What has happened to James Bond?

The world recently witnessed the release of the latest entry in a 50 year long series of motion pictures featuring the one and only 007. Entitled SPECTRE, it came on the heels of what the world has hailed as a bonafide blockbuster – SKYFALL, but was met with mixed reviews.
Personally I found, on the initial viewing, a beautiful film to watch, especially the opening scene. But while the film was visually stunning in my view, I left the theatre feeling empty and really let down. I could attempt to analyses the film, citing, the last half as an example of rushed and sloppy (lazy) writing and go on about the waste of an opportunity to do more than merely introduce a major villain in the franchise and explain how he got his scar, but I won’t go there. Instead, I want to discuss what I think has happened to this beloved icon and offer some thoughts on how I think it can be saved. Unfortunately some of what I’m going to say won’t sit well with certain readers, and I admit that what I share are just my personal ideas.

To be perfectly honest, the Bond films have never been Academy Award winning movies. I feel this is worth noting because I believe people have elevated 007 to the realm generally reserved for myth and legends, so anything less than stupendous is thought to be a disappointment, and that’s unfortunate. In going back over the movies made with Daniel Craig, beginning with Casino Royale, one must admit that none of these movies are worthy of a Best Picture nomination. This doesn’t mean that the reboot didn’t work. It worked aces by breathing life into a worn out franchise. The tragedy lies in the failure to create something beyond fresh and new and exciting.

For example: while a certain number of the performances have been outstanding, such as Daniel Craig, the vast majority of the characters are still portrayed as stock, one dimensional cardboard figures that don’t allow even the most talented of actors and actresses to portray with any meaningful level of depth. This was the case with Blofeld who should have been one of the chilling, mysterious and powerful figures to date.

While introducing the arch villain of the Bond series, the film SPECTRE induced the element of mystery to this pivotal character by hinting at his existence in the burned photograph recovered from Bond’s Skyfall estate. Next, the film reveals a bit more of this sinister villain by showing him from behind, without any view of his face, while at the funeral or memorial service. The camera focuses on the back of his head, taking in Monica in the background. We see him from this vantage point a couple of times before he walks away, along with a group of other men who I suppose are his associates and security/bodyguards.

As we follow the story we watch as Bond attends a private meeting in Rome and here, casting him in the shadows while sitting at the head of an enormous table, surrounded by god knows who any of these people are, we see him again. (By the way, how Bond gained access to this secret meeting in itself I found to be something of a joke and took away a measure of dignity this character requires.) Then, while this shadowed person whispers instructions to an assistant standing beside him he stops and addresses James by name while turning to allow the light to reveal Christopher Waltz. Now here is an actor who has proven that he can ooze villainy in a way that can get under your skin. He can be creepy, funny, charming, intelligent and scary but I’ve never seen him as idiotic or stupid. What I saw in SPECTRE was an insecure man who somehow sits in the chair of an organization that, from what I saw, isn’t very sinister, evil or deadly.

From the moment he spoke his first words aloud through to the end of the film, I was left wondering what the hell is going on. What had they done to what was supposed to be an overlord, mastermind criminal and super evil genius? Had Dr Evil from the Austin Powers taken some of the stuffing out of this character? Had the creators (I realize Ian Fleming is gone but his legacy in the hands of others), the writers and producers and director lost their way? Here they have an opportunity to re-invent the most awesome antagonist to date, starting from square one, as they had with Bond, and mold a presence that would resonate with audiences from around the world. But instead I felt I was watching a screen test with no direction and Christopher Waltz wondering how exactly he was expected to play this role. While there are moments (well, maybe just two moments) when he appears to striving to reach some semblance of what could have been someone’s idea of a criminal mastermind, what screams throughout his entire performance is “I am a jealous, insecure brat!!! I hate you James because you stole my daddy!!! And I’m going to get you!!!!” What’s interesting is that while this may be at the core of what drives Blofeld, shouldn’t it have been restrained and the elements that reveal his enormous amount of power and influence and wickedness should have been more in focused and capitalized on? I’m of the belief that the creating staff behind this film were afraid of it becoming a parody of itself, or worse yet, an Austin Powers movie.

