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007/50: The Bondathon reviews (2000s)

November 18, 2012

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So, here it is, peeps, the final trio of reviews following the completion of my ‘Bondathon’ – a chronologically-ordered Bond film-watching marathon (check out reviews of the 1960s era here: 1 and 2; the 1970s’ here; the 1980s’ here: 1 and 2 and the 1990s’ here).

And it ends, inevitably, with the ’00s, a decade of contrasts thanks to boom-and-bust; globalisation and terrorist paranoia; Bush and Obama; QI and blinkin’ X Factor. And the cinematic Bond went through a right about-turn in the ’00s too, what with The Brozzer’s fantastical final bow Die Another Day giving way to the ‘realism’ of Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. But just how do they rate and rank according to yours truly? Well, read on and find out, my dear blog-friendly friends…

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Bondathon’ takes in all 24 cinematically released Bond films, from Dr No (1962) right through to Quantum Of Solace (2008) – including the ‘unofficial’ efforts Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983)
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories, the inclusion of which tend to define a Bond film as a Bond film (‘Plot‘, ‘Bond‘, ‘Girls‘, ‘Villains‘, ‘Action‘, ‘Humour‘, ‘Music‘, ‘Locations‘, ‘Gadgets‘ and ‘Style‘), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100 – which ensures all 24 films can be properly ranked
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster‘ for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus five points) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Directed by: Lee Tamahori; Produced by: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; Screenplay by: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – influenced by the Ian Fleming novel Moonraker (1955) and the Kingsley Amis Bond novel Colonel Sun (1968); Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Michael Madsen, Emilio Echevarría, Michael Garevoy, Lawrence Makoare, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Rachel Grant and Madonna; Certificate: 12; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 133 minutes; Colour; Released: November 20 2002; Worldwide box-office: $431.9m (inflation adjusted: $543.6m ~ 11/24*)

denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com

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Just as Connery had with Thunderball (1965) and Moore with Moonraker (1979), Pierce Brosnan suffers his ‘fourth movie mis-step’ with final effort Die Another Day. Why? It’s big, brash and overblown bunkum, not least its plot. Bond infiltrates a North Korean arms deal held by young Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, but his cover’s blown by an MI6 mole. With his operation gone tits up, 007’s incarcerated for 14 months until diplomatically swapped for Moon’s henchman Zao, who’d been caught by the West. Put out to pasture by M, our man hunts down Zao in Cuba, where he finds the latter in a DNA-face-changing clinic and meets US NSA agent Jacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson. Tracing diamonds he took from Zao, before the latter escaped his clutches, to an Icelandic diamond mine run by Argentine tycoon Gustav Graves (who’s appeared out of nowhere during his time away), 007 travels to London to meet Graves. Reinstated by M, he’s ordered to visit a demonstration of ‘Icarus’, a diamond-powered, mega solar-power delivering space satellite, at the Icelandic mine-cum-ice-palace, where he’s shadowed by MI6 agent Miranda Frost (doubling as Graves’ assistant) and again meets Jinx. Bond finally realises Graves is Moon, having had his face DNA-changed to that of a Caucasian, and learns Frost is the latter’s accomplice, thus, the MI6 mole that betrayed him.

Ironically, as Pierce Brosnan’s 007 films took a step backwards with each new offering, he arguably stepped further forward with each new performance. By the time of Day, his Bond‘s at the height of its smooth and cool, ultra confident, yet vulnerable and human Bondness – even if in this one he’s forced to sport that Robinson Crusoe makeover following his Korean incarceration (indeed, his I’m-Bond-so-I-don’t-care walk through the hotel lobby with dreadful hair and dripping wet pyjamas is a highlight). Moreover, he delivers with panache both the inane dialogue (post-coital with a girl: “I’m so bad”/ “Even when you’re good”; the shoehorning in of the film’s title: “So you live to die another day”) and the decent lines he’s given (on a cache of diamonds hiding a bomb: “Don’t blow it all at once”; ordering his drink at an ice bar: “Vodka Martini with plenty of ice – if you can spare it”). Overall then, he’s the heartbeat of the film that, when possible, keeps it grounded and engaging – far from a bad way for him to bow out of Bondage.

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Despite deploying big names as main characters in the past, the Eon series has never suffered from ‘stunt casting’; this time it definitely does. Hiring Hollywood star Halle Berry to appear opposite Brosnan as NSA operative Jinx reeks of opportunism and obviousness. There was nothing subtle about her marketing as a co-star (she shared Brosnan’s ‘Bondian pose’ on the main posters), neither is there much subtlety about her performance – not least the overdone Ursula Andress in Dr No (1962) homage that’s Jinx’s entrance, rising (less Venus-like, more orgasmic) from the sea in a bikini that just keeps Ms Berry’s bosom in place. The latter’s a competent actress, but for all her screen-time and publicity, her character’s an underwritten, clichéd Bond-as-action-girl, saddled like everyone else with hokey dialogue. Much better among the girls, though, (and nearly saving this facet of the film) is the perfectly lovely Rosamund Pike as the far from English Rose-like Miranda Frost. The Pikelet delightfully gets her teeth stuck into this duplicitous British agent, barely tolerating Bond as she sexily beds him and coming undone in her action showdown with Jinx thanks only to her hubris. Don’t doubt it, Pike’s Frost may just be the best thing in Day.

