Spectre is directed by Sam Mendes and is Daniel Craig's fourth appearance as James Bond. Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, and Ralph Fiennes return to the cast, with newcomers including Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, and Monica Bellucci. The film had a budget of nearly $250 million, making it one of the most expensive films ever made.
On its surface, Spectre looks like it's attempting to be the grand daddy of them all in terms of Bond films: a supersized budget, a crew of over one thousand people, and a lengthy enough run time to establish itself as the longest Bond film in history. Seeing how Quantum of Solace did not meet expectations following up on Casino Royale, it would make sense for Eon Productions to attempt a different tactic in order to follow up properly on Skyfall: go bigger and go bolder. But if film history can teach us anything, it's that bigger and bolder is never a guarantee for better. And at the same time, bigger and bolder is not to always bring out the cynic in all of us and immediately make us come to the assumption that bigger and bolder translates into a bad film, something that Spectre is certainly not.
There are taxing expectations to be had when you have two, top tier Bond films like Casino Royale and Skyfall glued to your film, so there was quite a bit for Spectre to accomplish if it wanted to earn the right of being a top tier Bond film. Everything was there for the film to work: Sam Mendes agreeing to return as director after initially stating he would not come back, Daniel Craig back again as Bond, and an acclaimed actor like Christoph Waltz playing your villain. In addition, the series was bringing back a villain and an organization that I think could be best described as Bond's arch rival/arch nemesis, because they've made appearances in more Bond films than any other villain. It seemed like the natural thing to do, as this was now the fourth film in the new Bond timeline, and someone was bound to say, "Hey, whatever happened to that Spectre organization? Bond was always finding himself up against them in the older films." Spectre had been absent from Bond films since 1983's Never Say Never Again, though the organization had really been absent since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, because Never Say Never Again was the second adaptation of Ian Fleming's Thunderball, so let's just not count that one.
Anyway, Spectre opens with Bond in the midst of a mission on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City. Bond prevents a terrorist scheme involving the blowing up of a stadium full of innocent people, and he confronts the terrorists' leader, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Bond chases Sciarra into a helicopter, steals a ring on Sciarra's finger, and kills Sciara by kncoking him out of the helicopter. Bond observes the ring and sees that it has a stylized octopus emblazoned on it. When Bond returns to London, he is suspended from field duty by M (Ralph Fiennes), who is in the middle of a power struggle with Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who Bond gives the name of C. C intends to create the "Nine Eyes" surveillance network, as well as shut down the "00" program.
Bond disobeys M's orders and travels to Rome to attend Sciarra's funeral, where Bond seduces Sciarra's wife, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), and learns that Sciarra was a member of an organization with various criminal and terrorist connections. Bond goes to a meeting and learns that the leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), intends to assassinate the "Pale King", who turns out to be Mr. White. Bond later travels to Austria to meet with Mr. White, who tells Bond to locate his daughter, Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). Bond finds Madeline and learns that the secret organization is called Spectre.
The story of Spectre is similar to that of Skyfall's, in the sense that you can't discuss it properly without giving half of it away. I suppose the best one sentence description I can give of the film's story is, "Bond learns of an evil organization called Spectre, and he needs to work together with a woman named Madeline Swan to stop their dastardly plans." Such a description, however, leaves out any mention who the villain is, as well as what exactly Spectre hopes to achieve. We at least want to know if they hope to do something like steal nuclear submarines or threaten the world with a laser beam. The first half of the movie, which is basically what I spilled out for you in the plot description, is basically Bond going step by step, until he finally reaches the big discovery that we all know he's going to come to eventually.
- Sam Mendes shows once again that he's got a knack for directing coherent and thrilling action scenes. The opener in Mexico City starts the film off with a bang, and the other action scenes keep up the momentum, even though they aren't quite up to the opener's level. There's never a long enough stretch where you start thinking to yourself, "There hasn't been an action scene in a while. When are we gonna get the next one?"
- Madeline Swann, an awesome Bond girl who knows how to fend for herself and doesn't need Bond to teach her how to use a gun or how to fight. Lea Seydoux does a nice job of making it clear that Madeline is Bond's partner who helps him accomplish what he needs to accomplish, not an unhelpful damsel in distress who Bond just drags around everywhere because he keeps thinking to himself, "look, she's no help at all, but damn I can't wait to get in bed with her." Madeline has a direct connection (being Mr. White's daughter) to what is happening with Spectre throughout the film, and is easily the second best Bond girl of the Daniel Craig era (Sorry honey, but Vesper Lynd was better).
- As the film progresses, Spectre's plot becomes increasingly problematic, mainly it how it diminishes the motivations of certain characters from the previous three films. This is a minor spoiler that I have to share to get my point across: we find out that Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Silva were all members of Spectre. Now stop right there. We are being told that the three central villains from the previous films are all serving under one other villain. This completely obscures our understanding of what Le Chiffre, Greene, and Silva were attempting to do in their respective films, because now it's unclear if Le Chiffre, Greene, and Silva were all going about their individual goals as we were led to believe, or if they were all actually accomplishing their goals for the sake of Spectre. Was this reveal in Spectre planned all along, or did screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth decided while writing the screenplay that they wanted to throw in a twist, no matter how confusing, because they were running low on ideas? The events of the three previous films are now affected by this reveal, and it doesn't help that Christoph Waltz's Oberhauser, the one villain connecting the other three, isn't very menacing as an evil overlord.
- Yeesh, someone please explain to me how Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall" won an Oscar for Best Original Song. This is a major setback from Adele's "Skyfall", with Smith singing some of the lyrics in a high falsetto voice that sounds like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite before he hit puberty. Sam Smith has come out and borderline bragged that it took him less than a half hour to write the whole thing, but I think the accurate statement would be that he sung and recorded the whole song in less than a half hour, because that's exactly what it sounds like.
I didn't think too highly of Spectre the first time I saw it. Upon a second viewing though, I found myself mildly satisfied with it, even though the plot and opening theme still got on my nerves. So while the film is a a couple of steps down from Skyfall, Spectre remains a serviceable Bond film that thrives on its action scenes and committed performances, especially from Lea Seydoux. Everything seems to be going well for the first hour or so, until the plot and some of its reveals sink the momentum that the film had been sporting. Not Quantum of Solace disappointing, but a far cry from the elite status that the film was probably hoping to achieve.
Recommend? If you liked the other Daniel Craig Bond films enough, I'd give it a look.
The sky's the limit
Skyfall is directed by Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig is his third appearance as James Bond. The film also stars Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Berenice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, and Judi Dench. Skyfall's release coincided with the film series' 50th anniversary, and it won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and for Best Sound Editing.
Daniel Craig's first two outings as James Bond saw the rebooted series go from top of the mountain to stumbling down the slopes in almost the blink of an eye, and no one could have imagined initially that the series would be able to pick itself up and soar again just one film later. But that's exactly what happens, as Bond comes roaring back with another entry to the film series that, like Casino Royale, ranks among the very best in the entire series. There's really no disagreeing that Casino Royale and Skyfall are the best of the currently four Craig-led Bond films, where one's choice between the two as the absolute best Craig Bond film is most likely to come down to one's personal taste. Some will take Casino Royale because they think it has the better villain or they'll pick Skyfall they think it has the better action scenes. Whatever your preference is, let's just all at least come to the agreement that Quantum of Solace is nowhere near Casino Royale's or Skyfall's levels, and it now serves as just an annoying speed bump in the road going from Casino Royale to Skyfall.
