Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Quick Look: The Brosnan Bonds

   After being absent from the screen for five years, James bond was set to return when the legal troubles surrounding the film franchise were finally resolved. In those five years, however, much had changed. Most pertinent to the plot of GOLDENEYE, the Soviets had finally been beaten and the Cold War was (more or less officially) declared over. (This was ridiculous, of course, since communism hadn't died, only Russia had been neutralized.) Also, entertainment media had embraced with all it's might the concept of political correctness -a condition antithetical to James Bond's very aesthetic. As result, agent 007 was now seen as a backwards relic and M was played by Dame Judi Dench. Still, our hero rises to the occasion when a former 00 agent goes rouge and plots world destruction. Brosnan made a good Bond, but due to the era in which he held the coveted License To Kill, he never really had a great script to work with. Still, the films got by on their entertainment value. I don't want to give you the impression that Brosnan's films were bad, they were just a product of their time. They tried to balance the traditional elements of series with an urgent sense of relevance, and the resulting films are, as a whole, rather so so. GOLDENEYE takes it's name from the Jamaican mansion where Ian Fleming lived, and the film is largely considered one of the better Bonds.

 So far, the only really disappointing Bond film has been TOMORROW NEVER DIES, in which 007 must contend with maniacal media mogul Elliot Carver and his plot to jump-start a war in order to secure exclusive media broadcast rights in Red China. Seriously. THAT's the plot. Yes, it's James Bond vs Ted Turner! Quite a far cry from such memorable heavies as Goldfinger, Blofeld, Scaramanga, Drax, Stromberg, etc. One wonders if the writers were even trying. What's more, Bond falls into bed with Carver's wife, an old flame of his. While 007 has never been a tower of morality, he usually stuck to something of a code that never previous involved affairs with married women (though, there is a line in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in which M includes "jealous husbands" among those who might've hired Scaramanga to kill Bond, so maybe this isn't as radical as it seems -granted M was making a joke). Bond teams with a female Chinese agent and uncovers Carver's stealth boat in an adventure which has it's moments despite the weakness of it's main plot. Part of the problem is that the pre-credit sequence is among the best in the whole series, making the uninspired film that follows all the worse by comparison. Again, Brosnan makes for a good 007 even when the scripts are working against him. His next assignment would be much better.

 THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH was the last Bond I saw in a theater. While it's no GOLDENEYE, I've always felt it one of Brosnan's better episodes. On par with one of the better Moore vehicles, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH tells of Bond's involvement with an heiress who has recently been the victim of a cruel kidnapping. Bond comes to trust her as he tries to help protect her pipeline across Europe, the legacy of her father, who in turn was very close to M. The kidnapper, meanwhile, is up to something involving radioactive cores from dismantled Soviet warheads. One of the best entries for both Brosnan and Dench, with a story that really opens up their characters beyond the normal play of things (it's with this entry that M's being a woman actually comes into the story, and the results are pretty strong). Also the last film of Desmond Llewelyn, Q from the very beginning of the series. If not his passing, his departure seems to've been planned, as Q tells Bond he's about to retire and exits in star fashion. John Cleese comes on board as Q's assistant/replacement. In the next film, he would graduate to the Quartermaster position. The title refers to the Bond family motto.

 The 20th EON James Bond adventure would also be the last for Pierce Brosnan. Sadly, the film is something of a mess with a few bright spots shining through. The plot concerns 007 trying to figure out what's being unfolded by a British philanthropist and adrenaline jockey, involving a large assortment of diamonds. DIE ANOTHER DAY is basically a remake of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, right down to the villain using plastic surgery, posing as a prominent citizen, and commanding a deathray mounted in a satellite and powered by diamonds. The twist is in the heavy being a rouge North Korean with a personal grudge against Bond. There are some good things to be found here. John Cleese has taken over the role of Q and he's perfect for the job. Unfortunately, this would be the only time we get to see him play it. Brosnan is on the top of his game, and the antagonism between Bond and his latest foe is handled very well. The film's featured swordfight between the two is one of the great highlights of the series. Of course, there's a lot wrong here, too, in addition to the film's plot being largely a rehash of Connery's last (official) mission. A major bit in the middle of the film was re-edited and the results are astoundingly sloppy! A character is seen entering frame before we cut away and then several minutes later the same character is just now addressing 007, apparently after taking seven minutes to walk three feet! The film's theme song is provided by Madonna, a good decade after she ceased to be relevant (which I only mention because the Bonds in times past made it a point to hire performers at the top of their game), and it's a dreary mess of a tune that twice had me worried that the disk was skipping! Somewhat more minor is a bit where 007 is being examined by a medical team and mention is made of a deteriorated liver. "It must be him" is heard, which sounds more like a gag you'd use for Matt Helm. It never fails to throw me for that very reason. DIE ANOTHER DAY carries on a Bond tradition of presenting even the most impoverished areas of the world as paradises, in this case the island of Cuba looks like it did before the revolution! (This may sound bizarre, but it's worth noting that India was also represented as a paradise in OCTOPUSSY, so it's just part of the 007 aesthetic.) Ultimately, the film is plagued with numerous issues in both script and technical matters. Still, it's a fun adventure and remains entertaining. So long, Pierce. You should've had one more assignment.

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