Mikeology Part 1 – To Hergest Ridge, You Should Come

Mike Oldfield is an odd duck, even more so as the years roll on. His first and best-known album, Tubular Bells, seems to be lodged in any serious record collection, somewhere between Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Dark Side of the Moon. Adding to the mythology of Tubular Bells is its role as the seed of Richard Branson’s Virgin juggernaut. For my part, well, I’ve pretty much caned most of his output to death (we don’t talk about “Don Alfonso”), and still find his music fascinating to a, frankly, embarrassing degree, so I have a bit to say here, not all of which will be entirely objective. I present one fan’s exploration of the oeuvre of Michael Gordon Oldfield – guitar genius, unrepentant chain smoker and accomplished aeromodellist.

Mike’s own origins line-up with the classic guitar-god blueprint of a reclusive teenager who becomes obsessed with the guitar as a means of escape, mastering the craft in folk clubs before blowing off school and hitting the road as a gigging musician in various bands and even back-up in the musical HAIR. Most notable in this early stage was his involvement in Kevin Ayers’ post-Soft Machine output, particularly on the albums Shooting At The Moon and Whatevershebringswesing – I thoroughly recommend those albums in their own right and while it’s definitely Kevin’s show, for an insight into Mike’s early style, check the appropriately manic “Lunatic’s Lament” (from Shooting) and the more lyrical “Whatevershebringswesing”. And let’s not forget the classic “May I?”.

Mike’s 2007 autobiography Changeling covers this era quite comprehensively. At this time, Mike struck up a friendship with another member of Ayers’ band, David Bedford, himself an established composer, who encouraged Mike in his own endeavours. For Ayers’ part, he loaned a tape recorder which Mike hacked to record on four tracks, creating a certain demo which he would soon pitch to labels with little success. Eventually, he was doing session work at The Manor, recently bought by Branson and converted to a residential studio. He talked a driver into rushing him back to London to fetch the demo and got to play it to the engineers who seemed very interested, but at that point Virgin Records were just a chain of record shops and still in the process of setting up the label to put out their own music.

A year later, Mike was still gigging around, when he got a call. He met Branson at his houseboat with Simon Draper, who essentially ran the day-to-day of the musical operations, and they agreed to a deal – a shockingly bad one from Mike’s perspective. The weird project would be the label’s inaugural release. Mike was given the downtime at The Manor to record his thing. There are a few myths about the recording, such as the thousands of overdubs, or that it was all done by computers (that would come later).

As for the titular bells, they actually had a lot of trouble getting decent levels for the recording and ended up hitting the bells with a mallet – practically destroying them, which can’t have pleased the instrument hire company – as Mike wrote in Changeling, he’s been shown many sets of bells and none have the dents from the ones used. While Mike and engineers Simon Heyworth and Tom Newman (who would often co-produce with Mike in the future) employed a lot of studio trickery to achieve particular effects and sounds, multitracking was still in its infancy and the mixing desk was fully manual, so it was literally all hands on deck for the final mix.

As an aside, Faust were recording Faust IV there as well, and there’s a little bit in the booklet from The Wümme Years (mucho recommended, by the way, go buy it) where the band’s manager, Uwe Nettlebeck, is extraordinarily salty about this arrangement.

“Awful guy. He (Branson) knew how to cut his chunk out of other people’s flesh. Between three and five in the morning, the sure spare time we left to his disposition, he let Mike Oldfield have the studio to make Tubular Bells – and sailed off with it and its profits. Must have been, on the different end of it, a once in a lifetime deal for both of them. I still wonder why the Great Lord did not call him in when he was so near on all those balloon flights” – Uwe Nettlebeck, Faust – The Wümme Years 1970-73 booklet

Another resident of The Manor at that time was Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Mike convinced him to introduce the instruments at the conclusion to Side One – “plus, Tubular Bells!” – and when  they’d all gone and gotten properly drunk late into the night, Mike and Tom decided to stroll around the mansion playing “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” as Vivian surveyed the accommodations. (Perhaps that’s why Faust’s manager was so grumpy.) Initially this version was deemed too weird to go on the final product, replaced by a version without Viv’s commentary, but it later appeared on the Boxed set a few years later, as well as on the 2009 reissues.

With the album in the can, after some headscratching from the company about the title (Breakfast In Bed?) and the marketing angle and wondering if there should be intelligible vocals on it (Mike’s caveman bit didn’t seem like a hit), in May 1973, they decided to just release it. John Peel would play the whole thing on his BBC Radio show, giving it hipsters the thumbs-up to torment their university dorms with it (had to give Larks’ Tongues a rest sometime, eh?), so it did well from the start, but apparently it was a bit of a slow burner that relied mostly on word-of-mouth.

For his part, Mike was not at all keen to go out and promote it. Eventually Branson cajoled him to do one show at the Albert Hall with the bribe of a broken-down Bentley, with a very heavy line-up (Mick Taylor! Steve Hillage! Fred Frith!) that was later reprised for television – look for “Tubular Bells Second House” on the youtubes. The US rights were licensed to Atlantic, who managed to license the opening motif for The Exorcist on the basis of a white-label audition (“I want some unsettlingly repetitive piano and organ music! Yeah, that’ll do!”), which broke the album somewhat into the American consciousness – or at least the tinkly piano bit.

Part of the reason that it seemed like a hard sell was that nothing of this nature had really been produced in a rock context; although progressive rock had been a thing for several years it was still more or less song-based underneath all its pretensions. Oldfield, however, knew his Sibelius and Satie, and as mentioned, he started out playing folk before moving onto rock – so he was at home with all these styles. At this point, though, Oldfield more or less stopped listening to other people’s music which explains a lot.

So that’s the mythical origin story, but what do I think about the actual music?

My personal opinion is that while Tubular Bells is an landmark album in 1973, a year full of great albums, and a massive achievement from a literal teenager – Mike turned 20 a week before the album’s release – and maybe this is part of the reason he keeps revisiting it himself with diminishing returns.  I love a lot of those recording quirks – one of the reasons why I was so interested in the process of its creation. And there’s subtle things that reveal itself with each listen. Thing is, well, I’ve probably listened to it too much. And the rehashes don’t help. And, besides it wasn’t long before he’d bettered Tubular Bells. If I was to make a list of my favourite Mike albums, it would probably rank about 6th or 7th – there’s a lot more to him than that one ubiquitous bent exhaust pipe album from the horror movie.

In particular, I have far more affection for his next couple of albums.

Hergest Ridge is the epitome a difficult second album. But it’s really, really good. As I said, I’m pretty much played out on Tubular Bells, but its follow-up is a different matter for me. After the first album became a success there was of course a lot of pressure on Mike to come up with the sequel. Well, he wasn’t having any of that – he was not at all interested in touring or doing publicity (with the result that Richard Branson commissioned an orchestral version of Tubular Bells to take out on the road, but which wasn’t particularly good) so instead Mike decamped to some hut on the Welsh border to ponder his next move.

It’s a typical story – you’ve delivered your stunning debut album, but creatively, there’s nothing left in the tank, and you’re dealing with some heavy family shit, you’re not in the mood to do chores for the record company, besides they haven’t paid you a cent yet, and all that anxiety only complicates things. Yet, you persist.

The result, Hergest Ridge, is a simpler album, and, yes, pastoral for the most part except for “Thunderstorm” on Part Two. There are fewer distinct themes than on Tubular Bells but they’re good ones, given the time to develop and mutate. Very textural, too. The particularly haunting nasally vocals are employed for effect, not narrative, by Sally Oldfield and Clodagh Simonds, and brass and strings are employed effectively. I believe Hergest Ridge is timeless  but I think it’s Part Two that I’m most fond of – the “Spanish Tune” section followed by “Thunderstorm” which breaks into that final reprise that ends on a paranoid note.

There was trouble on the horizon – Hergest Ridge actually beat its predecessor to the Number One spot on the charts, but already a sort of backlash was in train – for some people the album was more of the same, and they didn’t want more of that; for others, they were after Tubular Bells II  (they’d be waiting a while) and this wasn’t that either. Another cause may have been the oil crisis which meant the initial pressing was on lighter vinyl – not conducive to a recording with Hergest Ridge‘s dynamics and subtleties.

There have been three mixes – the original, which Mike was unsatisfied by, probably for the reasons I mentioned; A quad mix was supplanted the Boxed which was carried over used for the initial CD release, and then the 2010 mix for the re-issue – Mike did a slight edit which tightens up proceedings, and the mix is a bit clearer, but the essence remains. The deluxe edition of the re-issue also includes a full demo of the album recorded in Mike’s cottage before finishing it up back at The Manor, and makes the original mix available on CD for the first time.

Around about this time Mike contributed to “Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road” on his friend Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, bringing the same paranoiac guitar tone to the mixed. Mike also played on the live album June 1, 1974 with Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Eno and Nico.

Mike would never be anywhere near this fashionable again, although his music continues to pop up in the weirdest places – but he had gathered enough fans that it wouldn’t really matter. Even so, Mike took this criticism to heart and vowed to answer positively. He’d figured out a few thing from Hergest Ridge, which he would apply to good effect. The next album was even recorded twice, as the first batch of tape kept deteriorating – but this effective dry run seemed to give Mike a good chance to figure out what worked for the the final recording. Enter Ommadawn.

This might sound like hyperbole, but I personally regard Ommadawn‘s first half as one of the most perfect pieces of music ever recorded. Yes, really. But this does seem to be a question of taste – I’ve suggested it to a number of people, some of whom have loved it, some of which decided it’s just some wanky overwrought bullshit. Poor them.

The introduction is made – an intricately crafted yet accessible tune that has you at “hello” – before it is joined in counterpoint by another, and the two motifs intertwine with each other over the course of the next twenty-odd minutes – over tin whistles, over pianos, over bass guitar, over a brass band, over the Solina string ensemble synthesiser, over near-nonsensical Gaelic chanting by Sally and Clodagh who were joined by Bridget St John – “I’m the fool, and I’m laughing”. Wine is spilt, vases fall to their doom, clothes are doffed, cats shooed from the bedroom, neighbours disturbed. Like every good romance, there’s ups, and there’s downs, leading to a hell of a lot of tension as the heartbeat starts racing and the cup runneth over, while the Jabula drummers pound the beat into the distance.

Side Two had a hard act to follow. And it doesn’t try to, instead it goes on a more experimental turn – first we get a massive drone of guitars sounding like organs – this time the legend of the thousands of overdubs was accurate – that segues into Mike on acoustic guitar bouncing off The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney on the Uillean pipes, before we’re briefly called back to the manic tumescence of Side A. And then we get a goofy novelty tune about riding on horseback, complete with kids chorus. Which sounds corny as hell, and it is, but the presentation is such that he gets away with it. Where Hergest Ridge ended in paranoia, Ommadawn roils along in hot blood, even finishing with a happy ending. Two, even.

As Mike hoped, Ommadawn restored his critical fortunes, and still sold pretty well, which was fortunate for Virgin because all the other weird experimental bands they had signed (as interesting as some of them were) weren’t doing shit in the charts.

“On Horseback” brings up another aspect of the Oldfield canon, the crap novelty song – he’d do these long expansive works, but then he’d also knock out these weird little tunes, often released as Christmas singles. Some of them were based on traditional songs, others pastiches of them. And often they had video clips to go with them – most strikingly “Portsmouth” with the hanky dance, which often popped up as filler on ABC TV in the afternoons along with Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and of course Roger Glover’s absolutely terrifying Butterfly Ball video with Ronnie James Dio as a singing frog.

