“Spectre” Is Blah. James Blah.

James_Bond_Spectre

Bond practices jumping the shark.

We checked out Spectre in a near-empty theater and after watching it I figured out why.   It was okay, and I liked it better than my wife and son, but I won’t remember a thing about it in another week.    It looks big, but it comes up small.   Spectre is the Avengers: Age of Ultron of the fall movie season.

There was an impressive tracking shot, eye-popping, opening pre-title sequence, a sexy Bong girl in Lea Sedoux and a wasted one in Monica Bellucci (whatsamatter Bond? Don’t like women in your age group?), Christoph Waltz playing exactly who you think he’s supposed to play as he explains his evil plan and I wasn’t impressed one bit by the “big reveal”.

Spectre marks Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Ian Fleming’s super spy and it comes in at his third best Bond;  far behind Casino Royale and Skyfall but way ahead of Quantum of Solace,  (and that’s a pretty low bar to clear).

James_Bond_Spectre.03The thing which has always saved the Bond franchise is knowing when its time for a course correction.   When Roger Moore got too old to be Bond, he was eased into the rocking chair and Timothy Dalton stepped into the tuxedo for two lackluster entries.   Dalton was a dud, so Pierce Brosnan replaced him and made one really good movie and three more with each being progressively worse.

Knocked into irrelevance by the triple whammy of the putrid Die Another Day,  Mike Meyers mockery via Austin Powers and Jason Bourne stealing all Bond’s bad-ass credibility, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli rebooted Bond with a meaner and tougher Bond who preferred his enemies shot and dead to his martinis shaken and stirred.

Everything about this movie is overly familiar.  The car chases, the fight scenes, the lair of the evildoers, Bond going rogue.   Check off the list and I’ve seen ’em all before.  Sure, they’re done well here, but they have all been done better in other Bonds.

One reason Quantum of Solace was so lousy it was rushed out to beat a writer’s strike and boy, did it show in the final product.   Spectre wasn’t a rush job, but it feels too busy and way too bogged down with a plodding plot.   I haven’t quite figured out why this one missed more than it hit, but it did.    The conclusion back in London felt tacked on because there just had to be one to make an already long move run a little longer.

Bellucci was the Bond woman who wasn’t.

After a decade of Craig, who says he’s sick of the role, it could be time to do another hard reboot of Bond, but unless he can get out of his contract, Craig has signed for one more turn in the tuxedo.   No spoilers, but despite Spectre leaves a crack in the door for a Craig exit, the end credits still announce “James Bond Will Return.”

Sure he will because the Bond franchise has become a license not only to kill, but to print money and you can bet the producers will offer Craig plenty to sign on.   When asked if he would play the part again, Craig sounds like he means it when he says, “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists.  That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.”

But move on to what?  Craig made three films between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, four before Skyfall and none at all until Spectre landed three  years later.   His biggest non-Bond flick was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a modest hit offset by bombs like The Invasion, Dream House and Cowboys and Aliens.

Don’t call your agent yet, Idris Elba.   Mr. Craig might be done with Mr. Bond but Mr. Bond might not be done with Mr. Craig.

And I’m still frosty over how Monica Bellucci disappeared.   At 51,  Bellucci was one of the oldest actresses cast as a love interest for 007 and she remarked she wasn’t a “Bond girl” but a “Bond woman” instead.

Joke’s on you, Monica.  Your part was so brief you barely qualify as a Bond booty call.

Idris Elba is waiting for his license to kill and thrill.

 

Shaken and Stirred by the “Skyfall” Teaser

007 has a license to kill, but did he lose his razor?

A teaser trailer is supposed to do precisely two things:  generate a bit of a buzz before the movie opens and not send off major warning signs that it’s going to suck (Green Lantern, I’m  looking at you).    The teaser for James Bond 23 , Skyfall does its job with workmanlike precision in a tidy 94 seconds.

A lot of quick cuts and ominous music does not a good movie make,  But a new James Bond movie is always something to look forward to.  Nobody is more pleased by than I am that Skyfall doesn’t give off the tell-tale odor of flop sweat.

Casino Royale was a return to glory for the franchise, but the follow-up Quantum of Solace killed a lot of the good will.   In the theater it’s busy and gets to point “A” to “B” faster than its predecessor, but Quantum of Solace  doesn’t go anywhere special.  Even though the story picks up immediately after Casino Royale all it establishes is this is a Bond who really seems to enjoy killing people.   Daniel Craig is once again the most joyless and cold-blooded 007 ever, but he’s got nothing to work with in Quantum.   The plot was murky, the bad guy  wimpy and bug-eyed and the standard “Bond girl “nearly non-existent with the whole tiresome mess anchored by Marc Forster’s sloppy and scattered direction.