On the one hand, given Gustav Graves is supposed to be a mock-Bond clone, you could say Toby Stephens’ snidely sneering, overtly sartorial and overall Elliot Carver-like pantomimic baddie works; on the other, you could say he’s a crap villain delivered by an otherwise more than decent actor. And afraid I’ll have to go for the latter option, guys – but I’d blame ill-conceived direction from Lee Tamahori (far from his only mis-step on this flick) and the daft script much more than Stephens here. The rest of Day‘s villains are no better. Will Yun Lee’s pre-Graves Moon is a spunky young hothead, but limited only to the pre-titles; Michael Garevoy’s tecnho aide Vlad is a bit of a Boris Grishenko from GoldenEye (1995), but without the humour; and Lawrence Makoare’s heavy Mr Kil seems to exist only for a terrible pun on his moniker (“That’s a name to die for” – ouch!). In appearance alone, the movie’s best badguy is Rick Yune’s Zao, his diamond-encrusted, blue-eyed visage and half-DNA-transformed bald bonce a memorably dynamic look, but lacking any personality, let alone charisma, he’s ultimately a forgettable let-down.

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In many ways, its action is Day at its worst; in others, it’s actually strangely satisfying. There’s something of the watching-a-car-crash about Bond’s bad CGI para-surfing a tidal wave with parts of  Graves’ ice-speeder as the latter uses Icarus to destroy the very ice on which it was speeding, just as there is about the huge Antonov plane-set climax getting ever more ridiculous as Bond and Jinx veer the thing towards Icarus’s pathway of pure sunlight destroying everything on its way to the Korean 37th Parallel, while, respectively, Jinx and Frost and Bond and Graves (the latter wearing, yes, a Robocop-esque suit) duke it out like they’re in a Jean-Claude Van Damme ‘bargain bin’ flick from the ’80s. Better (if only by degrees) are the pre-titles’ hovercraft chase towards the South Korean border and the Icelandic ice lake-set duel between Bond’s gadget-laden Aston Martin Vanquish and Zao’s exactly the same gadget-laden green Jaguar XKR. Easily the best sequence, though, is the introductory showdown between Bond and Graves at the London fencing club. Moving from foils via several blades all the way up to broadswords, it’s little more subtle than the aforementioned scenes, but genuinely finds the right blend of self-mockery and blood-pumping spills, while standing alone as a rare example of sword-play in the cinematic Bond.

As much – if not more – than any other Bond flick, Day mostly strives for a very light tone, but too often its humour falls as flat as a wrong-side-up slice of toast. There are a few funny moments, such as the satisfying Q scene in the abandoned Tube station (its 40th anniversary homages executed well, unlike those in the rest of the flick), in which the rolling in of the invisible car prompts Bond to observe of Q: “Maybe you’ve been down here too long”. Yet there’s too many other ‘funny’ moments that make one wince; Bond and Jinx’s first meeting on the Cuban beachfront being a prime example – its dialogue, including Jinx commenting on 007’s claim he’s an ‘ornithologist’ by glancing at his crotch and punning “Boy, now there’s a mouthful”, is like something out of the craptastic ’70s Confessions series. Admittedly, now and again subtle humour glints through too, such as Brosnan and Dench’s (by now) well honed witty byplay and his interactions with Emilio Echevarría’s splendid Cuban agent Raoul, but it’s all too fleeting.

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Let’s face it, the inclusion of Madonna’s techno-inspired warble-fest as this flick’s title song is pretty unforgivable – it sounds like the result of her and a producer buggering about in the recording studio after a boozy lunch. (Indeed, the inclusion of the chanteuse/ sort-of movie actress in a cameo at the start of the fencing club scene’s unforgivable too, but really that’s got nothing to do with Day‘s music). As if uninspired by what’s going on on-screen – as the great John Barry seemed to be when composing for that other 007 mis-step The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) – David Arnold turns in a score here that’s down on his usual standard. Taking up the scoring trend he started for himself in directly preceding entry The World Is Not Enough (1999), that is (like Madonna’s dire tune) sound-tracking visuals with techno-esque beats, he runs with it yet further (Gunbarrel/ Surf’s Up, Hovercraft Chase, Whiteout, Ice Palace Car ChaseIced IncAntonov – take your pick). Better, though, is the recurrence of the love theme from the final scene of TWINE (Christmas In Turkey) in this one’s final scene: Going Down Together. But by far the best theme – and easily one of the best of Arnold’s entire Bond canon, mind you – is Cuba/ Cuban Car (click above image to hear it), which, yes, accompanies our man’s arrival in Havana. Full of Latin rhythms and perky brass, it weaves the Bond Theme wonderfully into a fine ethnic scene-setting cue.

