Saturday, August 05, 2006
Pretty exciting so far.
Then Bond goes to somewhere in Central Asia that the friendly and informative caption tells us is "a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border." It looked exactly like a San Gabriel Valley Swap Meet to me, where they close up the race track one Sunday a month. The arms bazaar is being watched by the British military and British intelligence and the stuffy admiral guy says, "Blow 'em all up, wot! Good show to get all those terrorists at once, eh?" But M (Judi Dench) protests that they are acting too quickly. But no one listens and the order is given and they send a missile to blow up all those terrorists.
But then they notice that there are some nuclear missiles on sale at the bazaar, very dangerous, radio-active missiles, that they didn't notice. (Because they were too small or something? They look pretty big to me!) Yes. Why would there be nuclear weapons on sale at a terrorist weapons bazaar? Terrorists know they can just buy nuclear weapons from Iraq or Nigeria or Hezbollah, so why would there be any at a terrorist weapons bazaar? They try to call back the missiles, but there is some sort of malfunction and now there is a great danger that radio-active material will be blown across large parts of Central Asia. (But that is the price they must pay because don't forget: Freedom isn't free.)
But, no! Pierce Brosnan Bond is there! He starts shooting at everybody and he dodges the bullets and he scrambles into the plane that has the nukes and he takes off before the British missiles hit and he saves the day! And then he fights off some random Arabic-looking pilot who was hiding in the jet (for some reason) and also a pursuing jet flown by yet another random Arabic-looking dude and he beats them AT THE SAME TIME and saves the day! Tally-ho!
Then the credits start, and we get really neat but weird graphics of naked robot woman just sort of walking and posing, perhaps trying to find Sheryl Crow so they can kill her.
Then Bond is in London and a rich guy named King gets blown up by a remote control device operated by a hot chick (who gave him the cigar in the first scene) on a boat in the Thames. Bond steals an experimental mini hydro-craft from Q and chases the girl in a very exciting sequence on the Thames, under bridges, over public squares, lots of shooting, it's really neat! And she tries to escape in a balloon and she refuses to tell who sent her and she gets blown up! Wow!
Then the credits roll again, this time they are by Salvador Dali and the music is Garbage.
Then we go to the South China Sea, where a deceitful satellite signal has misguided the HMS Devonshire unknowingly into Chinese waters. The Chinese air force tries to warn them away but the Brits say "Bollocks!" to that. Then a stealth boat comes up. It cannot be tracked by the British or the Chinese. It is owned and operated by an evil media mogul named Eliott Carver who seems to be patterned on Rupert Murdoch, only not quite so evil. (Just kidding. Still, I am very disappointed by the way Murdoch exploits Bill O'Reilly's mental infirmities. Shame on you, Rupert!) The stealth ship releases a device called the Sea Drill which punches a hole in the Devonshire and sinks it, and then the crew of the stealth ship murders the survivors.
Carver's motivation? He is starting a new international network and he wants big news for his first day. He is also hoping to start a war between Britain and China (as if?) so that he will get media rights in China. (It made sense while I was watching it but my notes aren't very good. You'll just have to trust me.)
Bond goes to King's funeral where he meets Electra King (as played by the totally hot Sophie Marceau), who is King's daughter and she is determined to take over her father's oil business by completing the pipeline he is building in Azerbaijin, another mythical country invented by Tolkien. Angry gnomes are trying to destroy the pipeline, and Elektra's life is in danger. (My notes are really terrible. I think "gnomes" is supposed to be "anarchist terrorists.") M is concerned about Elektra, so she sends Bond to Baku to make sure she is safe. (He hopes to do some skiing in his spare time.)
On the way to Baku, he stops off in Hamburg because the british Secret Service is very concerned that Rupert Elliot Murdoch-Carver may be involved in the crisis in the South China Sea that is about to escalate into a major war. (China vs. Britain: as if!). He attends the opening-day ceremonies for the new satellite network, where he meets Murdoch-Carver (played by a very creepy Jonathon Pryce who seems to think media moguls should be played as stereotypical child molesters) and Waylon, a Chinese reporter played by the incredible Michelle Yeoh, who should kill James Bond and take over the series because she is so awesome. Bond also meets an old flame, Paris Carver, played by the also incredible but unfortunately out-of-place Teri Hatcher. Paris is currently married to Carver and she slaps Bond as soon as she sees him.
