Bond is 50, and he gets younger all the time.  After a solid start with Sean Connery in the ’60’s and a flirtation with model George Lazenby, and then back to Connery.  It’s easy to pick on Roger Moore.  Most of his Bond films were crap, but they weren’t necessarily wrong in picking him, they just made the mistake of trying to make him cooler than he needed to be.  Poor Timothy Dalton was a rebound.  The films were violent, mostly humorless and as forgettable anything in the series.  Pierce Brosnan was my favorite Bond, and his first film, Goldeneye,  is by far the best in the series, and curiously, the first one not based off of a Fleming novel.  The only one that was really bad was the one that had Charlie Sheen’s wife, for obvious reasons.  The change to Craig was abrupt, but necessary, after the Bourne Series stole the thunder from the spy.  The result of the first hand was a winning masterstroke.  The second-hand, almost as good, but the critics never want to give out on the second date.  They usually wait until the third, and then say that the film makers listened to them.  In this way Skyfall is a classic sight unseen.

This Bond doesn’t care, though.  He’s feral, austere, intelligent and brutal at once.  With Craig, the series has the juice for another 20 years if they want.

Casino Royale – 2006
Director Martin Campbell
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelson, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Simon Abkarian, Caterina Murino, Jesper Christensen
Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis

Review: Bond, like he’s just been born.  This time out, he is just getting his 007 ranking, and then jumping right into the fray.  Craig’s Bond is less refined, more volatile, and resourceful than earlier ventures.  Out of the picture this time is Q and the gimmickry that pushed the movies towards self-parody.  There was also, for the first time, no Moneypenny.  Mikkelson’s LeChiffre is a worthy nemesis,  even if he is not the main one.  Instead, we get a true feeling of an organization that extends beyond his reach or comprehension.  With Bond, though, the trail never goes cold.

Retaining the incomparably awesome Dench as M was perhaps the best move they could have made.  Her presence in the MI-6 gives the movie continuity, further establishing that the name James Bond is a cover for 007, one of the tools of the trade.  Craig is the most vibrant of the Bond characters.  His fights feel real and look like they hurt.  The fact that Craig suffered real injury while performing his own stunts gives credence to how authentic they are.  Jeffrey Wright is a great choice as his American counterpart where Giannini has the depth of character to allow some real question as to where his loyalties might lay.  Vesper (Green) has more to do than your typical Bond girl, and they probably could have picked someone stronger for the role.

Campbell has two of the best Bond films in the series in his résumé.  This one is so different in tone and feel from Goldeneye,one cannot help but be impressed with his chameleon-like ability to change mid-stream.  This film is more intense than his first, but the way he gives Bond friends in unlikely places is a nice trademark.

(****1/2 out of *****

Quantum of Solace – 2008
Director Marc Forster
Starring Craig, Dench, Wright, Christensen, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giannini
Screenplay Haggis, Purvis and Wade

Those who insist this story was ineffective might do better to see it for the story arc that it was rather than a complete story in and of itself.  Indeed, it does come up a little short compared to Casino Royale, but it is easily better than most non-Connery films.  The main issue with Quantum of Solace is that it feels like a lot of the film sitting in the cutting room floor.  The producers wanted a shorter running time, and as a result, there are more than a few leaps from one place to the next.

There are fewer turns, but the scene in the opera house in Austria tops anything in the first film.  In addition, the scene with Jesperson, as the elusive Mr. White, taking notice of the number of people leaving the performance is beyond charming.  Indeed, it’s the very fact that not every one of the loose ends are tied up by the end that gives this new Bond its charm.

The bad guy this time around, appropriately French wuss Dominic Greene (Amalric), is probably the weakest link to the film.  The axe fight in the end is silly, because there is no way someone who tiny could keep a hold of any weapon when facing someone of superior skill.  Yet, there he is, grunting and whining like Monica Seles as he misses with each swing that Bond lets him have.  It’s hard not to like where the ax ends up.

The Bond girl this time is effective and aggressive.  Camille Montes (Kurlyenko) plays the role of the vengeance driven Bolivian agent.  Kurlyenko was inspired (happily) by Michelle Yeoh, from Tomorrow Never Dies.  This is apparent in her ability to look like she could survive a tussle.  Arterton suffers from a bad name (Strawberry Fields) and an incoherent conversion from comic foil to tragic fall.

Bringing back Mathis has the same effect, sadly.  It starts off great, but ends incomprehensibly.  Jeffrey Wright is used effectively enough as we are unaware of his true alliance for much of the film.  It’s another “to be continued” feel, in much the same way we get from Mr. White.  There should have been more scenes for him, but, in truth, he works just fine in a limited role.

Forster’s direction has fewer memorable shots than did his predecessor, Campbell, if for no other reason than it feels like we are seeing stock footage of dirty and dry places (granted, Bolivia is not the most glamorous place).  The dog fight with the huge plane and the fighter plane is inexplicably long.  It’s absolutely incomprehensible that the big plane would survive the first salvo. Overall, the film moves along briskly with a sense of purpose and one can’t be faulted for that.  The quality of the acting, writing and direction is solid.

(**** out of *****)

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