I sat there at the conclusion of the opening pre-credits sequence, numb and confused. “What did I just watch?” Sam Mendes is a ‘serious filmmaker’ and thus he tried to do something impressive by starting the film with a nearly unbroken take taking us through the crowded streets of Mexico on the Day of the Dead (I’m guessing there’s a break somewhere we can’t see). In the process, he created something that I believe is a first for the Bond series: a suspenseless opening salvo. The only suspense here was in the waiting for something to actually get excited about, which never materialized. I had been eagerly anticipating this film for months, even more so when Christoph Waltz’s casting was announced. But less than fifteen minutes in, I was already having serious doubts. Then as the credits rolled, those doubts got much, much worse.
WARNING: Here there be spoilers…
Faces of past Craig-era characters swam on the screen and the parade of names that included one of the tell-tale flaws in any big production: multiple writers. Four, in fact. My heart sank further. Then as the film moved past the credits and we are presented with a “voice from the grave” video of Judi Dench as M sending Bond on yet another mission, my eyes rolled. A failure to try to establish a continuous narrative in the prior film is being compensated for by the most tired of plot devices. I knew, long before the tired and clichéd line “You’re best chance of survival is to stay with me”, that this was not going to be a good film (and that was not the only clichéd line here). And by its conclusion, all of my nascent fears had been confirmed: the franchise has gone off the rails.
I could do a blow-by-blow account of what went wrong, but Matt Zoller-Seitz over at rogerebert.com has done a better job than I ever could. So read his take, and I’ll add what I think are a couple critical elements he probably just didn’t have room for.
The excitement is missing
The road to nowhere leads to me.
If you spend time thinking even the slightest amount about the set-piece action sequences in this movie, they don’t make any sense and are unremarkable when they aren’t… well, boring. The car chase is a prime example. High-powered six-figure sports cars jet down the roads and alleys of Rome and in the process… Nothing happens. They don’t knock each other around, topple fruit carts, or anything that would make us think they were even trying to raise the bar on a storied action-film tradition. They just… drive.
Later, Bond tries to rescue Dr. Swann by… bringing a plane down on top of the car she is in? There was no way for him to control the tattered remains of the vehicle he plowed through a barn, but he’s trying to save the girl in the process? And why is he beating the crap out of the helicopter pilot in the beginning sequence? He only wants to kill the assassin and get out alive. What more does the pilot offer? And the railcar fight with Bautista’s character ends with Bond then getting romanced in his suite. Um, isn’t he a little sore after being thrown through multiple walls? What happened to the battered and bruised Bond of Casino Royale? It’s all just rather silly when you give it the minimum amount of consideration.
Bond has become… well, a real dick
The notion that Bond was ever anything other than a misogynist was supposedly being remedied in Quantum of Solace by showing him as a broken man trying to heal the wounds caused by Vesper’s betrayal and demise. Whether you like the approach or not, that was the route they took. But now in successive films, Bond has not only become a misogynist again, but a manipulative and rapacious one at that. In Skyfall, he did a little B&E and coerced an Asian prostitute into having sex with him, and here in SPECTRE, he drops in on a grieving widow to first threaten her and then to seduce her as a precondition to offering her protection. Bond isn’t suave anymore, he’s creepy. He’s a predator in the worst way, taking women who are in compromising positions, and further compromising them. Fleming would be rolling in his grave at this portrayal of his creation.
The narrative doesn’t work
So Vesper betrayed Bond to Mr. White, a.k.a. The Pale King, in the Quantum organization, which murdered Le Chiffre. Quantum was destroyed by Bond in the second film of this iteration, but the third film’s villain still has some connection, but apparently there was never a Quantum? The Pale King worked for SPECTRE the whole time? And then was poisoned by them for… what, exactly? The classic Bond films (including Casino Royale, which I’ll put in that echelon) were decidedly simple: maniacal villain with big plans that Bond needs to foil while rescuing a damsel in relative distress. We have the outline of that here in SPECTRE, but with a whole lot of unnecessary window dressing that doesn’t make any sense. But then it gets worse.
Oh, please – like you didn’t know
who I really was?