In 1976, the first three albums were remixed for quad and bundled up with a fourth LP, Collaborations (recently re-issued on vinyl in its own right) and presented as Boxed – the first of many compilations. The folk tunes, “Argiers”, “In Dulce Jubilo” and “Portsmouth” recorded with local recorder player Leslie Penning, were accompanied by a suite of works with David Bedford. Most essential of these is “First Excursion”, which encapsulates the 70s Oldfield guitar sound – this also pops up on the 2010 Ommadawn re-issue. Not quite as essential, however, is Mike and David bludgeoning “Speak Tho’ You Only Say Farewell” into red splat with a blunt shovel and rolled into a shallow grave next to “Froggy Went A-Courting'” and “Don Alfonso”. (Seriously, don’t.)

By the end of 1976, Mike Oldfield had released three strong albums to critical acclaim and popular success and effectively defined his own genre. As he prepared to record his fourth grand work, the future seemed bright. What could possibly go wrong?

The Top Ten 007 Films – A Subjective Opinion

And now, the listicle.

Having watched pretty much* the whole damn canon of Bond in film, of course there’s gotta be a list made. Thing is, it seems to be fairly predictable, but in the end it wasn’t too hard a list to make, save for maybe tenth spot, which I decided should go to Dr. No just for kicking off the whole shebang. Which means Sean Connery gets three appearances (for the first three films), Moore and Craig two each, and the other three making up the numbers with one each. I get the feeling that this is fairly close to the consensus, although I haven’t really checked.

*Casino Royale (1967) excepted

That isn’t through some lazy tokenism considering Lazenby and Dalton; the films I picked deserved it because I genuinely enjoyed those films. My surprise to myself was that Brosnan only gets the one mention, but after GoldenEye I was hard pressed to let any of his following three in, at least on this pass. Having said that, I think I found something to like about all the films, bar perhaps Diamonds Are Forever where I was just getting sick of Connery’s Bond, and apparently so was Sean. (Ironically, I enjoyed Never Say Never Again as a diversion, even though the plot dies in the arse just like Thunderball did.)

And of course, as the title says, this is an opinion. I haven’t even bothered checking my own grades from the recaps, as the goalposts have inevitably moved. Likewise, if I had to write the list from scratch I might change the order, or swap films in or out of the shortlist.

1. Casino Royale

Daniel Craig’s introduction into the role is hard as nails – keeping in line with the dark gritty reboot – but with rights to the first Fleming novel back in the fold, why not go carte blanche? When we see Bond return, he’s practically a junkyard dog, and cunning. After we’re properly introduced, the plot sets in as he is sent to try and bankrupt Le Chiffre in a card tournament, with Vesper Lynd providing the cash. At this point the tourney might’ve killed the pace stone-dead, but instead it’s punctuated with thrills of the cerebral and visceral varieties. And, yep, the ending.

2. From Russia With Love

The second 007 film steps things up with a proper spycraft plot, the first (partial) appearance of Blofeld and a glimpse into the inner workings of SPECTRE (basically they’re a bunch of psychopaths). The gypsy bit is problematic, at least until the mass fight scene kicks off when it’s all good find, but the whole film barrels along marvellously, enabled by a colourful cast of characters and perilous situations.

3. The Spy Who Loved Me

However you feel about his extended run in the role, for mine The Spy Who Loved Me is the definitive Roger Moore 007 flick – kicking the series into top gear excellently paced with some iconic set-pieces, starting from the classic parachute opening. A truly scary henchman in Jaws (before he kind of goes soft), a strong sidekick who at times outspies Bond, the second most iconic Bond car in the Lotus Esprit, and a script tailored for Moore’s characterisation.

4. GoldenEye

Pierce Brosnan’s long-awaited arrival delivers, retooling the character for the post-Cold War world. I think that perhaps his later films got a little too overblown, but the first one breaks the hiatus in fine style. Sean Bean is pretty gnarly as the turncoat 00-agent, the action scenes ratchet things up a notch above anything seen before, and the introduction of Judi Dench and Robbie Coltrane mean Brosnan doesn’t have to be sole providor of the film’s charisma.

5. Skyfall

This might well possibly the most stylish of the lot, with each sequence having its own vivid look, and the substance is pretty solid as well, as Bond struggles against an adversary smarter than himself, who has it in for M. Javier Bardem’s Silva could well be the scariest Bond villain. Of course Q and Moneypenny return, reimagined and perhaps shaking off some of the baggage that the latter character had in the classic run. It’s maybe not quite the most spectacular action-wise, and when it happens, it takes on quite a unique tone for the series, the last act seems much like a Western, set in the North.

6. Goldfinger

Connery’s third film is probably when the camp starts creeping into the series, but at this point, all of that is within tolerable limits. Auric Goldfinger gets some of the best villian lines (even if they were dubbed), Oddjob is arguably the first iconic henchman, and Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore marks the first Strong Female Character With A Problematic Name. US settings outside Miami don’t really work well for Bond, but the depiction of Fort Knox as a cathedral of gold makes up for it.

7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

George Lazenby has copped a fair bit of flak over the years, but every time I watch this, his performance grows on me. It’s also a pivotal film in terms of actually how Bond manages to get himself married – however briefly. Diana Rigg is feisty yet adorbs as the ill-fated Tracy, and Telly Savalas brings what might be the most rounded portrayal of Blofeld. Accompanied by Barry’s distinctive OHMSS theme, the alpine scenes establish a particular iconic trope that will be returned to again and again, usually to good effect.

8. The Living Daylights

The first of Timothy Dalton’s brace of 007 films the better – perhaps it’s not a world away from what Moore was doing, but a considerably younger Bond was able to do more of the action and thusly make it more believable. Dalton manages to be both harder and softer, bringing emotional complexity and a sense of moral ambiguity back to the character. Maybe things got a little toooo hard-boiled next time around, but this one thumps along, and the last mass fight really does bring back some of the organised confusion Terence Young brought to the likes of FRWL.

9. Moonraker

Arguably, this still has the most ludicrous premise of all 007 films – despite the best efforts of Die Another Day, and yet… it’s as well paced as its predecessor, with arguably a better lead villian in Drax (goatee helps with that) and still thoroughly entertaining. The main issue is maybe the plot echoes its predecessor too well, even with the post-Star Wars “lets do a space film” thing. Also, Jaws sells out, but he does it for love and to spite the master race, so it’s all good.

10. Dr. No

Largely making my list as it is the first film, and being successful enough to lay the foundation for all the others could follow. Although somewhat of a risk at the time, these days the budget seems miniscule compared to Spectre and it shows. The pacing is a little ponderous, really only taking off in the last act when Bond finally turns up at No’s island. But it’s still eminently watchable thanks largely to Sean Connery and his interactions with Julius No, as well as Syd Cane and Ken Adam’s design becoming the state-of-the-art.

Let’s be clear, too, I’ve left out films that have had some of my favourite villains (Scaramanga, Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld), or songs, or henchmen, or Bond girls. Are there any stinkers? Well, they’re all fairly entertaining to some degree, but there are some that didn’t shine so brightly. The worst? Well, I had 2 or 3 in mind, and I really have trouble splitting them. Let’s just say, the last films tend to be a problem, although Craig broke that pattern because he’d done Quantum of Solace and at least Spectre was better than that.

The Best Bond

The Best Bond? Nah, I’m not playing that game, I’m going to sit on the fence and say I like them all for various reasons. Wait, I did say it was Daniel Craig in the last wrap, didn’t I? Yeah, he’s my current favourite. Taciturn. A gut fighter. Not stupid.

Connery is the classic. You start with him, he made the role come alive on the screen, still hard-edged but maybe tones down the bitterness in Fleming’s character, while keeping the outrageous wish fulfilment (and misogyny), which after all, is what these stupid movies are all about.

George Lazenby is the oddball, no doubt, but like I said, OHMSS is legit – action, suspense, romance, and most shockingly, character development – and he’s an integral part of it. On the excellent doco Everything or Nothing which comes on the bonus disc of the enormobox I got, Lazenby sits down and tells his whole story; how he bluffed his way into the gig, and then how he threw it all away. Hilarious, but kind of sad.

Roger Moore’s 007 was more a lover than a fighter, and looking back at his films, you totally get the absolute self-awareness Moore had about the role. While Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun are a little off the pace (hell, Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga is the only reason to watch Golden Gun – well, OK, Nick Nack was cool too) Moore at least looks energetic in those. And then he does The Spy Who Loved Me. BAM. Around about the time of For Your Eyes Only he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, and he knows it, but finding a replacement is hard.

I like Timothy Dalton’s more phlegmatic style which drew more from the source, I would’ve liked to see him take a couple more films but after License To Kill – yeah, that might still be the weirdest of the films (although tough competition with Die Another Day.) and probably did dampen the mojo a bit. Pierce Brosnan, also very good – not quite as angry, though a little more clinical, but also not afraid of the one-liners. But what I think happened is that the movies became more a series of events than stories.

To plant the splinters further into my bum, I’ll say my favourite Bond is the one I’m watching at the time. It’ll be a hard act to follow, but the beauty of the role is, whoever has taken it on has had to nail some general criteria, but they didn’t follow. Whoever takes on the role makes it their own. That’s what I’ll expect from whoever is next.


What’s also important is the material they have to work with – there are a lot of names that come up; firstly the producers, starting with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzmann, with the legacy passed on to Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. We go onto the directors, names like Terence Young, Lewis Gilbert, John Glen, Martin Campbell, Sam Mendes. The scriptwriters, starting with Richard Maibaum through to the Purvis/Wade and Haggis combination of more recent films. The designers, starting with Ken Adam and Syd Cain, establishing a style that endures, given a timely tweak or two. I’m a bit of a fiend for the soundtracks, although there have been a few duds, and later films have shown you don’t necessarily have to flog the Monty Norman riff (probably written by the great John Barry) to make it sound Bond. The stunts and special effects, of course, very important, some of the things Chris Corbould and his crew have pulled off in recent films has been nuts – the car tumble in Casino Royale, the tank chase in GoldenEye, the explosion in Spectre big enough to make Michael Bay wince.

And, hey, they only have to make a few more films to catch up with Carry On.


Since this is a pretty recent release and it’s quite possible you haven’t seen it, of course a spoiler alert is required, as I am dropping some heavy ones. Here, let me hit a few dozen carriage returns…























The Opening

Bond enjoys a bit of me (and her) time at the Day of the Dead in Mexico City all dressed up for the part, at first he just seems to be chilling out with a lady friend, but it turns out to be a working holiday as he foils the plans of some guys plotting to blow up a stadium, by, err, instead blowing up the building where the plotters are plotting their plot.

The head of the plot, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), tries to escapes by helicopter but Bond joins the flight and they punch it out while the helicopter buzzes around like a drunk wasp – much to the consternation of everyone in the Zocalo below. Eventually Bond wins the bout, forcing Sciarra to disembark in mid-air, but snatching his ring before he does. The ring has a natty octopus design, which seems to be significant.

The Titles

Daniel Kleinman presents a curious depiction of man-woman-octopus love, in a similar style the titles for Skyfall. Sets the appropriate mood for the following action.

The Trail

As it turns out, Bond wasn’t really supposed to be triapsing around the world causing trouble, so Mallory, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) grounds him, not even a nudge-nudge-wink-wink do-what-you-have-to-do. M has another problem, though, with some git called C who has a rival agency, the Joint Intelligence Service, which is all mad keen to get Nine Eyes, a global surveillance co-operative incorporating even the bright minds of ASIS.

