When Daniel Craig stepped up as the latest in a long line of actors to portray James Bond, it came with a bigger responsibility than usual: Not only were the producers recasting the lead role in their hugely successful film franchise, but they were also rebooting the series. 2006’s Casino Royale, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, explored the character as a younger, more flawed, and less experienced secret agent. It reignited the series, and this year’s Spectre might just be the resultant inferno.
This necessary new take on the character also gave the filmmakers the opportunity to dust off the film franchise: This time, they’d present a gritty, realistic, dark action-thriller film. Gone were the familiar humour, gadgets, and exaggerated cool of preceding films like 2002’s Die Another Day. Familiar faces like Desmond Llewelyn‘s Q (and John Cleese in Die Another Day) and a long line of Miss Moneypennys (last portrayed by Samantha Bond). Oddly, they chose to keep Judi Dench as M in a strange, continuity-questioning casting choice. Casino Royale had decidedly less jokes, and let go of most of the franchise’s trademark lines and tropes.
2006 – Casino Royale
Casino Royale intensely rejuvenated the franchise. A fresh reintroduction to the character meant that we saw his first two kills – the requirement for his legendary “Double 0”-status. However the scriptwriters didn’t copy (as many others would) Christopher Nolan‘s approach to Batman Begins: While we see him achieve the rank he is famous for, it wasn’t deemed necessary to delve into his pre-secret agent years. His childhood, his recruitment, and his history remains a mystery – the only hint in this film is an unconfirmed assumption that Bond is an orphan.
“And since you’re first thought about me ran to “orphan,” that’s what I’d say you are.”
-Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale
Casino Royale took the focus back onto the character and the plot – something that Die Another Day was criticised for missing. The film also toned down the villains dramatically. The main antagonist was a terrorist financier named Le Chiffre instead of an egomaniacal terrorist with goals of world domination, like the ones famously parodied by Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films. There were hints of a larger, hidden terrorist organisation (similar to SMERSH and SPECTRE in the original novels and films), but the film’s plot was contained to realistic villainy instead of over-the-top cartoon bad guys. The action sequences were intense, visceral, and gritty, and filmmakers purposely avoided computer generated imagery, instead opting for real stunts, crashes, and explosions. While not overtly written as an “origin story” (again, see Batman Begins), Casino Royale showed a different Bond to what we were used to, but who had, by the end of the film, acquired many of his most famous attributes. Casino Royale succeeded financially and was praised by critics, especially for Daniel Craig’s edgy portrayal of a credible, vulnerable, emotional Bond.
2008 – Quantum of Solace
Eon Productions (the company that had been behind the James Bond films from the start) had a winner on their hands with Casino Royale. But repeating its success would have been a miracle. In many ways, Quantum of Solace (directed by Marc Forster), was much more of a “classic” Bond film: While there were some emotional character motivation for Bond (motivated largely by Revenge), the film’s main plot had them stop the villainous businessman Dominic Greene, who intends to stage a coup d’état in Bolivia to seize control of that country’s water supply. This led Bond and his girlfriend-of-the-week “Bond girl” Camille through several countries, and sometimes-inexplicable action sequences through land, water, and air. That’s when Bond isn’t flirting with or seducing MI6 officer Strawberry Fields faster than you can say “corrective rape of Pussy Galore“. I’m really glad they omitted her first name from the final cut of the film.
This sequel was clearly set up as a franchise film – very connected to Casino Royale (tying up many loose ends and concluding Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd), but also leaving many plot points unconcluded. Most of the secondary characters from Casino Royale also show up – most notably Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis. The villain Greene was revealed to be part of Quantum – a mysterious criminal organisation that has managed to infiltrate MI6, and was seemingly connected to the antagonists of the previous film. But Quantum is never fully explained or revealed – merely set up for use in a future film. The film rights for the use of traditional Bond villain terror organisation SPECTRE (the “SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion”) wasn’t available at the time of the film’s production, so Quantum was assumed by many viewers to be a temporary stand-in until the legalities were sorted out. The film was ultimately about eco-terrorism (which isn’t that frightening, though it may be realistic), and climaxed with an odd physical fistfight pitting Bond against an all-too-human bad guy in a weird, middle-of-nowhere villain lair.