Most now know that Bond was an orphan, his parents killed in a climbing accident. So if Skyfall was his family home, at what point was he supposedly living with Oberhauser? And Oberhauser’s childhood jealousy caused him to kill his father and pursue a lifelong vendetta of indirect, anonymous violence against Bond? They are trying all too desperately to make everythingpersonal with Bond, and in the process, are sucking the joy out of the Bond-Blofeld enmity. It might have worked if at the end Bond appeared to be showing pity in sparing Blofeld, but he just seemed to give up. It felt utterly unrealistic that this rage-driven vigilante who hunted down everyone else so ruthlessly would just turn the other cheek on Blofeld.
The Bond girl really doesn’t work
Lea Seydoux is just another in a long line of Bond girls that just don’t convince you of anything. She hated her father the ruthless hitman for bring such violence into her life and home. But she says ‘I love you’ to Bond within two days of meeting him. Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist was more believable than this. Let’s stop and take a step back. This must be an emotionally damaged woman, given her family history and this reaction. But one of two things are happening here: either Bond is becoming a serial monogamist, as Hugh Grant so aptly described himself in Four Weddings and a Funeral, or he’s an even more depraved and despicable predator than I originally thought.
Where, exactly, did they stop off to buy the dress?
He not only takes advantage of women in desperate circumstances to achieve his ends, but will entrap any doe-eyed lass and use her up until the villain kills her. We never saw this kind of Bond before. Younever ever got the impression that either Bond or these women were in it for the long haul (the obvious exception being Tracy in OHMSS). This new approach is unsettling, and believe me I am no feminist sympathizer when it comes to the Bond films. It was necessary to the believability of the Bond character that these be strong women who would put up with Bond for so long, but only so long. It wasn’t just that Bond grew weary of them, but that the excitement of experiencing a plot for world domination wore off and life went on. Teri Hatcher’s portrayal in Tomorrow Never Dies illustrated this quite well as the only Bond girl we’ve met after they broke up.
Craig is starting to damage the Bond brand
I say this delicately, because the man has real talent, and showed he could play the role well in the flawless Casino Royale, but Craig has some kind of view of the Bond character that does not align to the traditions of the role, and he is forcing that on us whether we want it or not. Craig had a hand in writing QoS and takes some responsibility for its incoherence, but it is unclear if the alcoholic and unhinged take in that film was his doing. A lot of people liked Skyfall, and though I was not among them, I thought it to be a dramatic improvement over QoS, but still a pale shadow of Royale. But here he had a hand in producing and what shows on the screen is inclusive of his vision of the character. Everything from the selection of the director, to the casting of leads, to the narrative arc we have endured is part of what Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, along with Craig, see as Bond. But the portrayal itself is all him, and it isn’t pleasant. And I’m starting to think that is exactly what he wants.
Given everything I’ve outlined above, and what Matt Zoller Seitz astutely describes in his review, I am not at all optimistic about where this latest film will lead the franchise. Craig is supposedly on board with the idea of more films, and one must assume Waltz signed a multi-film contract, but there has been chatter of shaking things up again. Idris Elba as Bond is just one example of the rumor mill’s output. Great actor, but why must we continue to reshape characters in some new world view? Bond is Bond, and we love him for that. But for me, Daniel Craig stopped being Bond a long time ago.
There is a peculiar movement of historical revisionism afoot. People are unable to accurately remember things that happened within the last two decades, and instead spin them to whatever ends they feel best suits their chosen perspective. I’m not talking politics here, I am talking something far more important. Would James Bond still be a viable cinematic property were it not for Pierce Brosnan?
There is a growing legion of folks who seem to think that Daniel Craig saved the franchise from certain demise. These people cite the primary cause of that impending demise to be Brosnan, with a fair degree of shade thrown at the collective team behind 2002’s Die Another Day. Having just revisited the four films this week, I won’t take much issue with the latter. However, the notion behind the former is not only laughable, it is just wrong. There are five good reasons why Craig didn’t save the franchise and Brosnan wasn’t what was sinking it.
“You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.”
And that was what audiences liked about Bond. But twenty years ago, when GoldenEye was filming, Bond was viewed as a “relic of the Cold War” by the scriptwriters themselves. The Berlin Wall had come down, the USSR had dissolved and politics had changed irrevocably during Bond’s six-year absence from the screen during much legal wrangling with MGM and following Dalton’s departure from the franchise (which sadly gave him very little to work with). They had tried a harder-edged Bond, but ironically America wasn’t ready for that just yet. The future of the franchise was in real doubt. The fact that the superb GoldenEye was a success was in large part due to Brosnan. He was the producers’ first choice in 1986 until NBC head-scratchingly refused to allow Brosnan to take the part due to his Remington Steele obligations. That they were able to revisit that decision les than ten years later and get Brosnan while he was still peaking was fortuitous. But the growing contingent who trashes him ignores a simple reality: if not Brosnan, who would have saved the franchise?
