Monday, October 21, 2013

I May Be Biased, but . . .

If you’ve read my initial post in this blog, you know that I am somewhat biased when it comes to Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.  But I have to say, after having watched Goldeneye, my preference for Brosnan’s interpretation of the character may be more than a simple case of teenage nostalgia.  I am prepared for the possibility that my current appreciation of Brosnan’s 007 may be negated in viewing his next films, but that’s why I wanted to blog about my reaction to Goldeneye.  I’ve read in numerous places that Brosnan’s Bond films after Goldeneye are mired in bad writing and hard-to-swallow plot points, which negatively affect his ratings in competition for “best Bond.”  So, I thought, what if we rated him only on Goldeneye, then what would everyone think?  

I personally think Brosnan did amazing work as Bond in Goldeneye.  I liked him even more than Lazenby, who has been my favorite so far, which many of you probably read about here.  Brosnan is obviously super attractive.  He exuded charm and charisma on par with Connery, was suave and sophisticated to a fault, and was quick with the wit without being overly campy.  The script was somewhat heavy-handed with its exploration of how Bond maintains his humanity while dealing with the often inhuman demands of his job, but Brosnan’s Bond was 100% more believable than Dalton in all dimensions of 007--cold-blooded killer, brooding government agent, flirtatious lover, etc.  If Dalton is praised as being dark and brooding and therefore closest to Fleming’s literary Bond, Brosnan should be even more highly praised because he is able to bring in that darkness from the books while also capturing the Hollywood version of Bond who has been previously established as colorful and cliché.  The film itself is more direct with its violence -- there are a lot more shoot-em-up scenes and straight up killing than any extended banter or hand-to-hand combat between enemies -- but Brosnan successfully brings levity to an otherwise straightforward action film. 

Other aspects of Goldeneye made it an important and surprising viewing for this Bond franchise novice.  I never expected to see Dame Judi Dench in the role of M -- I was under the impression that she didn’t take the part until the Daniel Craig era.  It was a welcome surprise, and she plays the awesomely sassy role with gusto.  The same can be said for the new Moneypenney.  Telling Bond that he someday has to “make good on [his] innuendo” was one of the best lines in a film so far.  This was a very positive film for the ladies, with Natalya being a Bond girl I could unquestionably root for.  I also liked that her interactions with Bond seemed believable and that she often called the shots, not just Bond.  I imagine it has something to do with the era, being in the 1990s with a couple decades of real female empowerment and sexual liberation to draw from, the writers finally wrote scenes of Bond interacting with women that seemed comfortable and realistic relative to my own experience.  This was also the first film in the franchise where my understanding of Bond films as sexy and steamy actually played out on screen -- we finally got to see some real sex scenes.  Granted they were scenes in which the female villain, who is sexually aroused by violence, is getting pleasure while strangling (or attempting to strangle) her partner with her legs, but still, graphic and explicit relative to what we’ve seen in previous films. 

Some final, arbitrary thoughts about Goldeneye: The music was so different in this film it almost didn’t feel like a Bond score.  The Bond theme was not recognizably employed until 90 minutes in.  We see at least two recognizable British actors -- Alan Cumming and Minnie Driver -- playing the supporting roles of Russian characters with less than stellar Russian accents.  Couldn’t they have found Russian actors (or at least Eastern European, as is the actress who played Natalya) to play those parts?  I felt thrilling tension in the final scene on the ladder above the antennae dish -- kudos to the crew that pulled that off and made me cover my eyes from fear and suspense.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Broody Bond

Overall, I feel like there’s not much to Timothy Dalton as James Bond.  He does not have an especially imposing presence on screen; he’s not particularly attractive compared to his Bond counterparts (although by no means unattractive); and the two films in which he starred were, in my opinion, middling in terms of overall quality. 

After 13 Connery and Moore films filled with condescending sophistication, rampant womanizing, witty one-liners, and a good deal of campy kitsch, Dalton’s Bond seems oddly quiet and brooding.  He doesn’t say much, and when he does it is not especially powerful.  He’s not as skilled with the humorous quips, nor does he seem to demand the authority, charm, or sophistication of the Bonds who came before him.  It was, in fact, quite strange to see Bond in a bulky leather jacket and knit sweater, rather than a suit, for much of The Living Daylights

His character, especially in Licence to Kill, moves from one extreme to another--at one moment a brutally violent killer, the next a flirtatious and sweet companion.  Granted, I like the dimension more emotion can bring to the character of Bond.  Who knew Bond could be so driven by sentiment, when he goes rogue to avenge Felix?  And I kind of like that he and Bouvier are flirtatious with each other.  It was much more believable than Bond’s typical “I deserve to have you” attitude, the “we just survived a crazy mission, we should obviously have sex now” pattern of Moore’s films, or Dalton’s unconvincing sappiness and swooning over Kara in The Living Daylights (those two had some of the worst on-screen chemistry I have ever seen; not to mention, it is nearly impossible to believe that in 1987 Bond would be attracted to a woman so completely dependent and ineffectual).  Moving between extremes might bring more interest to Bond, but the maneuver ultimately lacked subtlety and nuance, and for me, Dalton does not successfully convey a naturalness in either gear.   