It took me giving Casino Royale and Skyfall both a second viewing, but I can now confidently acknowledge that while I believe Casino Royale to be the best of the Craig-led Bond films, Skyfall is my personal favorite of them. Actually, not just my favorite among all of the Craig-led Bond films, but among all Bond films period. For one, I find it to be the most unique of all of the Bond films in terms of story. Also, I have a particular fondness for several of the big names involved, specifically director Sam Mendes and composer Thomas Newman whose respective work in previous films have played at least some part in several of my most joyous film experiences over the past few years.
I should go about discussing the plot before I dive into anything specific. I have to be careful though, because Skyfall has probably the most spoiler sensitive plot in James Bond history. So here goes: the film opens with Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) pursuing a mercenary named Patrice (Ola Rapace). Patrice has stolen a hard drive containing valuable information on undercover agents, and MI6 cannot afford to let him get away. The pursuit leads to Bond and Patrice fighting on top of a moving train, with Eve attempting to shoot Patrice from long distance. M orders Eve to take the shot, and Eve accidentally shoots Bond and sending him falling into a river. Some time later, Bond is revealed to be alive and enjoying early retirement, while back in London at MI6, M comes under pressure from Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to retire. Shortly afterwards, MI6's servers are hacked, and their headquarters are destroyed by an explosion. Bond learns of the attack on MI6 and returns to London, where M assigns him to return to field work, despite Bond not being able to pass a series of physical and psychological tests. Bond is ordered to hunt down Patrice and find out who Patrice works for. Bond's investigation eventually leads him to former MI6 agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who seeks revenge on M for disavowing him several years back.
On its most basic level, Skyfall is a story of its villain seeking revenge against someone. However, in the context of how this revenge story is told, it thrives in a way that other films with a similar story line can't boast about, because those other said films are not Bond films. And while Skyfall isn't the first Bond film to feature a former MI6 agent becoming a diabolical villain, it still seems wholly fresh and not the least bit banal. Here's what I mean by that: first, think about the types of stories that many of the older Bond films are bound to give you. Most of them involve some kind of villain determined to throw the world into chaos, usually in hopes of getting all the money or all the ratings or all the glory of watching the world burn to the ground. Now some of those villains worked and others didn't, but regardless of how wonderful or pitiful that the villain was, their scheme mostly relied on putting the world at risk in some capacity. The world being at risk is not present in any meaningful capacity in Skyfall, and this is where I'd like to distinguish the film from GoldenEye, which saw the rogue Alex Trevelyan try to threaten the world with the GoldenEye satellite and not go for strictly killing Bond just because Bond left him behind. Because of how Skyfall lacks any sort of villain primarily involved with world-threatening matters such as terrorism (Silva is described to have taken up cyberterrorism, but little to nothing is made of it during the film), destroying the environment, or destabilizing the world economy, it has the unique honor of being the most personal James Bond film. Personal meaning that Skyfall's story takes place so close to home, and its main characters have their motivations woven together because of their common connection to MI6.
- I never would have believed prior to 2012 that Sam Mendes would be able to pull off the kind of action scenes necessary for a Bond film to succeed. Road to Perdition had some neat sequences of violence, but that film never had anything involving a thrilling car chase coupled with a fight on top a train, all in just an opening scene. It doesn't stop there. There's a gorgeous looking fight scene with beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins, in which Bond fights another man on top of a building with the two looking like silhouettes, all while we see giant jellyfish floating on a billboard just outside. And then there's my favorite moment: in which Bond chases Silva through London underground, a scene that I won't even think about spoiling in detail, other than that it highly enhanced by Newman's score. All of the action scenes have something about them to love, coming in small enough quantities to leave you hungry for more as the film progresses.
- Thomas Newman! How do you keep doing it? I have yet to see a film in which Newman was the composer and the soundtrack didn't sound like background noise. A majority of Newman's soundtracks have been for more dramatically oriented films, so being the composer for an action thriller like Skyfall I think is Newman stepping his game up a little. And oh boy does he knock it out of the park with a soundtrack that does just enough to intensify the excitement you see on screen while never becoming overbearing so as to be distracting.
- The only place where Skyfall falls short is how it handles its depiction of the Bond girl. Naomie Harris's Eve is meant to be the Bond girl of the film, but hardly anything happens throughout the film to suggest that Bond and Eve will hook up. Eve assists Bond when he is trying to get information at a casino in Macau, and the most intimate that the two ever get is when Eve helps Bond shave. At the casino, Bond meets the beautiful Severine (Berenice Marlohe), who helps him first meet Silva. Aside from those two scenes, Bond rides solo in his mission towards stopping Silva and protecting M. Given that the film has such a rich revenge story and thrives in other categories necessary for the film to work, I can't complain too much about the lack of a notable Bond girl. Some might even say that M is the Bond girl, though I am not one who would advocate very much for that. Sacrifices are sometimes necessary fora Bond film to work in the ways it wants to work, and in the case of Skyfall, it was the prominent Bond girl who was sacrificed.
The title, Skyfall, refers to the name of the home in which James Bond grew up in, which plays a crucial part to the film's finale. It is a very appropriate title, because home is an essential component to Skyfall's story and the way it goes about telling its story. This is not James Bond saving the world from an evil mastermind who puts millions of lives at risk. This is James Bond protecting the people and protecting the place that could be reasonably called his family and his home, respectively. Sam Mendes tells this more personal story of James Bond, M, and MI6 with such magnificent direction, all the while providing elite action sequences that get a hefty boost from Thomas Newman's score. And before I forget, a quick word on Javier Bardem: he was a natural choice to play a Bond villain, and his Silva is a weird and flirtatious figure, but in a good sort of way.
The film works gloriously in all the ways it needs to work, more than making up for whatever setbacks there may be in other departments. So while Skyfall may not be the bonafide classic that Casino Royale is, it flirts many times with being a classic. One other thing the film has going for itself is having the theme song by Adele being a serious challenger to Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger for best Bond theme song of all time. I'm not kidding, it's that good. And finally, I find it a little strange that two of the best Bond films of all time happen to be two of the most recent ones. Hey, when you've got all the right people together for a Bond film, the sky is the limit.
Recommend? Yes! However, it might be better if you see Casino Royale first (you can skip Quantum of Solace. Just read its plot summary on Wikipedia and you'll be good to go).
Quantum of Solace is directed by Marc Forster and is the second film to star Daniel Craig as James Bond. The film also stars Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arteron, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench.
When Casino Royale came to an end, our understanding is that the conceited and ruthless man that Daniel Craig was portraying had officially transformed into James Bond, ending the film with his signature, "the name's Bond. James Bond" remark, followed by the official James Bond theme song playing as the end credits began to roll (the James Bond theme does not play at any other moment during Casino Royale). So with this supposed rebirth of Bond, the rebooted series swung its doors wide open to welcome back all of the things that Bond had become infamous for over the previous 46 years, for better or worse.