Forster, who had never handled a big-budget franchise film tried copying the fight and chase scenes from the previous film and demonstrated he simply couldn’t shoot an action scene.  Either he shot everything too close, too dark and cut it so fast it’s hard at times to figure out what’s happening on screen.

Roger Moore, the third actor to portray Bond on film put it well.  ‘I enjoy Daniel Craig, I think he’s a damn good Bond but the film as a whole, there was a bit too much flash cutting for me.’

‘I thought Casino Royale was better. It was just like a commercial of the action. There didn’t seem to be any geography and you were wondering what the hell was going on.”

“She needs help! She watched ‘Quantum of Solace’ three times in a row.”

I’ve watched Quantum on DVD, but it still leaves no impression.  Things zip by on screen, lines are delivered, guns shoot, and Bond wins.  The end.  Roll credits and put the license to kill in a drawer for four years.

Skyfall  arrives in November both liberated and burdened.   Four years is a long time between Bond entries and it’s the longest lay-off between films since the six years from License to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995) which featured a long legal battle and the recasting of the lead between Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.  Skyfall doesn’t have to be as good as Casino Royale.  It  only has to be better than Quantum of So What.   How hard could that be.

Since the last time we saw Bond onscreen he was scowling his way through a pedestrian movie, there is pressure on Craig and Sam Mendes, the Academy Award director of American Beauty to regain the momentum.

One way to do it is to give everyone a reason to hope the five months from the teaser to the film fly by  Bond’s longest line of dialogue goes a long way to get me there.

“Some men are coming to kill us. We’re gonna kill them first.”

That sounds like the bad-tempered Bond we’ve come to known and love.

Quantum of So What?

 

"The name's Bland. James Bland."

Two years ago, my son and I settled down in the dark of a movie theatre to see Daniel Craig take his turn as Agent Double 007 in Casino Royale.

We enjoyed it throughly. It was a bit overlong,  but Craig’s portrayal of Bond as a man of high octane action, few words and bigger body counts was a refreshing jolt of Jason Bourne inspired energy into a series that had grown flabby and tired.

So now it’s 2008, and he’s home from college for the weekend and seriously desiring to see the new Bond flick, Quantum of Solace. Being the kind and benevolent despot that I am, I plunk down the $14 bucks for two tickets and settled down in the dark hoping to repeat the experience.

Not even close. Quantum of Solace is plagued by more than just a lousy title. It’s badly shot, directed sloppily by Marc Forster, who was an odd choice to do a action flick based on films such as The Kite Runner, Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball. Bond movies aren’t exactly character-driven and Forster shows no adeptness for action thrillers and their set pieces (car chases, fist-fights, explosions, flying glass and gunplay).

In the effort to make James Bond mean something again, they’ve taken away much of what him unique. If you were waiting for Craig to deliver the signature line, “The name’s Bond. James Bond,” you had to wait for the end of Casino Royale. It’s not a spoiler to inform you in Quantum he never says it at all. He’s too busy jumping, running, hitting, kicking, shooting and killing his way through the relatively short (106 minutes) running time.

I get that Craig plays Bond as a fighter, not a lover, but even the woman in this installment are little more than scenery. Olga Kurylenko is smokin’ hot, but like Bond, she’s out for blood, not a bed and as Strawberry Fields, Gemma Ashton has a fitting Bond girl name, but little chemistry  with Craign and not much to do in her handful of scenes.

Oh, and there’s still no Miss Moneypenny. Judi Densch gets to hang around and be both outraged at Bond’s blunt instrument approach to spying and maternal as he’s denying his hurt for his lost love Vesper Lynd.

The villian of the piece, Dominic Greene as played by the French actor Mathieu Amalric is all bulging eyes and bluster, but no real threat and doesn’t even come up with a particularly interesting plot.

James Bond shouldn’t be less interesting than the silent-but-deadly Jason Bourne or the one note Frank Martin played by Jason Statham in the Transporter CGI fests, but he’s more bland, than Bond.

A solid “C” when I’m feeling charitable and a “C” minus when I’m not.  It’s not that Quantum of Solace sucks.  It just doesn’t soar.  It feels hurried and busy moving to the next action sequence to actually tell us anything about the mysterious Quantum group or the threat they post.  Before we can learn anything about the organization Bond is killing anyone that could tell us anything.

