Sunday, March 29, 2009

The new Bond

I finally saw Casino Royale for the first time last week. I watched it again last night after watching Quantum of Solace which was recently released.

I have to say, this is the best Bond yet. Coherent, gripping stories with a good pace, good acting, and satisfying payoffs. This is not the Bond of yore, which was adolescent in world-view and expectations. Dr. No was the first of the 007 stories to hit the silver screen. Dr. No is a fun movie, and one of its virtues is that it encapsulates the perfect male sexual fantasy of its time. James Bond is a dashing, irresistible to women, incredibly sophisticated, with license to do as he sees fit (even to kill if he has to). He drives the best cars. He has the ultimate high-tech tools at his disposal. Every woman he meets is desperately beautiful. Every woman he meets, he nails. In the end he kills the bad guy, has an incredible adventure, and seduces the intelligent but stupid Honey Ryder. It set the template for every Bond film to follow, save one, From Russia with Love.

The new Bond, portrayed by Daniel Craig, is not a sex fantasy, at least not first and foremost. The new Bond is an action-adventure fantasy, informed by a combination of influences: previous Bond movies, the highly successful Jason Bourne movies, and by various action video games. We can see this in the first color action sequence in Casino Royale, where Bond chases an incredibly acrobatic bomb-maker through a construction site. Here we see Bond thinking while running at top speed. He doesn't just follow the bomb-maker, he makes astute decisions, he gambles, he tries to make something out of nothing.

Of the two new Bond films, Quantum of Solace is the better of the two, despite the reviews. Casino Royale is a good film, and makes for an even better view the second time around, after one knows the story -- once you know the characters' motivations, the acting becomes that more convincing. The story is a good one.

What makes Quantum better is that it is a meditation on motivation. There are conflicting elements to the Bond character.

Of course, let's not forget that the Bond films remain action-adventure fantasies. Bond still drives amazing cars, even ones that come with built-in machine guns. Bond still seduces beautiful women. Governments use computer systems that do not actually exist, that can track people, bank transfers, and so forth in instants. Aerial dog fights can result in punctured canopies and disabled engines, but miraculously spare the wing, where most of the fuel is stored. In the hotel fire scene in Quantum, people do not miraculously die of asphyxiation (which is what would have happened in real life, given that hydrogen was the major accelerant), nor do they suffer from burns when they escape.

Regardless, I am looking forward to the next one.