To follow up nicely on the masterfully put together Casino Royale was going to take a gargantuan effort, and the immediate signal that Quantum of Solace was not up to the challenge is its choice of director: Marc Forster. Forster has stated how he has never been a big fan of the Bond series, only accepting the project because he had seen Casino Royale beforehand. His intention was to focus more on Bond as a character and switch up the themes to target environmentalism instead of terrorism. On top of all that, Forster said that Casino Royale's 144 minute run time was too long, wanting Quantum of Solace to be faster, tighter, resembling something like a bullet.
Faster and tighter is exactly what Quantum of Solace is, but not with the bullet-like impact that Forster was hoping for. Here we have a Bond film that is more preoccupied with being in a rush and getting through things at a near breakneck speed instead of doing whatever it can to maximize its potential as a steady Bond film. Would you believe me if I told you that pre-production for this film started before Casino Royale was even finished filming? I can't tell if that is supposed to mean that Eon Productions was just that excited to make Quantum of Solace that they couldn't resist starting the project even before Casino Royale had started post-production, or that they had such a secret disdain for the project that they did whatever it took to get the film over and done with as soon as possible.
Anyway, the story of Quantum of Solace picks up almost right after where Casino Royale ended. Bond has taken Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) captive, delivering him to M to be interrogated about his organisation, Quantum. Mr. White is able to escape however, when M's bodyguard. Craig Mitchell (Glenn Foster), reveals himself to be a double agent. After Bond chases and kills Mitchell, he discovers that Mitchell has a contact named Mr. Slate (Neil Jackson) located in Haiti. Bond travels to Haiti and finds out that Slate is a hitman who was sent to hunt down and kill Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), the lover of environmental entrepreneur, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Bond eventually learns that Greene is planning to take complete control of one of the world's most vital natural resources, siding with Camille to do whatever it takes to stop Greene.
- Quantum of Solace is in the running for most action-heavy Bond film to date. The film never wants to slow down and take a break, transitioning from action scene to action scene with little exposition-based down time in between. If you're a fan of "cut the chit-chat and get to the guns and fist fights" action films, then Quantum of Solace is right up your alley. It does avoid being a completely mindless action film, because the story has at least some chew-able thought behind it, and Daniel Craig brings the fire again as a more unforgiving Bond, continuing to be scolded by M for killing people throughout the movie, people that MI6 could've questioned for valuable information. What's the specific high point, you ask? It is that the film has no dull moments, the primary good to come out of the film's abundance of action.
- As much action as the film contains, there is some butt-ugly editing going on throughout the main action set pieces. The film opens with a car chase where Bond is fleeing from pursuers, and I swear the median shot length is about three fifths of a second, as the cars are driving down the road and the pursuers are firing their machine guns at Bond. The editing stings your eyes with painful jolts, encouraging you to look away from the screen in horrified disgust. What moron keeps telling action film editors that rapid cutting is the best way to go about editing car chases and fist fights? Rapid cutting today doesn't enhance an action scene, it only detracts. And because of this rapid style of editing, our perception of the action is completely obscured, being no better than if someone just shook two action figures in front of your face for a couple minutes. I can't believe I didn't pay more attention to this the first time I saw Quantum of Solace, because oh do I hate that boiling rage that rushes through me whenever I have to sit through an action scene whose editing looked like it was done by a 5 year child hyped up on sugar.
I do not agree one bit whenever I hear someone say that it isn't right to rave about Casino Royale and not Quantum of Solace just because the two films happen to share a storyline. They are two very different films in regards to execution, with Casino Royale excelling on practically every level, and Quantum of Solace....well, not quite on as many levels. It has enough action to qualify as a serviceable action thriller, but given how horrendous that the editing is at times, I really call the film as such with a grain of salt. It's a film that desires to be fast and relentless at all costs, without much of a care of what goes wrong along the way. In the end, Quantum of Solace comes off as a disappointment, not merely because of its shortcomings as its own film, but because of how it had to follow up and continue the story of one of, if not the best, Bond film to ever be released. Fast and furious isn't always rewarding.
Recommend? If you like Daniel Craig as James Bond, I've give it a watch. Otherwise, it's not really worth your time.
Bond is All In
Casino Royale is directed by Martin Campbell and stars Daniel Craig in his first film as Agent 007. The film also stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench and is based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
By the year 2006, James Bond had starred in twenty different films over the course of 44 years, featuring a wide range of women, villains, gadgets, and action. The likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan were the big three when it came to actors portraying 007 up until then, with names like George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton serving as one shot wonders (Dalton would portray Bond twice, to be exact) that happened to be wedged in the middle of the series. While the Bond film series never turned into a disastrous, money-leaking hazard that would have Ian Fleming trembling violently in his grave, the series has been something of a roller coaster, going through some high highs and some disappointing lows. We can point to the tweaks that Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan gave the character during their time in the role, as well as go on and on about the best way to describe how Sean Connery breathed life into the role. But as much credit as those three deserve for the time they put in to portraying James Bond, none of them could give Bond such the massive overhaul that Daniel Craig gives the character in Casino Royale, while at the same time delivering what arguably could be the best film in the entire series.
Casino Royale was Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, being written back in 1952, where it would go on to be produced as a 1954 TV episode of the Climax! anthology series and later in 1967 as a satirical comedy film. I have not yet seen the 1967 film, but from what I've heard, it's quite terrible. In March 2004, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade went to work on writing a screenplay that would be highly faithful to the style of Fleming's novel, with screenwriter Paul Haggis writing the climax of the film. The screenplay was written with Pierce Brosnan in mind, but Brosnan had announced a month before that he was stepping down from playing Bond, having filled his contractual obligation of appearing in four films. Brosnan was also approaching 50, and he didn't want to upset fans and critics in the same way they were upset by Roger Moore hanging onto the role until he was 58. Thus began the search for a new, younger actor. Names like Karl Urban, Henry Cavill, Sam Worthington, and even Hugh Jackman were considered, but none of them could make the commitment.
Enter Daniel Craig. Craig had originally rejected the idea of playing Bond, believing that the series had become too formulaic. But upon reading the screenplay and seeing that the film would present Bond in a more raw and vulnerable manner, he changed his mind and agreed to take the part. Craig's casting was met with doubt and dissatisfaction from fans and critics, going as far to threaten boycotting the film. At the heart of the complaints towards Craig's casting was that Craig had blonde hair and blue eyes, and therefore didn't match the image of a tall, dark-haired, and handsome man that people were used to seeing in the twenty films prior. Oh how foolish those people looked by the end of 2006.