Like with too many of the Brosnan Bond films, you come away from this one thinking he’s visited more exotic locations than he actually has. Thanks to the (admittedly sensible) finding of cheaper and/ or more realisable alternatives for others, the only genuinely impressive locale in Day is Iceland with its unearthly white-blue jagged clumps of ice. Or, to be specific, Vatnajökull, on whose ice lake the explosive car chase takes place. As said, you wouldn’t know it, but the Havana and ‘Los Organos’ DNA clinic scenes were filmed in Cádiz in Spain’s Andalucia region, while the bio-domes of Cornwall’s Eden Project stand in for Graves’ Icelandic diamond mine and UK locales as exotic as Aldershot were substituted for North Korea (especially in the opening hovercraft chase). At least London’s Westminster Bridge and Buckingham Palace are the real thing, although the drowning out of the shot of the latter with The Clash’s London Calling has always been an overly modernist bone of contention for many Bond fans.

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As an OTT Eon entry, it probably comes as no surprise that Day does all right on the gadgets front – one or two of them are actually quite cool, dinky, subtle and useful.  Take the sonic agitator ring that, when twisted on the wearer’s finger, causes a glass surface next to which it’s placed to shatter owing to the high-pitched squeal it emits (Bond deploys it to escape capture by his foes in Graves’ ice palace bio-dome HQ thingee). Take too maybe the movie’s neatest and best ’40th anniversary homage’, a slightly sleeker and more modern-looking mini breather (updated from the one in Thunderball), which he uses for some underwater activity in Iceland. Less impressive is yet another laser cutter boasted by 007’s latest Omega Seamaster watch, a surfboard with a hidden panel that contains explosive, a knife and a mini-computer and, worst of all, Graves’ ‘dream machine’, which he uses for a couple of hours each day to keep him sane because he has permanent insomnia following his gene-therapy treatment (WTF? How does that even work?), looking as it does like a Rastafarian’s psychedelic face-mask thanks to its trailing dreadlocks.

Although from the halfway point on, Day descends into fantastical nonsense, very often it looks darn good. Indeed, at times, its style is a saving grace. In his final appearance, The Brozzer looks as dapper as ever – and when not is cool-as-you-like in his Cuban shirt and shades, bombing around in his Ford Fairlane retro roadster, smoking cigars and drinking mojitos; or alternatively escaping from HMS MI6 for a salubrious Hong Kong hotel looking like something the cat dragged in (which, for the funnies, equally works). There’s also, of course – and importantly so – the return of the Aston Martin to Bond, in the shape of the modern but beautiful Vanquish. And yet, eccentrically, what’s good about this flick’s often what’s bad about it too. Not least the Vanquish, which infamously becomes the ‘Vanish’ (finally a daft gadget too far for all 007 fans), while director Tamahori’s colouful, luxurious visuals and good pacing inexplicably give way to a jerky, The Matrix-style slo-mo gimmick, presumably employed to make scenes look ‘cooler’, and over-cooked, crazy action sequences that would fit better in Looney Tunes cartoons (the ice lake chase and the Antonov climax). And all that’s not even to mention Graves’ Robocop suit…

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Adjuster: 0

Actually rather well executed (mostly) until Halle Berry’s entrance, if not until the jaunt to Iceland, Die Another Day from then on descends into utter overblown codswallop. Clearly the series required a re-think after this entry, but it remains something of a wicked pleasure ‘crap movie’ to lose yourself in after a boozy Friday night down the pub – and that certainly can’t be said of, yes, Licence To Kill (1989).

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Best bit: Bond and Frost’s diversionary snoggage

Best line: “You know, you’re smarter than you look”/ “Better than looking smarter than you are”

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Directed by: Martin Campbell; Produced by: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis – adapted from the Ian Fleming novel (1953); Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Ivana Miličević, Isaac de Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Sébastien Foucan, Ludger Pistor, Richard Sammel, Tobias Mendes, Claudio Santamaria, Tsai Ling and Verushka; Certificate: 12; Country: UK/ USA/ Czech Republic; Running time: 144 minutes; Colour/ black and white; Released: November 14 2006; Worldwide box-office: $596.4m (inflation adjusted: $669.8m ~ 6/24*)

