Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bond. James Bond

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - My Thanksgiving weekend went all right---we had our usual Thanksgiving turkey feast Thursday evening, and once again I can't say I felt as tired after ingesting massive amounts of turkey as I thought I would, considering that these days, I always tend to feel tired at nights and also considering what I constantly hear about the tryptophan in turkey which is supposed to fatigue you. Well, whatever.

Otherwise, I ended up not being all that productive this past weekend.

Oh yeah: I did end up partaking in Black Friday "festivities"---we drove to a Walmart (the Devil!) on Rt. 1 at around 7 a.m. and ended up not buying a whole lot of interesting stuff except some clothes. My mother bought me a black leather jacket, however, that seems to have turned people's heads. When I went to work at the State Theater Saturday evening, the first thing one of the bartenders said to me was "That's a nice jacket, man." I got the same reaction from a friend of mine Tuesday night at the Inside Beat meeting: that friend further suggested that, if I got some nice Old Navy shirts and grew my facial hair out a little, I might actually look good (or, at least, better than I currently do, I guess). Not that I really care about his, uh, "fashion" advice, but that said, I do think the black leather jacket is kinda cool.

Anyway, I might as well get my thoughts on one of the two new films I saw on Friday onto the blogosphere right now, before I buckle my ass down to finish this Sacha Guitry French Film paper tonight.

Casino Royale (*** out of ****) is one film I saw on Friday; The Fountain is another. I'll reserve my thoughts on the latter for a later date, partly because I'm still just a tad unsure where I stand regarding Darren Aronofsky's new folly---is it a masterpiece or merely an ambitious, visually grand, fairly pretentious attempt at one? And if it's the latter, shouldn't we still welcome it into the modern film landscape simply for trying? (Hey, we've welcomed similar follies like Griffith's Intolerance, von Stroheim's Greed, and even Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and even accept them as timeless masterpieces---although, simply put, The Fountain, for all its grandeur and epic vision, probably won't ever be considered on the same plane as an Intolerance.)

Now, I'm not the most up to date on my James Bond knowledge; in fact, I haven't even bothered to tackle some of the character's most famous '60s adventures---such as From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, two films commonly considered the best of the franchise so far. So basically I'm accepting the superiority of Sean Connery's Bond on pure faith and pure hype. (To be honest, the only Bond flicks I've seen in full---I've seen bits and pieces of some of the others---are The Spy Who Loved Me---a good one, and Jaws, the silver-toothed villain, makes that one worthwhile---and some of the recent Pierce Brosnan Bond flicks, none of which I remember particularly well.)

The previous paragraph is also an admission that I don't necessarily have a fully formed opinion on the Bond franchise as a whole. Is it essentially an imperialistic and misogynistic franchise that panders to our taste for big explosions, cool gadgets and scantily clad women-as-sex-objects? Probably. All I know is that, after 20 features before Casino Royale, Bond has become such a known commodity that I wasn't really expecting a whole lot different from this new film---maybe a few good action sequences, but overall nothing that'll stand out in my memory the next day or week.

Turns out, though, that Casino Royale is not only one of the best big-budget action entertainments of the year---it easily beats the so-so Superman Returns and the mostly agonizing Pirates of the Caribbean 2---but also a lot more interesting on a character level than one had any right to expect from a Bond picture.

The best thing I can say about Casino Royale is that it, indeed, makes James Bond into a genuinely fascinating character---appropriate for a film which takes place as Bond is still easing into his "00" status. Those who have seen Daniel Craig in recent films like Munich and even as the volatile Perry Smith in Infamous should know what they're in for when they see him as Bond. He doesn't have the suavity of Sean Connery or Roger Moore; Craig is more in the tough, intense Timothy Dalton mold. But, as with Connery, Craig is able to suggest a complex, multifaceted character who always seems to be keeping something in reserve amidst his cold, ruthless demeanor---hints of softness to occasionally thaw out his monstrous ego.

