TOO STIRRED, IF NOT SHAKEN
I hope that when the new Bond film makers decided to make Casino Royale
, they were aiming for a radical break with the old Bond genre. If they were, they have made a good start. If they did not aim for such a thing, they have failed on many counts.
After watching Casino Royale, I don't know whether to feel happier that Bond movies are becoming more "realistic', that Bond himself is becoming more realistic and even human, or whether to feel sad that we have really seen the last of the James Bond that we all knew and loved. When I say "we", I mostly mean members of our parents' generation. I am by no means one of the rare 'old Bond' lovers of this generation, but I have to say that I was fortunate to grow up feeding on the thrills and entertainment of the old Bond classics. If I hadn't done that, I may never have become a James Bond fan, and Sean Connery who is old enough to be my great grandfather would have seemed like a speck in the Precambrian. Fortunately, I have paid homage multiple times to all the great Bonds before this, and have seen what they are like, and what they could do. As I have mentioned before, nobody beats Connery as Bond, and Brosnan comes in a good second in my opinion. I have also mentioned that I grew up a James Bond junkie. Me and my cousin used to enact end scenes from Bond movies in the living room countless number of times, and I actually used to relish playing the villain more then Bond sometimes, because it seems that the villain often got the best lines when he used to bore Bond to death close to the end. Stromberg, Dr. No, Christasis, Drax, Goldfinger, Largo- they were all deliciously wicked.
But I digress. So what about Daniel Craig? I have to say one thing; that he is hands down the most intense and athletic of the Bonds. The opening scene has him chasing a villain in an almost painfully extended chase, that has him mostly looking like an old world monkey jumping large distances with long paced bounds; and I don't mean this in a pejorative way at all. But there's more to the new Bond, which becomes evident in that scene. The new Bond falls, the new Bond oozes blood, the new Bond cringes, the new Bond can be clumsy at times. The new Bond is human!! That's what distinguishes the new bond from all the old Bonds.
Now is this a good thing or a bad thing? That's the question that will occupy audiences long after they have left the theater and returned to their homes. It's a tough call, and I am still mulling the philosophical implications. The reason is that one adjective which sounds like it was invented by James Bond is "UNPERTURBED". Shaken perhaps, but of course not stirred. That was an adjective to which all the old Bonds were faithful. But this Bond is anything but stirred. He looks scared, he looks hurt, he looks emotional. At the end, he manifestly falls in love with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green
, who I hate to say is almost ordinary in this movie). Bond in love?! Bond and emotional?! That's something which is really hard to digest for hard core Bond fans like us. One of the big virtues of all the old Bonds was that they all managed to stay detached- another adjective that Bond could have invented- without appearing vindictive. They could use beauties for information, and for business before pleasure, and then toss them away, all the while appearing completely innocent. They could seduce them with a one liner so that they never had to care later what those women thought; they would doubtlessly be too stricken (or too dead) to harbour resentments.
To be honest, the signs of emotion were already there. In Goldeneye
, Bond sits wistfully on the beach while his lover tries to make an attempt to break through his impenetrable wall of impenetrability. That's when we first get the feeling of a heavy burden hanging on James Bond's back. But Daniel Craig can carry this sense to almost tragic extents. In fact, this is probably the first Bond film where I could sense pathos
in James Bond, a wholly new perspective that I could not have imagined before. In Casino Royale, not only is Bond an emotional man, but he also transmits his emotional persona to M, Judi Dench
. That was another slightly disquieting experience. In this movie, Judi Dench seems too sentimental, too emotionally insecure. I have to admit that Dench is probably the only woman who can play M and get away with it, but if you compare her with M from all the old Bond movies, you will notice that she is radically
different from all of them, and especially in this movie. In fact, M never was a central character in many old Bond movies, and taking her center stage has always carried its own risks.
