lördag 30 juli 2016

Bond confusion

Partly in quest of blogging inspiration, I watched all of two hefty films yesterday, Steve Jobs and Spectre. So, two men with intimacy issues who make an impact on the world: Jobs and James Bond. Which of them is the better blog subject? I'll take the easy route - it is, after all, still my holiday, for two days more - and choose Bond. I may return to Jobs, and why it puzzles me that we should care whether he was a good dad or not, at a later date.

As I've discussed before, Daniel Craig's Bond doesn't really work for me. Nevertheless, Skyfall was a really good film, and I approached Spectre with cautious optimism. Well, I liked it better than Casino Royale (so tedious, in spite of Mads Mikkelsen, that I've forgotten most of it, which is unfortunate as Bond keeps moping over his lost love from this film, Vesper Lynd) and A Quantum of Solace, but compared to Skyfall it is oddly shoddy. Before I go further into said shoddiness, though, a troubling aspect of the Craig Bond films has to be addressed: the reintroducing of iconic Bond film characters as if they were brand new.

There was talk, I dimly remember, of Casino Royale being a "reboot" of the Bond franchise, which essentially means you start all over again and pretend that previous films with the same hero never happened. It's common with superhero films, where a new team may be anxious to distance themselves from creaky or embarrassingly larky predecessors. I can understand reboots in this context - though they seem to come at an alarming rate lately - but Bond is something else. The only reason there was a Casino Royale were the twenty odd Bond films that had gone before. The Bond story has been a continuous one from the sixties onwards, and surely you expect the hero to be the same and carry with him all the experiences from his previous incarnations.

Yes, this poses a credibility problem, to say the least. Bond and some of the key players - Miss Moneypenny, for instance - take on Time Lord properties: they barely age and sometimes change their faces, but remain essentially the same person although the world around them has moved on from the Cold War to the Internet Age. It is just as well that the time bubble conceit isn't overused. Some secret service staff are simply replaced - M and Q for example, where a new character (often successfully) takes over the function of an old one while bringing something fresh into the mix. Nevertheless, I much preferred the Time Lord-y way of handling Bond's timelessness to the idea that we should disregard all Bond films before Casino Royale - especially since Craig is, in my view, the least Bondlike of all the Bonds, while his predecessor Pierce Brosnan was one of my favourites.

At first, I ignored the talks of a reboot - after all Judi Dench's M was the same who was introduced ticking off Pierce Brosnan's Bond in Goldeneye, so how could it not be a continuing story? That Felix Leiter showed up with all arms and legs intact was not enough to alert me to the possibility that the film makers meant what they said about starting over (to tell the truth, since I'm not a Bond expert, I'd forgotten that he was the one being maimed by a shark in Licence to Kill). In the otherwise excellent Skyfall, though, a puzzling thing happened. A fellow agent of Bond's was revealed to be Miss Moneypenny, who had only just discovered that she was more efficient behind a desk than in the field. Sorry? But Samantha Bond (and the game girls who filled the part before her) was Miss Moneypenny! You can't just write them out of the story. What true Bond fan would do that? I've nothing against Naomie Harris's plucky and attractive Miss Moneypenny, who mercifully has a love life of her own. But does she have to be the Miss Moneypenny? Can't she be Samantha Bond's niece, or something?

In Spectre it happens again: a classic Bond character - one of the villains this time - is reintroduced, and Bond has plainly never been up against him before. (Warning: the subtitles give away his identity and ruin the surprise completely.) The effect is extremely weird: we have a prequel situation - an "origins" story to use superhero-film speak - taking place decades after Bond's first tussles with the villain in question. It doesn't help that the villain role is so underwritten not even Christoph Waltz - a safe pair of hands when you need a baddie, as all Hollywood knows - can do a lot with it. His motives for resenting Bond, not to mention for killing his own dad, are weak in the extreme. (I kept waiting for the reveal that Bond killed his dad - now that would have been a motive.) Let's just say, this particular Bond villain has had more impressive outings.

Here's where the aforementioned shoddiness comes in. Not only is a promising villain-hero relationship thrown away, there are other elements to the plot and characters that don't seem to have been properly thought through. When Bond moves in on the widow of a man he's killed (I did like his explanation: "He was an assassin. He wouldn't have taken it personally") he claims that she "stayed loyal to a man you hated". How does he know what her feelings were? Later, the widow says that her spouse"spent more time with them [his partners in crime] than he did with me". Does that sound like the complaint of a woman who hated her husband? And how does it square with her previous statement that members of the criminal organisation in question only meet rarely?

Later, Ralph Fiennes as M struggles with a speech where he claims the double-0 programme is humane (albeit only in comparison with drones and the like). In the first proper hero-villain showdown, Bond rises fresh as a daisy after a session of gruelling torture and blows up the villain base without much trouble. I know the "why don't they just shoot him?" question is a eternal one and applies to practically all action films, but the dastardly mastermind's reasons for keeping Bond alive are foggier than ever, especially as he must know about what happened to his associate in A Quantum of Solace. If Bond gets the better of you, there isn't even a guarantee that he'll kill you nicely. For the sake of self-preservation, if nothing else, you should just put a bullet though him.

My main gripe is the whole reboot setup, though. Does this mean Ralph Fiennes's M is the original M, and Ben Whishaw's Q the original Q? It fairly does my head in.

"You only live twice, Mister Bond" as, erm, someone said. In fact, Bond and the person in question live a great deal more often than twice. Which is fine by me, as long as they live their lives in the right order.