Bond, meanwhile, lets Q jab him with “smart blood” (groan) which apparently lets MI6 track Bond wherever he goes. Q also shows off the new Aston Martin (natch) that was supposed to be Bond’s but has been reassigned to 009. Bond fills in Moneypenny on what’s going on; the old M (Judi Dench) left a message to Bond suggesting that he should bump off Sciacca and then attend his funeral just to see who turns up, hence he asks Q to take him off the grid.

The Henchman

After attending the funeral in Rome, he seduces Sciarra’s widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), who tells him about “Spectre”. He turns up to their lodge meeting using Sciarra’s ring as a pass. It’s a spooky organisation with a spooky boardroom table surrounded by lots of spooky people, including Mr Hinx – Dave Bautista, who is perfect as a henchman. Mr Hinx takes up Sciarra’s place as head enforcer; when asked for his credentials for the role, Mr Hinx provides a convincing practical demonstration.

The chairman of the board, however, is arguably creepier, and after listening to another member’s spiel about, I dunno, taking complete control of global espionage through subverting government outsource tendering processes, Bond recognises him as Franz Oberhauser. Furthermore, Oberhauser spots Bond at the meeting and addresses him by name, and effectively sicks Mr Hinx onto him.

Bond buzzes around Rome in his hot Aston Martin pursued by Hinx in his hot Jaguar. Bond despairs that the car has already been reconfigured for 009 who apparently prefers Sam Smith to Radiohead, but there’s enough toys left to be able to ward off Mr Hinx for the time being.

Old Friends

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Moneypenny has been doing her research, and leads Bond to old mate Mr White (Jesper Christensen), the so-called Pale King who is holed up in a lodge in Austria. Mr White, too was a ranking member of Spectre (basically Quantum was a subsidiary) but has gotten hacked off with the hierarchy and their expansion plans into sex trafficking. Consequently, they responded by poisoning Mr White with thallium, so he’s on his last legs by the time Bond comes to visit. Mr White reveals he has a daughter, and asks Bond to find and protect her – she will also lead him to “L’Americaine” which will bring Bond closer to bringing Spectre undone.

Having made his last request and one last dramatic statement for Bond, Mr White puts himself out of his misery.

The Squeeze

Bond rocks up at the clinic where White’s daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), works as a psychologist. When Bond reveals his true agenda, Swann understandably wants little to do with her father’s business and orders Bond out.

Bond grudgingly props up the bar, where to his disdain he finds they don’t serve martinis. Q turns up as well, somewhat peeved but providing Bond with more assistance, Bond lending Q the Spectre ring to do some homework on it. At this time Hinx and his goons turn up and abduct Swann, so Bond appropriates a plane from somewhere and after a chase through the Austrian Alps, rescues Swann from their clutches, meeting up again with Q.

Q has found out that, surprise, surprise, all of Bond’s prior enemies were also aligned to Spectre, even the weird little guy from Quantum of Solace, so effectively Bond was battling Spectre all the time before the McClory dispute was resolved.

“L’Americaine” as it turns out, is a hotel in Tangier where Mr White used to take annual holidays, often with Madeleine, with his regular suite having a little hidey-hole where he kept his spy stuff. The evidence left there points to a base in the midst of the desert, where presumably Spectre have their operations.

While Bond and Swann make their way there by train, Mr Hinx pops up again – cue another classic fight-on-a-train sequence (see From Russia From Love, Live And Let Die) before Hinx gets succumbs to the ol’ rope-a-dope. Being all het up, Bond and Swann finally decide to release the tensions.

The Mastermind

Eventually Bond and Swann make it to the Spectre base, situated in a meteorite crater in the Moroccan interior. Oberhauser greets them and reveals his latest sekrit plan, which is to fund the Joint Intelligence Service while causing all sorts of shit around the place to justify its need. Once Nine Eyes is enacted, Spectre will basically be omniscient, thanks due in part to C in London.

Hell, they already know a lot already, such as how Mr White died, as Oberhauser merrily plays back the grim footage for Swann’s information. And then he conks Bond out.

Fluffy White Cat!

When Bond comes to, he finds himself tied to a chair in a white room where Oberhauser recounts their connection. Basically, when Bond’s parents died, he was placed in the care of Oberhauser’s father, who taught Bond many of the skills. Franz was none too pleased about that, so he staged his own death and killed his father. Yep! They’re virtually brothers! What the christ.

Then Oberhauser reinvented himself as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, started Spectre, and enjoys the life of a magnificent basterd. Also, he has a fluffy white cat. After needling Bond for a bit, Bond manages to loosen himself, having Swann toss his Q watch at Blofeld where it blows up in his face.

Bond and Swann make their escape from the base, which seemingly has pretty lax standards for the storage of explosive materials, and the whole damn lot explodes. I do hope the cat survived.

The End Ellipsis Question Mark

Anyway, after those stunning revelations, what’s left of MI6 – Bond, M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner – try to stop Nine Eyes from starting up, eventually storming into C’s compound. Bond gets separated and ends up at the old Vauxhall Cross building, which is primed for demolition after the events of Skyfall, and goes through a gallery of the dead, where he runs into Blofeld, bearing a distinctive scar after escaping that almighty explosion.

Blofeld taunts Bond, saying he’s tied up Swann somewhere in the building, and giving him the choice of trying to save her or escaping the impending demolition. Across the river, the crew (well, really it was Q) have managed to stop Nine Eyes from booting up, and then M (who gets a great line here) and C have a scuffle before C falls to his death. A little fable on the hazards of outsourcing vital government functions to rentseeking corporations.

Faced with this dilemma, Bond is, like, “why not both?” – successfully rescuing Swann and then making off after Blofeld who is fleeing by chopper. Bond manages to shot straight enough to conk the chopper’s engine out, and eventually catches up with Blofeld, but looks over at Swann, and lets M arrest Blofeld instead. Like, Bond actually leaves the job, not just for a couple of weeks for his usual busman’s holiday, but for good – settling for that quieter life. His last act in the service is to visit Q to pick up his restored DB5, which he drives off into the sunset with Swann.

The Arc

Basically, in the context of the long history of Bond films, this full stop is extraordinary. Up until Casino Royale, 007 films have been basically self-contained, with only a few nods to a possible continuous thread. You could watch any particular one and, while you can expect a number of tropes to pop up, they have a beginning and an end, knowing James Bond Will Return for another adventure. Although while there is a definite pattern, it does get messed around enough to avoid slavish repetition, although it has to be said that quite a few of those films rhyme. A lot.

That changed with Casino Royale – it ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger, which was resolved up to a point in Quantum of Solace. Skyfall was more or less self-contained, but then you come to this last film in the arc, where the old enemy Spectre pops up, retconning as its tentacles the Quantum organisation as well as Diego Silva – whom, for all we knew was just a lone wolf, like Auric Goldfinger (who probably wasn’t, either).

OK, personally, I thought some of the plot twists were a little too neat – and particularly with the revised backstory to re-imagine Blofeld as someone Bond knew for a very long time, which does dissipate the mystique of Ernst Stavro a bit. But did it ruin my childhood? Nope. My childhood basically owed more to Moore, anyway, where Blofeld only shows up once, allegedly.

On the whole though, I did enjoy this, maybe not quite to the degree of Casino Royale and Skyfall, but was still quite satisfied by it. But there is one major twist, that makes me reflect on why 007 was still on the frontline in his late 50s when he could’ve been taken the nice payout to blow and let someone younger battle a crazed Christopher Walken.

In this timeline, James does get a decent retirement. He doesn’t have the love of his life shot out of his arms on their wedding day (but whether he and Madeleine make it long term, who knows?). He doesn’t win the Order of Lenin, he doesn’t see his best mate get his leg chewed off by a shark, he doesn’t ski off the edge of a precipice to be saved by his Union Jack parachute (he had to wait for the London Olympics to do that sort of thing), he doesn’t battle a giant with metal teeth several times before convincing him to play nice; he doesn’t seduce voodoo psychics, collaborate with the Taliban, drive an invisible car, kill Sean Bean, or even defuse a nuclear bomb dressed as a clown.

The Legacy

There’s little doubt James Bond Will Return, but it’ll be yet another timeline. I think Daniel Craig might well be my favourite Bond now (OK, my taste may be dubious considering my previous favourite was Tim Dalton), but with this arc more or less complete, it’d be kind of sad if he came back, pressed back into service. Reportedly Craig has refused a redonkulous amount of money to return, and I have a lot of respect for that. This has been a pretty good self-contained saga of four films (even if QoS let the side down a little) ascribing a beginning, middle and end for this version of Bond, finally fleshing him out as someone who gives a shit even when he’s been trained not to do so.

It’s fun to try and imagine the earlier films as being other events that have been crammed in between the events of 21 to 24, or perhaps to bring up the Time Lord theory I brought up earlier, but it makes more sense just to let those timelines, and let the next actor established their history, just like the half dozen so far.

The Future?

So, you may be wondering where I sit on the speculation over the next actor (or actress, as much as it’ll make manbabies scream); well it could be anyone, as long as it’s someone good. I think Idris Elba would be great. I think Hiddleston could be great. They have the credentials. The beaut thing is, while there are obviously certain qualities Bond has to have, the film series has allowed enough flexibility in the character so whoever comes in can make it their own.

When EON do announce who that person is, I’m kind of looking forward to coming back here and reading this over and saying why on earth did I think that? And then get hyped for the next reinvention.


I don’t have too much left to say on this particular instalment – I thought it was a thoroughly solid 007 film, perhaps it packed a little too much in – it’s a pretty long movie – but I also appreciated the callbacks and tropes to the earlier films being folded in, even the curveball at the end, considering I have now watched all TWENTY-FOUR (plus ONE) of the damned things in the space of less than three months. I’m kind of sick of 007, actually.

Even so, I’ll have one more post about this long, ridiculous series, which will of course include my personal top ten, because I gotta make a top ten list, right?

This time around, it’s a nice solid 16 out of 20 undrinkable protein shakes. I don’t know if the cat actually survived.


I’m very close to the present now, with 2012’s Skyfall up for perusal. Sam Mendes has the clapboard this time around, with a solid-rock record behind him and the job of getting the franchise back on track after the disappointing Quantum of Solace. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Dr. No film, so accordingly there are riffs back to the history of this ludicrous series without turning into a nostalgia fest.

The Opening

Bond is back in Istanbul, on the tail of Patrice (Ola Rapace), who has made off with a hard drive with the name of every NATO agent, so it’s imperative Bond gets it back. He’s accompanied by Eve (Naomie Harris), who tries to keep up as Bond pursues Patrice through the city, hooning across the top of the Grand Bazaar on postie bikes and finally catching up on top a train where Bond improvises when he loses his gun.

The foes slug it out as Eve sets up to take her shot as the train careens across a viaduct. M has been monitoring the situation and orders Eve to take her shot at the last opportunity, and she shoots the wrong guy. Bond plummets into the drink and Patrice makes off with the data. This isn’t how it went in The Spy Who Loved Me

The Titles

They’re spooooky. Daniel Klienman is back in full effect and comes up with what is effectively a dream sequence for Bond, who has been assumed dead by MI6. Adele’s title song, co-written with Paul Epworth, is up there with the classic Bond themes, returning to the torch song format after the more rockular offerings of late.

The Soundtrack

Long time Mendes collaborator Thomas Newman takes over scoring duties, picking up where David Arnold left off. Fortunately, he continues where Arnold left off but not being bound by it. Another note, he finally lets Monty Norman rip during the action rather than saving it for the credits, but like Arnold he lets it swing.