Dalton’s take on Bond was quite a jarring departure from Connery or Moore.  I can understand how a generation who grew up on either of those two actors in the role might resist Dalton, relegating him to the bottom (always just above Lazenby) on any number of online polls of the “best Bond.”  After Connery and Moore, you expect Bond to be larger than life, rather than fading into the background; cocky and quick-witted, not brooding and humorless; indifferent to his female conquests, not adoringly sentimental and practically monogamous (admittedly, as I have read elsewhere, this lack of promiscuity--he only sleeps with one woman in The Living Daylights, two in Licence to Kill--is attributable to an historical context dominated by the relatively early years of an AIDS epidemic). 

There are those who, having gone back to view Dalton’s films with a new eye, point out that he was actually ahead of his time and predated Craig’s darker portrayal of 007, arguing that Dalton should be viewed as the best Bond ever (see, for example, this article or this one).  But while they claim Dalton as the best Bond, their claim hinges on an argument that Dalton’s interpretation of Bond is merely the most authentic to the Bond created by Fleming in his original novels.  In my opinion, this is not a solid base on which to rest one’s claim.  Granted, I have never read any of the Bond books, so I cannot make any kind of judgment about an actor’s authenticity to them, but I imagine most of the people who watch Bond films have also never read the books.  So shouldn’t the film Bonds be judged on their own merits, rather than compared to the Bond in Fleming’s books?  Also, if the movies are not authentic to the books--from what I have gathered, nearly all of them simply take their titles, a few character names and plot points, and pretty much completely re-write the story--then why should an actor’s portrayal of Bond be judged on his allegiance to the books?  Even more significant, only one of the books that bear the titles under which Dalton stars, The Living Daylights, was written by Ian Fleming.  The other, Licence to Kill, was written by a John Gardner.  So to defend Dalton’s portrayal of Bond as the best because it is closest to Fleming’s envisioning of the character seems to me to be little defense at all.  

However, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.  If someone prefers a more broody, sentimental Bond, so be it.  But someone could also argue that Bond is best when womanizing, cracking jokes, and always wearing beautifully cut suits with a dashing smile.  I simply feel like Timothy Dalton did not inhabit the role of Bond in the same way that his predecessors did.  He never felt completely comfortable in the role from what I could see and failed to make it his own or make a real impression at all. 

A few other thoughts on the films overall:

The technology has definitely improved with the times--wireless phones, desktop computers, and some seriously heavy weaponry.  It makes me wonder if the Bond franchise is reaching a point where the crazy gadgets that made Bond cool in the ‘60s will soon make little impact as they become merely reality rather than futuristic fantasy.  It has also contributed to some exceptionally gruesome death scenes and major violence in recently viewed films.

While I was not a particular fan of Dalton’s Bond, I think that part of the reason he is less praised than others is the fact that his films are less likely to be played on television, especially The Living Daylights.  The history surrounding Britain and America’s role in Afghanistan and with the Mujahideen is problematic today, at best.  But watching it forced this ignorant and confused viewer to read up on that history and actually learn something.  And while I say “play it all the time; educate our populace!”, perhaps that’s exactly why it’s not played--it’s probably not a history America is comfortable fessing up to on network or cable television on a regular basis. 

I have a problem with the choice of actress to replace Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny.  At least Maxwell was obviously older than any of the girls Bond slept with, and I could use that as a reason for why Bond might not take advantage of her also--she could be seen as either “over 30” and therefore unattractive in Bond’s entitled mind or as something of a mother figure in later movies.  As much as I hate to admit it, Caroline Bliss is simply not right for the role because she is far too attractive.  Without those glasses she is totally Bond’s type, and it is hard to believe that Bond would not be seducing her any chance he gets.  I guess I have to work on believing that Bond is actually capable of caring for a woman without wanting to sleep with her--that Moneypenny is maybe like a sister to him?