Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bonds... five Bonds: a history lesson for 007 fans

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The buzz around Skyfall is that the 23rd official Bond movie is one of the best, which is gratifying for anyone with an affection for the franchise.

Let's face it, fellow Bond-o-philes: We've been through some rough times.

In the 50 years of Bond movies, the path of Ian Fleming's hero has not quite been akin to evolution's path of the shambling hairy ape to the upright homo sapiens. Bond's evolution thus far begins with the hirsute Sean Connery and ends with the waxed Daniel Craig.

The series actually has peaks on either end of its half-century timeline, with minor hills and deep valleys in between.

As we go back, let's acknowledge that everybody's favourite Bond movies tend to be influenced by one's first exposure to the series -- the only logical explanation for the fact a few still call the lamentable Roger Moore their favourite 007. For that reason, Bond fans get their say via a few select tweets from the #wfpbond Twitter board.

 

The Sean Connery Years

There can be no doubt that Dr. No launched the Bond franchise in 1962 in precisely the right style, establishing a go-to formula: Beautiful women, a megalomanic villain with an unusual physical attribute, exotic scenery.

Certainly, the casting of Sean Connery as Bond was fortuitous. The Scottish actor, a former truck driver, had lean good looks. He could command considerable charisma trading salacious repartee with Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny, yet he could suggest scary cold-bloodedness executing his would-be assassin with the first of a series of trademark kiss-off lines: "That's a Smith and Wesson and you've had your six."

The movie also boasted one of the most iconic Bond girls in Ursula Andress's bikini-clad Honey Ryder.

 

"Ursula Andress hands down is my favourite Bond girl. She's a stunner."

-- Chadd Cawson @ChaddCawson


But it is a movie of its time, too, with a disconcerting, casual racism. One winces when Bond orders his Jamaican helper Quarrel: "Fetch my shoes," or when he insults his Asian enemy (Joseph Wiseman): "Your disregard for human life means you must be working for the East."

Fortunately, it got better. In fact, Connery's next two Bond movies were among the very best of the series. From Russia With Love (1963), in particular, stands up as one of the tightest, most mature movies of the series: If anyone says Daniel Craig's bruising fight scenes in Casino Royale represented some kind of pinnacle in fight choreography, they haven't seen Connery and Robert Shaw engage in deadly battle aboard the Orient Express in the climax of this film.

Goldfinger (1963) took the series into overdrive with its relentless action and its strong cast of beautiful women and fiendish villains.

 

"My favourite Bond girl and villain are both from Goldfinger! Jill Masterson and Goldfinger himself. Awesome movie!"

-- DP @_DustinP

 

Thunderball (1965) was one of the most successful Bond films, and one of the most boring by contemporary standards. The ponderous underwater scenes slow things down considerably. (Connery's 1983 remake, Never Say Never Again, was, unfortunately equally tedious.)

Connery subsequently made a few more films of lesser quality. If Roger Moore is accused of turning Bond into a parody of himself, it was actually Connery who got things rolling with You Only Live Twice (1967) -- featuring Connery made up to look Japanese -- and Diamonds Are Forever (1971), a movie that proved even James Bond could lose his innate glamour in a city as tawdry as Las Vegas.

It's a pity Connery didn't hang in there to play the role in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). His replacement, George Lazenby, didn't bring Connery's charisma, but the film itself is excellent and finally offered up a Bond girl (Diana Rigg) Bond saw as marriage material.

 

The Roger Moore Years

Sorry. Not a fan. An affable enough screen presence, Moore removed any semblance of danger from 007.

Moore's first outing, Live and Let Die (1973), was only like Dr. No in its cringe-inducing racism. ("Names is for tombstones, baby," shouts the Harlem gangster Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto). "Take this honky out and waste him.")

Where Connery's second time at bat was arguably one of the best Bonds, Moore's second, The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), was certainly one of the worst. If Bond films are considered sexist, the fault largely lies with Moore's movies, with their smirking, adolescent sexuality. Bond to dimwit fellow agent Mary Goodnight (Britt Eklund) upon his impending seduction of another woman: "Don't worry, darling, your turn will come soon enough.")

The Moore years did cough up a couple of memorable villains, including Richard Kiel's shark-biting giant "Jaws" in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979).

 

"(Best villain) has to be Jaws. Indestructible monster who turns out to have a heart in the end. Also kickstarted metal teeth craze among rappers."

-- Lorne Kletke @LorneMB

 

But Moonraker, in particular, with its low-comedy references to the sci-fi movies of the era, is one of the most embarrassing Bond movies to watch today. Efforts to bring Bond back to basics in For Your Eyes Only (1981) didn't help, and by the time he made Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985), Moore, in his mid-to-late 50s, was clearly too old to play the role.

 

The Timothy Dalton Years

Dalton was actually approached to play Bond back in 1973, but he thought he was too young. In his two outings, The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989), Dalton brought a welcome return to the dark and dangerous Bond of the Connery years, but he simply didn't capture the imagination. The fact that Licence to Kill amped up the violence to unprecedented proportions seemed a step in the wrong direction.

 

The Pierce Brosnan Years

The Irish Brosnan offered up a compromise between the Moore and Connery Bonds. He had sufficient glamour and wit and sex appeal, and a bit of grit.

Most importantly, Brosnan actually updated Bond. Remember, it was GoldenEye (1995) that introduced Judi Dench as his first female boss, M, who memorably labelled 007 "a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War." And Brosnan's Bond actually gave us a pertinent villain in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) in the Rupert Murdock-esque media magnate Elliot Carver.

 

"Elliot Carver is my fav bond villain. Owned all the media, made his own headlines and manipulated world leaders."

-- Stevi Wood @erictheuseless

 

In his way, the Brosnan Bond actually introduced a few Bond girls who could match 007 for mayhem, including Famke Jannsen's fiendish death-dealing Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye, Michelle Yeoh's capable Chinese agent Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Halle Berry as NSA agent Jinx Johnson in Die Another Day (2002).

 

"Halle Berry was my favorite Bond girl. Not many people can pull off orange, let alone a orange bikini!"

-- nikki vdk @nikkivdk

 

The Daniel Craig Years

Casino Royale (2006) took pains to reboot the character of James Bond, a move that freed the agent of his past. The solidly built Daniel Craig actually looks like a dangerous man who doesn't need to be liked. But he, too, is capable at romantic repartee, which he demonstrates on a train ride with the insightful Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), and of course, he looks like he was born to the high-class gambling dens of Monte Carlo.

His second film, Quantum of Solace (2008), was unfortunately a bit of a mess, thanks to director Marc Forster's aspirations to high art.

But Craig got through it with his dignity intact -- setting the stage for Bond 23: Skyfall, which opens in Winnipeg Nov. 9

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 C1

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