Ah, the curse of expectations. Quite a few people had said to me, either in person or in impersonal radio-speak, that this was the best James Bond EVER!!!! and so I wasn’t able to go into the film with an open mind. The folks who had not said it was great had been fairly neutral about it.
There was a lot to like about this film, from the acting, to the cinematography, to the script, to the story, to the main villain; it was not without some problems, and I think that Chris correctly named the main one – it’s hollow. Now, you can never really expect a deep emotional experience from a Bond film [bonus question – why not? other films use the same story formulae and deliver the same basic experience with emotional depth and range too, why not Bond?] but that’s actually not exactly what we meant. It felt a little too much like all of those things. There were no rough edges, no unexpected story beats, the pacing and framing for scenes was roughly what you’d expect.
I don’t want to imply that this was a check-box experience of just going through the motions, because the film is much better than that, but the whole structure of the piece was far too inward looking, far too interested in its own past, in being the 50th anniversary film. That inward-looking nature meant that it made only safe story choices, only safe framing options. It never felt to me like it was taking any risks, or trying anything new at all. Indeed, several really major story beats, such as Bond’s apparent death in the opening chase sequence and subsequent failure to pass the fitness testing, felt distinctly tired – they were done in Connery’s day, and already re-done by Brosnan.
I guess the best way of summarizing my problem with this film is this. I think this would have been the best James Bond film possible, if all the other ones hadn’t already been made. 😉
Nevertheless, the sheer technical expertise that went into this film were impressive. It managed to look as beautiful as Quantum of Solace without being as inert. It managed to have a quip-packed script without feeling flippant a la Roger Moore. It managed to string together it’s chase sequences into a plot. It delivers on all all the things that would be in the check-list if we had one.
Finally in the positives column, there’s Javiar Bardem. In my mind, he ranks in the top few villains of the films – up there with Goldfinger and Alex Trevelyan, a big step above the second tier of Carver et al. His plan was brilliant, but not too ridiculously over the top, and he had a magnificent screen presence.
And now, to end – a point of ambivalence: Naomie Harris. I felt the screen crackle with energy whenever she was on screen, and her banter with 007 was one of the best parts of the film. She’s a fantastic actor – someone get her some bigger parts; I want to see her headlining something major. What I am ambivalent about is the way she ends the film, because while she was clearly not a direct peer of Bond’s, she was looking like a major character in the Felix Leiter mould. To have her end up where she does felt like a demotion to me, and what I wanted, what I was rooting for almost unconsciously, was a female 00 agent, rounding out a roster of characters that would appear in the next film. Off-hand, it’s hard not to see her final position as a demotion, at least in story power, and ultimately representing another “safe” decision from this film which could have easily gone a more interesting way.