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Topic: Phase 3 (Craig) - Reviewing Bond's hard reboot era

So, my friend and I just went through Phase 3 of Bondathon, the Daniel Craig years. And though its not just actually over, given how No Time to Die is set for release the next year, after seeing Spectre it really felt like this should've been it for Craig. Spectre just feels like a culmination of Craig's time on Bond, and his story arc complete with him finally becoming like Classic Bond, an established pro and no longer a rookie/incumbent agent.

I also have to admit I enjoyed him more and, while I genuinely don't like his smugness (which I think is a personality trait of his and not a character trait) it fits this character, and he does bring a level of physicality not seen since Connery in NSNA, which is vital and of course enhances the action more. That said, I do have to stress out why I'm vehemently opposed to the "Craig is the best James Bond there has ever been" camp (I'm looking at you, Barbara Broccoli!), and that stems from the valid belief that Craig's Bond is vitally, the most effective assassin of the bunch. He looks like one and is effective as one. But see, Bond shouldn't be that, or rather, just that. The key to Bond and his distinction from the likes of Taken's Liam Neeson, is his ability to reconcile the mission with reason. He won't kill unless he has to. My problem with Craig is his sheer inhumanity. And no film is greater at fault of this than QOS, although it does add more humor Bond and a touch more cosmopolitan charm to him, he's still too brutal and not enough suave and, of course, not at all a secret agent. He's basically a thug. Skyfall and especially Spectre got out of their way to instill more Bond-ian elements to him, but the plots' ever more personal concerns with his past and what-not didn't leave a lot of room for him to grow as a human being.

As such, this version of Bond wasn't really allowed to be the James Bond that we know until the latter half of Skyfall and the entirety of Spectre, and even then its odd to see Craig spout Moore-esque quips because he's never been established to be anywhere near the Bond that we know. And that is the fault of Casino Royale, for going out of its way to take Bond out of his comfort zone, but in doing so stripping away the character from what made James Bond, James Bond. There are those who find this a blessing, but I'd argue the franchise didn't need this bareknuckled approach so much as to alter the character's identity. Every Craig Bond is about deconstructing the character but without bothering to putting him back to what he used to be. I realize it was long overdue that the character's tortuous traits were portrayed to the full (rather than implied at as they were for most of Phase 2, the Dalton/Brosnan era), but the point of introspection, in my opinion, should usually strive to re-affirm the appeal of the thing you're deconstructing - otherwise it becomes a critique of the past, which I doubt Brocolli/Wilson were really actually going for.

Beyond that, most of his films were solid. Casino Royale, despite the aforementioned flaw of not having faith in the tradition that made Bond who he is to the masses, still is the best entry in the Craig era, and that may be because of its healthy dose of adherence (but not a strict one in any sense) to Ian Fleming's original novel, and its own unique action sequence to add to the experience. But beyond that, its easier to grasp the risque factor better now, and how inventively new it feels. Really, my main beef with the Brosnan Bonds was the action scenes - they never 100% right. They were either overlong, overproduced or at least underscored (scoring in an action scene is absolutely vital) and as such something was left to be desired. Here, the action scenes are just right, and serve the plot well enough, although I maintain the airport scene is pure filler. Its only the first Bond since OHMSS where the romantic plotline works in accordance to the main plot and also feels like natural extention of the story. It also includes Daivd Arnold's best score (and I've generally found that Arnold improved as he went along in this marathon, kudos to him and I wish he returns one day). Eva Green, of course, is one of the best Bond girls ever (though not the best, another hyperbole), and what can be said about the torture scene? Martin Campbell clearly knows Bond, and he brought him back with style again. Brilliant.

Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, is never that. Or close to that. Or even that good. In fact, its just bad. And I tried, I really, really did. But the most good stuff that I can say about this film is, that letting Bond spout some humorous lines is nice, and as is the opera scene with Quantum and the ending scene with Vespa's lover and his remarks to M. But outside that... its just not very good. Craig doesn't play Bond half the time, he plays a superhero. Any nuance he might've added to Bond is thrown out of the window, and I doubt its Craig's fault. The action also feels like overbearing - like its filling the screen to cover up the fact its half-written and to disguise that its hurt by the writer's strike that year, and even so, its a painful experience to go from one of the best Bonds to one of the worst Bonds. The most disparaging problem I've had with this one is with the villain, who looks like he took  a page from Brandauer's Largo and played the character as straight and humanistic as possible... but failing to make any impression out of him. Its too real, and too transparent. He's barely menacing and never a threat, and his rivalry with Bond never works on any level - in fact, it seems like they never really interact, despite the fact that they do. And I'm not even going to explain how the Bond girl's sub-plot with the bad General goes, because I both don't remember the Bond girl, and don't care to google her (though Olga Kuryenko is always great, and she did her best in this - just, you know, not enough). Beyond that, the film looks unappealing, the direction is listless and unsure, and the story, which is about Bond being out for vengenance, just doesn't ring true, and the main reason is because this Bond never had a regular personality that to have a revenge story would test that balance. TLD, for all its flaws, still demonstrated a traditional Bond adventure with a Bond as a fairly balanced act. He's a rookie in CR, and therefore not an established agent, so to see him out of his accepted normalcy is an option to take too soon, since this is literally taking place a few months after CR, so its within the early beginning for this Bond. Furthermore, and in hindsight, Quantum is such a throwaway organization that relegates the film's importance to Craig's arc even less in significance.  I could go on and on, but I'll just concede this is my least favorite Bond film of all time and be done with it.  It just fails both as a coda to CR, and as its own adventure. And I'd argue its even worse when watched side-to-side with the superior CR.

Of course, there's no question that Skyfall is FAR superior to Quantum, and in every way. And I do love Skyfall. I always did. But... its not the best Bond film. Its not even one of the top five Bond films ever (which, I'd argue Casino Royale legitimately is), although its very high and should be in every list, if these lists are your thing. My point is, Skyfall is a great Bond film, but its got flaws. Specifically, story flaws. Basically, Bond is pretty much useless in this - chances are, if he'd never returned to the service, Silva's entire scheme (to expose MI6 agents and kill M) would've gone on exactly as it occured on-screen. The only thing that the film does work on significantly, and why it has earned its rightful place as one of the best, is its exploration of Bond's mortality and his dependence on the service and his work in it. TWINE explored this also, but it goes into greater detail here, and its a rewarding experience as Craig totally complements Mendes' languished directing and, especially Roger Deakins' eye. It goes without saying, but lets say it anyway: This is the best that Bond has ever looked. Brosnan and Craig's entries looked better than most (well, not QOS exactly) but Skyfall restores Bond's distinct visual look that made the '60's so memorable (well, not GF exactly). In fact, I' argue its the best-looking Bond ever. Javier Bardem is also Craig's best rival, as he's this Bond's version of Alec Travelyan -  a twisted mirror of Bond who, unlike Bond, lost his soul in his quest for vengeance. All and all, a great film.

Which leads us to Spectre, which is... frustrating. Its clearly the most traditional of all the Bonds (the previous ones ommit the gunbarell, and I don't know why - I get it in CR, but why not the next?) and I for one love it. It also has my favorite Craig pre-credits sequence, with a nice callback to LALD, which I appreciated more this time. The first half, up to and including the train sequence, is better than Skyfall for my money, and as good as Casino Royale. Craig's most confident turn as Bond, and his first attempt at being charming and sophisticated, the overlooked aspect of Bond that was missing in the previous ones, and its so nice to see it back. However, once the film does bring Bond and Blofeld, er, I mean Bond and Obenhauser together, the film falters and never recovers.  For one, the need for Spectre, after Quantum was introduced, seems fleeting and never justified - so, is Quantum a sub-group to Spectre's overall body? Or is Quatum itself Spectre, but just with an altering name? But wait, nobody ever heard of either Quantum or Spectre, so what the Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie are they talking about?! Also, why did M leave that message to him to see it after her death? What if she never died, what then? Would she have had that kept a secret from him for his whole life? I can understand she made that in a hurry after she saw Silva captured, but after the revelation that Blofeld is Bond's foster brother, and the "author of all [his] pain" this means she always knew he had a foster family, and she always knew his foster brother was alive. If so... why? Wasn't she unaware of Bond's past until she got to Skyfall at the end of that film? What the Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie?!