The Retirement Plan

One of the thing, is with Judi Dench as M, the recognition that if you’ve got a super actor you give them something to work with. So in a sense M’s relationship with Bond, which has been been developed during the “reboot” sequence comes to a head here.

Following the data compromise, M’s neck is on the line; Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is chairman of the parliament Intelligence and Security Committee and has laid out a graceful exit, although M isn’t one for going quietly. After this little meeting, M gets trolled by email – this seems to be personal – then the SIS building at Vauxhall Cross explodes.

007, meanwhile, is not dead, but is instead going hogwild somewhere on the Turkish Riviera not giving a shit about anything. Until he chances upon the news from home, decides he does give a shit about something, and comes back in from the heat.

With their wedding cake palace out of commission, MI6 have moved into an underground bunker. Bond is haggard from his layoff and fucks up all his tests, but somehow is recommissioned for duty.

The Gadgets

MI6 has a new quartermaster, played by Ben Whishaw, who sits Bond down in the National Gallery (where else?) and tools him up.

There are a couple of amusing nods to the history of Q’s gadgets, but one thing in particular is that Moss, I mean Q, offers Bond essentially the same gear as the original quartermaster (Peter Burton) did way back in Dr. No. The items, a Walther PPK – this time with palm print recognition so only Bond can use it – and the use of a radio – only instead of being extremely bulky, it’s extremely small.

While the re-invention of Q is, shall we say, bold and yet what you’d expect for the reboot, as the plot develops he comes into his own, adapting as he gets outsmarted by the villain. (Better data security would’ve been a good idea, except if MI6 had better data security at the start we wouldn’t have had a plot.)

The Squeeze

Bond is sent back onto the trail of Patrice in Shanghai, where he fails to stop Patrice nailing his next mark, though after a scuffle Patrice is dispensed with, saying not a word and leaving Bond a single casino chip to work with. The casino is in Macao, where he meets back up with Eve as they plan their next move. He cashes in the chip, gets a cool four million Euros, as well as the company of Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) who is a thrall of one Raoul Silva, who is apparently one scary scary dude.

Séverine informs him that her bodyguards will probably kill him, but if he survives he is welcome to join her on her yacht, which will take him to Silva himself. Bond survives the doormen from hell, manages to hand off the cash to Eve, and arrives at his berth for Psychopath Island.

The Mastermind

Silva hangs out on a creepy abandoned island from where he can basically do anything, anytime, including arranging the attack on MI6. Bond and Séverine are detained on arrival (rude), and Bond is sat down amongst Silva’s server farm for the grand entrance.

Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) enters, recounting some florid story from his childhood about rats eating each other until two were left. Oh, it’s an allegory, and Silva and Bond are the two remaining rats, and M is their mother, who screwed the pair up. Or something. So Silva has a personal vendetta, how original.

After a shooting game where Silva mocks Bond’s degraded marksmanship and then summarily dispatches Séverine, Bond demonstrates that he hasn’t quite lost all of his mad skillz, neutralises Silva’s bodyguards in a heartbeat and calls in the cavalry to take Silva back to Mutter.

The Reunion

M looks at Silva in the cell, says, oh, it’s him, and then leaves to face a grilling at parliament. Silva, originally Tiago Rodriguez, had worked under M in Hong Kong but got in to deep, and was left to the wolves. Attempting to take his cyanide cap, that malfunctioned, leaving him alive but causing horrendous injuries to his jaw which makes you wonder why he keeps making all those speeches.

(Conjecture here, now I’m thinking this through: What if Silva was the parallel universe Bond from Die Another Day, whom rather than being released through a prisoner exchange, was instead left to rot but was able to escape by other means and then plot his revenge on the organisation that abandoned him? OK, that’s just crazy talk.)

Actually, ha-ha! getting captured was his plan all along (which makes you wonder why he made it so difficult for Bond), as Q is attempting to decrypt Silva’s laptop with Bond amusingly trying to give hints, the laptop instead ends up pwning MI6’s network, allowing Silva to escape and try and ambush M at parliament.

Bond sets off in pursuit, as Silva is keen to say “I planned this all along!” and contrives to drop a train on top of Bond, then making his way through several Underground stations to the committee hearing where M is dropping some truth-bombs about modern espionage on the career politician trying to score points off him. As if to prove her point, Silva turns up dressed as the Old Bill and tries to kill M. Bond is not far behind, and manages to salvage the situation by fogging the place up and slipping M to safety, with Mallory also revealing he’s also a bit of a badass.

The Departure

Bond decides to take M off the grid somewhere where only Silva could trace him, with only Q, Tanner and Mallory knowing. Sounds like a plan, or at least an excuse to give the old DB5 a spin.

The choice of hideout is Skyfall, Bond’s ancestral home in the moors of Scotland, and frankly it does look somewhere an orphan would leave forever. In fact, being sold in the wake of Bond’s “death”, much of the good shit has already been hocked, although the old gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney) is still looking after affairs until settlement.

With not much left to work with, save some dynamite and an old hunting rifle, Bond, M and Kincade prepare for the upcoming confrontation in A-Team style setting up all sorts of booby traps and things around the estate, and the first wave of Silva’s goons turn up and basically get shredded to bits. Silva himself turns up in an assault helicopter – it’s a Bond film, of course there’s a helicopter – and shoots the hell up out of the place, before he disembarks to get a closer look at things.

Bond has M and Kincade escape via a priest hole and tunnel to the chapel, while he gets the last of the gas tanks and rigs them so the whole house will go kaboom. The demolition job is enhanced with chopper getting punctured by the flying debris and crashing into what’s left of the structure. Bond hated the place anyway, so he doesn’t much care.

Silva spies M escaping to in the chapel and he follows along to sort out the last of his mummy issues. Bond, having been waylaid along the way, turns up in time to dispatch Silva, but it’s also too late for M, who, having been gravely injured earlier in the battle, dies in Bond’s arms. Nevertheless, it’s probably a more dignified exit from the role than the political solution proposed for her.

The Denouement

After M’s funeral, Bond looks over the city. Eve, having had enough of fieldwork for now, reveals her surname as Moneypenny, setting up perhaps another run of problematic flirting. Mallory has been given the position of M, of course, and he and Bond express hopes for a fruitful working relationship. Maybe.

The Production

After the relatively lacklustre Quantum of Solace, Skyfall gets the juggernaut back on track, reimagining some of the tropes of the Bond world in the post-camp style. To me it seems it would’ve been difficult to reappraise some of the more ludicrous aspects of the “canon”, but it’s managed pretty well here.

Perhaps Silva was played a bit camp, but it’s another dynamite performance from Javier Bardem, providing another memorable portrait to the 007 rogues gallery. The increasing emphasis on the side characters in moving the story along helps as well, although essentially it’s Bond doing stuff that remains at the core.

It’s also note the shifting visual styles, perhaps emphasised most in the Shanghai sequence – you could almost drop credits over the scuffle and it’d look like a Maurice Binder title sequence. With the exception of The World Is Not Enough, this is also one of the few films with an extended action sequence set in London – albeit much of it literally in the Underground.

The Swearing

Actually, a weird observation; as you probably have guessed I don’t give too much of a shit how much swearing there is in the movies and I certainly haven’t been keeping score (as I recall the first incidence was from the little old lady learning to fly in Live And Let Die), but generally all through the movies it’s been pretty thin on the ground.

The idea of Bond, a Navy man, would refrain from dropping blue seems pretty far-fetched. Well, while it doesn’t get anywhere near Glengarry Glen Ross levels here, it’s at least a bit more true to life. Historically you could let your kids watch these with numerous incidents of people getting eaten by ravenous fish or boiled alive or dropped in meat grinders or just plain perforated with gunfire (not to mention all the bedroom work) but at least the kiddies wouldn’t hear anyone say “fuck”.


I thought this was an excellent Bond movie, getting back in the vein of Casino Royale, with plenty to chew on. At number #23, it’s impressive that you can still do interesting things with the hoary franchise and teach an old dog new tricks. I guess if there’s any drawback, it doesn’t really lend itself to pisstaking like most of the series, although maybe in time this will develop.

I’m actually right at the end of the massive Blu-ray box, which had a gap left for Spectre which I’ll finally get to see, having missed it in the cinemas. There’s also a bonus disc in the Collection which is probably worth a look. I note that up to and including Casino Royale, the disc presentation has been nicely consistent with the menus and such, including extra docos and stuff that I’ve barely even touched. Well recommended if you’ve got the stamina. But I note particularly with the Blu-ray disc for Skyfall that they’ve done that intensely annoying thing of dropping the trailers for other lesser series on auto-play before they get to the menu. With apologies to Liam Neeson who is a super actor, who wants to watch fucking Taken the first time, let alone a third? Anyway, I digress.

One to go (for now).

This one is getting a ferocious 18 komodo dragons out of 20.

Quantum of Solace

It’s the shortest Bond film with the weirdest name! Yep, this was a real head-scratcher and probably the hardest wrap to write, as it’s taken me a couple of days from my first viewing to chew over what I can actually write about it.

The Opening

The action picks up from the conclusion of Casino Royale with Bond managing to deliver Mr White to M in a boot, after having to fend off a bunch of goons in Alfa Romeos when it was apparent the Alfas weren’t going to break down like usual.

During the interrogation in Siena, Mr White (Jesper Christensen) is amused to find M knows nothing about “Quantum”, especially the fact M’s bodyguard Mitchell is working for them, who promptly turns and takes out some of the other staff and then makes off. Bond pursues Mitchell over the rooftop of Siena like it’s an Assassin’s Creed game. As seems to be Bond’s habit, when he catches up with his quarry he kills him before he can get any usable information.

The Titles

Some new crowd called “MK12” were called into the job in the first break from or Kleinmann since Dr. No‘s spots and as such they did an OK job, in effect pulling the traditional tableau style into a third dimension, and incorporating more, shall we say, dynamic typography for the actual text. Whether it was too much of a departure – it was certainly interesting, but it adds to “not quite Bond” feeling of the whole film.

The Soundtrack

Jack White and Alicia Keys did the opening song, “Another Way To Die”, which sounds like what you’d expect from Jack White, a bit skronky for a 007 theme, but the lyrics are on point. It seems to have dated PDQ, though. The main soundtrack is once again crafted by David Arnold, who keeps to his style, thumping away as required, and calling in Four Tet for the end credits.

The Locations

All over the damned place again, naturally, as if you could miss the title cards. Siena, Italy; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Bregenz, Austria. The bulk of the action takes place in Bolivia.

Go West

Even though Bond kills the guy before he can talk, enough evidence is gleaned to get a bead on Mitchell’s contact and where Bond should go next, which happens to be Haiti. Once there he kills the contact, Slate, before getting any meaningful evidence, but then he figures out Slate was meant to kill Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) when he gets into Camille’s car.

Montes is ostensibly a mining engineer or something, working under Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who is also her lover. Greene looks like some local spiv hanging out in a dock warehouse for some reason but it turns out that he’s an entrepreneur at the head of course – and also a member of this “Quantum”, who are arranging for General Medrano (Joaquín Cosío) installed as the leader of Bolivia after a coup arranged by Quantum.

Medrano’s also happens to have killed Montes’ family several years prior, so she has a revenge motive to go with Bond’s vendetta over the death of Vesper Lynn. At Greene’s behest, Montes gets on Medrano’s boat with the idea of garotting him later, I guess. Bond watches this arrangement from the sidelines then sweeps in and spoils the party, “rescuing” Montes and making off in a boat.