However, James Bond becoming emotional or attached per se is not a problem. It's the implications of that. For instance, I could never have imagined a woman actually trying to make Bond grudgingly wear a tuxedo of her choice. For a brief time, the movie veers dangerously close to becoming almost a romantic comedy, and although it quickly corrects itself, I was mortified at the thought. What about James Bond resigning from M16, largely because of his love for a woman? Another hard to digest fact. Not that Bond has never shown the semblance of love before; in You Only Live Twice
, he actually gets married to a Japanese woman (who naturally dies shortly later). In The World Is Not Enough
, he comes close to getting attached to the beautiful Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), but quickly proves that he is quite detached by putting a bullet through her without hesitation, when she betrays him and tries to get him killed; this is followed by an apt pithy one-liner. James Bond is a secret agent of the British Secret Service with a license to kill and a short life span. Can he really deviate far from this character?
Alluding to the opening scene, Bond again seems much too human when it comes to combat. He is still a fine fighter, but hardly gives us the "Only James Bond could do something like this" feeling. In Roger Ebert's review
of the movie, Ebert compares James Bond to being more like Jason Bourne. But does Ebert realise that that precisely is the problem?! Only Bond can be Bond, and Bond cannot be and should not be like Jason Bourne. In fact, that was the central issue I had with the movie. Action packed as it was, the action sequences did not give you the feeling that their orchestration belonged in Bond's capable hands, and only those hands and no other. You could have thought of any number of action hero characters who could have managed those feats. In almost five or six sequences, Bond is running after cars and villains in a way that reminded me of a combination of Forrest Gump and Lola from Run Lola Run
. Bond is fazed, Bond is shaken, Bond is even duped (that's why he has to run with sudden realisation). One of the most jarring scenes in the movie is when the lead villain (and there are many) strips Bond naked, ties him up to a chair, and then proceeds to inflict upon him a particularly painful kind of torture. It's sad and almost pitiful. Can we really imagine Bond in this condition? Again, there is precedent, but with a different Bond. In Die Another Day
, Bond is similarly caged and tortured by the North Koreans. But somehow, Pierce Brosnan can carry off such torture surprisingly well. Craig also is brave, but he cannot carry it off with the unfazed audacity of a Brosnan or Connery.
At the heart of many of these problems is the mundane sounding fact that the film makers have done away with Bond's constant wisecracking. But wisecracking is really the essence of Bond. The only reason why Bond works is because he can be in the most hopeless situation, but can still give us the illusion of being in charge with his wisecracks. He could give us the illusion of flirting, or alternatively distancing himself from women, all because of his wisecracks. Doing away with wisecracks is not a very wise way to please Bond fans. As for the gadgets, I don't have a real problem with their absence, but I do miss seeing John Cleese as Q. The villains are all right, but the lead villain is at the mercy of other villains, which is a little less chilling than what you would expect for a Bond villain.
So what does all this mean? Daniel Craig is emotional, intense, and still determined and ultimately unperturbed, although he does not exactly look like that when he is in the thick of things. Daniel Craig is atheltic, but he gets hurt, fails to make elegant jumps between buildings, and gives an impression of more resolve than natural ability. Daniel Craig falls in love, lets women choose his tuxedoes, resigns from M16 because of a woman, and in the end, tries to save the woman who betrayed him (or at least so it seems). In a nutshell, Daniel Craig looks real. Daniel Craig is impressive, but is he James Bond?
And that's the problem die-hard Bond fans like me have. We live in a world, fairy tale world as it may be, of a Bond who is rugged, gets himself out of impossible situations, turns situations around purely based on wisecracks, and uses women and then discards them without them holding a grudge or him appearing like a self-centered pig. We live in a world where Bond is all about elegance, detachment, imperturbability, style, and charming and mischievous innocence. I have to say that I think that the world of that Bond has come to an end. To be honest, I am not sure even now whether that is a good or bad thing. I think that this humanizing of Bond may be a part of the greater humanizing of superheroes, including Batman and Spiderman, that we have seen in the past few years. There's nothing wrong in that, and one may even come to adore these reinvented characters more than their ideal counterparts. But so it is for Bond, and fans like me cannot help feel a wisp of nostalgia when we remember Goldfinger or For Your Eyes Only. Daniel Craig is a fine actor, and he has played Bond's role with wholehearted dedication. As a thriller, Casino Royale is an afternoon well-spent (although perhaps a little prolonged). But for old Bond afficianados like myself, Craig is definitely a new kid in town.
Or perhaps my questions are justified. After all, why should only realistic movies be good ones? Actually, why should movies be realistic at all?...