Friday, 18 September 2015

007 Pierce Brosnan: The Bond Is Not Enough

Announcement: This is my 100th Post! Thanks for reading, whether you started with my first ever post about why I never want to see Superman supersweat or with this very post. Hopefully, I'll write 100 more. I hadn't planned anything for my 100th article but this installment of my James Bond series is rather fitting since...

Pierce Brosnan was my James Bond. Other people might have Connery or grown up with Roger Moore, while others still have Timothy Dalton from the late 1980s. I never got into Daniel Craig's Bond since his first Bond film came just as I was entering that age when I thought I was too cool for a film series like Bond.

But Brosnan was my Bond. His Bond movies were the Bond movies that I grew up with and can remember watching in the cinema as a child. When I thought of James Bond, I thought of Brosnan.
However, in recent years, Brosnan's tenure as James Bond has gotten a bad rep with his films often criticised as being some of the lesser Bond films and compared unfavourably to Connery, Moore, or even to his successor, Craig. Not as suave or assertive as Connery, as fun and camp as Moore, nor as dark and serious as Craig, Brosnan's Bond is stuck in the middle, caught adrift in that limbo between gritty drama and silly camp, pleasing neither side.

"I'm just deciding whether I'm supposed to be lighthearted or dramatic in this scene, give me a moment."

But it is precisely because Brosnan's Bond encapsulates both the lighter and darker aspects of the series that makes his Bond the definitive James Bond. Connery might have been first, Moore might have been Bond the longest, and Craig may have redefined the character (which we'll discuss next week), but Brosnan's Bond straddled the strange contradictions of the character like no other.

This doesn't mean that Brosnan was the best Bond or that his Bond was perfect, far from it. His Bond films and his performances in them are flawed in some way or another, his later two films more than his first two but we'll get to that. However, Brosnan's James Bond embodied everything that Bond was and is, from the high action and thrilling adventure to the camp ridiculousness and everything in between.

The only Bond partially shaken and then slightly stirred.

This sentiment is shared by Den of Geek's Max Williams in his retrospective review of Brosnan's first outing as Bond, GoldenEye. The first Bond film after a six year hiatus since Dalton's Licence To Kill in 1989, GoldenEye introduced Brosnan as James Bond and reinvigorated the franchise for the 1990s.

Williams notes that in recent years following the critical appreciation of Craig's performance of Bond, Brosnan's own run as Bond has often been dismissed or heavily critiqued for being too slick or lightweight in comparison. Even Brosnan himself has been rather harsh on his Bond performances, stating that he was "was kind of caught somewhere in between the Roger Moore and the Sean Connery of it all".

"Oh god, if anyone makes a 'Stuck in the Middle with Q' joke, that's it, I'm done."

However, that assessment is negative when it should be celebratory. While the shift in gears between Moore and Connery became increasingly jarring, particularly the glorious disaster that is Die Another Day, Brosnan was a good Bond. As Williams states in a direct address to Brosnan,
No offence, Pierce, but hush. You were quite clearly the best Bond since Connery... You had the look, the wit, the killer touch. At your best you could combine the lightness of Moore with the grit of Dalton; the cold heart of Connery hidden beneath Lazenby’s boyish charm. Just because scowls and muscle are currently in vogue doesn’t mean your legacy - certainly as an actor - should be subsequently trashed. Even by you.
And that's precisely the problem. His Bond was such an amalgamation of the different traits of Bond exhibited by previous iterations and performances of the character that Brosnan's take on the iconic spy never stuck out the way his predecessors and successor have.

"Wait, I thought you were celebrating my run as Bond? Did you mention I have a tank?"

Like that kid in class who was good at everything but not great at anything in particular, Brosnan's Bond suffers from the same problem. There's nothing wholly distinctive about him which noticeably differentiates him from the other actors who have taken on the role, leaving him feeling a little bland in contrast.

But that is also his great strength and why he is the definitive Bond. Some may turn to Connery since he is the classic Bond. Or to Craig since he reinvented the character for the 21st century. Or possibly to Moore simply because of his long tenure and the identifiable stamp on the franchise.

But the truth is that there is only one 007 which encapsulates all that is Bond in one package. One man who you can point to if you want show who James Bond is to someone who's never seen a Bond film before and that man is Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan.

"Well, that's nice of you to say so."

And it all starts with 1995's GoldenEye. Now I must admit that while I grew up with his Bond films, this is the one I probably remember the least. I was only around six years old when it came out and I guess it didn't catch my imagination or memory the way his later ones did since I was older.

But rewatching it now, I'm struck by a number of things. Firstly Brosnan seems to just slip into the role of Bond with only the occasional wooden moment in a couple of scenes. Debonair and cool, equipped with a one-liner for every occasion but still vulnerable, his Bond does seem more emotional than Connery's charisma dripping secret agent, not that that's a bad thing.