A Night At The Opera

At the beginning of the film, Bond and MI6 know jack-shit about Quantum, but Bond goes a fair way to rectifying when a whole bunch of their members, include Greene, turn up to an opera in Bregenz, Austria. Having their little meeting over earpieces, of which Bond has managed to nab one. When he calls them out and they decide to leave for the exits, he takes their pictures for reference.

In the ensuing chaos, Bond escapes the scene, but somehow in the fracas the wrong guy dies – the bodyguard of one of the Quantum board who also has the ear of the British PM. It’s not actually Bond’s fault this time, but M has his passports and credit cards cancelled anyway. Rude.

Somewhat curtailed, Bond returns to Italy to pay a visit to his old mate René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) who been erroneously fingered as the leak back at the Casino Royale. Mathis is a bit pissed off, but when it’s pointed out that he got his lovely villa as compensation, he agrees to help.

Room Service

They turn up in La Paz, where Bond is immediately doorstopped at the airport by local MI6 attaché Miss Fields (Gemma Arterton), who insists he return to the UK straight away. Well, except the next plane back isn’t until the next day, so Bond and Fields bunk up at Bond’s choice of accomodation, having that decided Fields’ idea of staying at a backpackers’ was ridiculous. Separate rooms? Well, Mathis gets a separate room, at least.

At The Circus

They all turn up at a fundraising shindig hosted by Greene, where Montes turns up as well. Montes is again at Greene’s throat, Bond again gets her out of trouble and they leave the party, but the pair get pulled up down the road by the local cops where Mathis gets pulled out of the boot. (This time it wasn’t Bond who put him there.)

Mathis gets killed in the struggle, but Bond and Montes skip town and find a old plane, which after a bit of a spin gets shot down by the air force and Bond and Montes bail into a sinkhole to find that Greene has been stockpiling all the water, causing the local drought.

The pair return to town, where Fields has been found murdered, drenched in oil. M arrives on the scene and is pissed off, although Bond seems to get across that he knows something the Yanquis don’t, as they’re just letting the upcoming coup happen so they can access the (non-existent) oil and are kind of annoyed about Bond spoiling that shit. Nevertheless Bond meets up with his friend from the CIA, Felix (Jeffrey Wright) who tips off that the final deal between Greene and Medrano will occur at a hotel out in the desert the next day – and also that they want to crack Bond’s arse, so Bond hightails it out of there.

The Big Store

Greene and Medrano conclude the agreement to conclude the coup putting the General in charge. With Greene’s organisation having locked up most of the country’s water supply in storage under the desert that Medrano has signed over to Quantum, he now tells tell Medrano that he has to sign over the water supply contract as well.

Bond and Montes turn up, and after the hotel starts blowing up (fuel cells don’t work that way!), after a prolonged struggle, Montes kills Medrano, while Bond drags Greene out into the desert and gives a him a can of oil for the hell of it, before abandoning him to the elements.

Love Happy

Because we’ve completely forgotten the arc, it comes almost as a shock when Bond pops up in Kazan to bring it to a head. He arrives at the apartment of Yusef Kabira, who had been Lynd’s former lover, in fact a member of Quantum whose thing is seducing women of interest, his latest squeeze being Corinne, who works for the Canadian secret service. Bond tells Corinne what Kabira’s deal is, and then arrests Kabira. Managing not to kill one of his marks for a change.

The Production

There are some particularly bothersome aspects about Marc Forster’s direction; from the start, the rapid-cut treatments of a lot of the action scenes. Sure, this kind of editing can be effective if done well (see Dark City which popularised the technique), but particularly in the case of the Siena sequences, the action is disjointed and potentially seizure inducing. The confusion also infects other areas, as the exposition why Bond is going to Haiti turns into a outbreak of infographic diarrhoea, sort of like Geordi LaForge on Star Trek going nuts with Powerpoint.

Freom the sheer bulk of the damn things, the Bond subgenre can be boiled down to a firm but flexible set of rules and tropes. longevity of the series owes a lot to this formula being flexible enough to be adapted as needed due to the changing world as well as cinematic sensibilities and technologies, because we also need the surprises to go along with the spectacle. Nevertheless, Quantum of Solace feels like it shakes too many of the bars at the same time.

Bizarrely, I reckon it was too short; any emotional heft to the film is basically carried over from Casino Royale, where the dialogue was the best in the series. The lack thereof might have something to with the screenwriter’s strike, limiting rewriting duties to Forster and Craig, though I can only speculate.

Essentially the arc that was set up and continues promisingly in the opening, but is put to the side as an afterthought until the end, bringing in a main plot that has certain echoes of License to Kill.

Yep. Daniel Craig’s difficult second 007 film isn’t entirely like Timothy Dalton’s difficult second 007 film, but there are parallels. Bond goes on the lam from MI6 to engage on a revenge mission against an entrepreneur who compromises a Latin American despot, culminating in that entrepreneur’s compound going up in flames. I guess Felix Leiter should be thanking the stars that his limbs are kept intact this time.


This is not to say that it’s a terrible Bond film, but it’s definitely an odd one. There’s been a few of these oddball films in the sequence that nevertheless have their own particular charms, such as the aforementioned License to Kill. But while Casino Royale was indeed a hard act to follow, one might’ve expected better from this turn.

One thing that’s not a letdown is Craig’s portrayal and his interaction with Judi Dench as M, which is the strength of Quantum of Solace. Fortunately, the rest of the package is brought back on track with the next instalment, even though that has a few issues as well.

This baby, I’m giving it an entirely arbitrary 14 giant eyeballs out of 20.

Casino Royale

It’s the dark gritty reboot! And all that entails. Although with the rights to Fleming’s first 007 novel finally in the hands of Eon, it’s a logical place to refine and redefine the rules of the series. And the result, Casino Royale might just be the best of those films to date.

The Opening

Brief and brutal. Not yet 007, Bond (Daniel Craig) breaks into the house of Dryden, his Prague station chief, who’s been flogging secrets, and they talk shop for a while. It’s interspersed with Bond belting the living daylights out of Dryden’s contact, making his first kill a tough one. His second, however, is considerably…

The Titles

Daniel Kleinman is still on board for the titles but gives it a bit of a new look doing some very slick animation of suits of cards slicing up and perforating the screen. Another change is the lack of the ladeez, as the montage sees the agent battles bad guys instead.

The Soundtrack

The opening song is a little out of left-field too, Chris Cornell singing “You Know My Name”, co-written with David Arnold, who also returns for the soundtrack. Arnold, as usual, doesn’t miss a beat, but he does something appropriate for what is effectively the origin story of 007 – he reprises the “You Know My Name” motif through the play, holding back Monty Norman for the end credits.

The Locations

A solid mix of new and old haunts. Location plates dropped include Prague (previously seen in The Living Daylights, Uganda, and Madagascar, and that’s just within the first act. Things get a little more familiar with London (of course), The Bahamas (where just about every 007 film seems to have been filmed), Fake Miami (see Goldfinger and Thunderball) and Venice (see From Russia With Love and Moonraker) and of course, the Casino Royale set in Montenegro – actually back in Czechia, apparently.

The Killer

Having earned his zeros, Bond and another agent are in Madagascar on the tail of a bombmaker, Mollaka (Sébastien Foucan) – the colleague blows his cover, spooking the target, who basically parkours his way through a construction site with Bond hot on his tail, and then down into an embassy. Bond doesn’t believe in barley and busts into the embassy, grabs his man, and when he’s eventually forced to give him up, no-one else is going to get him either, causing a minor diplomatic incident in the process. Whoopsies.

Having said that, Bond has grabbed the guy’s cellphone and gotten a brief lead from it. He finally gets back to London where he’s dressed down by M (Judi Dench), not just because he broke into her house so he could use her terminal to check out some shit, but because of the aforementioned diplomatic incident. Still, Bond isn’t sacked yet, which is important because there’s still most of the film to run.

The Mastermind

Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is essentially a bagman and banker for terrorists, with a serious problem with weeping blood. He’s picked up a new account from another warlord, Steven Obanno (Isaac de Bankolé), having been recommended by the mysterious Mr White (Jesper Christensen) who presumably works for a very scary organisation, he promptly uses the funds to try to short Skyfleet, a airliner manufacturer. How does Le Chiffre know Skyfleet’s stock is going to tank? Well, he’s arranged for their new prototype to get blown up.

From the sketchiest of clues, however, Bond figures out the middleman is in the Bahamas (natch), one Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), so he makes his way there, wins Alex’s Aston Martin DB5, and later gets the next clue while he’s fooling around with Dimitrios’ wife Solange (Caterina Murino).

That next clue takes him to Miami, where he finds Dimitrios has handed off to Carlos (Claudio Santamaria) whose job it is to actually blow up the stupid plane. Bond kills Dimitrios and then pursues Carlos, after a kickarse chase around the runways of Miami, manages to thwart the Carlos, who inadvertently blows himself up after Bond does a switcheroo with his detonator. Everyone is happy, even Richard Branson.

Well, Le Chiffre isn’t happy. He’s done his dough as Skyfleet’s disaster never eventuates, and now he’s in the red with some very unhappy warlords. So as a dab hand at the cards, he arranges a high-stakes card game in Montenegro to get his money back, as you do.

The Tournament

There was a bit of a stir when the baccarat tournament of the book was replaced with Texas Hold’Em poker for the movie (hey, it was the mid-00s, and at least they didn’t change it to Snap or Uno) but the result is that you get a pretty easy game to explain but with enough tension that you can make it the centrepiece of the second act without boring everyone senseless. In the name of the mission, Bond gets banked up for the game as well, hoping to bankrupt Le Chiffre absolutely, so he has no option but to sing to MI6 about all his clients.

Providing the cash on behalf of Her Majesty’s Treasury is Vesper Lynn (Eva Green). The first meeting between Lynn and Bond is one big awesome psych out as they get each other’s measure, on the train. They turn up to the resort in Montenegro, where they meet up with local guy René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). After getting suited up, Bond fronts up to the game and starts off well.

During a break in play, Le Chiffre gets ambushed by Obanno who is very very unhappy about Le Chiffre’s lack of prudential due diligence, but leaves him be on the proviso that Le Chiffre wins the game. Then Obanno bumps into Bond and Lynn, and Bond and Obanno and Obanno’s mate slug it out in a stairwell, totally freaking out Lynn.

Bond manages to off the assailants, consoles Lynn, and then gets cleaned up to return to the game, where he gets cleaned out as he misjudges Le Chiffre’s bluff. Lynn refuses Bond any more of Her Majesty’s money to buy back in, but CIA associate Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) offers to do so on the proviso the Seppos get Le Chiffre if Bond wins.

Bond agrees to the offer and returns to the table, and starts doing well again. That is, until he takes a sip of a drink, spiked with digitalis by Le Chiffre’s squeeze Valenka (Ivana Miličević). Bond runs off for a chunder then gets back to his car for the antidote, but passes out before he can defibrilate himself. Lynn arrives just in time to replace the electrode and zap Bond back into consciousness, who promptly dusts himself off, sits back down like he’s just had a satisfyingly long piss, and proceeds to reduce Le Chiffre to zero.

Le Chiffre is an asshole and an extremely bad loser, though, so after Bond and Lynn celebrate with a meal, Le Chiffre kidnaps her. Bond sets off in pursuit but writes off his car as he swerves to avoid Lynn who Le Chiffre has just dumped in the middle of the road, and after the bingle Bond and Lynn are recaptured.

