Friday, November 14, 2008
If you know me, you know I'm a huge Bond fan. Always have been. The first Bond film I ever saw was "For Your Eyes Only" -- I can't remember if I saw it in the theater or on TV, but I've seen every film since then in the theater, usually on the day they're released (it takes an act of God to keep me away, frankly). My favorites, if you must know -- you're all dying for a geek-list, right? -- are, in this order, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (yes, the Lazenby one! Its a tremendous film first and foremost, and he's a lot better than you remember), "Dr. No," "Casino Royale," "From Russia With Love" and the still-awesome, action-packed Moore departure "For Your Eyes Only."
You'll notice the absence of one particular film from my favorites list, there -- "Goldfinger." That's not to say I don't ENJOY "Goldfinger" -- hell, there's something I like about every Bond film, and that includes "Moonraker" -- but, you see, I am, first and foremost, a fan of a slightly different Bond: Ian Fleming's literary version. "Goldfinger" is adapted from a book, yes, but it also serves as the template for every Bond film for almost twenty years. Gadgetry galore, hot chicks galore (or Galore), a Big Cartoon Villain With A Massive Base And A Plan To Destroy The World, and lots and lots of quips. Roger Ebert, in his review of the newly-released "Quantum of Solace," declares his preference for this Bond, and I couldn't disagree more.
The reason I prefer films like "From Russia With Love" and "For Your Eyes Only" is that they exist in the real world. This is not the fantasy world of "Goldfinger," but an actual world filled with border disputes and angry superpowers and druglord clashes and fucked-up brutal fist-fights. Fleming's superspy always existed in the real world, too. He was human. He was a brutal thug with mad skillz. He liked his drinks a particular way, he liked fancy clothes and fast cars and hot women, but only because those were the small pleasures he could take in a life filled with brutality and ugliness. He drank too much and took too many damn pills to dull the pain of his work. He enjoyed himself, he took pleasure in his occupation, but it HURT HIM. He felt. He was real.
We watched "Die Another Day" -- which I kind of see as the nadir of the Brosnan era -- the other night, to drive this point home. The Bond we get at the beginning of the film is almost the literary Bond. He's captured, he's tortured, he just about loses his life and it DRIVES him. It pushes him. He feels. He's angry. He's a real guy. Then, about halfway through the film, the invisible car is introduced by John Cleese as Q, and we drop right out of the real world. We're now in Sci Fi Fantasy Land again, and for the remainder of the film we get cliche after cliche taken straight from "Goldfinger" -- big villain. Hot chicks with funny names. A satellite that can destroy the world. Gadgets that couldn't possibly exist. Quips and stupidity.
Which is why I'm so happy about the reinvention of the film series, starting with "Casino Royale." The "Goldfinger" template is nowhere in sight. Daniel Craig's Bond is as close to the literary Bond as we could possibly get in 2008's blockbuster-driven cinema. He is that brutal thug with mad skillz, and he's living in a world that's pretty much our own. He has gadgets, but they're simple and practical -- he has a car thingy that diagnoses poison, that's about it. Other than that, this Bond relies on his wits and his fightin' skills. He's still charming as hell, but his repartee isn't filled with ludicrous puns and ridiculous single-entendres. For chrissake, he sleeps with trashy married women -- that's all he can get, at first, and that's totally believable.
Most of all, he FEELS. He's MOTIVATED by something. A complaint I heard a while back (from someone who probably caught a few of the Moore films on TV, not a fan by any means) was that "Bond would never fall in love" like he did with Vesper Lynd. Uh uh, Charlie. Go back and read or watch "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." He not only falls in love, he gets married, and when Tracy Bond is brutally shot by Blofeld's thugs, his desire to avenge her death drives him; a single-minded desire to kill the man who murdered his wife in cold blood. THIS is the same Bond we get in "Casino Royale" and, from what I hear, "Quantum of Solace." He's a real guy. He's not just a haircut and some quips and a martini, shaken-not-stirred.
Of course, there will always be folks -- Roger Ebert among them -- who prefer the "Goldfinger" Bond. Or these guys, who wish that Roger Moore would come back:
For them, I recommend a movie called "Austin Powers," 'cause that's pretty much what the Bond films became. Me? I'm gonna be in the front row for "Quantum of Solace" tonight, cheering the best Bond we've had in years and years.