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Before, when Eon’s series had gone too far one way, they jerked it back the other way, but in following up Day they do more – they ‘reboot’ the entire Bond brand. Casino Royale‘s plot opens with Bond earning his ’00’ status by killing two targets. From here he goes to Madagascar to hunt down terrorist Mollaka, whom instead of allowing to escape, he kills. Unhappy with the ‘blunt instrument’ she’s promoted, M banishes him, but he gets on with the mission – connecting Mollaka to his client, Bahamian-based fixer Alex Dimitrios, whom he seeks out in Nassau, tails to Miami Airport and prevents the blowing up a huge airliner. M next sends him after Dimitrios’s employer Le Chiffre, banker for a criminal organisation, whom has lost a fortune of clients’ money in selling their stock of the would-be blown up plane’s airline. 007 travels to Montenegro, with UK Treasury liaison Vesper Lynd, to defeat Le Chiffre at poker, ensuring he doesn’t make back the money he’s lost. Allied too by MI6 contact René Mathis and CIA agent Felix Leiter, Bond beats Le Chiffre, only for the latter to kidnap Vesper, but be mysteriously offed by his own people with Bond and Vesper’s lives spared. The two fall in love, only for him to discover Vesper, whom commits suicide, was always going to hand the winnings over to the organisation in ransom for a previous boyfriend it holds hostage. Heart-broken but now the Bond we know (more or less), he goes after the money and the next chain in the organisation, Mr White… Using Fleming’s first, slight and tragic 007 novel as its basis, this plot brilliantly blends with it modern terrorist fear and its Bond ‘becoming’ Bond subtext.

Lambasted for being too short, too ‘ugly’ and, well, blond, Daniel Craig proved many wrong when they finally saw his 007. Crudely, one may say his Bond mixes the smooth, animal-magnetim and physical prowess of Connery with the (supposedly) ruthless, hard realism of Dalton; but there’s much more to it than that. Coming to the role as perhaps its best actor yet, Craig lends him conceivability, a hell of a lot of physicality and brutish charm, yes, but his Bond too goes through one hell of a character arc – from robotic ex-SAS man to fully-fledged 007 via a heart-opening doomed love affair – the like of which, in 20 previous escapades, our hero hadn’t been allowed, not even in the otherwise awesome On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). By their standards then, Craig’s performance in Royale is indeed magisterial.

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Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is the best Bond Girl since Diana Rigg’s Tracy in Majesty’s. For this film to work, she has to be too – being that Vesper is the only other of his many girls he genuinely falls in love with (at least in Fleming, but as both flicks are ‘faithful’ Fleming adaptations that statement stands up here). In league with the screenplay’s tip-top outlining of her (a cold, confident over-achiever whose exterior belies a damaged soul), Green nails her character, playing her as cool, witty, caustic and very sexy, but as the film goes on peeling back her skin to show the vulnerability beneath and hinting at why she wears her Algerian love-knot necklace (which Bond, of course, guesses correctly), until the devastating denouement. It’s heart-breaking stuff and all because Vesper’s a complex and convincing character (despite the French Green’s slightly wobbly English accent; a very minor quibble). Royale also boasts the glamour and beauty of Caterina Murino’s Solange, whom as Dimitrios’s wife becomes the flick’s ‘sacrificial lamb’ thanks to Bond’s interference, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio, whom along with Craig’s on-set assistant Veronika Hladikova, walks past 007 outside the Bahamian Ocean Club.

Why Royale‘s villains work so well is because they’re such cruel, ruthless, evil b*stards. They’re grown-up Bond villains in a grown-up Bond film whom, with its serious tone and twisty-turny plot, make you wonder whether they may actually get the better of our rookie hero. Chief – and best – among them is Mads Mikkelsen’s cruely handsome Le Chiffre. More a nightmarish accountant than an Alec Trevelyan, he shows he can mix it, though, by beating Bond’s crown jewels with a rope as well as trying to beat him in the pivotal poker sequence. He also has an awesome deformity – a tear duct that weeps blood. There’s also Isaac de Bankolé’s genuinely scary Ugandan warlord Obanno; Simon Abkarian’s slimy (and curly haired) bugger Dimitrios; Sébastien Foucan’s free-jumping Mollaka; Claudio Santamaria’s Miami-based terrorist Carlos; Richard Sammel’s one-lens-tinted-black-glasses-wearing and panama hat-sporting Gettler (whom appears in Fleming’s novel) and, best of all, Jesper Christensen’s coldly angular-faced and enigmatic Mr White. To say this bunch is memorable is like saying the Munch Bunch are reminiscent of foodstuffs.

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One of the reasons why Royale kicks arse is because, as well as offering gripping drama, it kicks arse – boasting the series’ best action since Majesty’s. There’s the fast-paced chase and punch-up between Bond and Carlos on Miami Dade’s runway; there’s the climactic set-piece in which our man sinks a Venetian villa by shooting away its air-filled supports and shooting up the heavies; there’s the brutal fisticuffs that see Bond come to bloody blows with Obanno and his henchman (so visceral it seems to defy the flick’s ’12’ rating); there’s the would-be car chase following Vesper’s kidnapping, cut short by 007’s Aston Martin DBS swerving to avoid her in the middle of the road and executing a spectacular world-record-breaking barrel roll; and best of all there’s the sequence that opens everything: Bond’s pursuit of Mollaka. Essentially a foot chase up a crane, dizzyingly on a crane, down a crane, on road and in an Embassy (ending with our man shooting up the joint as he attempts to apprehend his quarry), it’s an utterly thrilling, vertigo-inducing sequence that not only properly introduces to the world Craig’s 007, but also Foucan’s jump-on-and-off-outdoor-things ‘sport’ parkour (free-running). youtube would never be the same again.

