As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been thinking about James Bond a lot and going back through the movies again. I’ve watched from Dr. No through Diamonds Are Forever, skipping Goldfinger in the process because I’ve seen in so many times. I was still jonesing for more Bond, though and asked my wife which one she wanted to see. I tried pushing for some Daniel Craig action, but instead she wanted to go with Pierce Brosnan’s final entry in the franchise, Die Another Day.
This was an interesting choice not just because it’s the last pre-Craig film I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet, but also because I had recently listened to the episode of James Bonding where they savaged this film. So, I was already kind of primed to dislike this movie, or at least look at it with a more comedic take, but I’ve got to say, once I just let all of that go, I was actually able to enjoy myself. Well, most of the time. Halle Berry is terrible here. It boggles the mind that she has an Oscar.
The basic story this time around is that, after getting marked while undercover and imprisoned, Bond wants revenge on his captors so he goes rogue to track them down. Along the way he meets a US NSA agent named Jinx (Berry) and discovers that some kind of gene replacement therapy is being used to change peoples’ identities on a fundamental level. There’s also an invisible car and an ice hotel which are both silly and kind of awesome when you just let yourself sit back and enjoy the film (which can be really difficult when you’re dealing with invisible cars and diamond faced bad guys, just saying).
While watching the movie, I made the claim that Berry is probably the worst Bond Girl around. My wife laughed and pointed out Denise Richards’ Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. To that I say, you basically know what you’re getting when you see Richards on screen (or were getting back when that was a thing that happened). But with Berry, you’re talking about an Oscar winner! She can barely deliver her lines in a way that tells me she’s a human being and not a robot trying to decode what feelings are. At the end of the day, I can buy into the invisible car and even the ridiculous gene therapy, but I can’t abide such a bad Bond actress. Honestly, Madonna’s better actress in this than Berry.
Anyway, this wound up being Brosnan’s last outing as 007. I liked what he did with the character and while he wasn’t my favorite he was the version that gave me my first Bond experiences in the movie theater which is a nice memory. I don’t know if he’ll be considered a classic Bond, but it was certainly a memorable time for me heading to the movies with my high school and college friends to check out 007’s latest exploits.
I’ve had Bond on the brain lately. First there was the news that all things Bond were back under one umbrella legally speaking which means SPECTRE and Blofeld can return to the series. Then I discovered a relatively new podcast called James Bonding. Plus, this year does mark the 50th anniversary of the film franchise, so I’ve been going back and putting my James Bond DVD box set to good use (which of course kind of makes me want to get the Blu-rays).
Over the past few years I’ve done a good number of Digging Double Oh Seven posts, but figured it would be somewhat useful to create a list of all the films and original Ian Fleming books with links to my reviews. For what it’s worth I have seen Die Another Day and Skyfall, but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews for them. In addition to the Fleming books, most of which I have in one form or another, I also have the Fleming-written, John McClusky-drawn comic strips collected in The James Bond Omnibus Volume 1 which I’m slowly making my way through.
Casino Royale (1954) – CBS TV movie
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Casino Royale (1967) – non-canonical David Niven comedy
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live And Let Die (1973)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Never Say Never Again (1983) – non-canonical Sean Connery film
A View To A Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
License To Kill (1989)
Tomorrow New Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum Of Solace (2008)
THE IAN FLEMING BOOKS
Casino Royale (1953)
Live and Let Die (1954)
Diamonds are Forever (1956)
From Russia, With Love (1957)
Dr. No (1958)
For Your Eyes Only (1960) – short story collection featuring “From a View to a Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Risico” and “The Hildebrand Rarity”
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1964)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965)
Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966) – short story collection featuring “Octopussy,” “The Property of a Lady,” “The Living Daylights” and “007 in New York”
The six year gap between License To Kill and GoldenEye must have been unbearable for longtime Bond fans. Up until that point, there had been a new installment every two or three years since the series debuted with 1962’s Dr. No. A combination of legal problems, unfortunate passings and illness, this expanse of time lead Timothy Dalton to opt out of playing Bond again, so the role went to Pierce Brosnon who was actually favored to replace Roger Moore a few times and was even offered the part but couldn’t do it because of Remington Steele contracts. Other changes this time around are the wonderful Judy Dench as M, Famke Jansson as henchwoman Xenia Onatopp, Joe Don Baker in his first good guy role Jack Wade and Alan Cummings as a computer geek who falls in with the bad guys.
