Review: “No time to die” and the future of James Bond.

Farewell, Commander Craig.

*SPOILER ALERT: YOU KNOW THE DRILL. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN “NO TIME TO DIE” STOP READING NOW!

OK? Right, we’ll continue.

I really enjoyed “No time to die”, despite some things that annoyed me. But first, the positives:

  1. This is Craig’s best performance as Bond. He comes across as a human being, and the realization that he is a father affects him. It’s also the movie where Bond has actual friends who genuinely care about him. When he and Moneypenny turn up at Q’s house, their comfort with each other (and Q casually outing himself to the audience) has a hint of Scooby Doo to it. Even M’s response on hearing they’ve been secretly working with Bond “Oh for fuck’s sake!” is more “I knew it!” than anger.
  2. There’s genuine humour in the movie of the non-clunky variety. I can’t help thinking Phoebe Waller-Bridge played a role in that. In particular the “I have something to show you.” “Is it another child?”
  3. The nods to previous movies were beautifully done. The portrait of Judy Dench evoked an “aww!” in the cinema I was in. Lesser noticed, but equally relevant, was the portrait of Robert Brown who had played M in the 1980s. The use of music from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a nice touch, as well as speeding on a road in homage to the final tragic scene in OHMSS (where Blofeld murders Bond’s wife Tracy). Portentous, as we all realize later. One other thing: the scene when Bond kills Felix Leiter’s murderer Ash by crushing him with a car harks back to a scene in Roger Moore’s 007 days in “For your eyes only” where he cold bloodily kills an assassin by kicking his precariously balanced car off a cliff.
  4. Lashana Lynch does a solid job as the new 007, even getting the prized Use The Movie Title In The Movie scene, but the real and unexpected breakout star is Ana de Armas as Paloma, Bond’s CIA contact in Cuba, who deftly mixes dizzy almost goofball comedy (“I did three weeks training!”) with superb action scenes. The producers should use both characters again.
  5. The scenery and the stunts are superb. I personally find car chases quite boring but the ones in this are genuinely thrilling, especially the one with a bike Bond steals and pretty much drives up a wall. I almost puked.

As for the negatives:

  1. The Billie Eilish song did nothing for me. Overall, whilst I really liked Adele’s “Skyfall”, my favourite Craig song remains the late Chris Cornell’s brassy “You know my name”.
  2. Rami Malek is a fabulous actor, but his character is just a McGuffin here. Even the bio superweapon is under-utilised as to what it could do. How or why he’s doing what he’s doing is very much of the “Will that do?” variety. I was always waiting for him to look into the camera. Also, his character is given that awful thing that appears in many modern thrillers of having these long ponderous scenes where he just talks meaningless psychobabble to make the character seem deep? The film to too long, and you could edit a lot of this out without ruining anything plot-wise.

And finally, we have to address the Octopussy in the room…

There were people crying in the cinema at Bond dying, and even I got something in my eye at that exact moment. The audience was in shock, keeping waiting for him to return, to pop out of the water, to do a Sherlock and peer from behind a tree, but he didn’t. He’s dead, and the closing scene of Madeleine driving and telling her daughter about her father to Louis Armstrong’s “we have all the time in the world” left rubbing my eyes. A beautiful ending.

There’s a lovely option here for the next Comic Relief of M welcoming Bond to Heaven with a “For fuck’s sake Bond. It’s all drama with you. We could have put you in a space suit and used an electromagnetic pulse to kill the nanobots.” And Felix having a Martini ready for him…

And the future for 007? You can’t just ignore that ending and reset at the next movie, ignoring Bond’s death. It’s true that “No time to die” is mostly set five years after “Spectre”, so there is a window to set a film there, although it would be a bit weird having a different Bond chronologically (although not for the first time). Alternatively, the producers could either reboot back to the 1960s with a new actor. Check out the French OSS-117 comedies starring Jean Dujardin to see what that could look like. Or go for the old fan theory favourite and have M decide that Britain needs a James Bond (as a sort of one-man Trident deterrent) and so recruits a replacement to literally take his place. It’s not as preposterous an idea as it seems, in fact, it was sort of the plot of the 1967 comedy Bond “Casino Royale”. Personally, I think it is an interesting idea. Especially if “James Bond” is essentially a distraction to allow other agents work in the background.

Of course, then you’re into the plot for….eh…”Remington Steele”…

The politics of “Captain America: Civil War”

captain-america-civil-warSpoiler alert: I’m assuming if you are reading this you have seen the movie. If not, don’t read any further as I’m talking about key plot points.

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The two most recent “Captain America” movies have been the most political of the Marvel Universe movies, with both “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” having, at their heart, a question about the political accountability of self-appointed groups of do-gooders with extraordinary power.

In “Civil War”, a division emerges between the superheroes over a proposed UN treaty which puts them under the control of an international oversight body.

Unlike many superhero movies, the question isn’t black and white. The treaty comes about as a result of rising casualty rates amongst civilians caused by The Avengers group fighting various bad guys. As a plot, it’s very close to the key plot of “Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of justice” but exercised much more interestingly. Both Tony Stark (in favour of oversight) and Steve Rogers (against) make valid points in the debate.

But what’s interesting is the politics at the core of the disagreement. Stark believes (rightly, I think) that a group with such immense power must operate with public consent, and so must be accountable and even open to restraint. Rogers, guided by his own sense of morality, believes that a group of individuals with such talents as theirs should not let themselves be restrained by politics.