Royale is not a ‘funny’ Bond film, yet, in keeping with its overall quality, its humour is perfectly fitting and thoroughly satisfying. Mostly dialogue-driven, it’s a galaxy away from the slapstick and blunt punning of Day; far closer to the successful if slight comedy of Dr No and From Russia With Love (1963). The highlight’s the train scene in which Bond and Vesper meet. Analysing each other and trading witty barbs, the two strike up a sparring banter that continues until the poker game escalates, with Bond (after Vesper’s mock-takedown of him) answering how his lamb was with “skewered – one sympathises”. Elsewhere, Le Chiffre’s torture of a naked, strapped-to-a-chair Bond is defused – but effectively so – by humour (“I’ve got a little itch down there, would you mind”/ “To the right! To the right!”/ “Now everyone’s going to know you died scratching my balls”). Also, our man’s mis-treatment of a tourist’s car and tossing away its keys (to divert security peeps at the Ocean Club) when the latter arrogantly mistakes him for a valet are pure Bond, while Ludger Pistor’s Swiss banker lends an amusing camp lightness that’s never out of place.

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Hands down, David Arnold’s Royale score is his best Eon effort. Like John Barry before him and John Williams for the Star Wars series, his music here plays a critical role in making key scenes work, thereby elevating the overall flick. His best contribution – easily his 007 repertoire’s outstanding composition – is Vesper (click above image to hear it). Piano-led and rather stripped back before it opens up orchestrally, it beautifully, melancholically, even achingly soundtracks Bond and Vesper’s doomed romance from its tentative beginnings right up to its tragic Venetian conclusion (City Of Lovers, Death Of Vesper). Also, Arnold very smartly reflects the plot’s efforts to show Bond’s development into the 007 we know by never giving us the full Bond Theme; just notes of it here and there at choice Bondian moments, often mixing them with the title song You Know My Name‘s theme, which thus works nicely as a one-off substitute for Bond’s most recognisable musical cue (Trip AcesDinner Jackets, Bond Wins It All). The aforementioned song, performed as it is by Chris Cornell and written by him and Arnold, is indeed an utter stonker. Finally, though, as Bond at last delivers his trademark line at the movie’s end we get The Bond Theme good and proper in the predictably titled but awesomely swaggering The Name’s Bond… James Bond.

Cannily, this Bond film plays it safe by visiting a pair of ‘classic’ series locations. The Bahamas’ New Providence and Paradise Islands are used not just for the sun-kissed beach- and Nassau-set scenes (nicely echoing Thunderball‘s locales), but also for the Madagascar chase sequence. Venice, of course, is the setting for the heart-tugging finale; as a backdrop for (doomed) romance here, it’s just as – if not more – memorable as it was in Russia and Moonraker. By contrast, Royale also offers a pair of modern classic Bond locations. The first is the languid, expansive, almost melancholic beauty of Italy’s Lake Como, where Bond both recuperates (Villa Balbianella) and Mr White resides (Villa Gaeta) and the second several locales in the Czech Repubulic – whose Barrandov and Modrany Studios are primarily used for interiors shooting. These number the capital Prague (for, surprisingly, the Miami Airport scenes among others), Locket (the Montenegro town square) and the exquisite Karlovy Vary (mostly the casino exteriors).

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Like deliberately serious Eon efforts before it, Royale doesn’t really do gadgets – their minor involvement a conscious effort to get Bond back to basics, as he does quite literally in this movie. Like in Majesty’s then, our man has to use his wits (his pursuit of Mollaka) and his brawn to overcome opponents (his unceremonious killing of both Dryden’s pre-titles contact and later Obanno). In spite of that, though, a couple of  devices play pivotal roles plot-wise. The first is the bug that’s injected into his wrist for M to keep tabs on her raw rookie, only to be removed when he’s kidnapped by Le Chiffre. And the second is particularly good, as is it’s the mini-defibrililator that can be accessed in a hidden compartment of the Aston Martin DBS’s dashboard and comes into its own in the tense scene when Bond has to try and save his own life after being poisoned by Le Chiffre’s girlfriend Valenka (Ivana Miličević). For sure, if he existed yet in this new timeline and/ or universe, Q would be proud of that particular gadget.

