The Road To Spectre: The Craig Years (2006-present)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'It's hard to believe now that there were some who vocally protested the casting of Daniel Craig prior to Casino Royale's release. To say that the actor silenced his critics is a gross understatement'.

Despite being a financial success, the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Die Another Day from both fans and critics alike meant that the Bond franchise once again found itself at a point of crisis. With the fantastical plot elements and heavy use of CGI most heavily criticised, a need to strip Bond back to the basics was identified. The recently acquired rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel (traded with Sony for the rights to the Spider-Man franchise no less) gave the perfect opportunity to go even further, taking the big screen version of 007 back to the source material for the first time in decades. Originally written for the screen for Pierce Brosnan, the actor's confirmed retirement from the role in 2004 meant that Casino Royale would also see the arrival of the fifth official big screen Bond. In short, the twenty-first Bond film signalled by far the biggest and boldest shake-up the franchise had ever experienced.

It's a gamble that pays off in pretty much every way. Returning to the franchise just over a decade after he last ushered in a new era of Bond with GoldenEye, director Martin Campbell signals that Casino Royale is a vastly different cinematic beast than that seen four years from the very start. The black-and-white pre-title sequence that shows us Bond (Daniel Craig) earning his 00 status through two kills - the first viciously animalistic, the second unsettlingly calm - is perfectly executed, and couldn't be much further from the day-glo comic book antics of Brosnan's final outing.

From this strong opening, Campbell crafts not just a brilliant reboot of the Bond franchise but a comprehensively excellent film throughout. The visuals are sumptuous, the action finely honed, and the script as sharp as Bond has ever been. The first act, focused upon a plot to blow up a prototype airliner, feels as though it could be a Bond feature of old in its own right, leading into a second and third act which superbly modernise Fleming's original story whilst retaining a satisfying classic cinema aesthetic.

The cast too further Casino Royale's high quality: Mads Mikkelsen is perfectly cast as Le Chiffre, combining vintage Bond villain with understated menace whilst also delivering one of the most brutal torture scenes of the entire franchise; Eva Green gives us perhaps the best Bond girl of all in Vesper Lynd, her performance nuanced and believable from her first scene to her last; and Judi Dench as M comprehensively proves that her being the sole element carried over from the Brosnan era was a very, very good idea.

Most significant of all, however, is Craig as Bond. It's hard to believe now that there were some who vocally protested the casting of Craig prior to Casino Royale's release. To say that the actor silenced his critics is a gross understatement. Craig's portrayal here takes influence arguably from all previous Bond actors, whilst also putting his own contemporary stamp on the secret agent to create the most emotionally complex version of 007 seen on screen. It's a first film performance at the very least on a par with Brosnan's near-flawless debut in GoldenEye.


This rawness carries through to Craig's second outing, Quantum Of Solace, arguably the first direct sequel seen within the series with a stern and straightforward pre-title car chase following directly on from the closing moments of Casino Royale. Craig's sophomore film suffered from external issues, not least the strike by the Writer's Guild of America that plagued many film and television productions during 2007 and 2008. The effects are undeniably manifested in the final product here and there, most notably through a few disjointed connections within the development of the plot during the film's second half.

Quantum Of Solace has subsequently become a film it's fashionable to hate, something which has been the case for earlier Bond films, but arguably never so unjustly. It's perhaps due to the aforementioned plot hiccups coupled with the film's dour tone. Craig's second outing is a much more grim-visaged affair, with Bond rarely cracking a smile and offering a witticism count that can easily be kept track of on one hand. Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) is his partner in seriousness, offering a far grittier Bond girl than we've come to expect who shares no more than a single kiss with Bond.

That said, there is still a great deal to like within the film, including some well-executed action sequences and a superb scene in which Bond crashes a secret meeting of members of the Quantum organisation in Austria during an opera performance. Craig continues his excellent work from Casino Royale, as do all returning supporting players including Jeffrey Wright, developing his portrayal of CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Giancarlo Giannini who pleasingly concludes René Mathis' arc begun during the previous film. Whilst Mathieu Almaric's villain Dominic Greene may be one of the less memorable - and certainly least theatrical - that Bond has come up against, the actor's performance is solid throughout, creating a pleasingly slippery corporate criminal who fits the film's staunchly realistic tone.


After Quantum Of Solace's relatively traditional sequel status, Craig's third film ups the ante once again, ultimately becoming the film that completes the reboot begun with the release of Casino Royale. The emotional undercurrents seen in the previous two films are enhanced even further in Skyfall, with Bond's past becoming more prominent, as well as his present relationship with Dench's M taking centre stage. Released during the fiftieth anniversary year of Bond on screen, the emotional stakes for fans of the franchise were also high, especially as the fortieth anniversary release (Die Another Day) was one that many were keen to forget.

Skyfall essentially takes the contemporary aesthetic established during Craig's previous two outings and mixes in several ingredients of vintage Bond with a stunning level of success. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is in many ways a classic Bond villain for a modern era - a cyber-terrorist megalomaniac whose desire for ultimate control is second only to his personal vendettas. Bardem is superb, blending the theatrical nature of Silva brilliantly with the unpredictable threat of an intelligent but unhinged criminal who genuinely feels he has been wronged to create the most memorable antagonist of the Craig era.

Director Sam Mendes ensures Skyfall is littered with excellent action sequences, some of which are genuinely breathtaking in their execution: a fight between Bond and assassin Patrice (Ola Rapace) within a Shanghai skyscraper lit only by the city's neon advertising boards is simply exquisite. Mendes makes the most of every single setting he gets to send Bond to - from the vibrant colours of Macau, to the washed-out desolation of Silva's deserted island, to the earthy shades and oppressive fog of the Scottish highlands - making Skyfall incredibly pleasing on the eye throughout.

Skyfall takes numerous opportunities to pay tribute to the half century of film-making behind it, but also keeps in mind its incredibly important task in placing Craig as Bond in a position to take the series forward. This is Dench's emotional swansong as M, rightfully giving the veteran actress a more prominent role than ever before and allowing her to become perhaps the ultimate Bond girl. By successfully re-establishing iconic characters including Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), showing reverence to the history behind the roles whilst being unafraid to place them within the modern timeline, Skyfall also becomes the most important of Craig's outings as Bond to date.

Craig's opening trio of films as Bond are not just one of the most important and successful periods within the series, but arguably present the most significant and well-executed reboot of a cinematic franchise. To date, only Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy offers any competition. Perhaps most enticingly of all, through the release of Spectre, both Craig and Mendes have an opportunity to elevate this success to even greater heights.


Casino Royale

Quantum Of Solace

Skyfall


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a comment