Guest Post: Skyfall (2012)

For fifty years now, 007 has entertained us with his antics, action and not just a little bit of skirt-wrangling. Skyfall sees Daniel Craig take on the role of Bond for the third time and promises to deliver another hefty dose of explosions, breath-taking locations, strong Bond-trademarked musical scores, suspense and crazy villains. All the reasons we keep coming back for more!

But did the much anticipated (and much delayed) Bond number 23 live up to my high expectations? Read on to find out.

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A little restless, but I got off eventually (1985)

As two cinema icons prepare to depart the franchise once and for all, there is one question on everyone’s lips: will Lois Maxwell finally roger Moore? With MI6’s Viagra supplies now running dangerously low, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Fresh from the recovery of a microchip from 003’s Siberian grave-side, James Bond (Roger Moore) returns to London where Q (Desmond Llewelyn) identifies the artefact as a product of Zorin Industries. Dispatched to Zorin’s (Christopher Walken) estate in Chantilly, France under the suspicion that the industrialist is fixing horse races, 007 narrowly escapes an attempt on his life by Zorin and his second in command, May Day (Grace Jones). When he discovers that, despite previous allegiences with the KGB, he has gone rogue, Bond teams up with State Geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) in a bid to stop Zorin from flooding Silicone Valley through a series of artificial earthquakes.

Having grown tired of Roger Moore’s increasingly decrepit form over the previous six Bond movies, I was prepared to wish good riddance and be done with his arched eyebrows and ridiculous tan trousers once and for all. What I certainly wasn’t expecting was A View To A Kill, a startlingly strong entry in the 007 franchise that finally strikes the perfect balance between credibility and camp, getting underway with one of the most stylish title sequences yet. As you might have guessed, one’s work as Devil’s Advocate is never over.

I’m not even completely certain what it was that I enjoyed so much about it; after all, it boasts the same ski tricks, car chases and aerial acrobatics as every other Bond movie reviewed so far. While we might be spared the usual shark pools and metal-plated henchmen, this is still by-the-numbers stuff, even if it does endeavour to combine the characteristic components into an original story. With its release met with strong box office but crippling criticism, I seem to be alone in my enjoyment of this fourteenth instalment.

Unlike previous entries which have either gone out of their way to dress the character up as a recognisable human being or given in entirely to the double-taking pigeons and crocodile hopscotch, James Bond is neither required to tone down or save the world by destroying an enemy space station. Zorin and May Day are far more interesting than the usual pantomime perpetrators, Christopher Walken stripped bare of gimmicks and left instead to play the psychopath he has cultivated across his career, aided by the first plot in a while that doesn’t disappear up its own arse.

Of course, the majority of the film is utterly preposterous, with a sequence in which one character is murdered by plastic butterflies, a submarine that is for all intents and purposes not disguised as an ice berg and an ever-changing rosta of look-unlikes taking over from Moore for everything more strenuous than ascending stairs. But the goofs are as intrinsically Bond as the dazzling stunt-work and jaw-dropping sets; I can forgive a plot that posits “geological locks” and a laughable escape by half a car when the characters are this well drawn and the narrative so unusually intelligible.

Not that there aren’t actual flaws, there are. While May Day might be everything that Jaws most definitely was not (watchable), the film’s other female lead is an affront to not only the movie but Hollywood in general. Tanya Roberts cannot act, she can’t even react; she wears the same expression and holds the same tone whether she is trying to seduce the walking dead or contemplating her near-inevitable death in a burning elevator. The accent doesn’t help either, drawing unflattering comparisons to the comedy hick police officer from a few films back.

On the whole, however, A View To A Kill is perfectly enjoyable, exciting even, boasting a finale that is steeped in actual tension as Bond, Zorin and an axe battle it out atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Throw in a satisfying conclusion to May Day’s character arc and bullet wounds actually bleed and you don’t even notice the second-rate euphemisms peppering the script – until you try to pick one for your title, anyway.

Well, I’d heard the price of eggs was up (1983)

When 009 is found dead, dressed as a clown and clutching a fake Fabergé egg with a knife in his back, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to investigate what is suspected to be Soviet involvement. Switching the real egg for the fake at a London auction, Bond follows the Afghan buyer (Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan) back to Rajasthan, India, where he costs the exiled prince even more by besting him at backgammon. Discovering that Khan has been smuggling priceless artefacts into Germany through a circus troupe led by cult figurehead Octopussy (Maud Adams),  Bond sets off in pursuit only to learn that the treasures have been replaced by a nuclear bomb in a bid to double-cross Octopussy and destroy a US Air Force base in the west of the country.

