Nowhere do you suspend reality more than at the movies. Nowhere more do you suspend reality at the movies than at a Bond movie. Born in around 1921 Commander James Bond, were it not for same reality suspension, would be fighting on top of trains, ducking the bridges the while, in his early 90s. What we love about the reinvented hero is his eternal middle age.
Bond films have always had boxes to tick and Sam Mendes' take on the theme puts all the boxes on show. There are chases, girls, pre-credit action sequences, meet-ups with villain, torture, stakes-raised, end-of-world threatened and day saved eventually.
Thing is he puts the boxes on show but doesn't tick them all. In the pre-credit action sequence Bond dies. OK he doesn't. You knew that. But he fails and falls and falls. Bond goes to a casino but doesn't gamble. He doesn't take on his arch-enemy at a chosen sport in which henchmen lengthen his odds. There is no exploding pen and the response to Q's supply of gadgets is 'It's not exactly Christmas is it?' A car to show off? Well no. He has to get the old Goldfinger Aston Martin out (and threaten M with the ejector seat). He drinks his martini but appears on the verge of alcoholism. The torture is psychological. Are you really gay Mr Bond?
Yes the other Bond films get a tick too. Jumps on the back of scary animals which eat one of their handlers? Of course. Gets it on with expendable girl. Why yes. Demonstrates his knowledge of technology to spot something the greatest geek in the world has missed. Absolutely.
What is interesting is Mendes' nod at other action films too. He likes us to know what he has watched in preparation.
Hero apparently dead under the water - Bourne ticked. Opposed by nemesis with hideous deformity which is blamed on the forces of law and order. Batman ticked. Revisiting the graves of his deceased parents one of whom has the second name Delacroix. Harry Potter ticked. Taking the villains back to home territory to fight them on familiar, technology-free ground. Yeah, Crocodile Dundee gets a tick.
It's a good film and would have been even if it wasn't a Bond film. It's more about acting than action this time. Those wanting their viewing to stumble from set-piece to set-piece will have had to pay attention. M is in the spotlight. Someone wants revenge. She is being compromised, hacked and, worst of all, grilled by a Select Committee although the Committee gets more interesting when guns are involved. This is a bad guy versus Bond film. No secret lairs full of gizmos and monorails. Cats aren't stroked (they haven't been for a long time) and Bond isn't left anywhere to die slowly and imaginatively. He doesn't do too well at the fitness tests after his injury and the psychiatrist gets the better of him at interview, although we don't find out the significance of how until later.
But. The plot is resolved, the end is satisfying and, perhaps unlike the way we felt at the end of Quantum of Solace, we look forward to more. Bond will be back, we are told over the final credits, reminding us that Arnie's franchise is over.
Mendes showed in American Beauty that he is the go-to guy to make a plastic bag blowing in the wind look attractive. His Bond cinematography is sensational from the moment at the beginning when an alienesque silhouette walks towards us, the light eventually revealing it is a man. Half of Daniel Craig's rugged face appears at the last minute. From the grey wash of a dusty chapel floor to the statuesque pose on a dragon boat the images are amazing. We'll forgive an early continuity weirdness where M doesn't appear to pick up her handbag but it mysteriously leaves the room too.
The pre-show adverts had a remarkable list of Bond tie-ins. You could even smell of 007 this Christmas. 'You never see Bond detergents or irons' said one of my companions.