Make no mistake, Royale‘s delivery in the style department is as hard-hitting as Craig’s Bond in the Hotel Splendide’s stairwell. Thanks to the re-pairing of director Martin Campbell and his cinematographer Phil Meheux (who collaborated so well on GoldenEye), the latter film’s glamorous ‘heightened reality’ is gloriously rediscovered, not least in the capture of the Bahamian, Italian and Czech locations, but also of the ‘Casino Royale’ interiors (hats off then to veteran production designer Peter Lamont for his realisation of this perfect set). The movie’s irresistible look is finely tempered, though, by radical filming choices: the black-and-white pre-’00’-Bond pre-titles; the stark close-ups as Bond and Obanno duke it out; the coldly and austerely shot torture of our man; and the out-of-focus, severe filming of a drugged 007 trying desperately to get the poison out of his system are all departures for the Eon series, but highly effective. Perhaps most memorable of all, mind, are the little touches, such as Vesper’s devastating, unforgettable purple and black ballgowns and the fleeting focus on Craig’s incredibly blue eyes (sat in the dark in his accelerating DBS and as his face, bit by bit, is blacked out at the end of Daniel Kleinman’s dynamic, outstanding opening credits). Overall then, Royale‘s style is a veritable straight flush.

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Adjuster: +1

Ostensibly an origin tale, Casino Royale does oh-so much more than just reset Eon’s series – from start to brilliant end, it revitalises the big-screen Bond in a way really unlike any before. An excellent adaptation of Fleming’s quite un-Bondian original Bond novel, it introduces Daniel Craig’s new 007 perfectly – hard, urgent, ruthlessly efficient and irresistible, just like the film whose beating heart he is throughout.

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Best bit and best line: Bond ‘becomes’ Bond ~ “The name’s Bond, James Bond”

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Directed by: Marc Forster; Produced by: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; Screenplay by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – title taken from the Ian Fleming short story Quantum Of Solace from For Your Eyes Only (1960); Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Gemma Arterton, Jesper Christensen, Joaquín Cosío, David Harbour, Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Tim Piggot-Smith, Stana Katic and Simon Kassianides; Certificate: 12; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 106 minutes; Colour; Released: October 31 2008; Worldwide box-office: $591.7m (inflation adjusted: $622.2m ~ 9/24*)

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It may be the 22nd, but Quantum Of Solace is a Bond film first – the first direct sequel; its plot kicking-off just an hour after Royale ends. Arriving in the Italian city Siena, Bond (with M) questions Mr White, but the interrogation’s cut short by her turncoat bodyguard helping White escape. 007 follows a lead to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he meets a woman named Camille, whom he observes with ‘person of interest’ Dominic Greene. Actually a Bolivian spy trying to get to Greene’s associate, Bolivian army general Medrano, Camille attempts to assassinate the latter, only for Bond (misreading the situation) to ‘save’ her. Bond follows Greene to an opera performance in Bregenz, Austria, where the latter consorts with fellow members of Royale‘s crime organisation, now referred to as ‘Quantum’. Disrupting this meeting, he seeks out ally Mathis, whom has contacts in Bolivia, where Greene’s up to no good. There he meets Camille again and finds Greene’s ecological project is a front to launch a coup that’ll see Medrano take power, then force the latter to agree Quantum runs Bolivia’s water supply for inflated prices. Mathis is killed, but the CIA’s Felix Leiter informs Bond where the deal will be struck so he can prevent it, learn from Greene the location of Vesper’s ‘boyfriend’ (who’s responsible for her blackmailing and suicide) and Camille can take down Medrano. With its political backdrop and emotional backbone, Solace‘s story’s intriguing, engaging stuff.

While Royale‘s crowd-pleasingly perfect ending suggested Craig’s Bond ‘became’ Bond there and then, Solace refutes that. On his sophomore mission, 007’s still in his genesis; he’s still to get Vesper out of his system, find his ‘quantum of solace’ – a bit disappointing admittedly, given his ‘becoming Bond’ was done so well in Royale, but maybe for the best as it gives actor-and-a-half Craig something substantial to play with. Sure, there’s his 007’s becoming smoother and more of a playboy (his introduction to Camille; his swagger at the opera; his treatment of Fields), yet he’s also  nursing a broken heart (his drunken, middle-of-the-night Martini binge; his final scene with Camille). He’s more monosyllabic, more robotic than our usual Bond; more Royale than Skyfall (2012). Craig portrays him with aplomb, of course, but when, at the film’s end, in reply to M’s assertion it’s good to have him back, he claims “I never left” and drops Vesper’s love-knot necklace in the snow, for better or worse it’s this moment he becomes Bond (cue the gunbarrel).

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Despite her being one of the most beautiful women to have graced a Bond film and displaying decent acting chops, Olga Kurylenko’s character curiously isn’t the most memorable of Bond Girls. Camille Montes, daughter of a Bolivian army big-wig murdered by Medrano (whom then assaulted her family), is smart, gutsy and believable, thanks to her own Bond-like motivation to hunt down the bad guys and, thus, her own narrative. Yet maybe in this very sober Eon effort she’s just too realistic and not glamorous and flamboyant enough to shine as much as she might opposite Craig’s strong 007 performance. To be fair, mind, Vesper casts a long shadow over this film, thus Camille’s never going to compete in his – and maybe our – eyes. By contrast, lending far more feminine lightness is Gemma Arterton’s perky British Consulate girl in Bolivia,  Fields (“…just Fields”; whose first name, the end credits reveal, is ‘Strawberry’ – Solace‘s idea of a gag that). A thorn in Bond’s side before becoming an easy lay and ally, she inevitably ends up the movie’s ‘sacrificial lamb’. She’s killed, covered deflectively in oil, in a neat but almost Die Another Day-esque homage to classic Bond lore (Jill Masterson’s death-by-gold-paint in Goldfinger).

