Friday, December 01, 2006

Whither 007


Finally managed to see CASINO ROYALE last night. Loved it plenty. I will now throw out spoilers like free waffles as I explain what was great and not so great about it. Spoilers... they give away important surprises and plot points. If you want the movie to be a surprise to you, stop reading. I'm being as plain as I can about this. I will ruin the movie for you.


First and foremost, the good folks at Broccoli Inc have finally succeeded in making Bond vulnerable again. He hasn't been since GOLDFINGER. I almost said "making him human," but the interesting thing to me about James Bond is he's really not. He's psychotic. He's a sociopath who has found an acceptable role in society. The biggest reason that Sean Connery made such a splendid Bond isn't his physicality or his acting chops; it's that he understood that the character likes having a license to kill. You never got that from any of the other Bonds, especially Roger Moore, even from my favorite Pierce Brosnan. Even Timothy Dalton (who looked more like the literary Bond than any of them) didn't enjoy killing. He didn't seem to enjoy anything.


Bond is an antihero. He's a criminal. And Daniel Craig, with his opaque blue eyes and inscrutable expressions, is able to draw you in when you need to feel what he feels. But he's also able to keep you out when it gets really ugly.


I like that the movie kept in the most horrific plot point of the novel, Le Chiffre's crude bottomless-wicker-chair torture of Bond. I never thought I'd see the day. Just now, as I write this, I'm wincing. Like the rest of the movie, it's refreshingly low-tech and effective. No ritual introduction of deus ex-machina gadgets! Just a rope, a chair and a scrotum is all you really need to tell this story. And cell phones -- dozens and dozens of cell phones.


What the movie gets wrong, I fear, is the procedural - specifically, the famous stunt set pieces that are a hallmark of the series. What's with the implausible leaping chase through a construction site? Why allow Bond to blow up a foreign embassy? Or rather, why does he still have a job after?


Somewhere along the way Bond went from being a spy, someone who lies to you so he can steal your secrets, to a state-sponsored terrorist. Now everyone knows who he is, and he's very good at going to foreign countries and assassinating people and blowing up their property. Not only is it hard to root for a terrorist, it's so implausible a situation that the story can't recover. On the other hand, if you don't include these sequences then it just isn't Bond, old fellow.


My thinking is this: Sony had the rights to this book, which is why they were able to muscle in on the Bond Franchise. If they were smart, they would have started COMPLETELY from scratch. Called the movie Casino Regale, name the character Jim Bande or something. Make him more like John Drake from Secret Agent, a quiet guy who actually protects his cover. Do press telling people, yeah, it's really Bond. Then start a whole string of sequels with the new guy. Maybe in fifteen years have a face-off between Bande and Bond, like Frankenstein Vs. The Mummy. You know who I'd be rooting for.

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