This is also the introduction of Judi Dench as M, who was my M. And she is fantastic. Simple as that. I also really like Samantha Bond as Miss MoneyPenny. Her flirtatiously charged exchanges and sexual innuendos with Brosnan are great and have a real bounce since the two actors have real chemistry.

James Bond: What would I ever do without you?
Miss Moneypenny: As far as I can remember, James, you've never had me.
Actual dialogue.

What's interesting about this film is that it was the first Bond film in six years and it does acknowledge the fact that the concept of Bond as a character and type of movie may seem outdated to the modern movie going audience. And by acknowledge it, I mean the movie mentions it but doesn't actually address it in any meaningful way.

In her first ever scene in a Bond film, Judi Dench's M gives this biting critique straight to Bond's face,
I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.
Aaaand the movie does nothing to dispute that critique. Brosnan's Bond is a womanising man-whore, whose particular brand of spying does seem to come from another time. But that's part of the appeal since it does have a classic feel to it, updated for the 1990s.

"Wait, aren't you supposed to extinct?"

Another thing is that despite some stunning action sequences, one of the best Bond girl in Natalya Simonova, and a solid script, the film didn't really grab me for some reason. I dunno, but it just didn't do much from me, although I could appreciate it was a good film.

However, I loved Tomorrow Never Dies. I recognise that a lot of that is due to nostalgia. Tomorrow Never Dies is the first Bond film that I can remember watching and I had a lot of fun rewatching it. It did get some criticism for being a bit formulaic, which is a fair critique but I would argue that is one of the film's strengths. It gives you everything you could want in a Bond film.

If Brosnan's Bond is the embodies all the disparate elements in one packaged, then Tomorrow Never Dies is the epitome of Brosnan's run of Bond films for the same reason, having all the elements that other films would have in more or less measure (even the ridiculousness of Die Another Day).

He's driving his car in the back seat with a touch pad on his phone.
I'm just gonna let that sink in.

And that's what is great about it. The juxtaposition of the dramatic moments with the fantastical, the occasionally goofy dialogue and tense exchanges, the amazingly fun camp performance of Jonathan Pryce (who really goes for it here) contrasted with the serious performances of Brosnan and Dench.

It's got everything, including this bit of dialogue I have always remember because of the 'clever' use of the word pump,
M: Your job is to find out whether Carver or someone in his organization sent that ship off course, and why. Use your relationship with Mrs. Carver, if necessary.
James Bond: I doubt if she'll remember me.
M: Remind her. Then pump her for information.
Moneypenny: You'll just have to decide how much pumping is needed, James.
James Bond: If only that were true of you and I, Moneypenny.
Even as a kid I thought that was a bit on the genitalia...

"Truly, terrible double entendres are the worst evil we have had to face in this series."  

Also, it is worth mentioning that Pryce's villain, Ellott Carver, has an evil plan for 'world domination' of media which is completely doomed, even if Bond did nothing to stop him. All it needs is about five years and the rise of the internet. His big plan is to manipulate world events to create news stories for television, radio, and newspapers...

All media which are struggling in the age of the internet, particularly in regards to news. Aside from the whole trying start World War III, his plan seems almost quaint in retrospect completely unaware of the changes that would occur in a short five years or so.

Despite that, it's a rather neat villain plan all things considered. Diabolical, ambitious, and more than a little bit dumb. It's pretty much all you need from a villain's evil plan in a Bond movie. But just watch Pryce's performance in this scene. It is just glorious how deliciously evil he is.

He is obviously having the time of his life playing this character. Every line is delivered with such relish. It makes a stark contrast to the villains in The World Is Not Enough, Brosnan's next outing as James Bond. But before I get to that, I have to address something. The next two films are rough for a shared reason. And that is both have two of the worst, if not the worst, Bond girls ever, Denise Richards' Christmas Jones and Halle Berry's Jinx.

I'll discuss Berry in a bit but Denise Richards is so bad in this movie that she almost ruins the film. Especially since the rest of the actors are so good, putting in some great performances, that it just highlights how flat she is. Brosnan turns in what is probably his best Bond, Dench is fantastic in the first film to give M more to do than give Bond his mission or berate him. But it is the villains who really steal the show.

This guy steal something? Never.
[Note: The following paragraphs contains major spoilers, which are choking hazard. Ages 3 and up.]

Robert Carlyle's Renard is a great villain but in a far more unstated and subtle way than Pryce's exuberantly evil Carver. There's a nuance to his performance and the character of Renard which you don't often find in Bond movies. He is a man with some hurt who ironically can't feel anything due to the bullet pushing its way to his cerebral cortex destroying his senses.

