Vesper Lynd

November 24, 2012

Double-ovember: Casino Royale (DJ’s Take)

REAL

Lets face it.  Die Another Day sucked.  I haven’t reviewed it yet, but in case I don’t get a chance to, let me save you the suspense.  Die Another Day sucked.  James Bond deserved better than that.  At the time, 007 was hit by a perfect storm.  Pierce Brosnan was getting too old for the role, producers thought Bond should compete with and emulate the extreme sports sci-fi spy film xXx, while they underestimated the the rise of Jason Bourne.  It didn’t take them long to rectify those mistakes.  Eon Productions decided to not only recast Bond, but reboot the series with a more gritty and REALISTIC feel.  Bond’s beginnings is Casino Royale.  And it is f*#king awesome.  Wait, that isn’t a very professional review of it.  So, let me just say that Casino Royale reinvents the James Bond formula and world with an amazing flourish that extends the franchise’s cinematic life for decades to come.  But honestly, it is f*#king awesome.

So, who do you recast Bond with?  You have to give it to the producers of the franchise.  They are not afraid to shake things up a bit.  Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are as similar to each other as members of The Muppets.  But no other Bond in history has been criticized and scrutinized more than Daniel Craig.  Even to this day.  People lost their minds over his hair, his thin acting resume, and his rugged looks.  So much so, there were online petitions to have him removed.  In retrospect, these critics of Craig were not understanding the central point of Casino Royale.  Casino Royale is essentially the origin story of James Bond.  He isn’t suave yet.  He isn’t debonair.  He isn’t the man who always has a plan.  He is just a cold-blooded killing machine.  If I can’t capture my target, I’ll kill him instead.  I might beat you in a fight, but not without receiving my fair share of damage.  I’d rather just skip the secret identity crap and get right to the bad guy confrontation.  Craig fits that role to a tee, in my opinion.  Craig is what a REAL secret agent would probably look like.  Not some pretty boy underwear model who uses as much skin moisturizer as he does bullets.  A man who has been in a few scrapes and survived.  A man who has just qualified to be a double-0, but not a seasoned one.  Oh, and despite his, then, thin resume, Daniel Craig had acting chops that were on par with or better than any other Bond before him.  He has plenty of range, and shows it off in this film.

Director Martin Campbell knocked GoldenEye out of the park.  But the odds were in his favor.  Craig casting controversy made this film an underdog from the start.  On top of that, Casino Royale did not have as many action beats as his previous outing.  So, it would have been easy for the film to feel flat and tedious.  However, Campbell makes Royale anything but.  A scene where six guys are sitting around a table feels as compelling as a car chase or a shootout.  He directs the Paul Haggis script with perfection and gives the movie the ‘Almost Bond’ feel it needs.  I just love how we start to get hints of a typical Bond feel in scenes, but are suddenly pulled back because we aren’t there yet.  You see, James isn’t James until the last five minutes.  Campbell, Craig, Haggis and even composer David Arnold all knew that.  Critics didn’t grasp it until now.

In every Bond review I’ve done so far, I have talked about the validity of the Bond girls in each film.   I’ve differentiated them by how weak they are as characters.  How much of a pawn they are for the villain or Bond or both.  I’ve said that the stronger the Bond girl, the brighter 007 shines.  And, for me, there is no stronger Bond girl in the entire series than Vesper Lynd.  She is my ultimate Bond girl, hands down.  She is beautiful, she is smart, she is witty, and most importantly, she is the one Bond girl 007 can’t read, can’t play, can’t impress.  At every point where you think Bond has figured her out, Vesper throws him for a loop.  And SPOILER ALERT…this is probably the only instance where the Bond girl makes Bond a pawn in the plot of the story.  She is not the typical, “I just met you five minutes ago, but I love you James” weakling most Bond girls are.  James and Vesper’s relationship feels REAL.  It feels earned.  Eva Green is amazing in this film.  Her chemistry with Craig is perfect and the range of emotions she displays throughout this film always floors me.  You can actually see her fall in love with James and instantly regret it.