Continuing where Dalton left off as Bond, Brosnon’s version keeps things a little more dark and realistic. Well, for the most part. Some folks might have a problem with the opening sequence’s getaway on a physics level, but if you can’t enjoy all that I feel bad for you. Not only does Bond bungee jump to a secret facility, team up with fellow Double Oh agent Sean Bean (forgot to mention him above), shoot and fight a bunch of guys and then ride a motorcycle off a cliff to soar down, get into a plane and fly it to safety. It was AWESOME. The over the top action sequences (there’s also the tank chase which is pretty epic), Famke’s wonderfully crazy Xenia and another wonderfully light appearance by Desmond Llewelyn as Q bring things up a bit but overall the movie has a pretty serious tone.
Even with the somewhat darker tone, I still had a lot of fun with this movie. In addition to all the elements I’ve already mentioned, the idea of a Double Oh going rogue and returning to face off against Bond is super interesting and I’m kind of surprised hadn’t been used before. It’s also interesting that this is the first of the Bond flicks to be completely original and not have any references to Ian Fleming’s books or short stories. It comes across in the story which has a lot to do with computers and EMPs and giant satellites and the like. Like every movie involving computers from the mid 90s, though, anything having to do with them seems cute and quaint now. When the beautiful on-the-run code monkey and soon-to-be Bond Girl Natalya Simonova (played by Izabella Scorupco) tells some guy the kind of computer she needs, I chuckled to myself. Phones can do what that computer could do.
It was interesting going back and watching this movie for probably only the second time. I was 12 when this movie came out. I don’t have specific memories of going to see it in theaters, but I think I did. Even though I’ve talked about my love of the Bond series, it always tended towards the older movies because those are the ones I watched with my dad on tape or TV. I remember liking Brosnon’s Bond movies for the most part, but there wasn’t any nostalgia there because they were modern. Looking back now, there’s definitely some nostalgia now because these are the Bonds of my teenage years and I saw most of them in theaters with friends throughout high school and possibly college (I’ll have to check out some dates and get back to you with the specifics).
While I don’t actually believe in cosmic significance to basic events, I do find it interesting that the year I was born there were two James Bond movies released in theaters. You have the in-cannon Octopussy which will be tomorrow’s movie and Never Say Never Again which brought Sean Connery back to the role he made famous quite a few years before. As I mentioned in my review of For Your Eyes Only, I was worried about this movie for a few reasons. One, I was worried Connery would be too old for the role (much as I thought Moore looked to be getting older in his series) and two, that it wouldn’t really matter because it’s not in cannon. Luckily neither of those wound up being a problem.
I should explain how there could be a James Bond movie that isn’t a part of the James Bond series. Back when Thunderball was being written and created, there was a screenwriter who worked on the project that wound up feeling as though his ideas were used somehow unfairly. There was a lawsuit and Bond creator Ian Fleming made a deal with him that involved cash and the use of some of the characters and ideas. So, with his fair share of legal rights to Bond, SPECTRE and Blofeld, that dude–Kevin McClory–got his stuff together, hired Irvin Kerschner to direct and got Connery to return as Bond. And you know what? The results are surprisingly entertaining. So much so that I wish this movie was actually included in the box set (even though it was original made by Warner Bros. it was eventually sold to MGM who hold the rest of the catalog).
Unlike the other Bond movies, this one actually addressed one of the facts of the movies that we haven’t seen addressed before: Bond not necessarily being the kind of character that fits in with modern sensibilities. In this version of the story, Bond has been around for as long as the movies have been (presumably) and now he’s dealing with a government that doesn’t seem to care about the Double Oh program and doctors who want him to cut out martinis and red meat. But soon enough, he’s needed again as the villain Largo–part of SPECTRE–has a plot to blow up various parts of the world. It’s interesting that, while part of the story revolves around Bond’s age, another part revolves around technology, specifically video games. There’s a scene in a big casino that has a whole section devoted to games like Centipede. Meanwhile, Largo has a 3D game he created himself that involves shooting parts of a 3D map of a country to gain control away from your adversary. It seems silly, but it’s actually a pretty tense moment as Bond plays–and eventually beats–the game’s creator. Is this the first video game bad guy in a movie?