Critical response to the film wasn’t as good as that of Casino Royale, but it wasn’t universally terrible either. The Sunday Times review noted that “following Casino Royale was never going to be easy, but the director Marc Forster has brought the brand’s successful relaunch crashing back to earth – with a yawn”; the screenplay “is at times incomprehensible” and the casting “is a mess.” The review concludes that “Bond has been stripped of his iconic status. He no longer represents anything particularly British, or even modern. In place of glamour, we get a spurious grit; instead of style, we get product placement; in place of fantasy, we get a redundant and silly realism.”
One of the film’s saving graces, however, is the magnificent, thrilling, opening car chase. This is the way to open an action film:
2012 – Skyfall
The third film in the renewed series has an unassuming title: Skyfall. It isn’t menacing, it isn’t clichéd, and there is no mention of death or dying. Whereas Casino Royale was based on the novel of the same name, and Quantum of Solace got its title from a James Bond short story written by Ian Fleming (though completely unrelated to the content), “Skyfall“ provides no clues to the plot. But that suits the film perfectly. The title is mentioned only once in the first two hours of the film before the climactic action sequence takes place at an estate called Skyfall.
A lot in this film was seemingly borrowed from successful contemporary films like The Dark Knight (see the nighttime action sequences in a tall east-Asian city tower with a lot of glass, or the villain playing Trojan horse and getting captured intentionally). Still, these ideas were reworked into something unique and suited to the franchise. In fact, the film took several steps to move the series back towards the traditions and tropes of the Connery/Moore era. Q and Moneypenny was reintroduced, and M ended up being replaced by someone who seems a lot closer to the M of early Bond films.
The villain, while being a simple, realistic cyber-terrorist with an understandable motive to get revenge on M, is the colourful, hyper-real kind of character that haunted Bond in the past. I can’t be the only one who thought of the cartoonish metalmouth henchman Jaws (from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) when Javier Bardem removed his fake teeth…
Skyfall became slightly funnier than its two predecessors, remained slightly self-aware throughout, and managed to win several awards, and plenty of critical praise.
2015 – Spectre
There isn’t too much to be said about the upcoming film yet. Sam Mendes returns to direct his second Bond film, Christoph Waltz is cast as a Bond villain (a role he seems to be destined to play) called Franz Oberhauser. At first, it was speculated that Waltz would resurrect Ernst Blofeld, the famous leader of SPECTRE from the earlier films and novels, but his character name seems to indicate otherwise. I would be very disappointed if this is another example of the thinly veiled red herring technique they used when marketing Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in Star Trek Into Darkness as “John Harrison.”
He was Khan. Everyone predicted he would be Khan. Knowing he was Khan would not have spoiled the filmgoing experience. They should’ve just called him Khan. Or at least given him a more interesting fake name. Like Franz Oberhauser.
Even Waltz’s clothing in the new trailer worries me. It seems way too familiar.
Just like the first Spectre teaser poster clearly nodded to Roger Moore’s portrayal of the character in 1973’s Live and Let Die.
I’m expecting a film very close to what Skyfall was – a not-overly-serious take on James Bond which studies the character, focuses on plot, throws some unexpected twists at us, yet still harks back to the older films where gadgets, cars, and action were a major source of the fun. Combine Casino Royale‘s focus on character and plot, its amazing gritty action sequences, a touch of the emotional journey found in Quantum of Solace, and the kick-ass spectacle and lovable characters from Skyfall, and you’ll surely deliver a groundbreaking film in Spectre.
Unfortunately I still think the aeroplane without wings looks very fake in the trailer. And is it even possible for a helicopter to do that? See the latest trailer below:
A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE.
Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot. As Bond ventures towards the heart of SPECTRE, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks.
Spectre will be released in South Africa on 27 November 2015.