Die Another Day

Daniel Craig on the set of Casino RoyaleIsaac Chotiner has a review in The New Republic of Sinclair McKay's The Man With the Golden Touch How the Bond Films Conquered the World, a history of the James Bond movies from Dr. No (1962) to Quantum of Solace (2008). Chotiner is a longtime Bond fan although not to the extent of McKay, and many of his observations about the series are spot on. If you do watch closely, Connery does seem ill at ease in Dr. No; his performance is erratic, but his animal magnetism is so strong hardly anyone has noticed. And Roger Moore's The Spy Who Love Me is indeed one of the "amazingly assured" entries in the series. I also share Chotiner and McKay's distaste for Pierce Brosnan's approach to the role: his performances are too self-conscious for my liking, although Goldeneye offers considerable entertainment.

Where I principally depart from Chotiner is in his savaging of Quantum of Solace, a flawed film to be sure and a step back from the brilliant reinvention of the series that rebooted with Casino Royale. Quantum's plot is a mess, and Olga Kurylenko (for all her beauty) can't quite fill Eva Green's Gucci heels. But I have watched the film four times now—maybe five—and it has improved with each viewing. Marc Foster's unconventional direction and Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson's staccato editing was initially disparaged as a failed attempt to mimic the quick cuts and nervous handycam effects of the Bourne series. But Quantum of Silence speaks a different dialect from the Bourne Ultimatum—compare the use of music in both films, especially during the action scenes—and the effect is to dramatize the disorientation of Bond himself as he sets out on his quest for revenge.

Chotiner concludes with a sweeping assertion:

Even if this history shows the canniness of the filmmakers’ commercial instincts, the movies themselves—especially of late—live in an unchanging male fantasyland and are completely without artistic merit. A true Bond fan must ruefully concede as much. My greatest fear used to be that the series would end, but now that thought is oddly appealing.

I won't argue that Bond has always appeared to contemporary men's (and not a few women's) fantasies, but to proclaim that From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, or Casino Royale are without artistic merit is bullshit. No less an eminence than Roger Ebert put Royale on his list of 2008's best films.

And I am baffled what masterpieces Chotiner expects to see produced when James Bond rides off into the sunset in his Aston Martin. Would he prefer a steady diet of The Expendables, Salt, and Knight and Day? For my part I'd prefer the Bollinger and beluga caviar, thank you very much.