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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Movie Review: A Look Back At Daniel Craig's James Bond Trilogy

Before we begin let me preface by saying that I am not a huge James Bond fan. As a child born in the late 80's I, of course, grew up on Goldeneye and have seen all of Pierce Brosnan's and Daniel Craig's James Bond flicks. However, outside of that, I probably have only seen one or two other James Bond movies and have caught scenes from others while flipping through channels and landing on Spike (or whatever the Spike channel equivalent was in 1996 when I was 9). Therefore, I do not have the reverence for this movie franchise like many other people do. There are people who will argue the difference between Goldfinger vs. Her Majesty's Secret Service vs. Casino Royale. I am not one of those people. I enjoy James Bond films very much and when they're good, they're amazing, but I do not hold James Bond on a pedestal like many others do.

I approach James Bond flicks not from a historical perspective like the Bond fanatics do, but from a movie going perspective. I try to take each Bond movie as it's own and only like to compare Bond flicks as they relate to the actors who portray Bond. I don't like to judge a Daniel Craig Bond flick to a Roger Moore Bond flick (If I ever see a Moore movie). Each movie should stand on its own or stand comparatively to its other like-minded movies. Why should we compare a 2006 flick (Casino Royale) to a 1964 one (Goldfinger)? When have we ever compared movies from the 1960's to a movie from the 2000's? It doesn't happen because movies and movie tastes have evolved over time- especially action movies. Since Sean Connery stopped playing Bond we have had action movies like Star Wars, First Blood, Die Hard, Terminator II, The Bourne Identity, and The Dark Knight that have all changed the landscape of what we expect out of an action flick. I am a modernist when it comes to films and that's how I approach Daniel Craig's three Bond flicks: Casino Royale (2006), Quantum Of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012).

Casino Royale (2006)
Directed By: Martin Campbell
STARS: 4 out of 4
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Judy Dench

Truthfully, if you want a better review of this film then what I am about to give you, then read Bond fanatic Bryan Hernandez's review of the film from my old site.

In my mind, over the past 25 years or so there have been two approaches to actions films. First, a view prevalent throughout the 90's and the beginning of the 2000's was the Michael Bay approach. There were lots of explosions and car chases for no reason and lots of shit guys love- but a thin plot and no characters whatsoever. If you ever hear a guy say "I love Con Air" or "The Rock" then they are a huge fan of this style of action movies. For me personally, I abhor them. But as the 2000's progressed, we started to see a shift in this paradigm. Actions movies started getting more character driven and less plot driven. It started in 2002 with Sam Raimi's Spiderman, polished in 2004 with Raimi's Spiderman 2, and it came to it's pinnacle in 2008 with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. I believe The Dark Knight is the perfect example for what action movies have become and what they should be. A major stepping stone for TDK was Campell's 2006 great Casino Royale.

We live in an age of comedy-less comedy (see: the T.V. show Louie) and action-less action. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Everything now revolves around characters first and the raw human emotions and the drama that ensues second. I think Casino Royale is a great example of action-less action. While it does have some cool actions scenes (most notably the Parkour chase scene in Africa at the beginning of the picture) most of the tension comes through the big poker game in the middle of the film and the tension that surrounds the drama of Bond vs. Le Chiffre.

Casino Royale is amazing because it came out during a time when modern day action movies were not yet formed. It took a grittier approach to action flicks and a grittier approach to the Bond franchise as a whole which was daring for both. We see James Bond before he was the suave, debonair, precise secret agent that he was known in the past and Casino Royale pulls it off flawlessly.

Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Directed By: Marc Forster
STARS: 3 out of 4
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, and Judy Dench

As little as 48 hours ago I was trashing this movie on Facebook saying that it was a piece of garbage and I didn't know why anyone would want to see it. That is how I felt when I came out of the theater when QOS was first released. But then I saw Quantum Of Solace again and I saw it immediately after I had re-watched Casino Royale. I have now done a complete 180 and enjoy this film.

Listen, it's not perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But what it is is an enjoyable sequel to Casino Royale. In Casino Royale, MI6 is targeting Le Chffre- an accountant and banker for a worldwide terrorist organization. Quantum Of Solace picks up right where Casino Royale left off as James Bond is on the hunt of this mysterious terrorist organization- which we later find out is called Quantum.