If there is a weakness Casino Royale has, it is the villain.  Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre isn’t bad by any means.  The plot just doesn’t allow for a satisfying final confrontation between Bond and Le Chiffre.  Casino Royale is thinking bigger than that.  It is setting up a more dangerous organization along the lines of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. during Connery’s run.  And because the reveal of this mysterious organization has not been immediate, Royale’s set up for it feels unfulfilled.  Again, this is a small weakness seeing as the main focus of Casino Royale is Bond.  Everything else falls to the wayside.

Casino Royale is not just a successful reboot of a franchise.  It is a well made, well acted, Bond film that set the bar high for every Bond film to come.  I’m especially thankful to it because it completely washed the taste of Die Another Day out of my mouth.  Seriously, that movie sucks.  Sing along with Chris Cornellstop touching your ear…go all in…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

November 17, 2012

Double-ovember: Goldfinger

ICONIC

If you looked in the spy movie encyclopedia and searched for James Bond, the first film it would reference would be Goldfinger.  It is an ICONIC example of the world Ian Fleming created all those years ago on the beaches of Jamaica.  It is the starting point for all the other spy movies in this encyclopedia I just made up.  It stars the most ICONIC Bond in Sean Connery.  It has one of the most ICONIC villains in Goldfinger.  It has one of the most ICONIC henchmen in Odd Job.  It has the most ICONIC Bond girl in Pussy Galore.  The car, the kills, the gadgets, the catchphrases, the song…all ICONIC.  There have been many great Bond films since, but in my eyes, none have surpassed the notability of Goldfinger.
I have stressed before my belief that the best kinds of Bond girls are not just beautiful.  They are not just a pawn for which Bond can casually move around for his own benefit.  They are women who can hold their own with Bond physically or mentally or both.  The larger the challenge they give James, the brighter he shines.  Bond girls in the beginning were victims of the time.  Female empowerment was rarely seen in cinema in the 60s.  Goldfinger, however, manages to have two girls that bucked that trend.  Jill Masterson, who has probably the most ICONIC fate in Bond history, does fall into the pawn category.  However, her vengeful sister Tilly does not.  She makes it her life’s mission to find and kill the man responsible for her sister’s demise.  Even if that means shooting through 007 to do it.  She still  pales in comparison to Pussy Galore.  Pussy is beautiful, a pilot, proficient with firearms, and a judo master.  The first time Bond meets her, she pushes him around at gunpoint.  The next time they meet, Pussy knocks Bond on his ass and recaptures him.  The next time, they both have a Judo showdown in a barn.  Pussy Galore is the opposite of a pushover.  Even her relationship with Goldfinger seems more like one of competitive equals than employee/employer.  Pussy Galore was the benchmark Bond girl for me until Vesper Lynd came along.  But that is a conversation for another day.
Goldfinger and Odd Job shouldn’t work as villains on paper.  A British born, Dutch sounding, gold obsessed, spoiled sport teamed with an Asian chauffeur who likes playing ring toss on people’s heads with a lethal, metal brimmed bowler.  However, they are two of the Bond franchise’s most referenced villains.  You’ve never seen a Bond retrospective without seeing THIS…or THIS.  But other than ICONOGRAPHY, how do they stack up as villains?  Goldfinger’s plan is surprisingly sound, even for today’s standard.  Hell, a version of it was used in Die Hard With A Vengeance.  He should also get props for making Sean Connery’s Bond appear actually desperate.  That laser scene always reminds me of this amazing scene in Mission Impossible 3.  Goldfinger’s obsession with gold falls short only to his obsession with winning.  If Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure grew up to be a Bond villain he’d be Auric Goldfinger.  
A henchman’s scariness and effectiveness usually depends on their commitment to their boss’s cause.  Suffice to say, Odd Job is committed.  So much so, when the authorities begin to close in to stop a bomb he’s transporting, Odd Job locks himself inside a vault with the bomb and kills a nearby henchman to make sure he won’t diffuse it.  He’s more than a match for Bond physically and uses a weapon so implausible that it would make Q scoff.  That is a great henchman.
Goldfinger is literally James Bond 101.  If you ever need a refresher course on what exactly a Bond film should feel like, I advise you to …sing along with Dame Shirley Bassey…buy back all your gold from this guy…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 

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