After the release of Die Another Day (2002), the future of James Bond was in flux. Though the film had become the highest grossing one in the franchise’s history, Die Another Day tapped into a kind of ridiculousness that was, even for a series whose real life veracity was rarely ever of concern, unpleasant for most critics and fans. An invisible car, DNA replacement therapy, Madonna trying to act. In an effort to recall an old fashioned Bond, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade began to adapt Ian Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale, and, in the midst of a litany of legal issues regarding the rights to the series between MGM and Sony Pictures, (perhaps) inadvertently imbued Bond with a sense of what critics noted as world weariness. Casino Royale finally saw its release in 2006, and this new Bond colored by misanthropy was an element amplified by Craig’s style of acting, at once brutish and cognizant that the very anger and figiidty was itself a shield for vulnerability. This Bond was a hardened, human Double O, more aware of his sociopolitical climate, and of himself, than he had been before. This kind of disdain for his own iconography would continue to inform the subsequent films, becoming more and bitterer, angrier, and numbed, peaking in Spectre, where you get a sense that Craig (and the writers) don’t sincerely believe that Bond should even exist within a contemporary context.
So, while the evolution of the Bond films has grown grittier, darker (per Roger Deakins), dustier (per Hoyte van Hoytema), and even, if one is to believe the opening text of Spectre, deader, we enter a fantasy version of spying under the guise if “how it used to be”, but whose superficiality and very cleanliness is as indicative of the same sort of cynicism. Opening with a bunch of archival footage splashed in red, it’s not that images of Berlin being bifurcated is indicative of communism, but in sardonicism. It makes its “verisimilitude” stylish in a way that conventional filmmaking declares it shouldn’t be. Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1960s show, also not coincidentally conceived by Ian Fleming, The Man from UNCLE is selling a poisoned love letter to the past and present. (Even the font of its subtitles is funny!) Read the rest of this entry »
Bond: Everyone needs a hobby…
Silva: So, what’s yours?
– Skyfall (2012)
The dead are alive.
– SPECTRE (2015)
You only live twice;
Once when you are born
and once when you look Death in the face.
– Ian Fleming, after Basho.
The ideological purpose of the last three James Bond films have lingered like the smoke trail from a freshly fired gun, and traveling in reverse, it’s only then that the intangible line becomes more solid. Sam Mendes’ SPECTRE is that bullet, firmly establishing that the Daniel Craig Cycle is, and always has been, about James Bond not only as character, but as icon. For Craig’s tenure as 007, it’s not merely about rewriting an imaginary canon, but deconstructing James Bond the cultural institution and construct as a whole.
SPECTRE gives you two directions, neither necessarily mutually exclusive: either Craig’s Bond films are about the emotional arc he travels, or it’s about the relevance of bothering to construct an emotional arc for him in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »
As I intimated back in 2012, “The Bond Sound” as we know it is mostly a cultural construct that was borne more out of John Barry’s orchestrations from the 1960s than much else to do with the theme songs in and of themselves. But, another few years and another couple of Bond tracks later, and I guess I should regroup and rerank them all, because that’s what you do when a new thing comes out, right? Listicles, man, listicles. My grading criteria shifts from son to song because I was rejected from SPECTRE membership, but it’s on two levels of consideration: a) is this a good song? And b) is this a good song for the Bond films? Because this is what you do when you have a lot of time on your hands. Read the rest of this entry »
My contempt for the Bond formula has been extensively chronicled, especially my blame against Goldfinger for starting it all. It was thrilling, therefore, to see Casino Royale go in another direction, a very “back to basics” version of the franchise that was reminiscent of even earlier entries in the series, Dr. No and From Russia with Love. In those films, action, plot, and character were balanced precariously, yet perfectly. And in Casino Royale, that balance was brought back; Bond was suave without being a superhero, the political context was intact without being a punchline, and the stakes were high enough without a muddled plot.
Skyfall went somewhere else. It is unlike any other Bond film in the rest of the franchise. It literally is something else. And James Bond is someone else. At its core, it resembles 1995’s GoldenEye and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but I’d hesitate to call such a comparison disingenuous because the former is one of the best Bond films, and certainly Pierce Brosnan’s best entry, and The Dark Knight is one of the strongest superhero films in recent memory. It’s that tone of morbidity of the latter, and its re-envisioning of its character, which seems to inform how many perceived what some might call The Nolanization of James Bond. Read the rest of this entry »
(Author’s Note: Once upon a time, I made a shitty video essay for my Sex on TV class. And here it is. There are moments where it’s hard to understand what I’m saying because I messed up the sound levels of the music, so below is a complete transcript.)
Cinema is everything. Whether we know it or not, it’s how we filter what we know about the world. And cinema is constantly changing. Not only technologically, but critically and ethically. The thing is, we are not the only ones who view films. Films view us as well. Films can look at something, which we in turn view in a voyeuristic way.
Although Laura Mulvey’s iconic essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” posits that any film that anyone saw was inherently from the perspective from a heterosexual male, time has changed since that essay was published in 1975. We are no longer living in a limited world where heterosexual white males are the only audience and the only ones looking.
What we are looking at in the cinema now can be taken from multiple perspectives. The Heterosexual Male Gaze. The Female Gaze. The Queer Gaze. All of these ways of looking at film are relevant. Audiences are more diverse and, what is more important, that diversity is now more visible to the public eye. Read the rest of this entry »