In the run-up to the release of Bond #25, the unimaginatively titled No Time To Die, it feels like a good opportunity to revisit the gold standard of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007.
Except, I’m not a fan. I find it massively overrated. It gets by far too much on the serendipity of being released in the same year as London’s golden Olympics, when national pride – and nostalgia for the good old days (represented in the film by the Aston Martin DB5) – was at its highest. It’s not a popular opinion, but I’ll take the thrill of Quantum Of Solace over this, any day.
The film has its moments, like they all do, but some elements are difficult to overlook. The character of M being dragged into the plot (for a second time, after The World Is Not Enough) doesn’t feel right, and criminally under-using Albert Finney is even worse. He would have made a great, cunning ally, in the same vein as From Russia With Love’s Kerim Bey, or For Your Eyes Only’s Columbo, but the writers instead make him a docile caricature, more Groundskeeper Willie than anything else.
The biggest issue is the goofy Home Alone finale. To be generous, you could say that it’s a homage to Straw Dogs, but most movie-goers are not that cine-literate. They see Judi Dench laying booby traps, they immediately think Kevin McAllister and the Wet Bandits.
Still, it’s not all bad. The theme song by Adele is wonderful, and that whole sequence of Bond falling into the water, and into the credits sequence is just sublime. The cinematography, by the great Roger Deakins, is just fabulous, giving the film a golden sheen that helps to convince everybody that this is the new Goldfinger.
Javier Bardem is another missed opportunity. In No Country For Old Men, he was truly terrifying. Here, he’s a cartoon villain, with a silly CGI facial injury. Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes are brilliant additions to the ensemble cast, as is Naomie Harris (well, up to about five minutes from the end at least).
In the cinema, on opening night, I cringed more than humanly possible when I realised they were about to introduce Harris as Moneypenny. Just a nauseatingly mawkish moment. My wife stared at me in the cinema, dissolving into my seat, thinking I was having a stroke or something.
Thirty minutes into the film, we’ve had at least four uses of the word ‘bloody’. This, I think, is one of the reasons Americans are in love with this film. It confirms their suspicion that London is full of red double-decker buses, Big Ben is visible from every street corner, and everybody walks around saying ‘Bloody this,’ and ‘Bloody that,’ in some broad approximation of Dick Van Dyke’s accent from Mary Poppins.
Of course, I don’t blame the director Sam Mendes for any of this. I was a fan of his work prior to Skyfall, but thought that he was too big a name to direct a Bond film. His work on both Skyfall and SPECTRE is admirable. It’s the writers who are at fault. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to relax while Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are behind the screenplay of a Bond film. They’re the dictionary definition of hit and miss.
Another reservation I had about the film was the appointment of Thomas Newman as composer. A frequent collaborator of Mendes, he’s more at home with the kooky, ethereal pathos of scores like American Beauty and The Shawshank Redemption. Could he pull off a Bond soundtrack? The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes. The score leans a little too heavily on Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard’s work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to sound truly original, but it gives a freshness to Bond after the by-the-books David Arnold scores.
This is the second-pressing of Newman’s soundtrack, on beautiful red and white splatter double vinyl, and features a pop-up image of Bond in the inner gatefold.
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