As you all know the new Bond film, Skyfall, is in production at the moment. I loved the first Craig film – a reasonably faithful adaptation of Casino Royal. It had several of my favorite action set pieces in a Bond film. It took a franchise that had become stale decades earlier and made it compelling. Many compared it to the Bourne films which clearly were an influence. However what made Royal so great was what it did differently from Bourne. It was more a revisioning of the classic aspects of Connery’s Bond from the 60’s as well as many aspects of Ian Flemming’s own life and failings as a spy during and immediately after WWII.
The sequel was a grave disappointment to many people, myself included. I must confess that I liked it far better upon a second viewing in my home theatre system. (See the Kulturblog discussion here) The action was aping Bourne far more than before but was so frenetic that one couldn’t follow what was going on. The witty dialog of Royal was gone. There were many scenes which were best described as “cockamamie” — perhaps better suited for Roger Moore than Craig. (For example the overly flammable hotel in the desert)
I was worried that the franchise would experience a rapid fall off from a good start. Much as what happened with Peirce Brosnan’s Bond. Ironically also given a great start by the same director: Martin Campbell. A director who seems able to only do his best work with Bond as Green Lantern and most of his other films attest. (Although I have to confess I did like the first Zoro as a guilty pleasure)
An interview with Craig linked to on Twitter and a few other places has made me rethink Quantum of Solace though.
Q: It seems that the script is sometimes an after-thought on huge productions.
A: ‘Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with s*** like that, and it happens. On “Quantum”, we were f*****. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes — and a writer I am not.’
Q: You had to rewrite scenes yourself?
A: ‘Me and the director [Marc Forster] were the ones allowed to do it. The rules were that you couldn’t employ anyone as a writer, but the actor and director could work on scenes together. We were stuffed. We got away with it, but only just. It was never meant to be as much of a sequel as it was, but it ended up being a sequel, starting where the last one finished.’
This actually explains a lot. The part of Quantum that was most disappointing was how poor the banter was – especially the seduction of the female intelligence agent in Bolivia. (Strawberry Fields – their attempt to engage in witty misogyny of character the way Ian Flemming used to do. You might remember the character from Goldfinger whose name surprisingly got by the height of Hollywood censorship: Pussy Galore) In fact all the dialog was very stilted compared to the previous film. However if it was all written on the fly by Craig and the director, Marc Forester, then that moves the film from being a disappointing to a fascinating failure.
I’ve not seen everything Forester has done but he’s definitely done some great films. (I loved Finding Neverland) I still don’t think that justifies the way the action pieces were filmed or edited. And it definitely doesn’t excuse that horrible boat chase. However apparently the original story was a stand alone. It was made a strong sequel to Royal on the fly. I actually think that part worked great as did the ending.
Fortunately both Craig and Sam Mendes have been working long and carefully on the next film. They apparently both love the same aspects of the Bond mythos.
Q: Did you have anything to do with getting Sam Mendes on board as director?
A: ‘I did, yes, I did. He’s English, he’s Cambridge-educated, he’s smart. He’s lived with Bond all his life, he grew up with Bond the way I did. We grew up at exactly the same time, and I said to him, “We have to do this together, we have exactly the same reference points, we both like the same Bond movies and we both like the same bits in the same Bond movies we like.” We sat down and we just rabbited for hours about “Live and Let Die” or “From Russia with Love”, and talked about little scenes that we knew from them. That’s how we started talking about it. That’s what we tried to instill in the script. He’s been working his arse off to tie all these things together so they make sense – in a Bond way.’
I’m not quite sure what to make of referring to Live and Let Die. It is admittedly by far the best of the Moore films. But it’s still not great and is embarrassingly racist in some ways. It’s also the beginning of what I call the camping self-referential Bond. From Russian with Love though is unarguably one of the best of the Bond films (other than an embarrassing girl on girl gypsy fight clearly there for titillation)
Mendes can be a fantastic director. He does tend to have a strong cynical view about life that is off putting to me. I find he’s his best when there are moments of hope and beauty in his films behind the cynicism. (Best illustrated in both Road to Perdition and American Beauty) He’s at his worse (IMO) when he doesn’t have that as in Jarhead or Revolutionary Road.
How will he handle Bond? I think a lot of us want to know. There’s a lot in Road to Perdition that suggests he’ll do great. I’ve read other interviews that suggests the suave and charming Bond will be emphasized more in this film. Also a certain level of cynicism is necessary for Bond. That’s what Moore lacked and what Craig brought well. So I think he’ll do great.
The big question is whether the second unit team will be more tamed so we don’t end up with the problems of Quantum of Solace. (As I said, not a bad film and arguably still better than the vast majority of Bond “episodes.” But very disappointing compared with what we expected.)