Like one of the many Bond Girls, my relationship with James Bond is one-sided and my affection is not reciprocated. I love James but he doesn’t love me. No, it’s not a kiss/hug kind of relationship: I’m not gay and James Bond doesn’t really exist, silly.
Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved James Bond books and movies. I remember before the advent of cable TV staying up late as a kid so I could watch The Spy Who Loved Me on the ABC Sunday Night Movie, which always had a warning: “Parental guidance advised.” And that was the allure. The films portrayed a sophisticated, exotic world full of glamour and danger that seemed so… adult. Bond himself was a fascinating if inappropriate role model for Young Dave – he navigated through a scary grown-up world with utter poise and certainty and the occasional streak of ruthlessness.
The scene that really stuck with me from The Spy Who Loved Me wasn’t the big battle in designer Ken Adam’s huge set or any of Bond’s lopsided fights with the indestructible Jaws or even the Lotus Esprit submarine car. There’s a scene where Bond (Roger Moore) fights a bald henchman on a rooftop that ends with the thug precariously hanging back over the edge of a roof, clutching Bond’s tie to keep from falling. Bond gets the info he needs from the henchman and then casually bats the tie out of his hand, sending the thug to his death. That scene really spoke to me as a kid and really captured the whole spirit of James Bond: when it comes down to it, Bond is a ruthless motherfucker.
Or he should be, anyway.
Thankfully, nearly every James Bond movie – even the worst ones – has at least one scene or moment that captures the true essence of Bond. Okay, none immediately come to mind for Moonraker, but I’m sure there’s at least one redeeming moment…
Wait! I know: In Moonraker it’s the scene where the evil Hugo Drax turns his Dobermans loose on his terrified female assistant, who betrayed him. The dogs chase her through some woods and kill her and eat her (off screen). That’s a creepy scene. It doesn’t feature Bond, mind you, but it’s a very Bondian scene.
But what is Bondian, anyway? Gadgets, quips, tuxedos, dames, martinis? Sure, but the character has a literary pedigree: Ian Fleming’s thirteen James Bond novels. In Fleming’s books, Bond is a more nuanced character, whereas the movies veer more towards broad caricature. The literary James Bond is fleetingly glimpsed in the movies and is hidden completely in some of the Roger Moore films. To me, those moments in the Bond movies that draw from the original source material (even if only in spirit) are Bondian.
I absolutely devoured Ian Fleming’s books when I was a kid. Fleming was up there with Stoker, Moorcock, Tolkien, and Dahl – the writers that really gripped my shit, so to speak. Yes, I said Moorcock. Get over it.
Fleming’s James Bond is more conflicted and prone to self-doubt than his superhuman cinema counterpart. He’s a Cold War civil servant who has developed expensive tastes and bad habits, a hollow killer who immerses himself in sensual pleasures to distract himself from his inevitable violent fate. He drinks way too much, smokes too much, eats unhealthy gourmet cuisine, and pops the occasional pill to kill the pain or perk himself up. James Bond is not going to grow old, he’s going to die with a 9mm bullet in his lung or a knife between his ribs and he knows it.
Fleming’s Bond stories are more understated and street-level than the films. They’re not exactly crammed with wall-to-wall action. Fleming seemingly takes greater interest in the brand of suit Bond’s wearing and how he likes his eggs than the mechanics of a fight scene. Which is not to say there is no action, it’s just that the gunfights and chases are a natural extension of the stories and don’t occur with the clockwork frequency of the movies. Above all, Fleming’s books are about James Bond, the character.
This brings us to Casino Royale and how much it kicked ass.
Have you seen this movie? I don’t know if I’ve just been starving for a proper Bond film and it has skewed my critical faculties, but holy crap, I loved it. From beginning to end, Casino Royale was Bondian.
Daniel Craig captures the manly essence of a James Bond at the beginning of his career. He’s a callous, over-confident killer with a bit of an attitude who has developed some unhealthy coping skills to deal with the realities of his work. Unlike some previous Bonds, you really feel like this guy could die, that at some point he will die. He’s not ridiculously competent at everything he does, just most things. And he can run hella fast. We’re talking Robert Patrick-fast.
The thing I liked most about Casino Royale was that it treated James Bond as a character. He doesn't just float through the movie, untouchable. Bond has an emotional investment in the events of the movie and has a definite character arc – he has changed from the beginning of the film to the end. He sincerely, deeply falls in love with Vesper (Eva Green) despite the raccoon eye make-up she wears all the time that makes her look like Darryl Hannah in Blade Runner.
"...and [Bond] can run hella fast. We're talking Robert Patrick-fast."
Anyway, Casino Royale wasn’t just a good James Bond movie, it was a good movie, period.
That’s the thing about movie franchises, isn’t it? You compare them to themselves, not other films. You know how it goes: Star Trek IV was better than Star Trek III, but not as good as Star Trek II. Yes, but how does Star Trek IV compare to other science fiction films? Did you like it better than Aliens? Or 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Bond movies are like that; they are often compared to one another and not to other spy or action movies. Was Die Another Day better than The Bourne Identity? What about Assassins? Did you like it better than Agent Cody Banks?
Casino Royale was a good spy/action/adventure movie that could stand on its own merits. It’s not just “a good James Bond movie.” This isn’t a film that coasts on the fact that as a big franchise picture it has a built-in audience – Casino Royale actually works hard to be entertaining, and that’s why in a few weeks it will be the top-grossing James Bond movie ever. Because it’s Bondian, and it’s a good movie-movie.
So there you go: Daniel Craig is The Balls.
Next, we’ll discuss in excruciating detail the most Bondian sequences or moments in film history.