The Bond series had been weighed down by CGI effects and a nagging sense of silliness leading into Casino Royale, so there was a desire by Eon Studios to return to the more old-fashioned way of the stunt work and a hope by Purvis, Wade, and Haggis' to stay close to the darker side of the story and Bond's characterization in Fleming's novel. The fruits of those labors was the closest thing a Bond film might get to achieving an R-rating, as Bond is completely stripped of cheesy one-liners and a tongue-in-cheek approach. Instead, Bond is a cold-blooded, arrogant killer who has no desire to court to bed every beautiful woman he meets. We see this in the opening scene, presented in black and white. Bond gains his licence to kill and his status as a 00 agent when he shoots and kills the traitorous MI6 agent Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair), inter cut with scenes of a grainy, black and white fight scene in a bathroom between Bond and Dryden's contact, Fisher (Darwin Shaw). After Bond seemingly defeats Fisher, we see Fisher pick up a gun on the ground, but just before he can shoot Bond, Bond turns around and shoots in the traditional gun barrel opening, leading us into the opening credits.
The plot of Casino Royale concerns Bond going up against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker who finances many of the world's terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre loses a large investment after Bond prevents the destruction of a Skyfleet airliner, and he hopes to earn the money back by setting up a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is entered into the poker tournament, with MI6 believing that a defeat will force Le Chiffre to seek asylum with the British government, in exchange for information about his clients. Bond is accompanied to Casino Royale by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a British Treasury agent who is sent to protect the government's $10 million buy-in.
Normally, I like to think that the best Bond films are those that maximize the standard 007 formula in a way where everything comes together to work as robust as can be. But given how many components there are to the formula, it's admittedly very difficult to fit in as many components as possible without the resulting film seeming like a bloated, incomprehensible mess. As a result, it's inevitable that some of the parts, perhaps the gadgetry or the action, are going to get little to no emphasis whatsoever since you need your story or your Bond girl to be top-notch. So how does this apply to Casino Royale? Well, there are no notable Q gadgets to speak of throughout the film's 144 minutes (Q isn't even a character in the film), and the humor is incredibly sparse. What Casino Royale does is go all in (pun intended) for is considerably the five most important elements of the 007 formula: Bond's portrayal, the girl, the villain, the plot, and the action.
- Everything that Casino Royale attempts to maximize is done so in such an efficient manner that the film remains as equally investing the one hundredth time you it as it does the first time you watch it. This is the first Bond film that presents Bond as something of an anti hero. He isn't sex-driven or extremely charismatic in the way he normally would be in earlier Bond films. Bond is arrogant and vulnerable, with M (Judi Dench) condemning his actions early on in the film and even going as far as to tell Bond to seriously reconsider his future as an MI6 agent. This is not a James Bond that people were used to seeing. People have been seeing a Bond that always asks for his martinis shaken and not stirred, a Bond that delivers one-liners when the situation calls for them, and a Bond that had the experience to properly handle any tough encounter. This Bond when asked if he wants his martini shaken and not stirred, he replies with, "Do I look like I give a damn?" He seduces a woman in order to gain information he needs, and once Bond obtains the information, he leaves, instead of fooling around in bed with said woman. For the first time in the series, we see Bond in a dark place with himself, and Daniel Craig sells it beautifully.
- Casino Royale just might have the best Bond villain in the entire series in Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre is no power-hungry overlord hell-bent on world domination or a greed-driven hotshot who hopes to bankrupt someone in hopes of some massive financial gain. Le Chiffre is thrust into a situation where his very life is in danger. Le Chiffre needs to win the poker game because he loses the money he needs to finance his clients, and this is his one and only chance to get back on track. If he loses the game, it's the end of the line for him. This makes Le Chiffre out to be especially human more than anything, because he has motivations that we can get behind and understand. There is no stroking a white cat or hiding out in some heavily guarded fortress for Le Chiffre. This is a man who finds himself in hot water, and he is desperate to do whatever it takes to get out.
- A rock solid Bond and a terrific villain in Le Chiffre are enhanced by an also terrific Bond girl in Vesper Lynd. We first meet Vesper when she accompanies Bond on a train ride to Montenegro, and the two have a great exchange of verbal sparring dialogue, attempting to read one another and guess what they came to Casino Royale for. Never does the film suggest that Vesper is anything resembling a Bond sex object, but rather a real life human being with real emotions and real goals. In one of the most emotional moments in the Bond franchise, Bond finds Vesper sitting alone in a shower while still wearing the fancy dress she was given to wear to the start of the game. Vesper had just witnessed Bond fight and kill two men, and is clearly traumatized by the event. Bond sits by her and comforts her, showing that despite how arrogant and flawed he may be, he still has a softer, more caring side. The script originally had Vesper sitting in the shower in her underwear, but Daniel Craig suggested that Vesper and Bond should leave their clothes on for the scene. The change was approved, and the scene is much more powerful because of it.
- So many high points. The action, on top of everything else, is riveting and completely devoid of anything resembling silliness. Daniel Craig pulls off a lot of his own stunts, including a death-defying leap from a crane when Bond is chasing a man in the first scene after the opening credits. Every action scene feels like a scene you wouldn't find in a standard action film, at least not until the finale, because they are all crafted and put together so wonderfully that you'll want to watch them again and again.
- The first two hours of Casino Royale take a lot of you, because they are that enthralling. As a result, you might be a little gassed for the final twenty minutes, mainly because the film slows down for a bit and lets you catch your breath, only to pick up speed again. That is not to say there's anything wrong with the final twenty minutes. It's just that the film temporarily halts its momentum right around the two hour mark, and because so, the thrill ride we're getting out the film suffers slightly.
Comparing more recent Bond films to older ones is kind of unfair, since the more recent ones have the benefit of technological advancements. And while several of the older Bond films look great for their time, very very few of them are up there with Casino Royale when it comes to being an absolutely fantastic Bond film from top to bottom. Some trade in eye popping action and humor for a well-rounded villain and a memorable Bond girl. Others take a good story and a solid villain in place of visceral thrills and creative gadgets. In other words, Bond films go for doing as much as they can with certain aspects of the Bond formula while minimizing other parts that don't need much focus because, again, it's just flat out impossible to make everything in the formula perfect.
So while Casino Royale is not immune to the formulaic approach, it's still such a stand out Bond film because of how much it gets out of what it goes all in for: presenting Bond in a darker, more serious manner, delivering a villain and a Bond girl who aren't stereotypical in the least, and action that is enhanced by its amazing stunt work. This all comes with an intriguing story that is a casino goer's wet dream, resulting in a Bond package that delivers the goods in all the right ways. The momentum might wane a little in the final twenty minutes, but that's hardly anything resembling a significant flaw for a film that isn't just one of the best Bond films of all time, but also one of the best films to be released during the 2000s.
Recommend? Absolutely. If you are brand new to James Bond, this is my recommendation for the first film to watch.
Eyes Wide Shut
For Your Eyes Only is directed by John Glen and is the fifth film to star Roger Moore as Agent 007. The film combines characters and plot elements from two short stories in Ian Fleming's For Your Eyes Only collection. The film also stars Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover, Topol, and Lynn-Holly Johnson.
The best way for me to go about starting my review of For Your Eyes Only is to tell a more personal story of mine that does relate to the film and why I have a more unique perspective on it. We'll get to the actual review part of the review in good time.