Interestingly, he spits out the word, and that tells us something about the at-times curiously elitist views held by Rogers, that if he believes something is right, that’s good enough, and that no government, even one elected by the people, has a right to overrule his right to intervene. It’s a fascinating insight into our modern society that such a view is portrayed in a movie as a reasonable side to a case, and not what it really is: the argument of a fascist superman. In short, if someone believes themselves to be emotionally right, as Rogers does, then that’s OK.

As it happens, Stark displays incredible hypocrisy when he discovers that Bucky Buchanan, under Hydra mind control, murdered his parents, and anoints himself the right to murder Buchanan (technically innocent)under a straight and simple desire for emotional revenge, but in doing so makes his own original point that their powers have to be held in check.

Politics aside, it’s a great entertaining movie. The fight scenes are excellent, it’s chock full of cameos and it has plenty of humour. DC take note.

The Empire vs. the Federation: a comparison.

death star 2Watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and also seeing the new Star Trek trailer got me thinking recently about how society is ordered in both systems. Admittedly, the Empire existed when humans were still in dwelling in caves, and so a like-for-like comparison isn’t quite fair, but as models go they’re worth comparing.

Which works better? Depends on the question.

Economic Freedom: there’s no comparison. The Empire is a free trade Caveat Emptor kind of place, with huge discrepancies between rich and poor. Slavery is tolerated. On the negative side, private property rights don’t seem to be respected by the state as much as just tolerated. Imperial stormtroopers can burn down your farm without as much as a “by your leave.”Star Trek Enterprise Ship 1701 2

The Federation, on the other hand, is almost the opposite, in that it is in effect a Communist society where possibly all property is owned by the state. Having said that, civil rights seem to apply to a home and individual once it has been allocated. Slavery is banned in the Federation, as is discrimination based on many criteria. Many of them. The Federation seems to have more laws than the Empire has stormtroopers.

The Political System: both systems seem to devolve a lot of non-military power to local decision making, however it is chosen locally. There is a tendency in the Federation towards only permitting members to join that govern with the broad consent of their people and involves detailed negotiation and examination of a candidate. The Empire, on the other hand, just annexes planets. Think British Empire. vs EU.

The Empire is a dictatorship. The Federation Council is chosen by member states, with the Federation President being a low profile bureaucrat. Russia vs EU. Neither hold galactic elections. Only one has a leader who personally murders people.

Civil liberties: There are pretty much none in the Empire, whereas the Federation has probably the most civil liberties in any galaxy. The Empire executes people. The Federation does have the death penalty, but very rarely uses it. Instead, prisoners tend to be exiled to New Zealand. That’ll learn ’em. Finally, Imperial forces seem to be limited to humanoids and clones, whereas Starfleet is multicultural. It might explain why stormtroopers are such dreadful shots.

Military power: Although the Imperial fleet is much bigger than Starfleet, the Federation’s ships are technologically more advanced, with both cloaking (unofficially) and transport technology. Most Imperial weapons seem to be crude energy blasters, whereas Federation weapons are targeted and sustained beams. Both sides boast a superweapon. The Empire has a Death Star, the Federation the Genesis Device. The Death Star has superior range, whereas the Genesis Device would have to be delivered from orbit by a cloaked ship. Having said that the GD leaves the planet intact and devoid of life, ready to be reseeded with plant life. It is the neutron bomb of the galaxy.

The Empire has far superior ground forces, with the Federation having a very limited Military Assault Command capability. It also has better psychics who can actually do stuff aside from sense that people are stressful.

So, of the two systems, where would one choose to live? It’s a simple enough choice. If you are a swashbuckling scofflaw with a belief that you can make your own way and outrun any other ship (and do, maybe, the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, say) then the Empire is for you.

If, on the other hand, you want order, dignity, and enough money to live a nice middle-class life but no more, the Federation is the one. You can become very rich in the Empire, but also have it taken off you at a whim by the starving underclass or the shady Ayatollah who runs it. And they’ll either freeze your ass off or feed you to some sort of giant sand sphincter with teeth.

In the Federation you can work your way up through the fleet by meritocracy, or sit on your ass writing light operas. Whatever floats your boat. You won’t go hungry, and neither bounty hunters nor the military will bother you.

Unless the Empire decide they quite fancy owning the Federation, of course.

The Chinese Communist Party Vs. The Decepticons.

SURE, MEGATRON MAY THINK HE'S TOUGH, BUT HE'S YET TO MEET THE PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE!

SURE, MEGATRON MAY THINK HE’S TOUGH, BUT HE’S YET TO MEET THE PEOPLE’S COMMITTEE!

Spoiler alert: I recently went to see Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and wanted to write about a political aspect of it. In order to do that, I need to write about the plot, so if you don’t want to have that spoiled for you, stop reading NOW….

Still there? Grand. What I found really interesting about this overly long movie (honestly, it could have lost 45 mins easily. And Michael Bay knows that there are other women rather than just 18 year old not very bright long legged girls in ridiculously tight shorts, right?) was the effect the rise of China is having on movie making and plotlines. In it, the US government is portrayed as corrupt, in hock to big business, and incompetent.

But when the baddies attack Hong Kong, it’s a whole different ball game. A Hong Kong official declares (bizarrely, in English. All the other Chinese characters speak Mandarin) that “we must contact the central government for help!” Cut to the handsome, square jawed Chinese defence minister (a million miles from the snivelling White House chief of staff), surrounded by People’s Army generals, jutting out his jaw and announcing that “Hong Kong will be defended at all costs!”.

Seriously. I mean, I know we want to sell movies in China, but this is the way it’s going to be? The Central Committee are actually going to just have this stuff dropped into it? Really?