When I last wrote about the “Bondathon,” I admitted a deeply held cinematic shame: that I had never seen a single Bond movie before. Well, admittedly, it’s time a reveal my new cinematic shame: I’m just not a huge fan of the franchise. Beyond From Russia With Love (1963, dir. Terence Young) and Goldfinger (1964, dir. Guy Hamilton), the Sean Connery films left me a bit cold and uninterested. I did watch Live and Let Die (1973, dir. Guy Hamilton), but the camp, oh man the camp. It just hurt my heart. Anyway, I just couldn’t take anymore so I moved away from the James Bond project and just went on with my life. Unfortunately, however, this still left me having not seen the Daniel Craig films, which, admittedly, was the ultimate goal anyway. So I called up my friend that was letting me borrow the movies and asked him if I could borrow the Craig movies. He said yes and here we are.
Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell) 7/10
This is a very strong movie and a great introduction to the new Bond. I love the rough edges Craig brings to the role, which is a very nice change of pace compared to the Sean Connery Bond with which I am most familiar. The plot is extremely tight and well-told, has some very effective surprises, and manages to be a lot of fun. I suppose my one complaint is the extremely Bourne Identity (2002, dir. Doug Liman) opening sequences. It makes the first third of this film feel like a Bourne wannabe/copycat, which is unfortunate, as once this film really gets momentum it manages to be a very suave and intelligently told spy movie. Near the end of the film the relationship between Bond and Vesper felt very forced and tacked on, but even that resolved itself in a very satisfying way. While I do hate how bogged down in post-9/11 grim-dark this movie is, it ultimately pulls past that aesthetic and turns into a great introduction to the new Bond.
Quantum of Solace (2008, dir. Marc Forster) 3/10
This isn’t the worst of the Bond films I’ve seen (Dr. No? You Only Live Twice? Diamonds Are Forever?), but unfortunately it’s just incredibly dull. Quantum of Solace manages to be both one very long, extended chase sequence as well as being dreadfully, painfully uninteresting. The opening car chase is an incredible set piece — and the film follows it up with other great set pieces — and it is a terrific way to thrust us back into the world of Craig’s James Bond. Unfortunately any dramatic weight the film might have coming off of the heels of Casino Royale is lost in a jumbled, meandering, mindless plot which makes little sense. On the plus side this movie is beautifully photographed, and the editing is extremely well done. (Apologies, I’m about to filmmaker ramble) the spatial relationship between characters, cars, locales, action, and everything else is always respected and well-maintained; everything is clearly photographed, represented, and well put together. I just wish the movie made sense or was any fun at all.
Skyfall (2012, dir. Sam Mendes) 9/10
This movie. Oh man this movie. After the mess that was Quantum of Solace this comes along and manages to completely redeem the series. Just as I was beginning to think “these Bond films, they just aren’t for me,” Skyfall comes into my life. First of all, this movie was photographed by Roger Deakins, the man who might be the greatest living cinematographer alive today. Secondly, the plotting is incredibly tight and incredibly intelligent; Skyfall is just an extremely clever movie. Thirdly, the direction from Sam Mendes brings everything established in the previous two films and all of the ingredients of this film together into a wonderful whole. This movie has the wonderful action and cinematography (Roger Deakins!) of Quantum of Solace, but manages to be fun and coherent ala…every movie ever that wasn’t Quantum of Solace. Not to mention this movie just plays with the Bond mythos in very fun ways, and manages to be a very well put together post-9/11 film without feeling too morbid and heavy. Terrific movie.
Spectre (2015, dir. Sam Mendes) 8/10
This feels like a return to the classic form and formula setup in the Sean Connery films. There’s a lot of globetrotting, girls, one liners, Bond stealing and operating a plane, and even a campy “I-don’t-talk-which-makes-me-intimidating” villain played by Dave Bautista. Were this not the follow-up to the ultra serious and — for lack of a better term — “arty” Skyfall, this movie would seem typical Bond fare and no one would bat an eye. It’s a very strong entry in the series, I feel, which leaves me a bit baffled at the negativity surrounding it. This movie was a lot of fun, and the last act was an incredibly intense thrill-ride that did a pretty intelligent job of tying up (and together) the plots of the previous three films. Overall this feels like a fun combination of the previous three films: it is fun and smooth like Casino Royale; elegantly choreographed and edited like Quantum of Solace; intelligently written and beautifully photographed like Skyfall. Also, Christoph Waltz is in this, and I would gladly watch that guy chew the scenery any day of the week.
This leg of the Bondathon, which may or may not continue (eh, who knows?), proved quite a bit more enjoyable overall than the Connery series. None of the Connery films reached the elegance of Skyfall, but it’s also hard to top the cold war style spy movie of From Russia With Love (which is also an incredible title) or the incredible camp of Goldfinger. Overall I feel like Daniel Craig was more than well-suited for the role as James Bond, and I find it a bit strange that he is so often labeled as a poor fit for the part. I’m not Bond fanatic, mind you, but I feel like he’s a very strong fit for these movies.
I would gladly watch through this four films again, surprisingly, and might even consider buying copies if I ever got an itch to see them. Well, except Quantum of Solace, I have no interest in ever watching that mess again. Meanwhile, Skyfall could probably run on repeat all day and I’d not really mind.
Ahh, Roger Deakins.