Seriously, did people not kiss before the ’90s? They just seem to rub their mouths together.

The first of two James Bond films to be released in 1983, Octopussy was the only one to be classed as a canonical instalment in the Bond franchise, with independent movie Never Say Never Again (starring a returning Sean Connery, for some reason) falling outside of EON’s official continuity. Taking its name from Ian Fleming’s short story, the film instead adapted elements of the plot from another of the writer’s stories, The Property of a Lady. While it might have been the year of two Bond movies, however, Octopussy was also to mark the second Bond girl to be played by the same actress. Despite having apparently died in The Man with the Golden Gun, Adams nevertheless returned as Octopussy herself, albeit with darker hair and a new backstory.

Contrastingly, onscreen Octopussy marked somewhat of a departure for the series. Rather than skirmish inside the train, Bond instead fights on top of the train; tired of being eaten by sharks, the film’s henchmen are instead offed by an octopuss; and whereas earlier films have shown Bond be racist towards every other creed imaginable, Octopussy sees him finally turn his intolerances towards India. Maybe I’ve just grown desensitised to the Bond franchises xenophobia, but despite Moore’s sixth outing as 007 being one of the most overtly un-PC, it is also difficult to be offended by a movie which features a man riding a hollowed-out crocodile.

Octopussy is beautifully scripted, the sheer breadth of clichés covered in the film’s running time an undeniable achievement.  Rather than limiting the entendre and wit to Bond and his latest squeeze, John Glen’s movie is more equally spread between a wider range of memorable characters. While at this stage Moore might be better suited to clown make-up than straddling a speeding train, the supporting cast seem a better fit for their roles, with Kamal Khan and Octopussy herself proving particular delights. It is Desmond Llewelyn who once again steals the movie, however, as his Q is finally allowed to do something other than spout exposition. It is also interesting to see Lois Maxwell’s growth as Miss Moneypenny, her jealousy subsiding somewhat as she defends her latest assistant.

As has come to be the case, it is the film’s stunt-work and music which ultimately defines it. No longer set in the same universe as Gravity and Physics, Bond’s daring assaults on a bomb-rigged train and aerial jet prove massively entertaining, as Khan’s increasingly put-upon henchman Gobinda (Kabir Bedi) finds himself more and more out of his depth. The acrobatics are similarly spectacular, both in the circus itself and when the performers mount their attack on Khan’s headquarters. Forget that at one point there is a German couple drink driving and throwing a bratwurst around the front of their car and this is one of the most shamelessly enjoyable Bond films to date.

Now Put Your Clothes Back On, And I’ll Buy You An Ice Cream (1981)

James Bond (Roger Moore), forced to answer to The British Minister of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) and MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner (James Villiers) when M proves too busy to play, is tasked with retrieving the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator from a sunken spy boat before it falls into the wrong hands, as it could be used by the Soviets to order attacks by the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarines’ ballistic missiles. With his predecessor, a marine biologist named Havelock, dead, and the KGB already hot on the ATAC’s trail, Bond teams up with his deceased contact’s daughter (Carole Bouquet) and former crime lord Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol) in a bid to stop deceptive smuggler Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover) from acquiring the transmission device and delivering it to the head of the KGB.

No sooner had Lewis Gilbert returned to the director’s chair than Bond was back to his old tricks, hijaking hovering gondolas, prancing around space ships and making a general mockery of Ian Fleming’s cherished icon. EON, apparently as embarrassed as the rest of us, put replaced Gilbert with a franchise editor in the hopes of streamlining the character and hopefully making him half kind of respectable again. The result is a jarringly straight laced addition to the James Bond series, but rather than striking the perfect balance between fantasy and realism, John Glen comes alarmingly close to stripping For Your Eyes Only clean of fun.

This balance is important, and Bond is at its best when it can sustain a thematic duality which allows the series to both have its cheese and eat it. The character is just as well known for his double entendres and gratuitous gage try as he is for his wit and brawn, both parts of equal importance when making an engaging – but still enjoyable – 007 movie.  For Your Eyes Only‘s gritty, no-nonsense demeanour is curtailed rather than complimented by its more flamboyant elements, a ridiculous pre-titles sequence re-introducing an unnamed Blofeld only to drop him down a chimney stack and a sequence in which a computer picks one face from thousands from Bond’s description alone are completely at odds with Glen’s harder-edged directorial style.