And this nuance comes from his relationship with Sophie Marceau's Elektra King. The film tries a double blind with Elektra, who starts off as a standard damsel to be protected, then it is hinted she might be a bad guy, then it's suggested that maybe possibly she's not a bad guy after all, until it's revealed that "oh no dude, she was totally a bad guy all along".

Elektra was kidnapped by Renard as a child but her father didn't pay the ransom because MI6 doesn't negotiate with terrorists, so Elektra seduced Renard and mutilated herself in order for her father to pay the ransom and free her. And Renard is in love with her but he can't be intimate with her since he can't feel anything. But she also seemed to play Bond against Renard and visa versa, kinda using them both.

All so she could get Bond in her sex neck death chair. 

I particularly remember the moment when Elektra removed her earring to reveal her self-mutilated ear and bringing two thoughts to mind. It's a great reveal with a memorable image but how did James Bond not notice that when Both Marceau and Carlyle are fantastic. But this is the Brosnan film that suffers the most from the jarring juxtaposition from the gravitas of the more dramatic scenes and the ridiculousness of the camp moments.

This really feels like it needed to be a serious Bond film but has too many scenes of silliness and Christmas Jones for it to ever be taken seriously. Which is a shame since it really is a waste of the great characters and backstory developed for the film.

And so we come to Die Another Day...

"Oh god, another vodka martini. Shaken, stirred, I don't care, just get it in me."

I really don't want to talk too much about this film since it is really bad. But let's start with Madonna's title song. It's not good. But it starts well and gets you interested with the string strokes and scorpion percussion but loses it immediately once Madonna begins singing.

Not that there's anything wrong with Madonna's singing but it has been so heavily autotuned for apparently no reason and just ruins any goodwill towards the song. Plus it's the most passively laconic of Bond songs. He will die another day. Since I guess he couldn't get round to it today but it is on his list of things to do.

But the song is a perfect microcosm of the film as a whole. I rather like the more serious opening (discounting the stealth surfing into North Korea of course because why would they stealth surf? Why?). This torture scene and bitter more cynical Bond seems to be in the grittier territory where Craig would eventually take the character. And by all accounts, it seems that's what Brosnan wanted to do with Bond but was never allowed to.

"Eh, whatever. I was the only Bond to have a Jesus beard and look like George Harrison."

Before I go any further, can I mention that I really like the title sequence for Die Another Day? It is probably my favourite Bond title sequence that I've seen so far. There's something about the dancing fire and ice ladies, the intercuts with the torture scenes and crappy CGI scorpions that just hits all the right notes.

And it all goes downhill. Not immediately but very quickly. And it doesn't even feel like Brosnan's first three Bonds which had a similar visual aesthetic with a focus on mainly practical effects and only the occasional CGI, recurring supporting characters, and a more muted colour palette. They were made with two years between each film where Die Another Day was delayed to coincide with the 40th Anniversary, so maybe that accounts for the difference.

And I'm really torn since I can't decide who is the worst Bond girl, Denise Richard's Christmas Jones or Halle Berry's Jinx. I might have to go with Jinx since she has far more screen time and just is terrible. Jones is terrible in the comparison to the strong characters around her but even in the horribleness of Die Another Day, Berry's Jinx manages to stick out. That's an impressive feat.

Berry's awkwardness in these promotional stills speak volumes for how bad her character is in the film proper.
By the way, I'm so glad I found these. She looks like she's never held a knife before in the left picture.

The only thing I can say about the film is that the few moments where it plays it more serious really work. I love the opening, the torture scene, Bond escaping the hospital, getting the key from MI6 and meeting M in the abandon train station where expired agents go to.

Oh, and I have to mention that Rosamund Pike's Miranda Frost is probably the only other good thing in the film. She is great, the only character who seems to have some dimension and is superbly acted by Pike. But any time the film goes fantastical it gets real stupid real quick.

It really shouldn't have been the send off for Pierce Brosnan. He deserved better. He was a good Bond let down by poor scripts, poor directorial choices, an inconsistent tone, and producers who couldn't decide on a vision for the series at the time.

But he will always remain my Bond. The definite Bond.

Stay tuned for the final installment in my series of James Bond articles as I watch Daniel Craig's take on the character for the first time and see what to make of this blonde Bond.


Pierce Brosnan Wikipedia page

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) 007 Wikia page


Pierce Brosnan as James Bond - Reel Film Reviews

Why Pierce Brosnan Was Never Totally Comfortable Playing James Bond - CinemaBlend

Pierce Brosnan on How It All Began—and How Bond Ended - GQ

The name's Bland, not Bond: why Pierce Brosnan is right about his 007 - The Guardian

James Bonding #012: GoldenEye with Craig Rowin

James Bonding #011: Tomorrow Never Dies with Jordan Morris

James Bonding #010: The World Is Not Enough with Derek Miller and Jeremy Smith

James Bonding #008: Die Another Day with Ben Blacker and Ben Acker

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