My Dad was an avid James Bond fan, and he considered For Your Eyes Only to be his personal favorite. This is as good of a time for me to mention that he passed away not long ago after a year long fight with pancreatic cancer, and his undying love for James Bond is partially why I wanted to dedicate the start of the new year to something I knew he had loved throughout his life. A small part of me will always be remorseful, because I only remember seeing small bits and pieces of For Your Eyes Only some years back, and I never took the opportunity to view the whole thing from start to finish with a more critical eye while he was around. So no matter what, I will always have a personal affection for For Your Eyes Only.
Alright then, now onto the actual review part of the review. After James Bond traveled to outer space in Moonraker, the series decided to immediately come back down to Earth, cut the cheap gimmicks, and revert Bond back to a more serious, realistic hero where emphasis was placed on story and character, and Bond was forced to rely on his wits instead of gadgetry to succeed. And while this automatically meant that parts of the 007 formula like gadgetry and humor were to take a nasty hit, it also meant that some of the other, more important parts like story and character were going to get something of a beneficial overhaul. There was one catch to all of this, however: the longtime Roger Moore wasn't getting any younger, and speculation about his retirement from the role led to several new actors being considered to take over. Names like Lewis Collins, Ian Ogilvy, and Timothy Dalton (Dalton would later star in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill) came up, but nothing came out of it. Thus, Moore agreed to play Bond once again.
The plot for For Your Eyes Only revolves around the pursuit of a transmitter system called the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator or just ATAC for short. The transmitter is aboard the British vessel St Georges, which is sunk after being blown up by a naval mine. Bond is assigned to retrieve the transmitter before it falls into the wrong hands. In his efforts towards retrieving the transmitter, Bond finds himself up against a killer named Emile Leopold Locque (Michael Gothard) and working alongside the crossbow-wielding Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet).
With the film having a very strong intention to create a drastic change-up from Moonraker, I went into watching it with a rather high amount of optimism, especially given the fact that my Dad loved and adored it. 128 minutes later, and I found myself slightly disappointed that I was not particularly awe-struck. By no means did I find the film to be a complete letdown. Instead, I was left slightly bewildered by how such an ambitious Bond movie could fudge some of its execution.
- The first hour of the film is as gripping and engaging as any first hour of a Bond film. We get a lengthy, but highly entertaining car chase scene, and we also get a bunch of cool scenes involving Bond evading henchmen on ski slopes. The story remains on point too, all adding up to a solid, well-constructed first half. I should point out that this is the only Bond film to date to not feature M, which was due in part to Bernard Lee, who had played M in each of the previous films, was suffering from stomach cancer and he died while filming was going on.
- Carole Bouquet, who auditioned for the role of Holly Goodhead in Moonraker but didn't get it, establishes herself as one of the better Bond girls, never being placed in a damsel in distress type situation and actually taking part in what's going on as opposed to just following Bond around everywhere. While not quite the ass-kicker that Wai Lin was in Tomorrow Never Dies, she completely avoids being trapped within "Bond sex object" territory and doesn't display something resembling a block of wood, acting wise.
- It was a wonderful first half. And then came the second half of the film. Oh, how crestfallen I was during the second half of the film. After the movie spends a great deal of time with its skiing scenes, you are almost forced to remind yourself that the end goal here is to recover a sunken transmitter. The movie doesn't do a good enough job of this, instead wanting to spend time watching a bouncy figure skater named Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson) fawn over Bond. Eventually we get to the whole finding the sunken transmitter thing, and it leads to a character plot twist that, in the context of the story, doesn't really do too much. And then we have a rather anticlimactic finale that features probably the laziest main villain death I've ever seen in a Bond film, and, well, let's just say that the excitement to be had in the first half of the film doesn't carry over very well.
My dislike for parts of the second half of the film is not to be confused with how much I appreciate the film for its ambitious desire to bring Bond back to his more serious roots. The way For Your Eyes Only goes about making Bond more serious again is something that deserves some praise on top of how well-executed its first half is. This is not a Bond film weighed down by absurd plot elements, over-blown action, or campy one liners. What this is is a Bond film that wants to present 007 in as realistic a fashion as imaginable, in a spirited attempt to recapture the human touch that is present at Bond's core. The effort is there, but as much as I don't want to admit it, it didn't deliver in quite the way that would've unquestionably made For Your Eyes Only one of the most luxurious jewels in the Bond film series.
Recommend? Yes, if you're a die hard Bond fan. If not, I doubt you'll get much enjoyment out of it.
After all, tomorrow is another day
Tomorrow Never Dies is directed by Roger Spottiswoode and is the second appearance of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. The film also stars Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, and Judi Dench. It is dedicated to the memory of long-time Bond producer, Albert R. Broccoli.
Throughout their history, a handful of Bond films find themselves having something in them representing a saving grace: a certain part of the 007 formula that keeps the film safely above mediocrity but unable to elevate the film above good or, sometimes, passable. For the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, that saving grace is generally considered to be the action sequences, coming to the rescue for any and all shortcomings that usually happen with story, character, and humor. And while GoldenEye was able to successfully dodge being tagged with such a saving grace, the same isn't quite so true with the other Brosnan Bond films, starting with Tomorrow Never Dies, a title that came to be only because there was a typo when the original title, Tomorrow Never Lies, was faxed to MGM and marketing preferred the incorrect version.
It is interesting to note that Tomorrow Never Dies had its theatrical release on the same day as James Cameron's mega blockbuster hit, Titanic, because such a move was immediately waving the white flag in the battle for top box office spot. Apparently, no one informed MGM and their new owner, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, why such a move was an ill-advised one; MGM and Kekorian were hoping to follow up on the success of GoldenEye, especially because the Bond series was back in public favor and audiences would not take kindly to a disappointing Bond film. Plus, Tomorrow Never Dies would be the first Bond film to be released since the death of producer Albert R. Broccoli, who had been with the series since the very beginning. The result was a rushed final product that couldn't quite match the box office numbers of GoldenEye, let alone provide a challenge to Titanic.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond finds himself up against Elliot Carver (Johnathan Pryce), a power-hungry media tycoon who is out to start World War III by provoking the Chinese and British governments into declaring war against one another. Bond is sent to investigate Carver and later to investigate the wreck of a British frigate that was destroyed by one of Carver's stealth ships. While exploring the sunken ship, Bond meets Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese agent who is on the same investigation. After escaping capture, Bond and Lin decide to collaborate and bring down Carver together.
Tomorrow Never Dies provides you with a plot that makes less and less sense the more you think about it. That being said, the amount of enjoyment you'll get out of the film will depend on how much you are willing to ignore what doesn't make sense and simply be in the present, by finding amusement in what's happening on screen at the current moment and not think too much about what happened twenty minutes earlier. However, to watch Tomorrow Never Dies with such a mindset would require you to accept the fact that you will most likely not remember a lot of what you just saw by the time the end credits roll, aside from say a few neat action scenes and some corny one-liners.