Solace‘s villains, despite all being despicable, feel like they pose nothing like the danger Royale‘s did. And as this flick’s its sequel and so its villains belong to the same organisation that film’s did, it’s bit of a problem. It’s most true of chief baddie Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene, an evil, cruel, devious, almost frog-faced terrorist wheeler-dealer – a Kronsteen from Russia for the 21st Century. But then, had they met, wouldn’t Bond have swatted Kronsteen like a fly? And that’s the point: eventually Bond does just that to Greene; in fact, he doesn’t even kill him, merely leaving Quantum to do so as he gives up the intel Bond wanted all along and is left in the desert. There’s also Joaquín Cosío’s Medrano, more an ’80s action flick baddie than Bond villain; Anatole Taubman’s Elvis, an utterly unthreatening henchman; and Simon Kassianides’ Yusef, Vesper’s ‘boyfriend’ whom Quantum pretended to hold for ransom, yet he’s ultimately more a student than worthy foe for 007. The best of the lot’s easily Jesper Christensen’s Mr White. As enigmatic as he was in Royale, he was originally to be polished off by Bond, but this scene was cut, presumably in case Eon want him and Quantum to return at a later date. Let’s hope one day they do…

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A bone of contention with many Bond fans is Solace‘s action. The conventional wisdom is that, under the supervision of the Bourne film series’ second unit director Dan Bradley, if Solace‘s action sequences don’t entirely solidify the claim Craig’s Bond era has been heavily influenced by Bourne, then this flick’s action detrimentally is. A fair summation? Well, yes and no. While the pre-titles car chase offers dynamic, visceral thrills, its filming and editing’s deliberately disorientating effect irritates as much as it entertains, just as does Bond’s first hand-to-hand skirmish when he’s forced to kill a lowly Quantum operative in Haiti (it’s far from clear how the latter actually dies), while the CGI-ification of Bond and Camille’s single-parachute skydive following the aeroplane dogfight above the Bolivian desert looks rather daft. Yet the action climax in the middle of said desert at the Perla De Las Dunas hotel is satisfying; hard, violent, fiery and fraught, it comprises a real sense of danger and potential death (nay, maybe too dark realism?) for our heroes that few other Bond climaxes can claim to. Even better, though, is the best action sequence, 007’s pursuit of the Quantum-turned MI6 agent Mitchell through Siena’s colourful Palio horse-race, over its rooftops and inside its towers, churches and claustrophobic tunnels. ‘Grittily’ cut like the car chase it may be, but culminates in a riveting few seconds on a rickety scaffolding that’s nail-biting indeed.

Sober and often sombre (owing to its much better quality, it’s darker even than ’89’s Licence To Kill), Solace doesn’t do humour like other Eon efforts, but there are amusing moments. Most obviously the section featuring Fields, as 007 has fun at her inexperience of (ahem) field work by claiming they’re teachers on a sabbatical who’ve won the Lottery as cover for booking into the best hotel in town and seduces her merely by asking her help looking for the hotel room’s stationery. Yep, that line never fails (if you’re Bond). During this section too comes the moment Mathis has to ask their taxi driver, rabbiting on about how he took up his profession, to shut up while he’s on the phone trying to tie up local contacts. Owing to script issues (a writers’ strike forced helmer Forster and star Craig to improvise some dialogue), Solace struggles to deliver decent one-liners, yet Bond opening his near-written-off car’s boot at the car chase’s end to reveal where he’s stashed the accosted Mr White with “It’s time to get out” is quality stuff.

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Just as it had a decade before with Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Eon’s plumping for a profit-chasing title track in favour of a better song whose theme features prominently detrimentally affects this flick’s music. Jack White and Alicia Keys’ Another Way To Die is a pants attempt at a rocking Bond tune, while composer David Arnold’s fittingly melancholic No Good About Goodbye not only sits well with the score owing to its theme cropping up now and again, but its tone and words also fit the flick perfectly (it appears on Shirley Bassey’s excellent Arnold-produced 2008 album The Performance). In the credit column, mind, is the use of Latin jangly guitars and pipes; lending a pseudo-Spaghetti Western feel in tune with the Central/ South American settings (Have You Ever Killed Someone?/ Perla De Las Dunas/ The Dead Don’t Care About Vengeance), while the reappearance of Vesper’s theme from Royale is welcome and most effective (What’s Keeping You Awake?/ Forgive Yourself/ Camille’s Story/ I Never Left). But the score’s at its best during the the film’s best bit, the Tosca section, when the airy, smooth, memorable and scene-building Night At The Opera takes centre-stage (click on above image to hear it).

