Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Rank the Films: James Bond (Daniel Craig)

As any regular reader of this blog will know, I think lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good.

Under the microscope this month is 007 himself, James Bond - or more specifically, Daniel Craig's incarnation of the super spy whom has graced our cinema screens since 2006. Starting with his gritty reboot Casino Royale and finishing with the most recent entry into the canon, Spectre, I'm going to be ranking Craig's tenure as the steely-eyed British agent from worst to best. Where did your personal favourite rank on my list? Find out below...

4th - Quantum of Solace (2008)

I, unlike many others, don't hate Quantum of Solace. I don't even dislike it - if a rewatch of Craig's era as 007 is on the cards, I've got no issues sitting down to watch Quantum, often in a double-bill after Casino Royale; after all, they are essentially two parts of the one story, a premise that was previously unheard of for the Bond series. 

So whilst it isn't the smartest, sleekest or most simplistic Bond film ever, it's also by no means the shittiest (as some corners of the Internet will proclaim - I don't think anything can out class Die Another Day or A View To A Kill, but there you go). Craig is an utterly different Bond to those that we've seen before; he's not just cold, he's angry and broken following Vesper's betrayal in the third act of Casino Royale. He's not just got a chip on his shoulder, he's got a whole bag of chips and two pieces of battered snapper resting on his crisp dinner jacket lapel. Like Casino Royale, it dares to do something different and whilst it doesn't execute this in the smoothest of fashions, I think we should award credit where it is due. 

The negatives are often cited - Mathieu Almaric is Craig's weakest villain by far, Olga Kurylenko's Camille is underwritten and lacking any chemistry with Craig - but the positives are frequently overlooked. The action (and there is a lot of it) is superb, with director Marc Forster racing the audience from cars to boats and planes at breakneck speed, whilst Gemma Arterton's delightfully-named Bond girl Strawberry Fields is a stylish throwback to classic Connery.

3rd - Spectre (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

Craig's most recent stab at 007 has only been out for a few weeks (and only a few days here in Australia), but it's clear that the initial reception to Spectre has been a little muted.

Fourth outings for a Bond actor generally follow a trend of disappointment (Thunderball, Moonraker, Die Another Day), and Spectre appears to continue that trend. Maybe the hype was too noisy, or the bar set by Skyfall too high to vault. Reviewers haven't been kind on this one, critiquing everything from the scattershot story, formulaic characters, underused villains and slow pacing. I can't help but agree with a lot of these points - Christoph Waltz is criminally underutilized and his motivations aren't that compelling. Monica Bellucci is dealt a pretty shit hand as well; her sole purpose of being in this film is to look weepy, shag Bond and then bugger off. Whilst Craig feels settled in the role now, I felt like his performance was lacking that edge that made his Bond feel so dangerous, adventurous and unpredictable in Casino Royale.

That being said, maybe we need to stop being so critical of a film that, for the most part, has a lot going for it - Mendes' direction for one is sublime and the cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema is gorgeous. Thomas Newman's pulsating score is one of the best in years, whilst Chris Corbould orchestrates some eye-popping pyrotechnic sequences.

If only these stylistic elements had a more compelling narrative tying everything together; not only is Waltz's backstory kinda naff, the revelation that he is actually Blofeld is barely a bombshell at all. It's dropped into a really cliched scene where Waltz just monologues endlessly to Bond about what he plans to do, carrying next to no emotional importance whatsoever.

I did like that Spectre provided a sense of closure on Craig's series so far - it might not be his final film, but if he does choose to leave now then the conclusion couldn't have been more fitting. 

2nd - Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall is a movie that encapsulates the phrase 'lightning in a bottle'; at the ripe old age of 50, Bond finally broke the barrier by which all modern blockbusters are measured - the billion dollar mark at the box office.

Yep, riding a wave of positive buzz and British patriotism that followed the London Olympics (and a brief cameo alongside Queeny), Daniel Craig's third installment skyrocketed to a cool billion dollars worldwide, and successfully reinstated audience faith in the series after a shaky second entry in Quantum of Solace. With Adele in full-swing on the title song and plenty of throwbacks to the classic Connery era (the DB5 makes a return, Q, Moneypenny and a male M are reintroduced), this sleek entry helmed by Sam Mendes saw the story steer towards more personal territory as Bond faces off with Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), an ex-MI6 agent with a vendetta against M (Judi Dench).

The action careens from Turkey to China, London and Scotland, and Mendes frames everything with some expert camerawork; this is quite possibly the most beautiful Bond film put to screen, especially the sequences in Shanghai and Macau.

Bardem's villain contains elements of Heath Ledger's Joker and his opening monologue is a highlight; he's obviously having a whale of a time hamming it up opposite Craig, especially when he's fondling James' leg or snarling about M's past misdeeds. The plot is a little wayward at times and there are holes here and there, but for the most part this is a punchy film with memorable action - the opening scene is fantastic, as is the inquiry sequence in London. That being said, the finale is a little weak on a rewatch and does dip its toe into Home Alone silliness at times. Plus, Bérénice Marlohe is wasted somewhat as the tortured Bond girl Sévérine.

Click here to read my original review of Skyfall from 2012

1st - Casino Royale (2006)

It doesn't get much better than this. In my opinion, Casino Royale isn't just Craig's best Bond film, it may possibly be the best Bond film ever. That's a question that we can debate until the end of time of course, and there are no shortage of people older than myself who will barrack for the golden era of Connery.

Back after a four year hiatus with a new actor and a renewed focus, Casino Royale bursts out of the blocks with a gloomy black-and-white noir-infused prologue, a kick-ass rock anthem for an intro followed by an almost ten-minute parkour chase and shootout through the streets, slums and cranes of Madagascar. Right from the get-go, director Martin Campbell and the steely-eyed Craig have one thing on their minds; making you question everything you knew about James Bond.

After that we weave our way through the Caribbean and Florida before settling into a sublime section at the titular casino in Montenegro; here, Bond is partnered with the seductive, intelligent and witty Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and tasked with cleaning out an international banker for terrorism, Le Chiffere (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes game of Texas Hold'em. The action may slow, but the drama and thrills keep this sleek reboot ticking gently before the climactic hand is rounded off with Vesper beaten and kidnapped, Bond whipped in the manhood whilst tied naked to a wooden chair and the primary antagonist nonchalantly shot through the forehead. Like I said, this isn't your Grandma's James Bond.

Casino Royale has everything; the jokes still get me to this day (my favourite scene is Bond and Vesper exchanging barbs over dinner on the train), the action is beautifully framed and edited and the supporting cast (Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright) are spot on. Bond's arc from start to finish is paced to perfection and we're made to care so deeply about his blossoming relationship with Vesper, even when she isn't introduced until nearly an hour into the film. It's impeccable film-making and a watermark that Craig's tenure has yet to come close to replicating.

And now, over to you - what is your favourite Daniel Craig film as Bond? How would you rank the series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below!



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