From an action standpoint, the movie doesn’t disappoint. There’s an opening scene of Bond taking out some bad guys that looks like a lot of other 80s action movies which makes it kind of interesting for a Bond movie. There’s also a pretty slick car/motorcycle chase that involves rockets and even some cool gadgets as Bond and Felix Leiter fly around on what look like jet stands for lack of a better term. There’s even a big underground bad guy headquarters with accompanying assault by the good guys, some dangerous ladies (include Bond girl Kim Basinger) and a drop down drag out fight between Bond and a gigantic henchman. All in all, it’s the film’s differences from the rest of the late 70s/early 80s Bond flicks that actually makes it the most fun to watch. There’s a different take on the character and the mythos along with a lack of familiar elements that have made the last two or three canon Bond flicks kind of boring to watch. Oh, Rowan Atkinson’s even in it pre-Bean. He plays a kind of hapless bureaucrat there for comedic purposes, but his character is handled well and doesn’t get annoying, which is something that can’t be said for similar parts in other Bond movies. All in all, good stuff.
To go along with the animated series and toy line of the same name writer John Peel was tasked with writing a series of books based on the character under the pseudonym of John Vincent. The pics are from his site, as is the following excellent quote:
Sadly I discovered two drawbacks. First, I wasn’t going to be allowed to use my own name on the covers. They came up with “John Vincent” for me to be instead. (I suspect a joke on the name of self-help writer Norman Vincent Peale…) Second the scripts were bad. Really bad. For example, James Jr., despite his name, is James Bond’s nephew, not his son. So he can’t possibly be a Junior unless his father is also named James… My editor selected the six least-worst scripts for me to work on, and there was a lot to be done to make them readable. I did my best, but the books and the show disappeared quickly…
Follow that link to find out what each of the six books is about along with the occasional commentary from Peel, it’s a pretty interesting, quick read.
Right off the bat, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due and let you know that I grabbed these images from the James Bond Jr. page over on the wonderful Virtual Toychest. The animated series these toys were based on kicked off in 1991 as did the toy line which, as was common around that time, outlasted the series itself. Consisting of updated 90s versions of characters like Odd Job (dig those hip hop threads!), Jaws and Doctor No, brand new villains like Captain Walker D. Plank and Dr. Derange and of course young relatives of Bond characters like James Bond (James Bond Jr.), Felix Leiter (Gordo Leiter) and Q (IQ), the line was…interesting. I never owned one of these figures, but I’ve had my eye out for some at flea markets to no avail (yet).
Since I will be traveling to Ohio this weekend for the first of many baby showers, I’m going to have to skip James Bond movie reviews for a few days. To keep up the run of DDOS’s though, I decided to write about one of the stranger aspects of the Bond legacy: the 1991 animated series James Bond Jr. which isn’t about Bond’s son, but his nephew. The series spawned a series of action figures, an NES-era video game, a comic from Marvel and a series of novels (look for posts about these later in the weekend). Bond finds himself enrolled at a boarding school called Warfield Academy where he meets fellow students geeky IQ (Q’s grandson), surfer dude Gordo Leiter (Felix’s son) and Tracy, his love interest. The kids soon find themselves at odds with a villainous organization called SCUM (Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem).
Sure, it’s a silly 90s animated series with an amazing number of cliches and familiar characters (Tracy’s best friend Phoebe has more than a passing resemblance to Irma from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and now that I think about it Tracy looks kind of like April, no?) but the first episode has some fun moments. That opening chase scene is better than most and how cools is his flying Aston Martin?
I’m also impressed that the story revolves around SCUM using an electromagnetic pulse to hold Britain’s computer information hostage. I doubt a lot of cartoons of the day were using similar ideas. Anyway, I’m sure the show wears on the nerves after a while with quips upon quips and the usual inanity that comes from most 90s cartoons, but I’d be interested in watching more of the 65 episodes on Netflix Instant though, to be honest, odds of me actually paying for something like this would be pretty low as I’m sure the rewatch value isn’t there. Anyone else watch this series or have any memories of the tie-ins?