Sunday, October 21, 2012

Countdown to Skyfall: James Bond 50th Anniversary Celebration Part 4

Welcome back to part three of my countdown. I have been posting a series of rankings for the James Bond films by actor. The first ranked the films of George Lazenby, that one was not hard. Then I ranked the most underrated of all James Bonds, Timothy Dalton, who unfortunately only did two films as 007. The last time out I attempted to rank the current Bond, Daniel Craig, he has three in the can but one of those is not out yet. I feel confident that Skyfall will not be lower than Quantum of Solace, but if I am wrong, I will be the first to tell you that. This post will deal with the films of Pierce Brosnan, a man who was destined to play Bond but had to wait ten years after getting the job to start making any films.

Brosnan was all set to take the reigns from Roger Moore, he was minutes from the big announcement when he got dragged back into the TV series he had starred in, which had been canceled, and then picked up again at the last minute. From my point of view, this actually worked out pretty well. We got Timothy Dalton for two films, and Brosnan was given a chance to ripen into the role. He was a skinny, young, baby faced TV actor about to make the leap to the biggest action role on the planet and he looked like the TV star that he was. Much to pretty to be Bond. When he finally did get to return to the part, he was more mature, handsome but not pretty, and he looked like he could take a punch or two, not like he might break if the wind changed. Just look at the difference and tell me that ten extra years didn't make him a more credible Bond.

Once he had the part, the series had to be relaunched. Dalton did not play Bond a third time because lawsuits and studio intrigue put off the series. There was even an attempt to hijack the character and create another studios version that would compete with the Broccoli version every few years. Once that was sorted out, new people were brought on board to breath life into the old fellow. I remember reading an article in the LA Times that suggested that in light of the big budget, high action, superstar movies like
"Speed" and "True Lies", that Bond had probably run it's course. Does that sound familiar to all you recent 007 fans? I hear all the time how Bourne is the next Bond, but it does not seem to have worked out that way, and once again, our hero is rising to the top of the cinematic world. Martin Campbell, a TV director, who had made a nice brutal action film called "No Escape" was given the responsibility. I had only seen a couple of episodes of Reilly Ace of Spies, so I was barely familiar with his work. He joined with Pierce Brosnan to bring Bond back to the screen in the mid 90s, and they started the series of four Bond films that Brosnan would head up.

It is a bit unfortunate from my point of view that the Brosnan films went in reverse order of their greatness. The weakest of the four was the final one he made, although it was financially the most successful.

Die Another Day

This film had all of the elements to make one of the most memorable Bond films. The opening features an MI6 mission that goes bad, Bond is captured and tortured in North Korea, and then a prisoner exchange returns him in disgrace as he is suspected of giving up info to the enemy. The title sequence shows most of the torture in an inventive way, and actually advances the story during it's running time. The problem is that it is running under the worst of the Bond title songs ever. A piece of Madonna dance music that neither fits the film or makes Bond fans want to dance anywhere except on the grave of her career.

I did not have a problem with Halle Berry as Jinx, the American agent that Bond hooks up with, although the CGI dive she makes to escape the island is annoying to me and a precursor to even worse CGI offenses to come. In the end, instead of being recalled for it's villains or plotting or action scenes, it becomes the Bond with the para-sailing, Tidal wave and the invisible car. A sad legacy to leave the role on for Mr. Brosnan,

The World Is Not Enough

Before the movie came out, I got to flex my Bond muscle a little bit in public. Here in Southern California, there was a popular movie themed radio show on weekends, hosted by writer and soon to be director Rod Lurie (The Contender, Straw Dogs). When the film went into production and the title was announced, I got on his show for a two minute conversation about where the title came from. It is one of those arcane bits of knowledge from having read the books (OHMSS), that it is in fact the motto on the Bond family crest. Like all of the Brosnan films, the scripts here are original and not based on any of the books. Sophie Marceau had just been in "Braveheart" and she was a beautiful choice for an antagonist. I liked the return of Robbie Coltrane in his character from "Goldeneye". The plot point of M being kidnapped would have made a more effective driving force for the story, but I guess Bond does have to save the world in a film entitled "The World is Not Enough".

The character played by Robert Carlyle is largely wasted. he is built up as having this superhuman endurance and an inability to feel pain, but all of that barely registers, even in the climatic sequences where he and Bond engage in direct combat. Denise Richardson is easy on the eyes and hard on the ears. Her line readings sound like some of my students giving a speech that they mostly copied, and have never read out loud before. The opening boat chase on the Thames was solid, as was the submarine fight scene. The lighter than air craft attack seemed a little silly, but for a guy who hates snow and does not engage in winter sports, I am a sucker for some good skiing sequences.  The movie was satisfying in the way a fast food meal might be when you are hungry and do not indulge in all the time. It tastes good immediately, but a day or two later, you barely remember that you ate it.

 The teaser poster for this film is an exceptional example of graphic design. The silhouette of Bond in the classic pose with the raised arm and gun, framing a fiery background in which a nude armed woman can be seen, promises everything a Bond film could want. Sex, Violence and coolness. I have an extensive collection of movie posters, and there are a few Bond films in my catalog, unfortunately this is not one of them. Someday that will have to be remedied.

