Saturday, November 01, 2008
"Casino Royale" had impressed us hugely – Craig’s taciturn but intelligent thug at last restoring the Bond franchise to something approximating its glory years when Connery was at the helm / trigger. Craig didn’t so much as hold the screen as pin it down in a head-lock, bloody its nose and then pour an expensive but rejuventating cocktail down its throat.
Viewers choked in ecstacy. Had Bond ever been this good?
But that was then. This is now. The question last night was: could Craig do it again?
Cut to the nodding dog from the Churchill adverts. Oh yes.
Craig has brought a good old fashioned physicality to the role that Bond had been missing for years. Since Connery in fact. Timothy Dalton did his best to give Bond a raw edge but he was too stiff, too stilted – the scripts didn’t allow for any depth or humanity in Bond’s psychological make-up. Dalton’s bond buckled under the pressure.
Not so with Craig. There’s a living, breathing human being behind the suit, behind the gun sights. One that is damaged, finding it difficult to process his emotions. His taciturnity is due to emotional trauma rather than robotic detachment. It speaks volumes as opposed to obscuring any sense of the man.
But it’s not overdone. Bond isn’t a soap and never should be. Bond’s inner feeling are very deftly, very lightly touched upon but never exploited for a quick bit of meaningless shmaltz. We see a flash of emotion but then it is masked – an action that in itself hints at a profound inner vulnerability – and then Bond (over) compensates with some breath-taking, "horribly efficient" violence. Bond hides behind his suit, behind his job. Behind his duty. His depths have complicated shadows and I’d much rather see those as Bond’s 'schtick' than Moore’s wetly debonair tailor’s dummy quips and eyebrow jerks.
I like the fact that there are fewer gadgets in this incarnation of Bond. The opening car chase is a case in point. No bullet proof glass. No missile launchers hidden behind the headlights. No oil jet hidden beneath the exhaust.
Just hard-crunching steering wheel action, lethal slivers of glass peppering the lens and a quick grab for the machine gun lying on the passenger seat. Bang bang. You’re dead. Eff you.
There’s a continuity to the plot that works too. It has the effect of widening the scope of the Bond world, fleshing it out. Gives it a much needed integrity. Nothing is happening in isolation. Some of the characters – both heroes and villains – reprise their roles from "Casino Royale". This both hints at and creates a sense of history, a sense of place. There’s a bigger story unfolding in the Bond world that isn’t going to be snappily concluded in the destruction of the bad guy’s base.
Because behind this bad guy is a bigger bad guy. Or in this case a whole group of them and there isn’t a white pussy cat to be stroked between them. Bond’s new arena of espionage and spy chasing owes much to the Bourne films, I feel. This world is muddy grey not black and white. There’s a tacit acknowledgment of double dealings by the UK government, paying off bad guys where necessary, funding coups, allies screwing each other over out of self interest that would have been unthinkable in early Bond movies. But these murky waters allow Bond to embody an amoral purity. He doesn’t do deals. He doesn’t care about the money. He hasn’t got a retirement plan. His methods are direct, irreverible and (cinematically) just.
He’s a rogue agent. But he’s our rogue agent and that makes everything alright. He’s both the underdog and the superior overlord.
Nobody can touch him.
But the impact can be felt from miles away.
Welcome back Mr Bond.