James Bond has been in love before. And this inversion of OHMSS is notionally brave; deciding to riff off arguably the most maligned movie In the franchise is definitely a decision.
But it’s not a decision that is fully realized. The film doesn’t do anything completely. It edges towards decisions, then backs off. It’s a bit of a mess, though less hateful than some other Craigs we might mention.
It has its moments, and it is different from your average Bond. But it’s also not especially different: Bond is still aping the period’s most popular cinema. So here Bond swings like a spider on a web, drives a bat mobile, and in the ultimate Marvel tribute, snuffs it at the end.
Bond is supposed to be changed in this film, too: that is supposed to be the most different thing about it. But this is all very tagged on. An emotion dump arrives in the final moment. His changing has not shaped the story. For most of the time he is still basically too busy slaughtering folk for us to notice any difference.
Killing in the name of love
I suppose the movie makers would argue that Bond kills, in the final third at least, in the name of love. But he doesn’t just kill; he mows down enemies like Master Chief slaying Covenant; like Neo slaughtering Agents. He summarily executes the bad guy – but hey, the baddie has stripped him of his ability to love so gloves off right?
Well no. Wrong. If the idea is to make Bond change, commit to it – and bump him off earlier, maybe two thirds of the way through. We could accommodate that by, I don’t know, introducing another 007.
Oh wait. We did that. Sort of. But the films never really decides to really do it. It prances around the character, not knowing what to do with her. It is flat-out bizarre the way Lashana Lynch is kept at arms length, her character outfoxed and ordered about by grisly old James.
Their sparring is wet. Her moment never comes: she is sent off in the boat at the end, to get the women and children to safety, to watch from afar while James does the noble sacrifice piece. This is a waste.
NTTD is probably a committee job. It is at least possible that the idea was to nix James halfway through, and the moment was whittled down, over and over, until the idea of Bond taking an early exit evaporated entirely.
But…that’s what should happen here, isn’t it? Why go to all this trouble and not follow through? Bond dying earlier in the film, because he refuses to blow another brain out in the name of Queen and country – that would be different. It might not work, but it would be different.
It would also, naturally, grant the necessary space to another 007 – a different person, with the opportunity to be every bit as dead eyed a charming moral vacuum as mr Connery was, but with a twist – and wrap up the final third with the appropriate bloody ruthlessness.
I mean, come on guys, Bond isn’t dead anyway. Only this generation is. Nobody expects you not to make another James Bond movie, just because you killed him. Death isn’t what it used to be. So why not roll the dice?
None of this would be that big a problem if the runtime flashed by. Actually, it doesn’t drag half so bad as previous efforts, and there is some decent action. There’s a nice forest bit, and the beginning was fun.
But there are those stretches where boredom sets in – Bond moving up a staircase machine-gunning faceless figures is a major snooze. Poor old Rami Malek has the thinnest of thin parts here, and is just awful. And those jarring anachronisms still crop up: apparently one of Global Britain’s destroyers is on hand to launch a missile strike just when it is needed. Our baddie lair is still an old soviet base.
Also, there is a sense that, for a franchise that is so obsessed with style, it is now incredibly unstylish. Nothing in a Craig film has the feel of proper cinema, except perhaps the casino in his first movie. Most of it has the visual flair and emotional weight of advertising.
In near every location what we see is filtered with the same homogenised fabulousness; so that the Norwegian fjords are a car advert; a Jamaican bar is a beer advert…
Well, Bonds are often too long, often remembered for nothing more than a few striking moments among all the dross: Moore hopping about on cable car rooftops, or cat-and-mousing in Pharaonic ruins; Connery fist fighting on the train or strapped to Goldfinger’s slab. Even Brosnan abseiling down a dam. In that respect, this is much like any other you care to mention, with its own memorable moments.
But, there is an argument, stronger now than ever, that Bond should in fact stay dead; or at least of his time. He belongs in the cold war, with the soviets. Give him period pieces or let him perish. The option of a genuinely new start for our weirdo age, has been blown…or at best, begun inauspiciously.