Craig isn't just doing this on his own, however: for once, a Bond script---this one written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis (that guy again!)---seems to show a genuine interest in creating a genuine characterization with James Bond instead of simply taking him through his action-adventure paces. Thus, Bond is saddled with a love interest named Vesper Lynd (played by the luscious Eva Green) that seems to bring out the romantic softie in him---he's so taken with her that, after he's gone through hell and high water to bring down villainous banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), he decides he'd rather be with her than continue doing his potentially ball-busting (pun intended; if you see the movie, you'll see what I mean) spy work. A real romance in a Bond film? (I haven't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but supposedly that 1969 George Lazenby one-off is the only other Bond film that tries to work in a sincere, fleshed-out romance among its action fireworks.) And yet one can believe Craig-as-Bond when he says to Vesper that she represents the last vestiges of his soul left.

But such a romance is not to be, and by the end of the film Bond is forced to break out of his romance-induced stupor and mow down a whole bunch of bad guys. Finally, the film's character trajectory is revealed: Casino Royale is about how James Bond lost his soul in order to become to the cool, fairly heartless Bond we all know and love. I wasn't expecting such self-awareness and humanity in a Bond film, which, during the Pierce Brosnan years, had pretty much lapsed into rote (if technically impressive) spy-game pyrotechnics.

Let me put it this way. Usually, when you go to see a Bond film, you know what to expect: explosions, cool gadgets, babes and coolly tossed-off one-liners. Casino Royale brings to the table things you wouldn't expect---a degree of emotional gravity, for instance, and a genuine interest in character development. And it's a lot of fun, with some of the best (often gadget-free) action sequences you'll see this year---an opening footchase in Uganda is a particular wow. (No, I don't think the film's various plot twists make a whole lot of sense---but hey, do we necessarily go to Bond films to get overly wrapped up in the storytelling?) If this is the kind of thing we'll be expecting from upcoming Daniel Craig Bond films in the future, I wholeheartedly hope for him continued success in the franchise. In fact, I'd say that he's precisely what the doctor ordered.


Anonymous said...

hi i would like to know what your view of the representation of women in this film was. As i am carrying out a media studies critical research on the representation of women in action adventure films and would like to know your view. Thankyou

Kenji Fujishima said...


Representation of women in Casino Royale...good question!

From some of the other Bond flicks that I've seen, the women in them are usually painted either as objects for Bond's (and our) delectation---remember that famous image in Dr. No of Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean, or Halle Berry's similar entrance in the more recent Die Another Day---or as shifty beings who use their sexual power for some kind of devious purpose---the classic movie femme fatale, in other words. Not a particularly enlightened view of women in general...but hey, that doesn't seem to bother the millions of moviegoers who pay tickets to see Bond movies.

That said, Casino Royale, I think, diverts from the norm in a welcome way with its depiction of Vesper Lynd---for once, an intelligent Bond girl, one whom we care about as a person, not just as a sexy object. I think most of the other women in the film are treated in a similarly nuanced (for this series, anyway) manner.

But yeah, the representation of women in action adventure films is a very interesting topic, well worth researching and thinking about. Even one of my favorite action films, Die Hard seems to sentimentalize its hero John McClane's relationship toward fellow cop Al Powell more than it does his relationship with his wife Holly, whom he apparently loves enough to try to save throughout the film. Of course, not every action flick is like that---I remember John Woo's Face/Off paying as much attention to creating strong yet vulnerable female characters as it focuses on the good/evil dichotomy between its two main male characters. And, of course, in recent years you've had female action heroes in movies and TV--- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lara Croft, Elektra, and probably some other popular names I can't recall right now. Are they essentially males with female, uh, anatomy? Are their movies basically typical macho-centric action fare with women instead of men? Quite possible; perhaps that's something you could explore in your research...

Anyway, hope I was of help in some way with my rambling answer. Thanks for commenting!