I was too an important character before Craig arrived.
The rumors hold that Mel Gibson among others turned down the opportunity to revitalize the franchise. Think how that decision might have looked in the early oughts. But no top-tier actor was going to join a series with declining revenues and diminishing cache. Additionally, long-time lead producer Cubby Broccoli was of failing health and when Barbara took the lead she made it clear that the established film-making team headed by John Glen was not keeping pace with the times. Judi Dench was added as M to mirror the real life shattering of the glass cieling at MI-6 (and despite some assertions, was an integral part of The World Is Not Enough). It was going to be a period of change for the franchise, and an unknown as Bond wouldn’t do. They needed something familiar for the audiences to latch on to, and Brosnan was the one thing that made sense. Well, of course, you can always count on old Q…
Every Brosnan Film was a Blockbuster
The Dalton films both disappointed financially, with License To Kill being the lowest performing Bond film in the U.S. at $34m. But each Brosnan film made more than its predecessor, with GoldenEye shattering the $100m mark in the U.S. at a time when that number still meant something. The steady film-by-film appreciation of the box office take was not because each movie got better (in fact, many would say quite the opposite), but because the team behind the films was able to keep the franchise fresh and current, even if that meant sacrificing a bit of quality along the way. They reached out to new audiences by adding Michelle Yeoh to attract Chinese filmgoers and Halle Berry to broaden to female and non-white audience members. Regardless of what you think of each choice, the dollars rolled in. And now, can you even remember the day where the release of a new Bond film wasn’t a major event?
Casino Royale was a nearly literal Fleming adaptation
If you want your man to succeed, give him good material. And in 2007, they gave Daniel Craig the best material possible: the only original Fleming novel to not have been adapted yet. Unlike instances in the past where novel titles were used as loose basis for the films (The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice being the most blatant), Casino Royale used almost the entire premise of the novel. There is a lot of exposition in the film that goes beyond that, but the core is there and more importantly, so is the emotional content. There’s a reason the best Bonds are the same on nearly every list: they were the closest adaptations of Fleming’s original works. Brosnan, on the other hand, was the only Bond to work with only scripts that were entirely original, leading to varying levels of quality and multiple levels of re-writes.
Oscar-caliber villains make a difference – and are signing on
Born to play a baddie.
In 1995, there was much hubbub about the realistic possibility that Anthony Hopkins would join a Bond film as a villain. Think about that for a moment: the mere possibility that the man who played Hannibal Lecter just four years earlier was in talks to be a Bond villain was huge. Sure, Christopher Walken was in that echelon, but A View to a Kill sure wasn’t. GoldenEye showed the possibility existed though for a quality actor to chew up some scenery. Famke Janssen was superb as Xenia Onatopp, the first henchwoman that Bond couldn’t conquer (and quite honestly we would have rather she conquered him), and Sean Bean was introduced to many Americans in fine form. But after that came a string of character actors (quick, can you name all four?) who never quite reached that level. Daniel Craig got a triumverate of accomplished thespians to square off against: Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, and Javier Bardem. Now he gets Christoph Waltz?!? A two-time Oscar winner who pretty much has shown that he was born to play a Bond villain? That is hardly fair.
Then there’s that whole Quantum of Solace thing
Unremarkable? Because I wasn’t somehow disfigured?
Say all you want about Die Another Day, it is thatbad. Yet it is only as bad as Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever. However, QoS is on a whole different level of horrible. I have been an ardent Bond fan since middle school and can watch any of the films over and over again and still take some joy out of them. But it took a strong amount of effort and a whole lot of alcohol to get me to sit through QoS even a second time. Unpleasant in tone and joyless in execution, the film has an unremarkable villain, a paint-by-numbers Bond girl, lackluster plot and dialogue, features an out-of-control and out-of-character Bond, and uses jump-cut action sequences that are darn near incoherent. Forster was a terrible choice as a director, and given his two-time success in the job, everything possible should have been done to get Martin Campbell back in the chair. What this clearly shows is the success of the series was no as dependent on the lead actor as it was on the complete product. Brosnan may have had one absolute dud, but he was at least batting .750 otherwise; Craig is still at .667 as of this writing.