While it might ultimately bore with a story hinged on a few bonkers codes rather than the end of the world, For Your Eyes Only isn’t without its stand-out moments. As I’ve noted, realism is integral to the Bond ethos and duly compensating for the madness of Moonraker is a collection of scenes and an overriding theme apparently warning against vengeance  helping to offset the plot’s monotony. The startlingly brutal death of Columbo’s mistress, Countess Lisl von Schlaf (Cassandra Harris), is uncharacteristically impacting, while a later assault on an abandoned cliff-top monastery in  St. Cyril’s is deliciously high on tension, as Roger Moore’s stunt double dangled precariously while an ill-fated henchman attempts to cut him from his perch. For me, however, it was an ice rink-based skirmish between Bond and a gang of hockey players that made the biggest impression of all, while Milos Columbo and Melina Havelock’s able assistance marks a welcome change of dynamic from Bond’s more traditionally solo adventures.

While a laughably drawn out pre-titles sequence might give way to a surprisingly well-directed and economic story that brings Bond crashing back to the real world (one in which people mourn their loved ones and where sharks live in the ocean), For Your Eyes Only takes its threadbare story too seriously to ever truly engage with its audience. Despite a scattering of brilliant stunts, astute characterisation and jaw-dropping set pieces, this may be Bond’s most uneven and uninspiring adventure yet.

His Name’s Jaws, He Kills People (1979)

His excuse of having fallen from an aeroplane sans parachute dismissed by Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), James Bond (Roger Moore) enters a meeting with M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and the British Minister of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) where he learns of a missing space shuttle. From the craft’s birthplace in California, where 007 meets industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) and undercover CIA agent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), Bond travels first to Venice and then to Rio where he has another run in with Jaws, last seen falling to his assumed death during the aforementioned sky dive. Escaping captivity in one of Drax’s secret bases, Bond and Goodhead stow away on one of his shuttles in order to prevent him from inciting Armageddon and starting anew with a master-race bred in space.

Prompted to list franchises which have not only jumped the shark but the Ozone layer too, James Bond is unlikely to be the first to come to mind, such is the marvel of the psychological defence mechanism known as repression. While you might start by listing every horror franchise worth its salt (and Leprechaun), it will take some careful consideration before your brain trusts you with any memory of Lewis Gilbert’s final Bond movie, Moonraker.

Although this might be one of the easiest Bonds to follow, it is at times so simple as to invoke the image of desperate filmmakers sitting down for a last-minute game of script-writing ‘Consequences’. With assassination attempts so complex and contrived that they make the Final Destination franchise seem perfectly organic by comparison, it is jarring how the rest of the narrative seems happy to trundle unthinkingly from one brain-fryingly inane set-piece to another with little pause for such genre (wait, what’s the opposite of)staples as character development and narrative structure.

Whether it’s a pre-titles sequence sky dive which serves no purpose but to suggest that Jaws’ metal gnashers have inexplicably gifted him with immortality, a bonkers getaway scenario in which Bond escapes the world’s worst assassins aboard a hover-gondola to the sole amusement of one maddeningly double-taking pigeon, or a truly science-defying space battle between gently billowing astronauts, Moonraker is packed to the tips of Hugo Drax’s tin-foil satellite with franchise-low moments of  genuinely appalling proportions.

From the moment Jaws attempts to stay airborn by flapping his arms, it is clear that a measured suspension of disbelief is required. By the time that the aforementioned assassin has given up his murderous ways to hold hands with Miss Holland, James Bond has wrestled a plastic snake in front of numerous armed henchmen, and Star Wars has been well and truly space-raped by men in orange bin-liners, however, is appears that the aforementioned suspension has instead hung itself out of utter embarrassment.

Dr. Holly Goodhead might constitute one of the strongest female characters to date, the stunt-work may be passingly impressive and the surprisingly well-judged scene in which Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery) is eaten by dogs does possibly, at the very least, begin to offset the sheer God-awfulness of the rest of it, but the truth is that Moonraker is the kind of movie which leaves you wishing you could show the numerous would-be assassins how it’s done properly or, at the very least, leave its protagonist mercifully adrift in space.

All Those Feathers And He Still Can’t Fly (1977)

Ten months in, James Bond is still going strong, as Roger Moore returns for his third sip of the Martini (shaken, not stirred) in Lewis Gilbert’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Having previously averted war between America and the Soviets in You Only Live Twice, James Bond (Roger Moore) must be fighting some pretty serious deja vu as he sets off to do so once again. This time it is a giant boat that is at the heart of it, swallowing up nuclear submarines so that they can be reprogrammed and used to spark an Anglo-Soviet war – forcing mankind to abandon the towns and cities of planet Earth and move underwater into Karl Stromberg’s (Curd Jürgens) patented residencies. Paired with Russian agent Triple X (Barbara Bach), Bond must discover the whereabouts of the missing submarines and foil Stromberg’s plans, preferably before the mastermind’s henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel), has the opportunity to sink his metal plated teeth into them.