Nek minnit, Bond is in some basement, tied up naked to a chair as Le Chiffre literally tries to bust Bond’s balls to make him give up the password to the escrowed winnings. Bond is having none of that, even having bit of a giggle, so Le Chiffre reaches for the knife. Before he can go any further, though, Mr White turns up and does a number on Le Chiffre.

Fade to black.

The Squeeze

Bond wakes up in a hospital on Lake Como, and during his recuperation, Bond and Lynn’s on-and-off infatuation blooms into the real thing, and Bond decides to quit MI6 so he can float around Venice with Lynn.

There is the small matter of the funds which have to be returned to the British Government, but soon enough Bond finds out that Lynn has made off with the cash – Mr White’s organisation, whoever they were, seem to have cut a deal with Lynn as they had kidnapped her lover (no, not Bond, another guy) but Bond isn’t informed of this until, well, after it’s too late.

Until then, having been unable to save Lynn from drowning herself after stealing the cash (which has since been appropriated by Mr White), he denounces her, but then finds a final clue on her phone as to the whereabouts of Mr White. Following up on the lead, Bond pays a visit to Mr White to re-introduce himself. Strike up the twangy guitar and the horns. Bond Begins.

The Production

After Die Another Day there probably wasn’t anywhere else for the series to go but back to its roots – as mentioned, the rights to the seminal 007 novel had finally been picked up by Eon, who made the most of the opportunity. The anti-Craig campaign seems utterly laughable now, given that within the very first minute he takes over the role and makes it his own.

So it is a very interesting redefinition – on the one hand, utterly in the spirit of Flemings’ own words, bringing the harder edge that Connery and Dalton brought to the cinematic portrayal. At the same time, a finely chiselled performance that brings intelligence and brutality to the role in equal measure.

The plot is also well wrought – perhaps it gets a little convoluted in the beginning, but there’s just enough clues given to the audience that you can work it out just as Bond does. We also get a more thorough examination of Bond’s character in that train scene than we did in the whole 15 hours of Moore being a suave prat in a dinner jacket. (Sorry, Roge, you were great at times but the scripts they gave you sometimes…)

While a lot of the 007 tropes were elided or streamlined – there are hot cars and gadgets, but they’re introduced by-the-way, and familiar side roles get reintroduced in later films but in a smarter way that doesn’t go down the “oh we gotta have Bond flirting with Moneypenny after he tosses his hat onto a hat-rack and then he insults Q while getting geared up” shtick.


Getting up to ten years since its release, it’s now easy to recognise Casino Royale as one of the landmark films of the smarter marquee wave, along with Nolan’s Batman trilogy (compared with Zack Snyder’s Orphan Fight which nailed the grimdark but forgot the smarts) with a nod to a similar revival in the small screen. Like, you’re definitely still seeing an action film, a Bond movie no less, with charismatic villains, hot women, fast cars, fucking casinos, and lots of frequent flyer points, but you’re not getting pummelled with teh stoopid of the Michael Bay variety that was starting to take over.

Now, the weird thing is that I never got around to seeing Quantum of Solace, although the impression I got from others was that it was a bit of a letdown, although Skyfall picked up the game again. Nevertheless, I’m quite keen to see how this ends. Like, right now, after I post this.

(Haven’t seen Spectre yet, either, in case you’re wondering – I seem to only get to see the odd-numbered Bond films in the cinema.)

You can probably guess what sort of score I’m going to give this:

19 out of 20 salbutamol puffers.

Die Another Day

Anyway, Die Another Day . What a weird movie. Well, a weird movie as far as Bond flicks are concerned, and perhaps there’s a reason why it marked the end of an era.

The Opening

OK, obviously here they’ve actually tried to have things that haven’t been seen before in the series. Like surfing. And hovercraft. Anyway, Bond surfs up on the shore of North Korea, and takes the place of an arms dealer exchanging diamonds for military hardware with Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), sneaking some C4 into the briefcase to try and blow him up.

However the deal goes pear-shaped as Moon’s offsider Zao (Rick Yune) finds out who Bond really is after a tip-off, and everything goes haywire. After a dumb hovercraft chase, Colonel Moon falls off the edge of some waterfall, but Colonel Moon’s dad General Moon catches up with Bond and, despite expressing disappointment with his son’s “decadence”, arrests Bond.

The Titles

Probably the first major tinkering with the Binder/Kleinman template since the beginning of the series, there’s a stylised fire/ice thing happening but interspersed with it is a torture montage! Presumably Madonna’s title song is part of the torture. Seriously, we’ve had plenty of pop artists come in and perform fantastic songs to kick off the show, this is just bad.

The Soundtrack

At least the rest of the soundtrack from David Arnold is still good.

The Locations

While the shooting locations differ from the film settings, as you’d expect they wouldn’t have gotten permission to film in the Korean DMZ. But anyway, after the opening, the action follows Bond to Hong Kong, Cuba, London, Iceland and finally back in Korea.

The Repatriation

After Bond’s 14 month ordeal of ice baths, being fed scorpions and being made to listen to Madonna’s late-career dross, he’s finally swapped out for Zao, who’d been apprehended in the West for doing something naughty.

Although now free from the clutches of the DRK, Bond is detained on an RN vessel by MI6, as he’s suspected of having given up information, hence his double-0 status has been rescinded, making him just 7. Hell, they won’t even let him have a shave.

Bond is having none of that, so he fakes a cardiac arrest, escapes the boat and finds himself in Hong Kong, where fortuitously he’s kept a tab running with one of the local pubs into the era of the Special Administrative Region. The hotel is run by a Chinese spook, who after some convincing tells Bond that Zao is in Cuba, so with Bond all scrubbed up and ready for action, that’s where he heads off to next.

The April Sun In Cuba

Bond’s a little less covert than the last time he was in Cuba during Goldeneye, Bond bumps into Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson (Halle Berry), and is apparently quite thirsty after all that time in detention. He bluffs his way into the gene therapy clinic which apparently does some crazy things, and catches up with old mate Zao in a weird transmutation chamber, with his face blinged out from their earlier meeting. But before he can do anything, Jinx is apparently in the same line of work and has also infiltrated the place to destroy it. Zao escapes in the chaos, and Jinx also hightailing it. Having retrieved one clue from Zao – a small sample of diamonds – Bond just shrugs and decides to go home.

The Mastermind

The diamonds have the mark of Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who is some random guy that drops out of the sky in London. There’s some cockamamie story about why he’s being offered a knighthood, but anyway, amongst all his other pursuits, he’s a fencing enthusiast, so naturally he hangs out at a fencing club with his beautiful friends like Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) and “Verity” (Madonna), an instructor.

You can tell how cool Bond is because, whatever PTSD he might have from his confinement, he doesn’t immediately punch out Verity for being its voice. Instead he challenges Graves to a fencing duel, but that’s a bit tame so they go for real swords and fight until, well, not the death, but until someone’s bowels starts poking out. (This didn’t happen but I sure Bond would say something about “guts” if it did.)

Bond wins this round, and for whatever reason Graves invites the guy who’s just thrashed him to an upcoming tech demo he’s holding in Iceland. It’s at this point Bond is welcomed back in from the cold by M, who has figured out he probably didn’t do the leaking. Q (John Cleese getting a promotion) also gives him some new gadgets like a ring that can smash any kind of glass, and, wait for it – an invisible car!

Another MI6 agent is sent on the assignment – Miranda Frost! OK, she’s in Graves’ retinue, what could possibly go wrong. Anyway, M pretty much says to Ms Frost that she’ll probably have to root Bond for queen and country, and Frost just rolls her eyes.

The Big Dumb Object

Bond rocks up at Graves’ ice castle in Iceland. Jinx also turns up, and reveals to Bond she’s working for the NSA, which in 2002 apparently didn’t involve reading everyone’s email. Graves shows off his new toy – Icarus, a big-ass satellite that that reflect solar energy anywhere in the world. Nothing sinister about that.

Jinx infiltrates the sekrit base but gets caught by Zao, who had to turn up again at some point; Bond, after keeping up appearances with Frost, goes to do some skulking around himself, and manages to rescue Jinx from being lasered by “Mr Kill” (the most obvious aptronym for a henchman since Jaws).

They both get caught again, and as if it wasn’t obvious, Graves is Colonel Moon, having had some “gene therapy” himself, and also quite obviously Frost is the double-agent that shopped Bond way back at the start of the movie. The price for her betrayal? Winning a gold medal in fencing at the Olympics. What the hell.

The Farce

Anyway, at this point Bond escapes the ice palace, where he witness the firepower of Graves’ fully armed and operational death beam, which unleashes some bad CGI effects for Bond to heroically escape. Jinx has been locked up again and is left to drown as the ice palace melts around her. Bond returns, retrieves his bad CGI stealth car, and he and Zao doriftu around the ice plain firing rockets at each other. After lots of zooming around, Bond dispatches Zao, breaks Jinx out of her cell, while Graves et al escape back to North Korea.

Well, at least we didn’t get a heap of bad ice puns like in Batman & Robin (1997).

The End

Graves’ ultimate goal for Icarus was to cauterize the DMZ to clear a path for the North Korean forces to roll across to the south. He commands this operation from a cargo plane, where he gets his dad the general on to watch. General Moon seems as disturbed by his son’s transformation into the whitey Graves as anything. Graves also gets himself into some kind of rig that lets him control Icarus more betterer and also to zap people.

Can anyone stop Graves? Well, Bond and Jinx snuck onto the plane, so there’s that. Some nong fires their gun on the plane, causing it to depressurise and course through the death beam before Jinx manages to right the plane from the controls. Jinx and Frost fight. Bond and Graves fight. Graves eventually decides he’s had enough and prepares to escape with the one spare chute, but Bond unfurls it causing Graves to get sucked into the turbine. Will his Icarus-controlling Power Glove blend? Yes! Enough that the death ray is automatically switched off, instead of being stuck burning a hole in the middle of the Korean penisula.

With Frost given some light reading material, Jinx and Bond have to get off the plane, so they pull the spare helicopter out of the planes’ hold and manage to get it going before they die. Then they spend some time fishing diamonds out of each other. Ewww.


Well, huh. The first half is actually pretty good, throwing some curveballs into the usual formula, such as Bond actually having to go through some crap instead of just escaping through some massively contrived combination of luck and good fortune.

Graves comes across as a combination of Zorin and Julius No, although the plausibility of his origin is pretty daft. I think Jinx comes across pretty well too – as you have might’ve noticed I have a bias towards sidekicks who are at least a match for the leading man. It’s ironic that there was some talk of a spinoff series with Jinx, but the spinoff Haile Berry evetually got was Catwoman – yeah.

Anyway, given the “superhero” aesthetic creeping in here, for instance, the third act of this film seems to have, ahem, inspired the third act of Captain America: The First Avenger, it was absolutely the right thing to rethink the series before it got too fantastic. Brosnan signs off, very astutely recognising that he would be getting a long in the tooth after this, giving the producers the chance to prune things back to the essentials.

So, timely to assess the Pierce Brosnan era – generally, all quite watchable films, with some unevenness in quality (Goldeneye will finish up my in Top Ten, not sure about the others) and at least they never got quite as corny as some of the earlier films. He didn’t let the side down, we shall say.

As for this particular instalment, let’s give it 15 scorpions out of 20.

The World Is Not Enough

The World Is Not Enough, with the title harking back to the Bond family motto mentioned in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “Orbis Non Sufficit”, not to be confused with Roy & HG’s motto, “Nimium Non Sufficit”.

The Opening

And golly is it a long one. First Bond turns up in Bilbao to take delivery of some cash for Sir Robert King, an industrialist and an old friend of M’s, and he has some hassle getting it back to. Hardly unmarked bills; having delivered the cache to King himself back at the MI6 building, he notices something not quite right, but it’s too late as King gets immolated by the booty.