So while I am enjoying Craig’s tenure as Bond, especially the exceptional treat that was Casino Royale, I will not do so at the expense of Pierce Brosnan. While in the role, and since moving on, Brosnan has run off a string of terrific performances showing great range including The Tailor of Panama and the front-to-back brilliant film The Matador, both of which should be considered must-see viewing. Even if Brosnan himself thinks that he was never good enough as Bond, it only shows the tremendous amount of respect he has for the character, and the extent to which he hoped to raise the profile of the series. That he is presently not remembered for having done so is not his fault, it is a combination of factors having more to do with hipster hatred for anything more than ten minutes old, and perhaps a diamond-faced Asian henchman who is better left forgotten.
But take heart Pierce: George Lazenby is seeing a resurgence of belated and overdue respect. Your time will come too.
I sat down to revisit the Brosnan films as a warm-up for this week’s release of Spectre. In doing so, I was reminded painfully of one of the worst periods in Bond theme music. In my teenaged years, I carried with me a cassette of 13 original James Bond themes and cherished listening to them all – the good and the bad. It is hard to fathom first of all that there have been ten more films since I owned that cassette. Harder to fathom is the mere idea that I could even stomach listening to such a compilation today. Let’s face it, a few of the more recent entries in the canon have missed the mark, but fewer still have achieved the lasting legacy that many of those of the bygone Moore/Connery era hold. So I figured, why not rank them all, worst to first, with category rankings to group them. And I’ll let you know where I rank the latest some time after Friday. 😉
The brutal, ear-rending screech that delivers the chorus is enough to sink this tune, where Crow tries to croon over orchestral swells in this otherwise quite nondescript and unremarkable theme. But when you finish the film and hear kd lang’s stunningly rendered alternative, you have to wonder what the producers were thinking. Was Crow’s starpower strong enough to put a terrible song at the start of an otherwise good film?
At one end of the spectrum are the big band blunders like the above, and at the other are the futile attempts to remain current. The vocoder is in full effect on this house/techno attempt to latch on to the sound of the moment, a moment which had already passed by the time this film had been released. Fortunately the film isn’t sunk by the song – its sunk by a terrible plot full of holes you could drive an Aston Martin through, one of the worst Bond villains regardless of gene therapy, and Halle Berry’s inability to convincingly wield either a weapon or a witty comeback.
I wonder if Alicia Keys had to endure Jack’s voice in the studio or if they just recorded independently so she didn’t have to hide her cringing at his total lack of talent. This just sounds like a bad Jack White song. Which would be most of them. Alicia can’t rescue it. And nothing could rescue the movie, Quantum of Solace, which was without question the worst in the franchise.
Let’s forget for a moment that Tina hadn’t been relevant since chasing the Raggedy Man out of Bartertown, this song inserts the film’s title into its lyrics as if it is some kind of reference to anatomy, despite the fact it was really the name of Ian Fleming’s tropical vacation home. While past film’s made use of their title rather, um… creatively, this one doesn’t work.
No Pips? Fail. But really, the lyrics of the chorus are sappy and overwrought and give Gladys’s superb pipes little to work with. The remarkable similarity to Goldfinger seems all too intentional though, as if to invoke memories of a much better song… and movie. The official video, however, is a treat for the senses.
It would have been impossible to make a decent song with the title ‘Casino Royale’, so going with a song that ignores it was the right move. And given both the change in lead actors and overall tone of the series, Cornell was a great choice and the song title speaks to what we might expect. But it is utterly unmemorable. There is a nice chord progression under the chorus, but that’s about it.
I have to admit, I forgot completely who sang this song, though I could hum the chorus in my head without prompting. That is because despite the wishes of some in the 90s press, Garbage were better forgotten as a band. Even still, how is this a ‘band’ song? I hear drum machines, overproduced keys, a lot of orchestra, and Shirley Manson. I don’t hear a band.
Like Tina Turner’s Goldeneye, Bassey awkwardly slips the film’s title into a song that is otherwise rather lovely and delivered splendidly by Bassey’s powerful voice. But once the song ends, we’re not clamoring to hear it again. And besides, there are better Bassey tunes we’d reach for first.
