November 7, 2015 -- The latest incarnation of James Bond started out a few movies back in the series as a kind of throwback to the early Bond films in which the hero is a kind of bad boy with teenage levels of testosterone, but with a sense of duty as well. He knew how to party and have a good time, but always got the job done. He was heroic, if somewhat misogynistic.
Later, after the Sean Connery era, Bond became more sophisticated, smoother, more urbane, and more British in mannerisms. He was still the bad boy, and a womanizer, but he had more style when Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan played the part. There was also more humor in the series. When Daniel Craig took over the role, Bond went back to the brute force wrecking ball style of the older Bond with little of the style and sophistication of the earlier Moore-Brosnan Bond films. But more than that, Bond went from being a hero to an anti-hero in the recent films.
In this last film, the 24th by some reckonings, Bond is starting to look a bit less like a wrecking ball, even though the movie does start with Bond literally destroying some buildings. In this film, Bond is starting to act a little more like an adult human being, and less of an anti-hero. Although Bond is still a one man wrecking crew and he is still indestructible, this Bond is not so robotic as he has been in recent films. He now acts like he is taking more of an active role in what happens.
The opening scene takes place in Mexico where Bond causes the aforementioned destruction and manages to survive even though he makes the seemingly stupid decision to choke the pilot of the helicopter he is riding in. In a complicated plot, one the men he kills in this unsanctioned Mexico attack leads him to the head of Spectre, a powerful criminal organization.
The story curves back on itself with references to early Bond films and characters like Ernst Blofeld, and his cat, which both date back to “From Russian With Love” (1963). We also learn that there is a family connection between Bond and a villain that goes back to Bond's childhood. This blast from the past is part of a multi-film reboot of the Bond series, which could set up some more remakes of earlier Bond films.
Like most Bond films, this one runs long (2 hours and 28 minutes) and it has plenty of action, including a prolonged fist fight between Bond and a Spectre assassin, Hinx (played by formidable former pro wrestler Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Unlike most Bond films there is a true romance in this one, between Bond and Madeleine Swann (played by Léa Seydoux of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). There is also a one night stand between Bond and Lucia (Monica Bellucci of “The Sorcerer's Apprentice”) the widow of a man Bond has just killed (definitely Bond in bad boy mode).
Probably my favorite scene in the movie is when Bond is being tormented by Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz of “Django Unchained”) who is using a machine to drill into Bond's skull, while talking on and on about himself and Bond (in much the same way Waltz's Nazi character gases on interminably during a barroom scene in “Inglourious Basterds”). Finally, after listing to this inane jabber (by the way, the only purpose of this jabber is to give Bond time to escape) Bond gives him the ultimate put-down, “nothing can be as painful as listening to you talk.” Amen.
In this film Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) Q (Ben Whishaw) and M (Ralph Fiennes) are given meatier roles than these characters usually have in Bond films. They constitute a greatly reduced support system for Bond, similar to the shrunken team and reduced resources supporting Ethan Hunt in the last couple of Mission Impossible films. One character, C (Andrew Scott of the “Sherlock” TV series) is eerily reminiscent of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. His character, and the whole data collection scheme in the film, is troubling and creepy in light of Edward Snowden's revelations about domestic spying.
Bond just walks away from his nemesis, arm-in-arm with Madeleine Swann, dismissing him with “I have better things to do.” In contrast, many earlier versions of James Bond didn't seem to have anything better to do, although there were some exceptions, such as when Bond got married in “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” (1969). Another example was Bond's deeper feelings for Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale, which are also referenced in this film.
So, maybe there is some evolution to the Bond character in this movie from the old low-brow misogynistic, testosterone-fueled Bond of the past into something more rounded, grounded and thoughtful. I've heard it said that Daniel Craig doesn't want to play this character anymore, and that is fine by me. I'm not a big fan, but for what it is worth, I did like Craig's Bond better this time around. Also, this Bond film was not as dark and depressing as the last one. I sure don't need more of that. This film rates a B.
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