Bond notices an assassin in the Thames, so he nicks Q’s fishing boat (ultra-tricked-out, of course) and sets off in pursuit, buzzing down river to the Millennium Dome, where the assassin hijacks a hot air balloon only for Bond to grab one of the guyropes. She’s not interested in Bond’s offer of amnesty and decides to blow up the balloon, leaving Bond bouncing off the dome, injuring his shoulder.

The Titles

Yeah, after the 15 minute preamble, we’re finally onto the usual. This time the theme is oil, lots of it, which is a bit prosaic, given that in the past we’ve had gold, diamonds and shit like that.

The Soundtrack

The title song is sung by Shirley Manson with Garbage, and it’s up there with the best. The soundtrack is again crafted by David Arnold, continuing the old-and-new blend he instigated last time and ties the whole thing together pretty well.

The Locations

Over all the damned place, this one. As mentioned, the long opening sequence takes in Bilbao (with a big ol’ eyeball at the local Guggenheim) and London. Then Scotland, Baku in Azerbaijan, Khazakstan, and finally a return to Istanbul.

The Mastermind

The funeral for King is held somewhere in Scotland, where the MI6 hierarchy decamp to some dumpy old castle. Bond is initially off duty due to the shoulder, though he, ahem, convinces the doctor to give him a clean bill of health, and he’s back on the case, working out the guy responsible is Victor Zokas, or more snappily, Renard, played by Robert “Hamish Macbeth” Carlyle.

Who is Renard? He is a crazy Russian anarchist, made even more so by the bullet left in his brain by another Double-0 agent which renders him unable to feel anything, especially pain. He’s not crazy as in “I run a chocolate factory and drown children in the chocolate” crazy (if that’s more your thing you may be interested in You Only Live Twice), more the tedious nuking-countries-for-the-lulz type.

So he is a nihilist who feels nothing. Nothing! Sometime back he had kidnapped Elektra King, Sir Robert’s daughter, who has a bit of baggage as a result of her dad declining to pay the ransom at M’s insistence. In the end Elektra took matters into her own hands and busted out, although the exact circumstances aren’t entirely clear.

The Squeeze?

With her father going out with a bang, Elektra (Sophie Marceau) has inherited the oil fortune and is advancing with the plans to build a pipeline across Central Asia to the south of her competitors. Bond is dropped in on her to keep her safe, something which she’s kind of sceptical about given that MI6 have already fucked up a couple of times.

Nevertheless, she and Bond checks out some of the pipeline’s proposed route on their skis where they’re assailed by dudes on parahawks – i.e. snowmobiles on parachutes. Look, it’s hard to explain. Anyway, they all blow up due to various contrivances, but as Bond and Elektra look to have escaped, a snowdrift falls onto them, although Bond has a inflatable jacket that turns into a Pokeball or something, so they make it back to Baku safely.

It’s a 007 movie, so what happens next between the two is fairly predictable.

The Ally?

It’s a 007 movie, so after Bond does what he usually does, he does what he usually also does, which is head to the casino.

After having some fun perving at everyone with his x-ray specs, he finally gathers up the nerve to go talk to the proprietor, which is old mate Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane). After their usual greetings, Elektra turns up shortly after and blows a million on a stupid card trick, to the benefit of Zukovsky.

The Plot

Bond manages to gather enough from Zukovsky to go, and after killing Zukovsky’s head of security, who killed someone else, Bond adopts the identity of a Russian scientist and joins some of Renards men and ends up at a Russian missile base in Kazakhstan, where he meets Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), a manic pixie nuclear physicist.

Bond goes into the silo, where they discover Renard making off with some plutonium. Just when he’s about to arrest Renard for being a naughty ball, Ms Jones rocks up saying that, even though she doesn’t look like a nuclear physicist, at least she is one, unlike “Dr Arkov”, who doesn’t look like one either and in fact isn’t one at all.

Renard has a wee little chuckle at the exposure of this little charade and then starts blowing things up and making off with the hot shit, although Bond and Jones manage escape the silo. While this is going on Elektra talks M into arriving in Baku because hey why not.

Bond and Jones meet up there as well, they’re all standing around scratching their arses in a control room when all they notice that Renard seems to be smuggling the warhead through the pipeline in an inspection rig. Bond goes out to intercept the thing, taking Christmas for assistance. Using another rig, they manage to intercept it, although it gets a bit hairy. And in the end they only get half the plutonium, bailing out as the detonator explodes the pipeline open, leaving them in the middle of nowhere.

The Plot?

Look, it’s taking me a while to get to the point, isn’t it? Basically, Elektra’s turned eeeeevil. Although there is actually a bit of nuance here. While it’s assumed that she succumbed to Stockholm syndrome while in Renard’s clutches, with Bond saying as much, but then she seems to suggest that she was always evil and turned Renard… even more evil than he probably already was.

And, oh yeah, she’s now kidnapped M, taking her to Istanbul where she meets up with Renard in the Maiden’s Tower. She wants to nuke the Bosphorus to take out her competition. He wants to… nuke anything, really, because he is a crazy nihilist called Renard who wears black skivvies. Together they cause crime!

The Ally – Question Mark – Again

Bond and Jones are in the backwoods somewhere, but they stumble across Zukovsky’s caviar factory, where they are all attacked by some giant circular saw thing dangling off a chopper, because Zukovsky only seems to employ people who end up betraying him.

Zukovsky reveals that the big payoff was in exchange for a nuclear sub helmed by his nephew, currently on his way to Istanbul. Bond is like, oh shit, if Renard puts his plutonium in the sub’s reactor, the place will glow in the dark for centuries.

M, locked up in the cell, is resourceful enough to jury rig a doohickey to let everyone know where the party is at. You’re all invited!

The Party

Bond, Zukovsky and Jones turn up in their best frocks, but they have trouble getting past the security. “I thought we were all invited!”, they say.

Somehow Bond gets himself tied up into some ridiculously uncomfortable chair while Elektra taunts him, Zukovsky is looking for the open bar but finds that there’s nothing but Fosters’ left in the tub, and perhaps even worse, his nephew is dead. So he curses the host and fires his last, allowing Bond to get out of the kinky chair. Bond frees M, and after the final confrontation with Elektra he goes to check out the pool party.

Oooh, they have a submarine, he coos. He gets inside and starts trashing the place, finds Ms Jones already helping himself to the hors d’oeuvres, but the guest of honour has locked himself away after he got a little hectic with the weaponry, causing the submarine to hump the bottom of the strait.

Renard is messing around in the reactor room with his plutonium looking at the instructions and pondering the allen key, when Bond pops down the side and turns up to make some suggestions. Renard dislikes distractions and he most certainly does not like being interrupted when he’s trying to initiate a nuclear catastrophe.

Bond, for his part, is not happy that Renard has dropped one of the worst puns he has heard in his life, for that’s 007 role and he is a stickler for the rules of demarcation. They fight.

Renard puts Bond in a cage, but just as he’s finally figured out that if you put Tab A into Slot B you can start Armageddon, Bond shows Renard this neat trick you can do with a hydraulic hose. Renard is suitably impressed with the results – about six feet into his chest.

Jones decides the party’s kind of dead and suggests they blow the joint. Bond agrees, and spends the rest of the night making up for getting beaten to the worst pun in the history of the franchise, mostly at the expense of Christmas.

The Farce

“Welcome to my nuclear family.”

Really? Really?

The Bit Parts

The usual MI6 crew from the last couple of movies is back, although notably we have Q’s successor, “R”, played by John Cleese. It’s Desmond Llewellyn’s last appearance, dying in a car accident shortly after the films’ release, ending a run that started in From Russia With Love (with some interruptions),

How Nineties is this movie? Well, now we’re getting far away from that era that we can almost get nostalgic about, I guess I should explain the presence of Goldie. But I don’t want to. So I won’t.


While the movie dots the i’s and crosses the t’s of what a Bond movie should do – we have a boat chase, we have a ski chase, we have people mucking around on a submarine, and of course of a hell of lot of puns, at a point it gets to be much of a muchness.

I’d don’t know about it being the worst Bond movie ever, given there are a few of other candidates I can think of straight off the top of my head. But it is certainly the most Roger Moore 007 movie since Moore himself starred.

And there are good things about it; David Arnold’s soundtrack is pretty good as usual, the Thames sequence is ace, and the submarine scenes when everything starts tipping over is actually not a bad end to the action. But there’s also a sense of satisfied sufficiency that doesn’t quite live up to the film’s title.

14 out of 20 hot rocks.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Onto the second of the Brosnan flicks, it’s Tomorrow Never Dies. Arguably the Ninetiest movie of the series.

The Opening

This is just the classic sequence of Bond being Bond. Undercover somewhere in Uzbekistan, I guess, 007is scoping out an arms bazaar and reports back the daily specials. Back in the control room, the admiral decides he’s bored with window shopping and orders a missile up their arse. Well, except Bond’s identified a couple of nuclear torps underneath one of the planes, and if that goes up – yeah. So, naturally he jacks the jet, to get it out of the way before anything bad happens.

The Titles

Daniel Kleinman continues the approach taken GoldenEye of more sophisticated imagery tying in with the film’s theme and plot – this time around it’s kind of CYBER, but it still looks cool – in a different way to Binder’s classic themes, but still ineffably Bond.

The Soundtrack

Is worth noting here as the first score by David Arnold. A massive disciple of John Barry, but also not afraid to put his own stamp on things, Arnold came to the attention of the Bond producers with Shaken and Stirred, an album of older Bond themes. Incidentally, his arrangement of the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is stupendous, both the bare orchestration (it’s on Youtube somewhere) and as the collaboration with big-beat outfit The Propellerheads. No word of a lie.

I happen to think “Surrender” sung by k.d. lang over the end credits probably should’ve kicked off the show, but the Sheryl Crow submission is fine too.

The Locations

After the sequence in Russia or Tajikistan or wherever, the bulk of the action in Hamburg and Saigon (actually Thailand), with a little hark back to The Man With The Golden Gun as it returns to Phang Nga Bay.

The Mastermind

We’re back to a stark bonkers megalomaniac who wants to start a war, but in this case, Elliot Carver is a media mogul, not possibly based on any real-life figures, who just wants to provoke shit between the UK and the PRC for the ratings. It’s… shall we say, one of the more distinct lead villains in a while, so there’s not much Jonathan Pryce can do with the character than to ham it up. A lesser actor might’ve not dealt with the material so well, but Pryce just about makes you buy into the ludicrous plot.

Such as why does some media guy have a stealth boat, and a mining drill repurposed as a torpedo? One does not simply come across these things, even if they have a thousand TV stations.

There is a pleasant array of henchmen, lackeys and minions amongst the rogue’s gallery; Otto Ganz plays the suitably hard-to-kill but rather slipshod henchman Stamper, storied magician Ricky Jay plays Gupta, the tech specialist (fortunately a lot less obnoxious than Boris last time). And then there’s Dr. Kaufman, played by the late Vincent Schiavelli, who pretty much creeps out the whole movie in the process.

The Squeeze

Teri Hatcher plays Carver’s wife, Paris, aaaaand she was also Bond’s ex. You know, only out of maybe thousands of them? Anyway, Bond chases up his own flame as a lead into the Carver organisation (the briefing scene with M in the car setting this up is awkward af, especially when Moneypenny puts her two bobs in).

