So here we are at Bond’s 50th Anniversary. I have to be honest and say that Mr Bond is looking in a lot better shape than I do and I’m younger.
I was originally planning to structure this in two parts: one spoiler free and one covering more ground (whilst trying hard to hold back on some of the bigger details which haven’t already been seen online via trailers, production stills or clips). I may do this at a later point, but for now – here are my initial reactions.
Spoiler Free version
So the big question people may want to ask is: is it better than Quantum of Solace? Will it help if I can morph that question into: how does this stack up against Daniel Craig’s debut – Casino Royale?
The fact I can mention it on the same breath as that film hopefully speaks volumes. The answer would be extremely well indeed, although as is customary for Bond, people have their favourites. Some will prefer Casino Royale, some will prefer this entry. Myself? It’s still a bit too early to call.
But I can say Daniel Craig now completely commands this role and is clearly the only other contender to the Connery/Moore * throne. (*delete as appropriate)
Since resolving some of his “issues” from the previous two films and getting slightly deconstructed here – he comes over as less thuggish, more suave and not beyond the odd quip. Actually there is a lot of sly humour in this film if you observe closely (albeit not as obvious as it was during Roger Moore’s tenure).
It has the usual Bond cocktail ingredients: exotic, glamour, excitement and a completely squirm inducing main villain. Speaking of which, the villain (Javier Bardem) is perhaps one of the most memorable in the series. He makes his character Silva very “showy” but is also both a physical and mental match for Bond. Things glisten every time he is on-screen. If I had only one complaint it would be that he didn’t have any memorable henchman.
The ladies (Bérénice Marlohe and Naomie Harris) are of course stunning. This said these ladies take a bit of a back-burner to make way for the real lady in Bond’s life – M, who is once again superbly played by Judi Dench. It is her story which drives the plot. It was a nice touch to set things on home ground for a change with London taking up a fair chunk of the screen time (which feels right considering the 2012 Olympics).
Technically the film has some of the finest pedigree in the franchise history. It has a standout cast including the aforementioned Javier Bardem and newcomers Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney and Naomie Harris. Behind the camera American Beauty director Sam Mendes takes over the reigns proving he is capable of delivering a big crowd-pleaser just as easily as his usual art-house fare. He concentrates on character and story over action. There is of course the amazing pre-title opening sequence. However there is notably less action than some of the more recent entries making action scenes feel all the more exhausting when they do occur. They never feel shoe-horned in and unlike Quantum of Solace you can appreciate them without getting a headache. This is in no small part because of three essential team members: the editor Stuart Baird, the director of photography Roger Deakins and the composer Thomas Newman. Let’s quickly go through their contributions one by one.
Baird also edited Casino Royale. Like that film, this film also runs long (146mins – the second longest in the series). Casino Royale felt like a film of two halves – the opening action packed half, and the slower casino half. Tonal he hits the balance better this time and the film seems to whiz along more evenly. I’d go so far as to say the film felt significantly shorter than Quantum of Solace (which considering it is the shortest film in the series, feels like it goes on a bit). The editing is so much more assured and confident than the twitch shaky-cam style editing which all but destroyed Quantum of Solace. In particular there is one brief action beat which is done in a single glorious shot (Quantum probably would have covered the same ground in at least 20 separate shots).
Deakins is a true master who is at the top of his craft. This is the first digitally shot Bond and it looks terrific. There is real verve in the colour/lighting choices (with plenty of shadowy subtext) and the framing/camera movement are all top notch.
Regular composer David Arnold sits this one out, and I have to say Thomas Newman stepped up to the job admirably. Whilst neither are in the same calibre of John Barry’s in his heyday, Newman goes his own direction but still tips his hat at the appropriate moments. He also doesn’t overload the proceedings and his constantly tapping percussion makes some action scenes seem suitably exhausting.
One hopes they come back for the next in the series. Daniel Kleinman also returns after a one film break with some inventive main-title visuals to accompany Adele’s more traditional Bond song.
All in all, this film has pretty much all a Bond fan could wish for with one foot in the past and one pointing towards more contemporary issues. There are some nice 50th Anniversary nods, which are handled in a much more subtle manner than they ever were for the 40th Anniversary in Die Another Day.
Of course there are still a couple of minor nits to be picked, but to be honest, I really can’t delve too much further without giving away details, so what I will say is go and see this movie and make your own mind up. If you get the chance – go and see it in IMAX!
Bond is back! And yes, it’s much better than Quantum of Solace.