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With Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Belucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Dave Bautista

Written by John Logan, Neal Purviss, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth (based on characters created by Ian Fleming)

Directed by Sam Mendes

With two dozen James Bond 007 films across half a decade, this franchise has come a long way.
I've been a 007 fan since becoming aware of it in my formative years of the mid-'70s.  Back then my brothers and I were filled with excitement at the prospect of a new movie - Sadly today that thrill has diminished - part of getting older and the fact that cinema (in general) since then has pretty much done all that can be done, from stories to its execution… or has it? 

The template of the James Bond era in which I grew up (set by the second 007 Roger Moore) far too often cloud my perception of the transformation the franchise has undergone over the decades.  The cold war has been transmogrified, times change, and so does technology, audience demands and expectations…

Where we could always look forward to an entirely different self-contained adventure with new locations, wild gadgets and villains, here the narrative is kicked into action with a continuation of the previous 007 movie (Skyfall) with loose ends that need to be tied up and revelations to be revealed as a result, some very personal ones for Bond. It's no longer a case of: get the assignment, load up on new gadgets, find and eliminate the nuclear bomb hoarding megalomaniac while banging some babes and get wrecked on martinis along the way… (well, for the most part anyway).

Like the brooding personal conflicts and angst of the rebooted Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, James Bond's new semi-politically correct mood may be risking becoming too serious (a theme already shifted in with Dalton and License To Kill in 1989).  Not everyone wants Bond too human, but rather a headstrong character on a mission, not affected by his emotions.  However, the complex audience need to be considered and perspectives on likable and identifiable characteristics cannot simply be crammed in there.  It's not like Bond doesn't get the job done, on the contrary - he uses force without hesitation (but without the Roger Moore self deprecating nudge & wink).  Bond has become a bit too 'real'. He's a bastard, but an essential bastard who sacrifices to save the world, continuously.  How far is he from settling down on a farm, spending quality time with his livestock?!  Not soon we hope (ask George Lazenby's Bond about falling in love and getting married!)

The idea of two and a half hours may get a few people squirming, but hey, if you can pack in 4 straight episodes of Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards… 

In the wake of the murder of Judi Dench's M (replaced by Ralph Fiennes), Bond is put on notice for acting on a message the previous M had left him.  MI6 is in a quandary - the powers that be want to fuse it with MI5 and become part of a 12 country group amalgamating the world's intelligence agencies and its information access.  (One of these is South Africa, whose vote cause some issues!)

The Spectre underground organization (while not stipulated as such in the film, I found the acronym quite silly, even back in its introduction in the '70s: "Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion" - quite appropriate for the 007 heyday, but many of these values are worked into the new film's storyline). 
Bond is drawn to conduct a rouge operation to get to the bottom of the mystery M instigated, naturally leading to a gigantic world threat - via the powerful and influential Spectre organization.
007 kicks ass, gets it on with an Italian widow, and falls for a young woman he'd sworn to protect, as he moves his way towards the villain's lair, which is classic Bond - a self-contained high-tech facility built in a crater with an army of minions; not to mention the prerequisite strapped-in and systematic tormenting of the hero (will he have a gadget to escape? Take a wild guess!)

While on the subject, the old-school Bond days of wild and crazy gadget demonstrations seem to be gone (getting binned along with the cheesy humour). Product placement and endorsements include cars, cell phones, and of course watches.  A new Astin Martin and the classic original both make an appearance.

But, down to the Bond formula - it has always been the surefire mix of adventure, action, sex and intrigue that carried the series (its tongue-in-cheek nature separating it from reality).  The new era has not lost much of that (except for toning down on the one-liners), and has eased up on the womanizing.
This is hardly Bond moping and reflecting on his emotions, past or intersecting present - he's still a hard-ass and doesn't hesitate to let the opponents have it by any means necessary.  The opening scene in Mexico has a fight inside an airborne chopper swooping and looping over the city and Day Of The Dead revelers, he chases kidnappers in a plane, crash landing in the process, a vicious passenger train fight (reminiscent of Moore's Bond and arch-henchman Jaws), fist fights, shoot-outs, a high speed car chase - you know, all the expected bits & bobs.

I preferred lesser-known or character actors to play Bond's villains, as opposed to Oscar winners. Here Christoph Waltz works on a few levels, but sadly to me he has become a caricature of himself, the stiff German schpiel not really convincing me anymore.  So as a pivotal catalyst and impacting narrative device, he didn't carry the weight for me as I would've hoped.  (The eccentric villains of the older movies do come to mind, but in the framework of Bond 3.0, it doesn't gel). 
But, the (virtually) dialogue-free brutal henchman is back, here in the shape of wrestler Dave Bautista (also starring in Guardians Of The Galaxy).

From 1997 (Tomorrow Never Dies) each new Bond film also came with a new director, but before that, since the genesis of the series in 1962 (Dr No), for the most part each Bond director always got several cracks at it - Terence Young directed the first three of the Connery films, Guy Hamilton hit up 4 Bond movies (crossing over with two Connery and two Moore's), Lewis Gilbert also have three under his belt (including many's favourite, The Spy Who Loved Me).  John Glen hit the jackpot with 5 Bond films (doing the Moore-Dalton cross-over). Martin Campbell directed both Dalton and Craig's first forays into the franchise.  

With the continuation of the Skyfall repercussions and director Sam Mendes' stamp on that successful film, his return was logical and essential in keeping that mood and continuity in tact.  
(I haven't noticed the iconic single real-time shot opening scene (or simulation) in a while.  Here Mendes takes a stab at it with Bond leaving the Mexican street party up to a hotel room, out the window and across a building) 

The Bond girls were always sultry femme fatales or irresistible beauties there for Bond's pleasure (or pain), but they often injected the more plain and vulnerable characters as Bond's love interest (or fling) - Here Lea Seydoux's character cannot be classified as a quintesential Bond bombshell, and has a vulnerability, but also an inner strength (due to her father's spy connections).  But while older, the ever-hot Monica Belucci adds a smoldering MILF factor, highly memorable even with a fleeting two part scene.

The 007 franchise is a cinematic phenomenon and box office sure thing, but you know to expect big budget spectacle and excitement.  This was one of the most expensive movies ever made (around $245 million), but it also broke many box office records, out-grossing the very successful Skyfall, putting smiles on the faces of Eon Productions and Sony (the latter also having its biggest South African opening of any previous film from the studio).  
But, with the copyright of Ian Fleming's Bond books expiring soon (after 50 years), there's already talk of other production companies poised to redo these stories… 

(PS. I still feel Moore or Connery should be enlisted as a villain before it's too late)

4 / B
- Paul Blom

0 1 2 3 4 5 6
- A - B - C

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James Bond 007

For a 2nd opinion, check our Kevin & Art's video review here:

6 - Volcanic
5 - Blistering
4 - Hot
3 - Smolder
2 - Room Temp.
1 - Fizzled
0 - Extinguished

A: Multiple Viewing Potential
B: Deserves Another Look
C: Once Should Suffice

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