Having said that, let me talk about the henchman Hinx. W O W…O M G…where do I begin…For me, this was one of the most frightening henchmen in the entire franchise, perhaps second only to Donald ‘Red’ Grant in ‘From Russia With Love’ or Oddjob in ‘Goldfinger.’ Dave Bautista has a threatening presence and a ruthlessness that permeates his performance. If I were to choose two words to describe him I’d use: Unstoppable Menace. When you watch him you know that he’s capable of doing exactly what he’s appears to be doing. In addition to the obvious physical threat he presents in the imposing figure of an unstoppable force, his eyes convey an intelligence that suggest that he is more than your average mindless thug. But again the powers behind the camera failed to truly capitalize on what they had and threw away the chance to have a reoccurring star in his own right, literally, by having him pulled off of the train by what appeared to be sheer luck than anything else. (I honestly thought I was watching the solution to get rid of Hinx as written by an author of young adult fiction).

Having said that, I must comment on another spoiled effort in neglecting to invest a measure of real earnest thought to the actress Monica Bellucci. Seriously, if you are going to hire REAL stars with REAL talent, why would you use them like a disposable Kleenex? She was one of the reasons I was looking forward to seeing SPECTRE. Not because she is gorgeous but because she has the ability to portray a vulnerable woman with real depth of character who can connect with audiences, while presenting an exotic and mature image. She’s not a silly little girl but a real fleshed out woman who has experienced life and seen what the world is really about. Now, with this actress in your corner, why would you have her play the same female character that has appeared in every other James Bond film?

Why can’t they do something different and original and powerfully great in its own right? What is forcing the writers and producers and the decision makers of the modern Bond to remain confined to a follow the dot, formatted play book where every single film is basically the same as every other film? I’m not kidding! I’m deadly serious!!

To illustrate: Imaging a Bond who has reached the age that disqualifies him from active duty? Having suffered from PTSD and having a body that had been used and abused, what would he be doing with his life? He doesn’t have friends, as the recent SPECTRE would have us think, nor is he one to get depressed. So, how would he handle something totally unexpected like the death of someone causing him to suffer from depression? I don’t know but here’s why I say this. One of the best stories, not movies but stories, is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In this tale Bond meets and marries Traci while chasing Blofeld (of all people). Besides Vesper Lynd, Traci is the love of Bonds life and her death at the end of the story provide Bond with the quest for revenge and justice he seems to be waiting for. Fantastic concept. But, if they were to make this film today, we would see featured the following: the car, the gadget, the one liner, the girl to sleep with who dies, the girl who requires being saved, the villain, the muscle beside the villain, exotic locale and unbelievable action. Bond’s life will be in peril but naturally he somehow manages to escape (depending on how much thought they gave to this), M, Moneypenny and Q. Naturally Bond will go rogue and we’ll be left behind trying to figure out how he figured out that he needed to go to ‘exotic locale’ and whatever gadget he is given will be exactly what is required to get out of the unique dilemma he’s faced with.

It’s funny that the film that caused the Bond franchise to stop in their tracks and rethink 007, decide to make him more physical, and cast Daniel Craig was none other than BOURNE, Jason Bourne. But how did they fail to see that Bourne didn’t follow a formula (at least not yet. We’ll have to wait and see if the new film is as fresh and original as its predecessors, or if it’s just a rehash of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been before)? In the very first film, and subsequent movies, we’ve yet to see Bourne be issued a gadget or have a throw away girl as part of the story. The bad guy has been the CIA and their BlackOps agents who appear to be trained and organized. And Bourne time and time again shows that he is a THINKING assassin. He’s in shape but generally speaking a bit shorter, older and ill equipment to handle what comes his way. All he has is his training and his mind (and his heart some might add). He won’t give up or quit but he is constantly assessing everything, whereas Bond is one lucky son of a bitch.

I get it. Bond is the creation of Ian Fleming, and the mold he cast is set permanently in stone. That is why only slight variations are allowed in the telling of the Bond sage. That’s why people threw a fit when it was announced that Bond would be blond. That’s why we have these reoccurring figures who fail to evolve but remain true to form. And this is why the Bond films have become and will remain conventional, over rated and past their due date.

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Author: JKatsanis

Writers write. So, this is my attempt to write every day. To form a habit doing what I enjoy - writing.