Locations-wise, you certainly get bang for your buck from Solace – Bond jet-sets all over the shop. Most obvious and (for this film series) unique are the locales of the Americas, although such tricky filming spots are Haiti and Bolivia that Panama, Mexico and Chile double for them. All the same, they’re impressive stand-ins. Panama’s cities Colón and, er, Panama City do nicely for Port-au-Prince and La Paz (Bolivia) respectively, while the aerial sequence is filmed in the Baja California region of Mexico and the blistering, desolate Atacama Desert in Chile is used for Bolivia’s ‘Perla De Las Dunas’-set climax. Europe, of course, is represented by the seasonally-open floating opera stage at Austria’s Bregenz for the Tosca sequence and Italy’s Tuscany area of Talamone is where Mathis’s Lake Garda-set retirement home can be found, while London’s arts venue The Barbican doubles for the outside of MI6’s HQ. Best of all, though, is the oh-so Italian, picturesque cool of Siena with its Palio horse-race – a Bond film location-and-a-half that one.

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If Royale stripped back the Bond film gadgets quotient, then Solace deepens this trend. Our man’s only proper device is a mobile phone (a Sony Ericsson C902 for those who care), which he deploys as, er, a mobile phone. Granted, it’s connected to MI6’s data files so he can receive intel on Greene immediately he needs it, but now just four years on he could probably do the same through an app. Admittedly, it can also display the faces of photographed individuals when the shooter has merely managed to capture them from the side, which is demonstrated as 007 picks off Quantum members at their Tosca meeting. But then you can probably get an app for that too now. The only other gadgets this film are the cool earpieces the Quantum peeps (and Bond) wear along with their natty ‘Q’ lapel pins at the opera and the rather pointless, out of place touchscreen data desk thing at MI6 HQ. It’s stylish and impressive, but surely more fitting for Star Trek or Star Wars. Or Die Another Day.

At one point Camille comments ‘there’s something horribly efficient’ about Bond – that could be said of Solace‘s style. Not only does helmer Forster employ starkly clean yet cool shots (Bond in a black shirt against a Kubrick-esque, totally white corridor; M and Rory Kinnear’s Tanner exiting an ultra-high tech MI6 set this film inside the almost cruelly modernist Barbican), he also sometimes cuts dramatic scenes to within an inch of their lives, ensuring dialogue from one shot overlaps into the next few ones (Bond’s suspension by M in the hotel room; his and Camille’s journey from the desert back to La Paz on foot and then in a bus). Mind, all this is done with aplomb and sophistication. And ‘sophisticated’ really is the word when it comes to Solace‘s look. This is a Bond movie that contains some artily satisfying visual flourishes; not the ‘New Wavey’ touches of Majesty‘s, but beautiful brief imagery such as a slo-mo flourishing flag as MK12’s (admittedly underwhelming) main titles segue into Siena’s Palio, a lizard relaxing on a desert rock as we move into the climax and a second-long focus on ornamental coloured balls in a bowl in the Perla De Las Dunas. It may all sound facetious, but makes quite the impression, as does the climax’s desert setting, an unendingly oppressive expanse that mirrors our hero’s emotional turmoil. Clever.

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Adjuster: 0

Short and sweet (or rather, sour), the mere hour-and-three-quarters-long Quantum Of Solace is the Bond film gone art-house. Sort of. An intriguing, often surprising, almost experimental Eon entry, its near unremittingly bleak tone may put off some, just as its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it edited action may put off others, but it remains a solid, desert-set dessert of a sequel to the main course that’s Casino Royale.

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Best bit: The Tosca opera sequence

Best line: “Can I offer an opinion? I think you people really should find a better place to meet”

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Rankings

(All scores out of 100/ new entries in blue/ * denotes a non-Eon Bond film)

1. Casino Royale (2006) ~ 90

=  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ~ 90

3. From Russia With Love (1963) ~ 88

4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) ~ 87

5. GoldenEye (1995) ~ 85

=  Goldfinger (1964) ~ 85

7. You Only Live Twice (1967) ~ 84

8. Live And Let Die (1973) ~ 82

9. A View To A Kill (1985) ~ 75

10. Dr No (1962) ~ 74

11. Moonraker (1979) ~ 73

12. Quantum Of Solace (2008) ~ 72

13. Thunderball (1965) ~ 70

14. For Your Eyes Only (1981) ~ 69

15. Never Say Never Again (1983)* ~ 68

=   Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) ~ 68

=   The World Is Not Enough (1999) ~ 68

18. The Living Daylights (1987) ~ 67

19. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) ~ 66

20. Octopussy (1983) ~ 64

21. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) ~ 62

22. Die Another Day (2002) ~ 61

23. Licence To Kill (1989) ~ 50

24. Casino Royale (1967)* ~ 48

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The James Bond reviews will return…

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