- The action scenes remain as high-octane as they were in GoldenEye, and the body count ranks up at around one hundred ninety-seven, the highest for any Bond film. The best action scene is when Bond is fleeing from Carver's henchmen with his weapon-enhanced vehicle that he can drive using a touchpad on a phone provided by Q. Bond jumps into the backseat of the car and navigates through a parking garage while dodging gunfire and missiles. It's not nearly as cool as the tank scene in GoldenEye, but it's still a nifty, gadget-fueled sequence.
- Michelle Yeoh is one of the more stand-out Bond girls, largely because she actually takes part in the action and thrives at it. That should come as no surprise when you have an actress like Yeoh, who starred in a series of successful Hong Kong action films in which she performed her own stunts. Wai Lin isn't just an object of Bond's sexual desire (she never actually does have sex with Bond during the film); the movie fleshes her out as a character who isn't completely dependent on Bond and could very much carry the movie on her own. Wai Lin's popularity almost resulted in a spin-off film on her. The only thing the screenplay does to hinder her mojo is sometimes turn her into a damsel in distress, in which she gets captured by Carver or Carver's henchmen and Bond has to save her, as opposed to Lin just being able to set herself free.
- Johnathan Pryce can make for a good villain, but here, he's given a character that just doesn't have much going for him. We find out that Carver's end goals are to obtain exclusive broadcasting rights in China and to heighten ratings for his news division, the former of which you are more likely to raise an eyebrow and say, "Really?" because why does Carver want ratings in China of all places, and the latter of which is the obvious goal of any media baron. This is a villain whose ambitions have no unique twist to them, and the result is rather unoriginal and not terribly interesting. It's also strange to note that if Carver is determined to start World War III, how does he know pissing off only China and Great Britain will get it done? If there was an answer for this in the film, I couldn't find it.
So in the end, Tomorrow Never Dies is a middle-of-the-road Bond film whose strengths lie in its action scenes and Wai Lin, one of the best Bond girls in the entire series. Unfortunately, all of the good things the film has to offer can't mask the weaknesses evident in the villain and the overall story. They are far from the worst in the entire series, but I struggle to label them as good despite having the potential to be at least good, if not great. There are far worse Bond films than Tomorrow Never Dies, though it may you leave you disappointed that it didn't end up being one of the better ones.
Recommend? If you liked GoldenEye, I'd say give it a watch.
Bond and the Beautiful
Live and Let Die is directed by Guy Hamilton and is the first Bond film in the series to star Roger Moore as Agent 007. The film also stars Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour and is based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
Following Diamonds are Forever, Sean Connery declined to return once again as Bond, thus beginning a search for a new actor to play 007. The search led to Roger Moore, a choice that Connery gave his personal seal of approval for. Moore had been considered by longtime producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman before Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and after some debate about if the part should be given to a popular American actor versus an English actor, Moore was offered the role.
The transition from Connery to Moore naturally resulted in some change-ups of Bond's on screen appearance. Moore wanted to be sure that he wasn't imitating Connery or his performance as Simon Templar in The Saint. This led to screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz formatting the screenplay to feature more comedic scenes, as well as a more light-hearted approach, thinking these would fit Moore's persona. And while it wasn't obvious initially, a more light-hearted and comedic take on Bond would lead to many future Roger Moore led Bond films that many have referred to as absurd. But absurdity is not something that plagues Live and Let Die, a Bond film whose story and execution actually seem to contradict Mankiewicz's comedic and light-hearted approach.
The movie opens with three MI6 agents being killed under mysterious circumstances in the United Nations, New Orleans, and a Caribbean nation called San Monique, which is under the rule of a dictator named Dr. Kananga. Bond travels to New York to investigate one of the murders, and he is eventually led to Mr. Big, a gangster who runs a chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants throughout the United States. Bond is captured by some of Mr. Big's henchmen in one of the restaurants, and this is when he meets Solitaire (Jane Seymour), who uses a deck of tarot playing cards to supposedly see both future events and present ones. Bond escapes and later meets Solitaire in her home, where he uses a stacked deck of tarot cards to trick Solitaire into believing that the two are destined lovers. Solitaire has a change of heart, deciding she no longer wants to be controlled by Mr. Big, and begins to assist Bond in his efforts towards stopping Mr. Big. Mr. Big has plans to distribute a large quantity of heroin free in his restaurants, in hopes of putting other drug barons out of business and leaving his business as a monopoly.
Live and Let Die was released during what was known as the blaxploitation era, in which black actors were prominent figures in cinema and television, as opposed to being simply portrayed as a hero's sidekick or a victim of some brutal act of violence. So while some may believe that Live and Let Die will be best remembered for Bond facing off against a predominantly black gang, I vouch for the film being best remembered as the first Bond film to present a plot that lacks any kind of self-absorbed villain and doesn't rely on any kind of super weapon. Live and Let Die addresses drug trafficking, though the "put the world at risk" element is still there like in previous Bond outings. What's bizarre about the film centering on drug trafficking, however, is how it contradicts the comedic and light-hearted tone that Mankiewicz gave the script. Are drugs and criminal gangs supposed to be an open invitation for jokes and cheesy one-liners? Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto) is anything but silly and light-hearted, and we're not dealing with some sort of made up drug here. That's not to the movie shouldn't be funny in any capacity, it's just that it's hard to wrap your head around the oil and water combination that is drugs and cheerfulness.
- The first half of the film is an almost non-stop thrill ride, boasting plenty of action and tense conversations between Solitaire and Mr. Big. Solitaire's supposed power for fortune telling is put into question after her first meeting with Bond. She asks Bond to pull a card from out of the tarot deck, and he picks The Lovers card, suggesting that Bond and Solitaire will fall in love, which throws Solitaire into a state of confusion and disbelief, driving a wedge into her loyalty to Mr. Big. It's also worth mentioning how Mr. Big's henchmen are always on top of things, anticipating nearly every one of Bond's moves and providing him with no chance of getting the upper hand. Only until Bond gets some assistance from Solitaire later on is he able to swing things in his favor.
- Live and Let Die loses its fire in the second half, starting with a speedboat chase scene that goes on much much longer than it needs to. The chase is inter cut with scenes of the Louisiana State Police giving chase to Bond and the speedboats of the henchmen following him. After a few minutes of watching the speedboats zip through the Louisiana waters, you begin to realize that the chase keeps going and going with no end in sight. The only moments to spice things up is when a sheriff (Clifton James) accidentally shoots the engine on Bond's speedboat and then a bit later on when Bond has a one on one confrontation with one of the other speedboats. After that scene finally ends, the film eventually reaches its climactic moment in which Bond confronts Mr. Big, but the film decides to copy off of Thunderball, when Mr. Big unleashes a shark on Bond and Solitaire. The whole climax is just...passable, which is really how the whole second half of the film is.
So the first half of Live and Let Die is really good, and the second half is decent-ish, which amounts to a relatively uneven, but still satisfying Bond film. The action is there, the villain is commendable, and I don't want to miss the chance to mention that while Solitaire may not be the best Bond girl overall, I think she is in the running for most beautiful. But anyway, Roger Moore injects some appropriate change in Bond, and he would run with it to mixed results over the next decade. Live and Let Die serves as an acceptable debut for Moore as Bond, and would go on to be one of his better Bond films in his time as the character.