Beyond that, how was Blofeld vitally involved behind all the three previous films? I don't get it. Am I missing something? Because the implication is not that he was simply involved in the terrorist oganization capacity, but on a personal level making sure Bond endured personal pain as much as possible. This is never explained, directly or indirectly. Its never made clear what his beef with Bond is either. Add to all those lingering questions a shockingly disinterested performance by Christoph Waltz, and you have a spectacularly weak interpretation of Blofeld. Its really too bad, because up until then, I genuinely enjoyed the film as much as I did back then, despite lacking Roger Deakins' distinct eye.

I also felt, at the time, that Spectre would've been a perfect exit point for Craig to exit the series. And honestly, I still feel like that. Even more so now, because Bond just drives away at the end. I can only hope No Time to Die can justify his comeback, but I can't imagine it'll be any good from what I've heard. Plus, its been five years, maybe get a new guy to play the part? Craig's about to surpass Moore in time inhabiting the role but with fewer films under his belt.

So, there you have it. Oh, and something about Bond's humanity and the Craig era seemingly examplifies this but the first 21 didn't: Bullshit. Pure, unadulterated bullshit. See, I can get the argument that characterization was not at the forefront of most, if not all the Connery/Moore Bonds. Truly. But I think as you've been reading, from the moment Timothy Dalton stepped on the role and onwards, the plots and characterization of its participants became as important to one another like never before. And the special attention to Bond's psyche, for my money, actually began not in CR, but all the way back to LTK, the essential start of the Barbra Broccoli/Michael Wilson era (TLD in a lot of ways feels like the last Bond with the classic Cubby feel to it), and all films since had strived to make certain his personality comes through, even when tradition mired those efforts, like in TND and DAD. The latter especially makes the very evident effort to showcase Bond in his coldly professiona, stripped of his humanity but still able to do his job as a secret agent. The only problem was, they put THAT characterization and put it in a Roger Moore movie - a bad one, with CGI effects, super laser weapons and a henchman called Mr. Kill. Ugh. What the Craig era did more successfully, I guess, is able to streamline those plots and correlate the appropriate seriousness and humor to accomodate accordingly. Of course, it still doesn't work, as often times the plot wouldn't do Bond any favors, like Skyfall where he's basically ineffective as a secret agent, and Spectre, which feels like a protracted, elongated coda to Skyfall that ultimately hampers the enjoyment of whatever comes beforehand. As such, only CR comes out unscathed, and even then its inherent insecurity with Bond's legacy is baffling, and to me unappealing.

Still, it did prove Martin Campbell knows his Bond, and makes me wonder why he never came back after both of his efforts. Anyway, here's my ranking of Craig's entries:

1. Casino Royale
2. Skyfall
3. Spectre
4. Quantum of Solace

As for my bud, he prefered CR the most - called it the best of the Bonds we'd watched together. He similarly disliked QOS and for the same reasons as mine, too. He prefered Spectre to Skyfall, though, as he thought there was "literally no action" in SF, and he's a big David Bautista fan, too, so that helped. He also prefers Craig to Brosnan, though he still likes Dalton the best.

Me? I like Craig as much as Brosnan now (even though I think Craig is a jerk and an asshole as a person). All three actors since 1987 had kept the Bond flag high, and as a fan I couldn't be happier. Anyway, taking a rest before I attempt to show the first 15 Bonds to my friend. But as of not, with the exception of QOS, this Bond marathon has been a lot of fun and I enjoyed those films more than ever. Long live Bond - here's to another 50 years!