I approach QOS as a sequel to an action movie and as a stand alone action flick in general. While it does nothing revolutionary, it still keeps up the gritty tone set by Casino Royale and its action movie predecessors, it takes things very seriously (not like the campy crap of its previous 20 forefathers), it has some cool fights, cool car chases, a nifty boat chase scene and explosions. It also has great character development as Bond struggles with the loss of Vespyr throughout the entire film. Now some of the criticism of this film is justified. The plot does get way too muddled and in the end, all Bond is doing is chasing an organization who wants to buy and control the water supply in a random South American country that nobody cares about. But that being said, I enjoyed it a lot and think it gets a bum rap because the name "James Bond" is plastered all over it.

I think my indifference for the Bond franchise and my love of modern day action movies is why I enjoyed this movie so much and why very few people agree with me. Roger Ebert absolutely hates this movie but hates it for the most inane reasons. He's upset that the Bong Girl (Kurylenko) has an average name like Camille and not a classic Bond name like Pussy Galore. Plus, she doesn't even sleep with Bond! (BTW, He completely ignores the MI6 redhead Strawberry Fields who does fuck Bond). He's upset the villain (Amalric) also has a pedestrian name like Dominic Greene and who doesn't have a secret lair. I'm sure he's also upset nobody goes on a huge monologue that reveals their entire evil plan while they figure out the slowest possible way to kill James Bond. Roger Ebert must believe that Austin Powers is a serious drama, huh? Ebert makes asinine arguments and Bond purists need to relax and enjoy Quantum Of Solace for what it is. If you compare QOS to other Bond flicks I guess it sucks but if you compare it to The Bourne trilogy or the Mission: Impossible trilogy then it is very enjoyable.

Skyfall (2012)
Directed By: Sam Mendes
STARS: 3.5 out of 4
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judy Dench, Ralph Fiennes, and Javier Bardem

This review is being posted only 2 days after the release of Skyfall and I personally don't see where the amazing love of it is coming from. I mean, this is ESPN jerking off Derek Jeter level of love for Skyfall which I don't understand. Although, I also didn't get where the love of The Avengers (which was released earlier this year) came from so maybe I'm just a cynic in general. But I did thoroughly enjoy this third installment.

At first I was upset about Skyfall because there was no mention of "Quantum" whatsoever. I figured Craig's first two films were leading up to the destruction of Quantum or something. But Skyfall is its own stand alone story, complete with its own new villain (Bardem) and rich and deep characters.

Skyfall is all about the old vs. the new. There is a changing of the guard in Skyfall and the characters struggle to deal with this brave new world they live in. The classic Q character is not played by some veteran British actor like John Cleese, but rather a young kid who looks barely old enough to shave. But that's how it should be. Technology is advanced by youth and not generated by the "experienced". Q tells Bond when he first meets him that espionage can essentially be done in his pajamas at his computer and that he only needs guys like Bond because occasionally someone needs to pull the trigger.

Javier Bardem plays a fantastic and charismatic villain (like you knew he would) named Mr. Silva who is hell bent on revenge against M. He doesn't show up until halfway through the movie and he's really only in a handful of scenes so it's curious that he's second billed (I purposefully made him 4th billed) but he's great at causing destruction and mayhem in London. And contrary to what Q told Bond earlier, Silva does manage to "pull a trigger" from the comfort of his home.

Bond and M struggle to deal in this new world they live in. Bond is hurt psychically, emotionally, and psychologically to the point where there is a question if he is even able to go back into the field and M is questioned by the government to the point where a government official named Mallory (Fiennes) calls a public hearing to hold M and MI6 accountable for failing to adapt. Even the major plot point of the film- Bond vs. Silva- is a battle of old vs. new as it turns out Bond is Silva's replacement as M's go-to agent.

Skyfall itself is a battle of the old vs. the new when it comes to the Bond franchise as a whole. While I think Ebert's reaction to Quantum of Solace was childish and overblown, his opinion was with the majority of moviegoers. In Skyfall, Bond finally orders a martini shaken not stirred as opposed to a Vespyr Martini (although it's not overtly stated like it is in Dr. No), we finally meet Q, and there's a great reveal at the end involving a female MI6 agent that all Bond fans can enjoy. But this is not your daddy's Bond film. Hell, this is barely my generations's Bond film. It still takes on the grittier and more sophisticated tone that we've come to expect from a Craig/Bond flick and a modern day action movie and it is not remotely campy. Skyfall's world is more set in reality and in today's geopolitical culture than in some Austin Powers-y world which shows up the absurdity of the previous Bond films. Bond traditionalists will still enjoy Skyfall as a classic Bond film while modern day movie snobs like me can still enjoy Skyfall for the modern marvel it is.

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