Friday, November 7, 2008

The name is Bond, Grim Bond

In the new James Bond flick, the super-spy really rations out the smiles. In fact, if this is the way the venerable action franchise is heading, we won't be allowing Sonny a viewing for a while yet.

With Sonny at the infant care centre, Mum and Pa caught Quantum of Solace today after magically squeezing out a few hours of quality time together. There's been a lot of ink split on how it departs from previous 007 instalments: The famous Goldsmith theme music isn't played in full during the entire 105-minute running time, we don't hear either the 'My name is Bond, James Bond' or the 'Shaken, not stirred' catchphrases and there's no appearance by 'Q', the technical wizard of the Secret Service.

There's plenty of action, explosions, gunplay and deaths, though none of it is particularly inventive and the editing is so frenetic you can hardly make out what is going on. But what we also miss out on is Bond being suave or even just breaking into a smile. There was a time when Bond was at least 50 per cent about turning on the charm on the ladies (and staying debonair even in the face of death), and only 50 per cent about the actual derring-do. In these grimmer times - and it's a broader trend in filmdom to be more 'gritty' - Daniel Craig's 007 plods dutifully through the mayhem, so that it can seem he's depending on the carefully-nurtured Bond brand to convince us that he can be slick and a true lady's man when the occasion warrants it.

Of course, the occasion always used to warrant it in earlier incarnations of Bond, from the original Sean Connery version through Roger Moore's to Pierce Brosnan's (with the less said about the Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby detours the better). To be fair, the plot this time round supplies a reason for our secret agent's dourness: He's still mourning the death of Vesper Lynn, the love interest from the previous movie, and thirsting for revenge. In fact, hardly anyone introduced in this movie survives to the credits, a rate of death that - half way through - gets Bond into serious trouble as his boss M (Judi Dench, who does make it, though not unscathed) begins to think he's gone bloodthirstily rogue.

Anyway, as we started off by saying, there was always a certain innocence about Bond that made the series, despite the body count and violence, relatively safe viewing for children. A lot of that came down to the way 007 himself could always be counted to belt out his standard cliches, manage a smile and unload one-liners with aplomb. The new Bond strips away this protective layer of savoir faire, making the world of the international superspy a much grimmer world.

Which may be much closer to the truth - but it's a lot-less kid-friendly.