After Bond And, well, she dies, at her husband’s behest. I mean, yeah, the “sacrificial lamb” is a recurring trope in these movies, but the manner in which this was done, so casually, for no point – it’s a plot device that should’ve be left back in the days of Goldfinger.

Thankfully, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is a more positive recurrence of that other trope, “the badass female agent who is Bond’s equal”. Mostly known for her work in Hong Kong cinema, this aspect of her talents was not wasted, and there is a pretty amusing sequence where the two work out what to do next after escaping the choppa.

The Action

What holds this film together is the action scenes, which continue on the heightened level of its predecessor. And of course that tank chase through St Petersburg is a hard act to follow, so Roger Spottiswoode found some other crazy stuff, like the remote control BMW chase in Hamburg, the bike vs chopper sequence through Saigon, and of course the opening bit where Bond knows how to fly a damned fighter jet on top of everything else.

The final act aboard the STEALTH BOAT, then, is kind of… well, it reminds me a fair bit of The Spy Who Loved Me, but only as a faint imitation. I do enjoy the naval tomfoolery, in fact, considering that Bond is still holds his rank as a naval officer.


As you might tell, this might be the shortest post I’ve written for the series. It’s just – I really did like certain elements of it, the action parts are pretty damned good. But whereas last time around there was also enough suspense and even some decent characterisation, such as 007 seeing an old mate he’d left for dead, this time the wrapping is just about threadbare.

Sometimes I go on about the plots being a bit complex and hard to follow, but this time around, Carver is front and centre as the big bad, his masterplan is simple and dumb, and basically all Bond has to do is keep getting out of traps and annoying him until Carver’s hubris gets the better of them.

Yeah, not a real lot to say really. I did enjoy watching it, it does pretty much everything a Bond movie is supposed to do, but basically it was a really weird one to assess. Weird and hollow.

I’m giving this 16 out of 20 chakra torture implements.


It’s the third 007 film with “gold” in the title! It’s the first 007 film with Pierce Brosnan! Let’s have a look at it.

The Opening

It is 1986 – 007 bungee-jumps off a dam wall and infiltrates a Soviet chemical weapons storage facility, where he meets up with good buddy 006 (Sean Bean), and they go off to wreak havoc, at least for a bit – 006 gets captured and killed, 007 sneaks out the back door and very nearly misses the last flight out, but just manages to answer the last call to board.

The Titles

These have gotten a bit of a spruce up over the break – long time stylist Maurice Binder had died during the interregnum, so Daniel Kleinman, having had cut his teeth making music videos, comes in and does a superb job. As such, it’s a slightly different take, doing away with silhouettes and projections, but still heavy on the impressionistic sequences dealing with the themes of the movie – the fall of Communism, the two faced god, that sorta thing. Also still with the gyrating ladies and the Helvetica because those things are important.

The Soundtrack

Is pretty damned anaemic, let’s face it. (Kind of weird, because Éric Serra has done good work with Luc Besson.) As required, Monty’s theme at a few crucial points, which is good, and Tina Turner knocks the title song out of the park. Apparently written by these two guys called Paul Hewson and David Evans whom I’ve never heard of. Apparently the other two guys in their band, being miffed they couldn’t all do what they did for the bad Batman movie, went off and reworked the Mission Impossible theme for the film version the following year.

The Locations

Most of the first part of the movie is set in Russia, firstly in the backwoods and the second act in St Petersburg (and apparently for real this time). The finale takes place in “Cuba” because Ian Fleming knows Bond loves the goddamn Caribbean.

Also notable is the return to home base in London after not being seen at all in LTK. MI6 is now bunkered down in their weird looking new headquarters in Vauxhall Cross, because basically they couldn’t be bothered hiding their spook palace any longer.

The New Guys

Brosnan is a very acceptable as Bond. Little cues from his predecessors and then adding his own touch. Maybe people were unhappy at how cranky Dalton was, well, Brosnan is arguably the most cold blooded of the lot. Still likes a squeeze, though.

We also have a new M, as in a new actual M person, not just a different actor playing the same person like Felix Bloody Leiter, which gets very confusing, especially because Dame Judi Dench keeps playing M right into the “reboot” movies. But anyway, she sticks it right to 007 from the start dressing him down in a fashion that might have a certain type of idiot choking on their Cheeto dust while they defend Bond’s right to be a male chauvinist pig.

“I’d happily see you killed in the line of duty. Try to come back alive.”

Miss Moneypenny is played by Samantha Bond for the first time, and apparently it’s the same Moneypenny even though it’s a different actor. Awfully confusing, yes. Also, Michael Kitchen pops up as Bill Tanner, M’s Chief of Staff. (Notably, he played the King of England during the good House of Cards series, and later as Foyle in Foyle’s War which, in M*A*S*H style, lasted twice as long as the war.)

The only guy who’s not new is Q. Always great to watch, Desmond Llewellyn boils the role down to pantomime, very nearly breaking the fourth wall (only Lazenby is allowed to do that) as he waits impatiently for Bond to say one of his stupid death quips – which are back in abundant supply considering Bond is less taciturn this time around, if just as morally ambiguous.

The Villains

General Ourumov (Gottfried John) is, at first, the main bad guy – as a colonel, he’s the one that shoots 006 in the opening and pursues Bond. Later, in the present day, he turns up in Monaco, pinches a you-beaut EMP-resistant chopper with his henchperson Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) – described in Wikipedia as a “Georgian lust murderer” – or to put it another way: In Soviet Russia, woman squeezes you. Naturally, Bond is intrigued by this sort of kink and is already on her trail.

Anyway, they take the chopper to a remote satellite dish installation, use some doodads to unleash GoldenEye, an orbital EMP weapon thingy, at the installation, and then take off in the chopper with the doodads. For whatever reason. Anyway, only two people survive, an Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming) an obnoxious geek, and Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), who has to put up with Boris’ Cheeto dust. Mysteriously, Boris has to leave the bunker to vape just before shit goes down.

Seemingly it’s all at the behest of a mysterious figure called Janus. Bond is put on the case, and he starts his search in St Petersburg, where he catches up Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) with whom he’s had dealings before – mostly unpleasant. Zukovsky would’ve stolen the whole damn movie had he been given a few more moments, fortunately we see him again in the next instalment so it’s all good.

Anyway, Bond manages to put forth a business opportunity to Zukovsky, who puts Bond on the trail of this Janus guy.

As it turns out, Janus is old mate 006, Alec Trevelyan, who is embittered enough by the British shipping the Cossacks back to the Russians, including his parents, after the Second World War after they collaborated with the Nazis. Complicated. In addition to that, he was not entirely happy about Bond leaving him for dead all those years ago – although to be honest he did look very dead back then.

Anyway, Trevelyan’s scheme with the EMP shiznat is that he has one GoldenEye satellite left at his disposal, so the plan is to siphon all the money from the Bank of England with his dorky mate Boris (Grishenko, not Johnson), aim the GoldenEye thingy at London and cause a massive economic meltdown destroying the British economy. Could’ve just waited a couple of decades for Nigel Farage and Michael Gove, to do that, eh?

The Squeeze (Not The Squeezer)

Bond gets tranquilised during this fateful meeting, and wakes up strapped to the chopper, with Simonova, which is armed to self-destruct. They escape their doom, when Bond triggers the ejector seat, but they get captured by the Russians.

While being interrogated by the Minister of Defence, Ourumov walks in (still having not gone rogue officially ), tries to shoot everyone, but Bond and Simonova escape that as well for a short time. Ourumov snatches up Simonova, though, and while they try to flee, Bond grabs some tank that’s just sitting there like it’s Grand Theft Auto or something, and very quickly runs up six stars, chasing them, until he finds Janus’ big train.

After another little discussion between them all that ends up with Ourumov getting killed, Trevelyan locks Bond in the carriage, with Simonova, which is armed to self-destruct. Simonova takes the three minutes Trevelyan has given him to use her own 1337 hax0ring skillz to get a bead on where the other installation is, getting as far as Cuba.

During their journey, she also gets on Bond’s case on why he has to be a hard-ass all the time, and he’s all “well, I dunno”. And then she falls on him anyway.

Sean Bean Dies

Bond and Simonova have some alone time off Cuba, then head off in a light plane trying to find the dish. They’re just about to give up the search when some rocket ploughs through the plane’s wing when they figure they’ve found the right place, managing to land the plane in a less than graceful manner.

Onatopp locates Bond in the bushes and, after another love tussle that she’s enjoying altogether too much, she ends up at the end of the line, and it’s time for Bond to figure out where the dish actually is. As it turns out, it’s cunningly submerged in the lake, and only brought out for special occasions. In this case, Trevelyan wants to make a large transaction in currency just so he can watch it tank.

It’s a Bond film, though, so that doesn’t work out for him; while he and Boris are trying to get the signal, Simonova finds an old 386 25DX system in a back storeroom and hacks the Gibson or encrypts some shit to lock Boris out, while Bond goes out to the antenna to disable it. Trevelyan follows him out there, they trade blows dangling from the antenna while Trevelyan talks some smack about how good he is and Bond sucks, but Bond has the last word and drops the mic. And also Trevelyan.

And to just make sure, the antenna drops on Trevelyan.

Meanwhile, Boris gets freeze dried, lets not care about Boris, he’s arguably one of the worst bit-part characters in a Bond movie since – well, OK, he’s not as obnoxious as that Louisiana sheriff guy. (If Alan Cumming reads this, don’t worry, I enjoyed your “walking around cities” programmes.)

The Allies

I guess Zukovsky is an ally, but Bond’s first lead in St Petersburg is Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), who bares an uncanny resemblance to the arms dealer in The Living Daylight. Jack refuses to call Bond James, preferring Jimmy or Jimbo or Jiminy. Something that doesn’t bug this Bond too much. Wade also pops up to sort out Bond’s foray into Cuba, I guess because Leiter was still regenerating after having his leg bitten off. As an ally, Wade proves fairly useful, although perhaps a little too attentive in the end when Bond just wants to unwind.

The Farce

The bit with the car chase as Bond is being “assessed” at the beginning is, well, kind of fun but at a real risk of going Lazenby. I think I’ve mentioned how obnoxious the character of Script Kiddy Boris is, but its also annoyingly true-to-life. There’s nothing really super terrible about the whole thing.

The Production

For the most part, a big step up – if nothing else the tank chase is over-the-top and great fun, as is the opening sequence in the chemical weapons dump, as is the first splodey scene in Sriracha or wherever that base was. Even the parts that are a little more naff, like the battle in the Cuban installation, are naff in a very Bond way, like just about every villain lair mass freakout from You Only Live Twice to Moonraker to A View To A Kill.

The space CGI is terrible, though. Could they have possibly put a call into Paramount and ask whoever does the orbital shots in the 90s Star Trek TV series to make it look less terrible? Anyway. A very small thing, though. For the rest of the film, Martin Campbell makes it gleam in the way a Bond film ought to and sets the bar for the next few films.


As I said last time around, while the legal scuffles scuttled the third Dalton film I would’ve liked to have seen, it probably wasn’t the worst thing for the series in general to have that breather. With its return, the hallmarks are in place, with a few tweaks to bring the series into the 90s.

Brosnan is very good, at least this time around, backed up by good performances from the ensemble, particularly Bean, Dench and Coltrane. As far as the plot it’s nice mix of the technodoom, revenge and old war tropes, leavened by *real* *historical* *fact* as the motivation for Trevelyan.

Anyway, a solid entertaining film that doesn’t meander too much, I’m quite happy rating it up there with my other old and new favourites from this run.

As such, I rate it 18 clicky pens out of 20.