch and make the Roger Moore flicks seem like cartoons. Sanchez makes a great villain and just his stare seems enough to tell that he means business. Look out for a young Benicio Del Toro as Sanchez’s personal assistant. A worthy Bond.

The Living Daylights (1987)
John Glen
Bond, James Bond: Timothy Dalton
Arch Rival: Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé)
Bond Girl: Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo)

The Living Daylights (1987)

The Living Daylights (1987)

After an excruciating seven film streak as the English spy, Roger Moore steps down to make way for Timothy Dalton to step into Bond’s shoes – and how! The Living Daylights is a real thriller that has Bond defending a Russian general Koskov who has defected and is under threat from the KGB. Bond succeeds at that but soon finds that he has been tricked and the defection was but an excuse to turn the MI6 organization against the KGB head Pushkin who, as per Koskov’s statement, has started a mission to put down prominent American and British secret agents. Koskov, meanwhile, is allied with the American arms seller Whitaker who is an admirer of tyrants and warlords. Bond along with Kara Milovy, Koskov’s girlfriend, also tricked by him, and a group of Mujahedins try to stop Koskov from getting a huge amount of Opium out of Afghanistan and in turn get ammunition into the country.

Timothy Dalton is one of the most underrated and least spoken about Bond. Even the one hit wonder Lazenby is praised often. Though not as handsome as Connery or Brosnan, he sure can play the part effectively. The film, by the way, is one of the best Bond flicks and the stunts top all the earlier Bond films. The cracker of a climax where Bond fights in mid air is breathtaking even by today’s standards and thank god, no bad puns. The Afghan connection may raise a brow or two today.

A View To A Kill (1985)
John Glen
Bond, James Bond: Roger Moore
Arch Rival: Max Zorin (Christopher Walken)
Bond Girl: Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts)

A View To A Kill (1985)

A View To A Kill (1985)

Final part in the tiring seven part act by Roger Moore is one of his most sober and decent films. In this episode, Bond investigates a dubious racing circuit, where one particular horse seems to get better with more laps. He decides to track the owner of this horse which takes him to Max Zorin, a semiconductor giant who plans to use his might to blow down the silicon valley in the US so that the European companies gain monopoly in the industry. Bond also finds that he was a result of a biological experiment conducted by Nazis on the pregnant women in the concentration camps. He also meets geologist Stacey Sutton, who helps him discover Zorin’s plants and stop Zorin from blowing up his pipelines to flood the semiconductor cradle.

Last of the seven ventures for Roger Moore takes him back to the good old days of espionage rather than mindless shooting and reckless driving. Deliberately paced and developed, the film surprisingly succeeds partly because of the mellow yet charming performance of Christopher Walken as the semiconductor tycoon. The films final half hour turns as Psychopathic as Zorin himself and breaks the finely crafted film abruptly. Another wimpy girlfriend makes you wish for one tight slap.

Octopussy (1983)
John Glen
Bond, James Bond: Roger Moore
Arch Rival: Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan)
Bond Girl: Octopussy (Maud Adams)

Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy (1983)

The follow up to the phenomenal debacle For Your Eyes Only (1981) makes up for it to an extent as it takes the famous English spy to India. Bond is behind a wealthy Indian named Kamal Khan who buys the expensive Russian artifact called Faberge Egg. As Bond follows him to his home country, he finds out that he works with a woman who calls herself Octopussy and trains women of various countries to smuggle jewels. Khan, on the other hand, has his own plans and is hand in hand with a insubordinate Russian general Orlov. Orlov seeks to use the circus Octopussy has in Germany to bomb the US airbase so that it is disarmed and is vulnerable to Russian attack. Bond must now race against time to diffuse the bomb, save Octopussy and stop Kamal Khan.

The film could have easily avoided the last quarter hour but it still makes a great watch. Kabir Bedi as Gobinda makes a good impression as the deadpan thug who stops at nothing. The quality of production is visibly great and the stunts remain as stunning as the best Bond films. Indian cuisine is still ridiculed and mystified to the extreme. Moore’s disguise as the clown at the circus is the funniest he gets as his puns keep falling flat. Brace yourself for some high flying stunts by the ever lovable Q!