So once again we sit in wait with our checklists, ticking off the requisite idiotic henchmen, tank of sharks and skirmish on a moving train, as same movie we’ve watched ten times previously begins to refold before us – seriously, is there a human being on this planet who HASN’T been thrown from a speeding train by James Bond? That sense of clawing familiarity is all the stronger this time around, as we are essentially watching a tired retread of You Only Live Twice, only with spaceships cunningly substituted with sea-ships. Yet, attacked with infectious verve and boasting a few lines and sequences which almost atone for the usual filler (namely, Bond proceeding from Point A, to Point B, to a pyramid-set MI6 office in Egypt), there is still enough to enjoy in The Spy Who Loved Me to stave off complete braindeath for at least another instalment.

For every trampoline effect during the opening credits there is a curvaceous silhouette gymnasting over a gun-barrel; for every man-eating shark there is a shark-eating man; and for every terrible sex-pun there is genuinely inspired line of dialogue – a refreshingly single entendre. Even though we are served the usual ski chase and underwater skirmish, the former smacks gobs with a daring embrace of cliff-faces while the later ingeniously replaces a man holding a harpoon with an aquatic car with anti-air defences. Yes it’s still as daft as a bag of prosthetic nipples – it’s pretty difficult to shield your pin number from a crowd of people when the combination lights up – but that’s what makes this franchise bearable – the occasionally intentional laughter.

While it’s nice to see the script paying its dues to what came before – with a surprisingly well handled reference to Bond’s late wife hinting at a trace of character hidden beneath the chauvinist veneer – The Spy Who Loved Me is not without its flaws. Beyond repetition, it is also guilty of starring one of the least charismatic actresses this side of Marion Cotillard, her Triple X wearing the same slapped arse whether she’s just lost her lover, saved the day or gotten laid, and a minor villain who is – for all intents and purposes – the stupidest creation since Oddjob and his razor-rimmed boomerang hat. The moment Jaws traps one of Bond’s innumerable leads in an Egyptian tomb and proceeds to vamp out on the poor man’s neck, it is impossible not to glimpse the inevitable invisible car in the reflection of his wood/padlock/shark destroying teeth.

Same old but with the odd glimmer of creativity, The Spy Who Loved Me invariably does Austin Powers’ job for him, only with less chest hair and a few additional dick-jokes. Nevertheless, by this point the cheesiness is so ingrained in Bond’s DNA that it sometimes feels as though it’s the only thing holding it all together. And I really, really do not have a problem with that.

This Should Run A Few Electric Toothbrushes (1974)

Another month, another Bond; BlogalongaBond is back for another dose of Fleming-brand special agenting. Proving once again that less is indeed Moore, Guy Hamilton returns for a swan-song of truly tuneless proportions.Pulled off of a case involving a purported solution to the planet’s energy crisis, James Bond (Roger Moore) is informed of a suspected attempt on his life by famed assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). Having been sent a golden bullet with his 00 code etched in its side (do bullets have sides?), Bond sets out on an unofficial mission to find the man with the golden gun before he can carry out the hit hitself. Coming into contact with Scaramanga’s reluctant lover, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), and teamed with Agent Goodnight (Britt Ekland) while in Hong Kong, Bond quickly discovers that his two cases may not be as separate as first assumed. With Q (Desmond Llewelyn) on hand at a secret base aboard an apparent shipwreck, and armed with the knowledge that nobody knows anything about Scaramanga other than his possession of a third nipple, Bond breaks out the prosthetics and goes in search of his would-be assassin.

007’s a bit rubbish isn’t he; forever getting his associates killed and spending about as much time in captivity as he does with the upper hand – it really is a small wonder he hasn’t been forced into early retirement. The man can’t even jump-start a car, how does he expect to save the world from Dracula?

That’s right, we’re back in crazy-town for another dose of post-Connery, pre-Craig contrivance, as Bond faces off against Sumo wrestlers, wax likenesses and a peanut-touting midget with a fondness for dramatics. Not even Christopher Lee can bring a sense of sobriety to proceedings, not least thanks to the presence of a flying car, a fake third nipple and Foghorn Leghorn once again reimagined as the racist cop from Live and Let Die.