Oh, I almost forgot–the opening credits song by Jack White and Alicia Keys is simply horrible. Keys took the place of the human trainwreck that is Amy Winehouse and the results are so punishing to the ear, I can’t help but wonder if Winehouse might have been a better choice than the psuedo-soul stylings of Keys.  

Previously, before “Another Way to Die” the worst Bond song was “Die Another Day” by Madonna and though some people love it, I never got into Duran Duran’s “A View to A Kill.”  This stinker may let both of them off the hook.

James Bond’s Quantum Leap.

Shaken by the end of the last movie, Bond is stirred by revenge.

Shaken by the end of the last movie, Bond is stirred by revenge.

This isn’t a review of Quantum of Solace.  I haven’t seen the movie yet and frankly, you weren’t waiting on my “yea” or “nay” before deciding if you wanted to.

Two years ago, I sat in the dark and waited for Casino Royale and the new James Bond.  My expectations were low in the aftermath of the previous Bond flick, Die Another Day, which was wretched beyond belief.  My son and I went by ourselves as my Sean Connery-worshipping wife and daughter refused to have anything to do with a pug like Daniel Craig.

Turned out Casino Royale wasn’t bad at all.  In fact it was pretty good.

What made Bond such an icon was he was when Connery played the role, women wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him.  Tall, trim, a man who was quick with his wit, steady with his gun, suave in a crowd, and irresistible between the sheets.

Then Connery bailed out and Roger Moore came in.  That was the end of James Bond for me.

I never liked Moore.  He wasn’t a cool, charming rogue like Connery and most of the films he made sucked.  The only entry I like was For Your Eyes Only and that was because  it was a stripped down story without the boring bad guys with evil plans for world domination, ridiculous henchmen with steel teeth and Grace Jones.

Grace Jones as a Bond girl.  James Bond discovers tranny love.  Kill me now.

Oh-oh-$70 million in the opening week?  Not bad, Mr. Bond.

Oh-oh-$70 million in the opening week? Not bad, Mr. Bond.

Following Moore’s blessed departure into obscurity came nobody’s favorite Bond,  Timothy Dalton who looked like he enjoyed playing 007 the way a man enjoys root canal without anesthesia.  Dalton turned in his license to kill after two okay, but ordinary outings, The Living Daylights and the listless License to Kill.

Enter Pierce Brosnan, the guy who was supposed to replace Moore, but couldn’t get out of his television show, Remington Steele.   His maiden voyage as Bond was GoldenEye and it was great.  Plenty of action, far more sophisticated and at ease than the dour Dalton and in Brosnan, there was a mixture of sex appeal and rougish charm that had been missing since the glory days of Connery.

Unfortunately, each of the following films, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and the too bad to be believed Die Another Day, were worse than the previous one.   Brosnan looked bored in Die and he wasn’t the only one.

Brosnan’s license was revoked and Daniel Craig’s was activated.  As Brosnan had turned 50 years old, the Bond franchise was also showing signs of middle age and growing irrelevance.  Instead of the tuxedo-wearing, joke-quipping, martini-sipping secret agent, audiences had turned to Jason Bourne, the amnesiac spy and assassin of the Robert Ludlum novels who was played by Matt Damon as a no-bullshit, weapon of mass destruction.

Everything that seemed tired and stale about Bond, seemed fresh and exciting about Bourne.  Even the choice of a “Bourne girl” was the decidely plain Franke Potente was sexier than the drop-dead gorgeous Halle Berry in Die Another Day.

Oh, and The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatium were all damn good and in making $945 million, were incredibly lucrative as well.

And the success of Jason Bourne got the attention of the producers of the increasingly tired James Bond.

Jason Bourne is The Spy Who Outdid James Bond.

Jason Bourne is The Spy Who Outdid James Bond.

For all intents and purposes you Daniel Craig looks like someone Sean Connery would beat up more than he looks like a logical 007.  But his brutish tactics and blunt force approach worked perfectly in Casino Royale.

With Craig as the blonde, sawed-out, rough around the edges reinvention of James Bond, many fans (such as my wife and daughter) who loved Connery, ignored Moore, tolerated Dalton and were satisfied with Brosnan, have rejected the lastest incarnation of Bond as unworthy.

Well, to each her or his own.  I’m not kidding myself that Craig makes for a perfect James Bond.  Quantum of Solace will go a long way in convincing me whether he’s growing into the role or just the guy with the gig until the next guy comes along.

My wife is still hoping Clive Owen will change his mind about entering Bondage.