I give her credit, Lulu didn’t try to duck the difficulty of using the title in the song, she just went right after it, choosing to follow the exposition of the film, no double entendres necessary (though apparently a wah pedal was in the early 70s). And while she delivers it with conviction, that leaves little emotional content to latch on to. It’s just kind of boring until the final chorus, which I have to admit she knocks out of the park.
This song is right on the border for me. I can’t tell if it is the fact I owned that cassette and saw this movie a couple dozen times that make me think it is more memorable than it really is. Though it is hardly anything special, it certainly isn’t forgettable.
I know a lot of people would give me guff for this not being in the top category, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me. Adele has a great voice, but the chorus is just kind of weak, especially the backing vocals, and the use of the James Bond chord progression makes the song sound a bit more generic.
Taking a step back from the fact that the band was a few years removed from their only US hit, A-Ha were a logical choice given the fact the last Bond theme by a post new wave pop band was a #1 hit. And listening to it, it’s remarkably a pretty good song. Though this category is ‘The Hits’ I just mean the ones that didn’t completely miss the mark, as this song failed to even chart.
If there were a film’s title made for Bassey’s voice, this is it. And it is a good one, no question. I like how it starts out quietly and plays off the idea that men (and by implication James Bond) aren’t reliable and honest, and diamonds last a heck of a lot longer.
You kind of wish they had given Tom Jones another shot at the prize, because though he absolutely owns this song, it is kind of terrible lyrically. It would be two more movies, before the producers would take a chance on using a theme that didn’t include the film’s title, but this film would have been the prime opportunity.
And let’s face it, while Tom Jones singing a song titled Octopussywould have been brilliant, ditching the film’s title was the smart move. Coolidge delivers a nice jazzy tune that fit perfectly in the early 80s AOR radio format. And honestly, it is overall just a really nice lyric as well. Is it dated, oh hell yeah. But so is nearly everything else about this film, which unfortunately chose to embrace the camp a bit too much.
Sheena has the distinction of being the only performer to appear in the title sequence, and despite the very 80s sound of this song, it is one of the better ones. Had they dialed down the chorus and used more of the synth sounds of the verse, it may have been a bit more timeless and pushed it over into the next category (which is where I had it mentally, but then listened again and had to move it).
It is the simplicity of this song that makes it so good. Just the piano and Carly kick it off, but the subsequent orchestration is subdued and allows her voice to soar over the music. The lyrics are totally irrelevant to the movie or James Bond at all, until they slip that title in there just to let you know they didn’t forget what they were trying to sell us.
For once, the title actually really works in the lyric of the song. And so does all of the orchestration. And the bridge with a reggae feel to tie in to the movie’s location. And a classic is born. Too bad the film doesn’t quite live up to its theme song, abandoning global domination themes to capitalize on blaxploitation filmmaking.
There’s a good reason this was a #1 song – it kicks ass. That drum beat, the driving bass under the chorus, and a vocal delivery that gives the song the edge it needs. This is also the first song that, despite having John Barry’s help in composing, has no orchestration at all to detract from the energy of the tune. Maybe I’m just a child of the 80s, but this is great stuff. Also probably my favorite title sequence.
For decades, this was the definitive Bond title track. Those opening chords would be alluded to in later themes because they just scream James Bond, and the integration of the actual James Bond theme only makes it better. And while Goldfinger seems like a word that would be nearly impossible to work into a song, if you just make the song about the guy… well, there you go. Bassey delivers every lines, every syllable with authority and the legend was born.
There is so much to love about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a film, and the theme – the only one to not be used in the opening credits – is absolute perfection. As a whole, this is regarded as the movie in the series with the best soundtrack for good reason, and the choice to have an instrumental credits sequence allowed Maurice Binder to allow audiences at the time to focus visually while he reminded us that though they had a new Bond for the first time, not much was going to change. Despite the attempts of the Craig films to deliver an emotionally vulnerable Bond over three films, Lazenby did it perfectly in one, and this song communicates both the sweetness and the sadness that its title has in relation to the film’s plot. Satchmo’s tender warble (on the last song he would ever record) is just what the song needs to ensure it isn’t too cloying or sentimental. It is nothing more, nothing less – only love.
Note: I chose not to include any selections from Dr. No. I really didn’t feel it qualified since, as the first entry in the series, it didn’t have a theme song per se.
Like reliving its titular experience, this film is an awkward, though likely accurate portrayal of what life is like for a really uninteresting, social media obsessed kid – it just offers nothing compelling.