Boasting a car-chase that might well have been scored by Benny Hill and a wrestling match that ends in a truly unforgiven wedgie, it really is incredible that Austin Powers had anything left to lampoon. As the last Bond film to be directed by Guy Hamilton, and the result of a turn-around that makes Saw XXII look long-gestated, The Man With The Golden Gun smacks both of complacency and a desperation to finally be done. It’s the last Big Mac of the night: generously laden with cheese but saggy from being endlessly reheated.

In between the trademark tasteless domestic violence, casual racism and rampant stupidity, however, The Man With The Golden Gun does make a play for memorability. The fight scenes are uncharacteristically exciting, with the ninja element delivering a welcome dose of actual choreography and Bond’s duel with Lee’s Scaramanga proving surprisingly well balanced. Scaramanga is a ostensible threat, providing the first proper nemesis so far in the franchise. Their final confrontation satisfies in a way that Bond’s antagonism with the ever-changing face of Blofeld never quite achieved; undoubtedly facilitated by the relatively simple plot, the pre-credits sequence nicely setting up Scaramanga’s house of horrors, and bringing a nice sense of closure to a film that might otherwise have felt incomplete.

Similarly impressive is the production itself. Packed with exhilarating stunt-work and jaw-dropping locations, The Man With The Golden Gun feels delightfully fresh and distinct from the extant series. The famous car stunt is matched by a disagreement between boats, an urgent car chase and a truly bonkers sequence in which two schoolgirls take out an entire class of kung-fu protégées. As if that wasn’t enough, even the resident blonde – Goodnight – is given something to do; both besting a whole bad guy on her own and accidentally putting Bond’s life in danger with a head-shakingly misplaced butt cheek.

Mad as a box of Solex Agitators, The Man With The Golden Gun is, however, saved by a surprisingly well-balanced plot and an ending that actually satisfies. Though it could have done with a few recognisably human characters and a quick education in common sense, it is nevertheless one of the most purely enjoyable Bond films this side of Goldfinger.

Get Moore! (1973)

James Bond is back, but he’s left Sean Connery at the old people’s home in favour of a younger model with some killer eyebrows. Blogalongabond is back, and Roger Moore’s having none of it.

When three agents are assassinated within the space of 24 hours, each of them somehow involved in monitoring the movements of Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) pay 007 a visit in order to request his services. Arriving in New York – the location of the first death – James Bond (Roger Moore) escapes a similar attempt on his life, following the would-be assasins to a bar in Harlem. Brought before Mr. Big, a local gangster who is in fact Kananga in disguise, Bond meets his virgin, tarot reading assistant (Jane Seymour) and, escaping yet another attempt on his life, follows both to San Monique. When he is captured again after literally shagging the psychic out of Solitaire, she and Bond must escape crocodiles and sharks respectively if they are to foil Kanangas plot to bankrupt the world’s heroin competitors. Or something.

Despite the pre-credits sequence – which features one particular agent being killed by the least convincing snake-bite ever – Live and Let Die gets off to quite an unexpectedly strong start. Featuring a franchise-best theme song – Paul McCartney & Wings duly replace throaty crooning with bombastic bravado – and an enlivened score courtesy of George Martin, McCartney’s producer while with The Beatles, Live and Let Die sounds absolutely fantastic.

Unfortunately, it’s not that much to look at. Although the effects are little short of sterling throughout – a last act boat chase is particularly effective – the film itself is far from arresting. Yet another compilation of greatest hits, we have the usual double-crossing, the contractual underground monorail and – just in case you missed them the last time – the villain’s lair even comes complete with its own shark pool. There’s even a train-set skirmish for those of you who haven’t seen From Russia With Love.

To make matters worse, these recycled ideas are now treated with an overwrought sense of smugness rather than a genuine sense of gravity. Roger Moore is no worse than George Lazenby – indeed, he even has his moments of greatness – but he hides behind his eyebrows, unwilling to commit anything more than a furrowed brow to this most minimalist of performances. It is difficult to invest in someone so relentlessly blasé, water coming straight off this duck’s back without making all that much of an impression. And don’t even get me started on the comic relief (*cough* yokel sheriff *cough*); not even Austin Powers stooped that low.

It is a nice change, however, and with a simpler plot, a lively script and pumping soundtrack Live and Let Die is far from a disaster. Moore does indeed have a fetching set of brows, and while he mightn’t be a revelation in the role he holds his own, delivering entendres with just as much wry verve as Connery ever did – and he never had to run across a row of hungry crocodiles.