I can’t ever tell you if a film is good or bad. I just can’t. All I can do is tell you if I liked it or not, it’s for you to draw your own conclusions from there.
So, this won’t be a review of the new Bond movie. It will just be one of my typical Sunday morning short pieces. Except, this time, it’s about how I went to see a particular movie at the first opportunity so that it could be all mine rather than just an amalgam of what everybody else might say about it.
I only do this ‘Early Bird’ thing with the Bond movies and it’s a long-standing tradition. The first night of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was my first non-parent-accompanied evening show. Even back in the London/Timothy Dalton days, I would be into Leicester Square on the opening Friday evening. Making up my own mind before everybody else told me what to think. It’s always been a rare opportunity to catch something before everybody else does. The movies have always come out on this side of the world a week before America gets them so, just for once, we could be ahead of the game.
Enough, already. Tell us about your day at the movies, Ken. How did it go?
I sloped off work. Four O'clock on Thursday. I work for myself so it’s not quite a salacious as it might sound but it’s still a thing I never do. I hatched the plan on the Sunday before. I rarely do anything purely for myself. That makes me sound like a saint, which I’m patently fucking not, but I do tend to overlook myself sometimes in the rush of everyday life. Would I, could I, continue the tradition of seeing these silly old flicks the moment they came out? I could. I would.
The cinema was only letting fifty people in. That suited me just fine. I hadn’t been in over two years, and I didn’t need it to be a buzzing occasion. In fairness, it felt a bit like coming home, although I haven’t been the most faithful of attendees, even pre-pandemic. The audience was made up of a few couples with quite a few dad and son combos, which was nice. There were also a few solo males like me. To be expected. I bought a bag of Maltesers and, true to form, had most of them eaten before the iconic gun barrel sequence even rolled. Then we were off.
I can’t tell you if a film is good or bad. I just can’t.
But I can tell you that I really, really liked this one.
Do with that what you will. I have to be a little careful. Bond films, for me, are a lot like the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol. They both come on the scene all massive and boisterous but, as time ticks on, they deflate and come to seem more ordinary. This continues until they appear on ITV4 for the twentieth time, and you can’t bear to look at them again. This happened most notably with the most recent Spectre. Only 'From Russia with Love' has retained, and even improved on, its initial sheen. The others have faded like a festive season. But in their ‘Early Morning, Christmas Day’ mode, when everything is bright and shiny and new, man they can be really something. And, sitting there in Mayo Movie World in the dark, with the dregs of my sweetie bag in my lap, this new film was really something.
For me, Daniel Craig’s - and Purvis and Wade’s - crowning achievement has been to redefine the character as a man. Where other JBs might delight in late night gambling, clandestine affairs, and myriad assassination, Craig’s man has evolved in someone who tends to find his joy in people. From being a misogynistic clothes horse, JB has become a fella who talks just like we do (90% of the time) and who doesn’t suffer bloody fools gladly. If not a depth, there is at least a firm reality to him.
You might have got a sense by now that I’m not going to tell you much about the actual film, beyond that I liked it. You can get all that plot stuff elsewhere. Like I said, this is not a review. I will say roughly three things about it, none of which will spoil your film or your day.
Firstly, director Cary Joji Fukunaga and cinematographer Linus Sandgren have delivered a beautiful product. I had often thought how I’d like to see JB in action here in Ireland and the Skyfall finale, with its Scottish setting, came close to that. But the foggy Norwegian Woods section of the new film come closest of all. It is a beautiful thing. There is also what I would call a ‘Metal Gear Solid’ sequence in the film where JB has some bigwigs in his earpiece telling him how things stand while he ruthlessly picks his way through a ‘level’, dispatching villains hither and yon. For me, it is pure video game cinema and, as an antidote to all the caring and feeling that necessarily goes on elsewhere in the flick, it is very welcome.
Reservations? Well of course there are some. Elements sometimes feel shoehorned into the plot to satisfy respectful nods to earlier times. Like the poison garden from Fleming’s novel ‘You Only Live Twice’ or Dalton’s V8 Volante, which has a dust sheet whipped off it like it’s going to do something brilliant and then it doesn’t. Some characters have nothing to do and are just there because they were there before. One particular minor casting choice seems very strange indeed. Bad guy Malik is just okay, and Waltz is largely neutered.
But these are quibbles. For two hours and forty-five minutes, I became immersed in the show. And though it’s a fine movie (in my opinion only) nostalgia and relief certainly played their part in achieving that. After a long pandemic run, I was back in a cinema and Metal Gear Bond was kickstarting my normal life. In the end, what with one thing and another, was there even a hint of a little_
No! Big guys don’t do that. Nuh huh. Never.
I sat through the end titles, as I always try to, even though the lights might be up, and the clean-up folk mobilising. Hans Zimmer delivered his ‘BRAAMS’ moment after we heard a golden oldie favourite all shined up. And then those old familiar final words on the screen ‘James Bond will Return’.
Of course, he will. When I was a kid, this end message would always give me a buzz. This time, not so much. It is a compliment to the film that I actually considered that there could perhaps be no more. That everything that could be done, had been done. We’ll see what happens, I guess.
Finally, as Daniel Craig finishes his tenure, I’ll give him the best kudos I can. As a lifetime fan of the series, everything allowed, he has, in my opinion only, been the best of all James Bonds.
You just can’t say more than that.