When I first saw this one as a teen, I loved it. But, that doesn’t mean much. I also wore shorts in winter and sweat pants in summer and thought that Moulin Rouge! was the most important work of art ever to be created in the history of the world.
Tragically, Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond outing just doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny, and it’s not aged well at all. (Moulin Rouge! on the other hand will always be timeless, if only for its demonstration of how fantastic and cinematically useful the tango really is). It’s visually slick in parts, but about as complex as baby formula, and so weighed down by its own self-referential gimmicks that it’s a half-step removed from a parody. But it’s part of the series, so I will do my best to give it what it’s due.
While on the hunt for an MI6 mole who betrayed him during a disastrous North Korea operation, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) finds himself up against wealthy diamond mogul Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who has big plans, and they aren’t nice. Thrown into the mix are British double agent Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), American undercover agent Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry), and a whole lot of in-jokes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie can be entertaining if you want to shut your brain off and just be swept away. It’s for this reason that I actually own Batman and Robin and The Scorpion King. I’m not even ashamed. This one just seems worse because it feels out of character to the films that came right before it. When this one is placed side by side with Goldeneye, they seem to be from completely different franchises: the former is a fun action spy flick and the latter is an overblown sci-fi film about a spy who takes out a rejected supervillain from a Marvel Comics arc. It just goes too far.
The initial premise isn’t actually bad at all. Bond is betrayed while in North Korea, gets captured and is tortured for months, and then is extracted. When he learns that MI6 has lost faith in him he goes rogue, searching for whoever betrayed him. If that had been the main plot, it would have been incredible! Pierce Brosnan’s Bond has always been so charming, it would have been awesome to see him get the Timothy Dalton treatment. But when things devolve into invisible cars, space lasers, and a fencing battle that rivals the final scene in Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet for sheer insanity, it just kills whatever setup it established before the credits.
While we’re on the subject of the credits, I would like to say that I love the opening credits. Sure Madonna’s main theme is vacuous, but let’s be real here. It’s Madonna. You listen to her for her dance beats, not her deep insightful lyrics. And the song isn’t that bad. I love the orchestral hook and the flamenco-style intro. It’s a fun song, so you just keep your judgement to yourself. And the animation is fantastic, telling the story of Bond’s torture in a stylized manner. Daniel Kleinman (now “Danny Kleinman” in the credits) really does a good job of making the credits mean something like he did with Goldeneye. I love the fire, ice, and electricity imagery. It’s slick, very cool, and is more than just a fun distraction. Say what you will about it, but I really like it. If only I liked the rest of the movie the same way. A View to a Kill had the same issue.
Now, as brutal as the credits make Bond’s torture seem to be, there really is no discussion of the lasting implications of it. I mean, sure, Bond can withstand it and come out unbroken, but still. It seems like a missed opportunity. When Felix Leiter was almost killed, Bond went crazy and killed a whole bunch of folks. But when Bond is tortured for months, he comes out of it with a deeper understanding of his inner soul and the ability to stop his heart at will. Eh. Ok, I guess…
I get that they were going for a fun celebration of Bond’s 40th anniversary, but at times, you feel like you’re being bludgeoned with in-jokes. When I first saw this, I was eagerly pointing out all the references to previous Bond films scattered throughout, especially in one scene where Bond and Q (John Cleese) are walking through a storage room filled with previous gadgets, like the alligator sub from Octopussy or the jet pack from Thunderball. But there’s so much tongue-in-cheek intertexuality that the movie becomes basically a huge gimmick. In its attempt to be an homage to all previous Bond films, it comes careening out of the fourth wall, dancing in front of the audience and pointing out in-jokes on the screen. It’s too much of a parody to really stand up to repeat viewings.
The one good thing that came out of this movie is the “back to basics” strategy that would be tried out in the next Bond film. Just like Live and Let Die came after Diamonds are Forever and The Living Daylights came after A View to a Kill, the extreme goofiness of this film will encourage a more serious, intelligent film after it, which we’ll discuss next time.
-Space suit surfing in Korea. Looks like fun…
-Apparently walking out of an MI6 facility is super easy, and then walking around Hong Kong wearing the same non-clothes you were wearing when you escaped doesn’t get you re-captured right away like it should.
-Pierce Brosnan just can’t really pull off the Jesus look very well…
-Mr. Chang is incredibly random. I read that it was supposed to be Wai Lin whom Bond met (whoo!), but they couldn’t get Michelle Yeoh, so they had to create a “Convenient Chinese Agent Guy Who Just Happens to Be There and Who Knows Bond.”
-Peaceful Fountains of Desire is a crazy name for a masseuse. I can only imagine what her business cards look like..
-Ursula Andress’ beach entrance was sexy and effortless. Halle Berry’s silent moaning “Totally Organic Experience” look just doesn’t have the same impact.
-The guy Bond uses to get to La Isla de Los Organos has the worst fake accent ever. It’s like eight accents mushed together.
-Pointless DNA spinny mirror room! I bet Scaramanga designed that back in the day.
-Jinx’s escape off the wall in Cuba is so painfully edited and matted together…
-Union Flag parachute! Is it Bond? Nope! It’s Gustav Graves!
-I do like the Bond/M exchange in the abandoned underground. But it’s Judi Dench. She’s always amazing.
-At the beginning of their exchange, Bond calls him “Quartermaster,” but by the end he calls him “Q.” That’s sweet.
-John Cleese has found a good character by this point. Unfortunately, it just seems like he’s playing Desmond Llewelyn’s role. He’s going for the same curmudgeonly uncle character. He does it well, but still…I miss the real Q. 😦
-I love how the invisible car is able to sneak up on people in the snow, despite leaving very conspicuous tracks…
-Rocket car outrunning a giant space laser. And then, when the car gets trapped, Bond MacGyvers a parachute-y surfboard thing to escape in…
-The editing in Bond’s flying surfboard escape is awful. It looks like a cheap cartoon.
-“Soon we will be victorious” *cue maniacal laughing and orchestral dun dun duuuun!*
–Flying disposable jet parachute things…
-Miranda’s “Evil Aphrodite” sports bra outfit seems wildly impractical. Why does she even change into it? Just so she can swordfight with Jinx? I mean, Rosamund Pike is lovely and all that, but it’s still a pretty goofy outfit…
-Moneypenny and Bond get to make out!!…in a fictional digital world… But still, go Moneypenny for coming up with a hugely profitable application of Q’s virtual reality glasses!
-I love how Bond and Jinx just happen to find an abandoned home in Korea to make out in. Also, rolling around in a pile of small diamonds sounds super uncomfortable…
-The remixed Madonna theme that plays over the end credits is atrocious. Ugh.
Next week, we will be taking a break and talking about a certain upcoming dinosaur movie (Cretaceous-something, I think).
See you next time!