Recommend? Yes. This is a good choice for your first ever Roger Moore Bond film.
Only you can prevent not being won over by Paddington's charm
Paddington 2 is directed and co-written by Paul King and stars Ben Whishaw who returns to voice the role of Paddington. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, and Jim Broadbent also return to reprise their roles form the first film. Newcomers to the cast include Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson.
There's no justifiable reason for me to go over discussing once again just how wonderful the charm and gentle touch is of Paddington, the first serious attempt at bringing Paddington into the cinematic world and the 21st century. As we understand from the first Paddington film, the bear from darkest Peru wishes nothing but the best, and to be kind to all whom he meets, even if he is prone to making a mess of things at times. The approach that Paul King takes towards presenting Paddington in film is so without any kind of pretentious attitude and so careful as to how Paddington's behavior would be perceived by children, that I feel no hesitation towards showering King with confetti for delivering what was easily one of the best children's films in the past few years.
To follow up on Paddington, a film that was such an irresistibly delightful treat, would seem like an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially because a follow-up would have to address the question of, "How on Earth can you tell another worthwhile story in Paddington's world without it seeming like a repeat of the first story?" There was immediately reason to be confident, with Paul King returning as both a writer and the director, and the first film's primary cast back in action and fully intact. Paddington 2 rewards our confidence, serving as a sweet-natured sequel that once again finds its star bear delivering heart, laughs, and another round of colorful fun.
Paddington is enjoying life, now fully settled in with the Brown family and becoming a popular presence in his community. He continues to write to his Aunt Lucy, who will be turning 100 years old very soon. Paddington wants to get Aunt Lucy the best birthday gift possible, and when visiting Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent) at his antique shop one day, he comes across an artistic and unique pop-up book of London. Paddington decides the pop-up book is the gift he'll get her, knowing how much Aunt Lucy has always wanted to visit London. Paddington then begins to work a series of odd jobs in order to save up money and purchase the book. However, a thief breaks into the antique shop one night and steals the book. Paddington gives chase, but the thief escapes and Paddington is accused of the crime. Paddington is then arrested, wrongfully convicted, and sent to jail. The thief is revealed to be struggling actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who lives opposite the Browns. Phoenix is in pursuit of a secret treasure, with clues to the treasure being hidden within the pages of the pop-up book. As Phoenix works to uncover the book's clues, the Brown family works endlessly to try and clear Paddington's name. Paddington, meanwhile, befriends several of his fellow inmates, including the chef Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson).
A fascinating thing going on in Paddington 2 is how it's exercising its charming spirit as a savior in the real world. What I mean by that is that Paddington 2 is unintentionally performing the act of saving the career of Hugh Grant. Grant has been outspoken about his disregard for the acting profession, claiming it was a career that was not his calling, but instead something he just happened to fall into. And while Grant starred in recent successes like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Florence Foster Jenkins, none of those said successes have gotten the attention and massive praise that Paddington 2 has accumulated thus far. The character of Phoenix Buchanan, in a fuzzy way, is presented to match the specifics of the type of characters that Hugh Grant has been famous for playing, as well as what perhaps might be going through Grant's mind behind the scenes. On the surface, Buchanan is an awkward but endearing actor: the Hugh Grant we normally see on screen. But beneath the surface, Buchanan wrestles with self-loathing and narcissism, a sort of harsh outlook on what Hugh Grant may be struggling with on some days. This is all secretly packaged within a family film about a friendly, Peruvian bear.
- Paddington 2's screenplay nicely branches out to give us a better look into the lives of just about every character involved. We watch Mr. Brown go through a midlife crisis after he is not selected as the Head of Risk Analysis at work, taking up yoga classes to help put his mind and body at ease. We learn that Judy Brown (Madeleine Harris) got dumped by Tony, her supposed boyfriend from the first film. She decides to create her own newspaper brand, which becomes helpful in the Browns' efforts in catching the book thief. Mrs. Brown takes up swimming, and Jonathan Brown (Samuel Joslin) takes up an interest in steam engines (both of which become helpful to the plot later on). Paddington is in prison for the majority of the film's run time, meaning he shares little to no time in the film physically with the Brown family. The physical separation between Paddington and the Brown family help us better see into the lives of each Brown family member, as well as how Paddington, even in prison, proves Aunt Lucy's advice: "If we are kind and polite, the world will be right."
- Once again, the villain is given a motivation that we as the audience can understand and get behind, and it helps sell Phoenix Buchanan as more than just a greedy, petty thief. We learn that Buchanan's career has been in a slump, having recently starred in nothing but a series of dog food commercials. When Buchanan learns of the pop-up books' whereabouts, he sees the book as his golden ticket to a new start. He's sick and tired of his current situation, and the secret treasure is what will get him back on track.
- For the sake of being kind of goofy, Paddington 2 boasts a series of implausible plot points that just can't be bought into. The big one is the massive transformation that the prison goes under after Paddington serves delicious marmalade sandwiches to all of the other inmates (who all show their approval of the sandwiches with silly, over-the-top mmmmmmmm's). The gray, depressing jail turns into something representing a colorful bakery, which would only make sense if all of the inmates were PG-friendly, because, y'know, real life criminals would totally approve of their jail cells looking like a 10 year old girl's bedroom. Then there's the sequence near the end in which the Brown family needs to catch the train that Paddington and Phoenix Buchanan are on. Remember when I said that Jonathan Brown became interested in steam engines? Yeah, so the Brown family somehow finds another train to board, and Jonathan has little to no trouble operating it. You can either just accept it as is or shout at the screen, "No way! That just cannot happen!"
Between the two films, I have to give the slight edge to the first Paddington when it comes to assessing which one I think is better. But that is not to diminish any of the good things that Paddington 2 offers, which offers a lot of good things. The charm and the humor are back full force, with a quality story and another pleasant villain to boost. The plot may get a little absurd at times, but it's all meant to be goofy fun. Following up on Paddington was going to be quite the difficult task, but Paddington 2 shows it was more than up to the challenge.
Recommend? Yes, but make sure to watch Paddington first
For Bond, life's a beach
Thunderball is directed by Terence Young and stars Sean Connery in his fourth outing as Agent 007. The film also stars Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, and Rik Van Nutter. It is based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
James Bond has gone to just about every corner of the world, taking on villains and seducing women wherever the mission guides him. After travelling to Jamaica, Russia, and the United States, Bond this time makes his way to the Bahamas, and he's diving deep underwater to face off against SPECTRE again. If it hadn't been for a legal dispute involving Ian Fleming and his collaborators Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, Thunderball would have been the first James Bond film and not Dr. No. Seeing the way that Thunderball was presented compared to Dr. No, it was a better thing that Dr. No came first, especially because of how Dr. No had a much smaller budget.
Coming right after Goldfinger, it would have taken a superhuman effort by everyone involved with Thunderball to potentially top its predecessor, and it turns out, they were not up to the task. What Thunderball represents in terms of the Bond film history is a more drastic shift towards the picking and choosing of certain elements of the 007 formula, as opposed to the attempted maximizing of every single part of the formula in a balanced and efficient way. That's not to say that Bond films were to get progressively worse after Thunderball; it's that the Bond films would eventually start a hilly, up and down roller coaster ride that is sometimes fun and exhilarating, and other times lacking. Some later Bond films preferred emphasizing the action and thrills over the story and characterization, while others did it the opposite way. Thunderball is a Bond film that fits snugly into the category of action and thrills over story and character.
