Before watching the movie:
In some families, Christmas starts the moment the Thanksgiving desserts are cleared away, or sooner. However, I prefer to give it a few days before slowly creeping into the season. So here’s an action spy flick starring James Bond and notable Bond girl Dr…. ah.
I don’t think there’s a movie out there so tenuously linked to Christmas, but if this doesn’t count, the honor would probably go to Die Hard.
After watching the movie:
When James Bond retrieves a sum of money from a Swiss bank for oil tycoon Sir Robert King, it turns out to have been cleverly booby-trapped, exploding inside MI6 and killing Sir Robert. The money is traced back to Renard, an ex-KGB terrorist. Renard has a bullet lodged in his brain from a previous MI6 attempt on his life, which is slowly killing him, and has already deadened his senses, making him impervious to pain. Renard also previously kidnapped Sir Robert’s daughter Elektra, and M now believes that Renard is targeting her again, assigning Bond as protection. In tracking down Renard, Bond comes across and allies with nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones, and starts to have doubts about how much of a victim Elektra really is.
Before this, I’d only seen the Daniel Craig films and Goldeneye (though I don’t remember much of it), as well as an attempt at watching Goldfinger, though I was too young for it to hold my attention. I also attempted to read From Russia With Love in high school, but I didn’t get more than a couple of chapters in. Therefore I can’t really appraise Brosnan as a Bond since I don’t have a very specific impression of what the character should be. Additionally, Brosnan was the James Bond when I was growing up, which may have indirectly colored my assessment of Bond. He’s certainly a version much more focused on suavity and charm than on cynicism and combat, the former being my initial idea of what Bond was, and the latter being characteristics I later learned were perhaps more important. Though that might be coming from Craig’s take, which has been accused of being more Jason Bourne than James Bond.
Similarly, my notions of what “Bond Girls” are like come more from stereotypes than actual knowledge, but Elektra and Dr. Jones seem to be making two different statements about being different from the standard. Elektra is an active driver of the plot, not a Macguffin or a character someone else makes use of. Jones isn’t as active in the plot, but she has so much skill and utility that all the emphasis on her attractiveness creates dissonance. The camera frequently treats her as eye candy, but she’s not dressed or made up to be eye candy, and eye candy is not known for being so bright. Perhaps because of her strong characterization, or because of the juxtaposition with Elektra, I wanted Jones to have a more personal connection with Bond. As it is, she’s just kind of swept up in someone else’s story, helping out occasionally but mostly getting ignored. If she were a “normal” Bond girl, that wouldn’t bother me. But she’s been made such a strong (if sidelined) character, placed opposite another strong female character, that the inevitable pairing fell flat.
Renard also seems underutilized. His condition could make him a formidable monster to fight, a man who feels no pain and has nothing to lose, but aside from one scene that uses his lack of pain decently, he seems more weakened than empowered. He isn’t driven by his impending death, nor is he quite haunted by it, he’s just kind of bummed by the fact. It doesn’t even seem very impending, like it might be a decade between when he got shot and when he will die.
Overall, this film hit all the marks of a Bond film, but it didn’t really do much but hit them. It feels a little underdeveloped, like it could have been a much more powerful story if it had been thought through a little more. It might be best summed up by the gunshot intro sequence. James Bond films have an iconic bit where Bond walks into a gun’s sights, whips around and shoots the holder of the gun. However, it’s so perfect and sterile here, it didn’t feel like an icon or a tradition or a hallmark. It felt like a brand logo. I don’t think what I’m looking for is necessarily as extreme as Casino Royale incorporating it into the story, but I’d like something more unique than changing the Bond to whoever is playing the lead character this time.This really feels like a franchise running out of gas, ready to break out of its shell and get rebooted in the following decade.