The reason it did not get there is probably because I was anticipating a killer A sheet when the final form showed up. Instead, what we got was the weakest Bond poster ever, a photoshopped abortion of images that is thrown together so gracelessly that it could actually keep people out of the movie theater. Despite the presence of two attractive women on the poster, it looks about as inviting as a cartoon drawing on the back of a cereal box, designed to entertain kids while they stuff themselves with sugar laden rice, wheat or corn. "The World is Not Enough Falls to third place in part based on this sad excuse for marketing. Wasting the potential that the teaser set up was a nearly unforgivable crime.

Tomorrow Never Dies

There are a few things to recommend this film on. First of all, the female agent from China played by Michelle Yeoh, is the best counterpart Bond has had in just about any of the movies. It always seems strange to me when the secret service agencies are populated with disposable types and Bond continues to be the only one who lives to the next adventure, or has anything at all meaningful to do. Here Bond has met a real equal and when they finally do start to work together, it feels like the odds have moved in their favor. There is an exciting sequence when they make their escape from the villain, while they are handcuffed together. A lot of creativity went into making the sequence both exciting and entertaining.

I know a lot of people who are not enthusiastic about the Sheryl Crow title song, but I thought it worked pretty well. She has a lazy sort of tempo and the nasally tone in her delivery keeps it from being a pretty song. Instead it fits into that category of Bond songs that reflect their times. Like Duran Duran, or Sheena Easton, Crow is a singer of a specific period of music. She was the bridge between indie cool and mainstream success in the mid 90s.

Brosnan is actually very good in this film. In "The World is Not Enough" I felt he was crusing and in "Die Another Day" he was just putting up with the nonsense. I think if there had been a little more development of the Teri Hatcher part with Bond and some of their past, it might have been more meaningful at the end. As it was, it was simply a solid B 007 film.


In addition to being Pierce Brosnon's first Bond film, it reintroduced the world to 007 after a six year absence. Personally, it meant a lot to me because it was the first Bond film I had seen without my best friend going along. Art Franz and I met in High School and were debate partners. We also shared a love for James Bond. We had both read all of the novels, and together from the time of "Live and Let Die" to "License to Kill" we saw all the movies with each other (and in later years our wives). He died in 1993 and never got to see Brosnan as 007. When I first saw the picture I remember thinking he would be pretty happy with the way it came out. I know I was.

Goldeneye was a relaunch if not a reboot of the series. In addition to a new Bond, M was replaced by a woman, and she is noted as being more of an accountant than a spymaster. While I was suspicious of Judy Dench in the role, she seemed to hit the right notes immediately and she has been a steady presence in all of the succeeding Bond adventures. The director Martin Campbell, managed to take a relatively small budget in comparison to James Cameron's True Lies, and make the film feel big and fresh. The opening bungee jump from the dam, which was actually performed by a real stunt guy, is marred only by the first encroachment of CGI in the series right at the end. They needed a cheat to finish off the dive with the pinion gun shot and Bond being deposited at the base of the dam. It just does not match up well. After that however, everything falls into place.

The villain is revealed to be 006, Bond's friend and equal when it comes to spycraft. The integration of the new Russia into the story worked well. Former antagonists become unwilling allies, former friends become enemies. the dialog between the spies in the story is really very entertaining. Robbie Coltrane and Brosnan have a nice interview with the threat of death and past animosities hanging over them. Joe Don Baker comes back to the Bond series as a different character, like Charles Grey and Maud Adams before him. His work a day, somewhat sloppy American, is a fun contrast to the stiffs Bond usually has to deal with. His avuncular nature and toss off line readings add a sense of fun to the proceedings.

They make us wait through almost an hour of the film, but when the James Bond theme finally shows up, it is in an over the top, exciting chase through Moscow with a tank.

I teared up a bit when the music finally made its appearance and the segment is one of the highlights of the movie.

The one flaw that I always saw in Brosnan as Bond was his inability to sell the sexual double entendres. He doesn't toss them off casually like Connery or Moore did. He seems to highlight them so we will notice. I also found that the scripts with Brosnan put some of those lines into the mouths of Q, Moneypenny, and even M and that is just not right. I liked Brosnan as Bond but I never loved him the way I did Connery and Dalton (and now Craig, if he can try to have a little fun in Skyfall). Even Roger Moore, for whom I hold great affection as Bond, did more to sell that part of the Bond experience.

So Brosnan ends up on my list as declining in each picture. Let's find out about how you see it. Choose your favorite Brosnan 007 in the survey below and let everyone know how you see it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

LOL! Those comparison pictures and the supporting paragraph are excellent, Richard. I had never thought of that - the Brosnan was too young to really play Bond that first time out! :D Nicely done.

"Denise Richardson is easy on the eyes and hard on the ears." HA!!

Glad you give it up for Sophie Marceau though, she was awesome.

I'll be honest - I like TWINE. I realize its a guilty pleasure for sure, but in my personal rankings, I'd have it above TND. Mainly because I HATE Elliot Carver, he's one of the worst villains ever, and Michelle Yeoh leaves me a little flat as a Bond girl.

I like the Crow theme too actually, Richard.

Of course, Goldeneye is numero uno for sure.

I never gave thought to Brosnan being so much more overt with his innuendos than Connery or Moore (Dalton didn't make any, LOL!) I always just chalked it up to the fact that he could get away with it more because of his lady killer looks :D

Nice post!