In the film, Bond confronts SPECTRE operative Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), who plans on hijacking two atomic bombs in order to hold NATO for ransom. SPECTRE threatens to destroy a major city in the United States of the United Kingdom if the ransom is not paid. Bond travels to the Bahamas and meets Domino (Claudine Auger), who becomes entangled in SPECTRE's plan when Largo takes her as his mistress.
- The best part about Thunderball is its aquatic-like setting, with many scenes taking place underwater. I appreciate the setting mostly because of how it's a nice little change-up after we've already gotten a nice dosage of Bond action with cars, guns, boats, and helicopters in the previous three Bond films. There's a neat battle between U.S. Coast Guard members and Largo's henchmen with the two sides firing harpoon guns at one another. Bond has to avoid being attacked by sharks on several occasions, and he also gets into hand-to-hand combat with several of Largo's henchmen. All of these scenes are easily comprehensible, even though there's no dialogue to be spoken.
- Oh Emilio Largo, what a disappointing villain you are. Selected right out of the stockpile that is generic movie antagonists, Largo sports absolutely no bad guy menace whatsoever, lacking any kind of evil cackle or bad guy trademark up the alley of something like, "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!" He is simply a facilitator of SPECTRE's evil ways, with no personal motivation to speak of and providing no angle to prevent SPECTRE's scheme from falling into the pit that is weak and uninspired villain plans. The nuclear scheme simply boils down to, "threaten world with nukes and get ransom payment in return." What a shame that the underwater setting was the one stuck with a flimsy villain.
Looking at everything, Thunderball isn't a Bond classic by any stretch of the imagination, though it still remains an acceptable outing that offers one of the more intriguing settings in a Bond film. There's more reliance on the action, gadgetry, and visuals, but it's all good stuff that doesn't go to waste. Four films later, and Sean Connery still hasn't lost any of his touch for portraying Bond. It's just too bad he is given a villain that is too one-dimensional to get behind. Overall, more good than bad to be had here. Far worse things can happen to Agent 007.
Recommend? If you like the other Sean Connery Bond films enough, give it a watch.
Paddington is written and directed by Paul King and stars Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear. The film also stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Nicole Kidman. The film is based on the stories of the Paddington character created by Michael Bond.
It would have been quite easy for Paul King and producer David Heyman to reduce Michael Bond's beloved Paddington bear to nothing more than an annoying troublemaker and kill any chances that the character would have of being successful in film. But bless their hearts, that is not what happens at all. Paddington brings Michael Bond's kindhearted character to life without losing any of his charm, and it just may be one of the best family-friendly films to come around in the past few years. Children will adore it, and any well-meaning adult should as well. I've seen it twice now myself, and the film remained just as charming the second time as it was the first time around.
I was rather surprised to find out that no serious attempt was made towards giving Paddington a feature film during the 20th century, as he only enjoyed a couple of short-lived TV series. Then in September 2007, Warner Bros. and David Heyman announced that Paddington would at long last be getting a film adaptation, with Colin Firth slated to provide the voice. However, Firth withdrew himself from the film in 2014, stating that the character didn't match his voice: a decision that I agree was the right one. Ben Whishaw was given the voice of Paddington shortly afterwards, and this turned out to be an excellent fit. Whishaw looks about 5-10 years younger than he actually is, still possessing a slightly youthful radiance that can be felt through Paddington's voice. I don't know exactly how old Paddington is supposed to be, but let's just say it was probably better that Paddington was voiced by a younger actor.
The story opens with a black and white film reel of British geographer Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie), who is on his way to explore the deep jungles of darkest Peru. Clyde comes across a previously unknown species of bear, discovering that the bears are playful, gentle creatures who are intelligent and capable of learning English. The bears also have an insatiable appetite for marmalade. Clyde gives the two bears he befriends the names Lucy and Pastuzo. Upon departure, Clyde gives Pastuzo his hat and tells the bears that they are always welcome in London.
Years later, Lucy and Pastuzo are living peacefully with their nephew, until an earthquake destroys their home. Pastuzo, unable to get to the bears' underground shelter in time, is killed by falling debris, leaving behind only his hat. Lucy then stows her nephew away on a cargo ship bound for London, telling him to go and find a new home, while she will move into the Home for Retired Bears. The bear successfully reaches London, and he finds himself in a train station where he comes across the Brown family. The father of the household, Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville), does not trust the bear and refuses to take him in. But the kindhearted Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins), is able to convince Mr. Brown to let the bear stay in their home for one night. Mrs. Brown gives the bear the name of Paddington, which is the same name of the train station. The Brown family then take Paddington home, and the next day, they begin to work to find Paddington a permanent home. However, Paddington's arrival in London is discovered by a taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who wants to kidnap the bear, stuff him, and put him on display in a museum.
- The main reason why Paddington works so well is because of how carefully it puts a delicate touch on everything. The production design is colorful and lively, and the movie handles its emotional extremes so well that the happy, heartwarming scenes are never mushy and the more despondent scenes refuse to descend into "attempt to make you cry" territory. The plot reaches a scene where Paddington attempts to find Montgomery Clyde, after a household fire accident causes Paddington to leave the Brown family. As we watch the dejected Brown family try to cope with Paddington's departure, Paddington goes from house to house throughout London, visiting everyone he can find with the last name of Clyde. I especially love this scene because of how it's such a rich blend of bittersweet emotions. One of the most unhappy moments in the film for the Brown family is combined with one of the most hopeful moments for Paddington.
- Paddington himself is wonderfully presented as a naive young bear who finds new ways to get himself in trouble, despite always having the best of intentions. Not for a single second does Paddington come off as annoying, as he is always polite and always wants to be helpful. Think of Paddington like Buddy the Elf or Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, all who are taken into new environments that are completely unlike back home.
- As charming as Paddington is, the humor doesn't quite match up. There's a running joke in which a flock of pigeons keep pestering Paddington for the sandwich that he has stashed away in his hat, though it isn't as funny as it is the first time (and the first time it happens, I found it to be the funniest moment in the entire film). There's also a reliance on more gross-out style humor, such as Paddington sticking toothbrushes into his ears and proceeding to lick the ear wax that comes out. He then follows this up by drinking a whole thing of mouthwash. None of this is to claim that the movie isn't at all funny. It's just that the humor isn't particularly clever.
With all sincerity, I do mean it when I say that Paddington is one of the best family films that I can recall coming out in the past couple of years. There's just so much delight to be had that adults can easily enjoy the film as much as children can. Everything from the character of Paddington to the production design to the emotional weight is handled so carefully that it's next to near impossible to not find at least a modicum of enjoyment. I can only wish that all children's film were handled with the kind of care that Paddington is given, a film that proudly tells one to, "Always be kind. The world will eventually work itself out."
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: