by Ashley Morrison.
James Bond is as much a part of my DNA (or life history) as Wimbledon, walks on Hampstead Heath on Sunday afternoon, and Mars bars. So it pains me a little bit to be mildly disappointed with the new Bond film. Don't worry, this isn't a film review; but my brother and I both agreed when we saw Skyfall independently that Bond seemed to have gone a bit off-brand.
One of the attractions of the early Bond films was that we knew it was pure fantasy: Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun having what was tantamount to a death ray stored inside a massive rock on his own island in Thailand; that boy-dream Lotus Esprit which magically turned into a submarine if 007 was unlucky enough to fly off the road into the sea - which he inevitably did; even the Union Jack parachute which opens when Bond skis off the edge of a mountain before the opening credits of The Spy Who Loved Me (I mean, seriously, why on earth put that in if only for the camp entertainment value?) But now it's all a bit, well - real.
There was a time when James Bond was thought to be the very best 'brand' in the spy genre. But then cue the identically-initialed Jason Bourne. Here was a man who was every bit as highly trained, ingenious and macho as 007 - but without the massive chip on his shoulder, a darn sight more compassion, and some quite believable and inventive resourcefulness. He didn't have one gadget in his armoury; he drove Minis and even taxis in high-speed chases, not Aston Martins; and he wasn't a bit of whiner, which is how Bond came across in Skyfall.
In an effort to match Jason Bourne, perhaps, James Bond has now become much more gritty and real. Originally, I thought that was a good thing. Out of the three Daniel Craig films, Casino Royale remains the best - and that was part of the reason why I liked it so much. A change was needed, and overdue. But now I'm doing a slight about-face. Watching the old Bond films, I like the fact that 007 can be in a massive scrap and emerge without so much as a graze on him. I certainly don't want to see Bond slicing into his own shoulder with a knife to remove a bullet. Yuk.
The funniest scenes often used to feature Q showing Bond the latest unbelievable gadgets. Admittedly, with the ridiculous disappearing car in Die Another Day, the franchise maybe needed a bit of a reality hit. Yes, of course the gadgets are all part of the fun, but when the audience groans in annoyance rather than laughs, that's a pretty clear sign that the gadgetry has been taken too far (or not far enough, in this case). Back in August, I actually wrote a blog about the top ten most ridiculous Bond gadgets - those which made me laugh but in a good way. But the gadgetry in Skyfall just annoyed me to the point of eye rolling, partly because it was so basic and, occasionally, stupid.
For instance, why on earth wouldn't Q give Bond a homing device buried somewhere in his watch, instead of a separate radio transmitter the size of a mini padlock which he would have to remember to put in his trouser pocket and which, during a struggle, might well fall out? What if he was frisked before he landed on Silva's island, which he obviously should have been and would have been. Isn't that kind of spy-entering-enemy-lair protocol? I go through more rigorous checks than that at Luton Airport to board an easyJet flight!
If you're going to have stupid gadgets, I'd say at least make them funny. As I said, back in the day, some of the best tongue-in-cheek scenes were all about Q showing Bond the latest gadgets to help him along his merry, murderous way - however impractical and improbable. I still chuckle every time I see the razor-spiked umbrella which clamps down on the head of its holder when it gets wet, prompting Bond to quip, "Stinging in the rain?"
It was as if director Sam Mendes was trying to give the brand-loving audience a throwback to the early days of briefcases with flick-knives buried in the base but therefore completely ignoring any change in technology in the last 50 years. Q asks Bond, "What did you expect? An exploding pen? We don't really go in for that sort of thing anymore." Fair enough, but let's try and make Bond's weaponry slightly more advanced than something which looks like it might be available at Carphone Warehouse.
My other quibble is the inclusion of Bond brands for the sake of it. I don't mean Sony and their Vaio laptops and smartphones; I mean the arbitrary inclusion of the iconic Aston Martin DB5 to please the die-hard fans and to give a clear nod towards the 50th anniversary of James Bond. If you want to flee somewhere and drive all the way to Scotland overnight, perhaps something looking more like an Addison Ford taxi might fit the bill rather better? M herself even jokes that their changing cars to an even more conspicuous car is a rather bad idea - and that was before she staggered out of it the next morning, no doubt with hideous backache.
I suppose to summarise, my problem with the Bond franchise is that it doesn't really know which way it's going anymore. They haven't achieved the stripped-down version of grittiness and resourcefulness as well as the Bourne Trilogy did; and on the flipside, it's just not really fun anymore.
I wonder how much of this is down to Daniel Craig admitting that he doesn't like being Bond: he originally turned down the part when asked to play it by producer Barbara Broccoli, he walked out of his screen test (but was still offered the part) and he's been trying to leave ever since Casino Royale. Unfortunately (for him?) I believe he's signed a deal to play in the next two Bond films.
I hope the Bond franchise does get back on brand in the next film - and I hope it isn't another four-year wait until we find out if it does. My suggestion? Get Christopher Nolan to direct the next one.
Ashley Morrison is a blogger, copywriter and editor.