November 6, 2006
New James Bond star Daniel Craig has branded upcoming 007 effort Casino Royale the most violent yet. Craig plays the superspy for the first time and was amazed at the excruciating pain he had to endure for some of the stunts. He says, "You're not doing it right if you're not getting hurt. The stunt boys were going through pain levels that I couldn't even imagine and carrying on. Compressed spines, all sorts of things. I was in pain throughout the whole movie." He recalls one particularly harrowing scene in which Bond kills a man in the bathroom: "I watch that sequence and I wince. All my knuckles split, my hands were in bandages after it. And I had a fight double - Ben. I did the bits that hurt. And he did the bits that really f**king hurt. But that's the thing with this Bond. He bleeds. It's more about the fact that he bleeds, goes down and gets up again."
You know ... I wonder if this is quite the right thing to be doing with the Bond franchise.
Note that I'm not taking issue with the decision to reboot the Bond franchise, or with the casting or with the decision to restart with Casino Royale. I am wondering if making a seriously bloody, violent Bond movie is necesarily the way to go. The least successful Bond movie to date was License to Kill, which -- perhaps not coincidentally -- was also the most realistically (for certain values of "realistic") and bloodily violent Bond to date. To be sure, some of that can possibly be laid at the feet of Timothy Dalton, who was somewhat miscast in the role; that said, that grim, humorless thug was surely the way he was directed to play the role, and judging from the previews and trailers to date, grim, humorless and violent appear to be the hallmarks of the Casino Royale Bond, as well.
The violence in Bond movies is usually almost operatically over the top -- but it's also curiously bloodless. Generally, villains meet their exciting ends, and no matter how bloody that death would be in real life, we only see them headed to their doom, and usually not the actual doom itself. Lots of screaming, the sound of a high-speed saw or laser or lots of gunfire or harpoons, and then silence, with Bond of whatever vintage looking expressionlessly at the results.
The other thing is that, while we periodically see that Bond has been hurt -- the decorous bleeding from the corner of the mouth, the occasional bruise on the face -- we pretty much never ever see him actually being badly hurt. That too, reportedly changes with Casino Royale; it seems that the carpet-beater scene from the novel is transferred intact, and we get to see a fair amount of it. Honestly, I don't think it would enhance my enjoyment of a Bond feature to watch James getting tortured, never mind tortured like that. Bond has evolved to be (as contradictory as it seems) bloodlessly hyper-violent fluff; I don't know if people will be comfortable with a Bond lacking the fluffy, escapist aspect.
It appears that they're trying to take the series in a darker direction, more closely matched to Fleming's original stories. If this works, they may even decide to do a fleet of remakes, all more closely mated to the original than the eventual films. (This distance from the original story is a particular problem for the Roger Moore Bond, who simply could not and would not convincingly play the sort of tough guy that Bond was written to be.) And those could be very interesting films to compare with their originals. (For a start, they could change the name of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger -- the original story of The Spy Who Loved Me would remain unfilmable, of course.) It might be that this Bond could also be used for all John Gardner's Bond books that never got filmed. He was, after all, trying to keep the character reasonably close to Fleming's Bond and not necessarily the movie Bond.
The question is, will it work? Not just will it work artistically, but will it work commercially? Do people want to see a darker, more bloody Bond?
Purely a side note: I just want to see how they work the current M and Q into the reworked narrative. There's simply no way on earth that M could have been a woman in the early-to-mid 1960s, let alone a woman in her late 20s, which Judi Dench would have been at the time. What I would really like to see -- and they'll never do this, of course -- is a story that acknowledges the fact that the current James Bond, whoever that winds up being, is not the real James Bond. That Bond as an agent had an unusual durability for one of the 00- agents, that he eventually died of premature old age (well, what do you think your body would be like after all he's been through?), and that they decided to replace 007 with another agent who then took the same name and number, in order to preserve the mystique of British intelligence with the deathless Bond. If you're going to go this route and aim for a darker Bond, you could get quite the story out of an enemy agent rooting out Bond's real identity and going after people from his past. Never happen, of course. But wouldn't it be fun if they would?Posted by iain at 03:50 PM