I adore Teri Hatcher, but her part in this movie is just sad. She is married to a creepy, sweaty psychopath. (You would puke if you had to shake his hand.) This part very much shows where she was in her career at the time. She had been the girlfriend of a super-hero. (Teri was in Lois and Clark; Paris had been intimate with James Bond, who is Superman, just without the Kryptonite. Actually, Bond is BETTER than Superman because Bond's villains do not some back.) And now, Paris is a desperate housewife, just like Teri would be a few years later.
Murdoch-Carver figures out that Bond is up to something, so he has him beaten up by generic hirelings, but Bond has little trouble beating the snot out of them and shutting off power to the new network's premiere, making Murdoch-Carver look like a butt-hole. Ha ha!
He quickly heads off for Azrbaijin where Elektra gives him a lot of attitude. The pipeline has run into trouble because the proposed route involves blowing up a church or a mosque or a temple - some generic place of worship that is such a transparent throwaway plot device that no one seems the least bit concerned about mentioning any specific religion. Azerbaijin is predominantly an Islamic country, so we will assume it is a mosque. Well, the locals are not too pleased that the foreign oil people are about to blow up their, uh, religion-thingie, so Elektra looks into it personally and decides ... well, let's build around it. (Wisdom of Solomon, that girl. She's a keeper, James! Lots smarter than Vesper Lynd.) Her advisors try to tell her it will cost millions and delay construction but Elektra seems to be thinking that it may be cheaper to plan a new route for the pipeline than to rebuild it every three or four months because the angry locals are blowing it up constantly.
So then, Bond and Elektra get dropped out of a helicopter in the mountains to go skiing and to check out other sections of the pipeline, but they are soon pursued by ... things! My notes say they are glider-snowmobiles, and I know that sounds retarded but that was the best I could come up with. (Bond later calls them Power-Hawks.) They fly after Bond and Elektra and shoot at them and drop bombs on them and Bond defeats them by ... skiing. He is such a good skiier that he causes them to run into each other and run into mountains and blow each other up. It's pretty cool. Now Elektra has warmed to him but he can't sleep with her because he has to hurry back to Hamburg to sleep with Paris Carver before she gets killed.
After sleeping with Paris, Bond goes to the secret lab at Carver-Murdoch's media center/printing press building in Hamburg, where he finds the thingie that one of the terrorists was buying in the first scene, the thingie that everybody is worried about but I forgot to put down what it does in the notes. I'm pretty sure they explained it, but they never really showed it doing anything. Anyway, it's really important, so I better describe it. It's red. And it's about the size of a case for eyeglasses. And it opens up and has a little keyboard in it. And Bond found it and took it and gave it back to the Americans later in the movie, and the Americans were really glad.
At the lab, he runs into Waylon, who has also snuck into the lab, and they get chased by guards. Waylon escapes on a wire and Bond has to escape in a really cool manner. He has this magic car, that he can drive from a distance with a remote that looks like a portable video game. He can see what's in front of the car on the viewscreen and he can steer the car with a little mousepad. So he gets into the parking garage and he jumps into the back window and he keeps his head down and drives the car with the remote control device and safely keeps his head down in the back. Pretty nifty.
He goes back to his hotel and finds Paris Carver dead, killed by her husband's orders to frame Bond. This little scheme never goes anywhere because Bond kills the sadistic German that killed Paris and is trying to kill Bond. Poor Teri Hatcher! She is so fucking cute, but she had a shitty role in this movie.
So Bond goes back to Baku to check in on Elektra and she is at Robbie Coltraine's casino acting like an idiot. So Bond finally sleeps with her. (I forgot to mention that Elektra, some years earlier, had been kidnapped by an anarchist named Renard, who has a bullet in his head that is making him stronger and stronger until he dies. She was pretty roughed up by the kidnappers. She also has a bit of a grudge against the British Secret Service because they urged her father not to pay the ransom at first. It's kind of important. It explains her attitude.)
Then Bond goes to a US Air Base in the South China Sea. (Uh, where is this, exactly?) He gives the thingie to Joe Don Baker and very politely says nothing about his dumb shirt. Another American uses the thingie to help Bond figure out the location of the Devonshire, the ship that was sunk by the Stealth ship earlier in the movie. Then Bond jumps from an airplane into the ocean and finds the ship and meets with Waylon again. But he has to head back to Central Asia.
Renard has a meeting with some guy named Davidov, who is supposed to be working for Elektra, but he is a traitor. When he goes back to the, uh, place where he was at (which I forget why he was there), Bond jumps him and takes his place and just gets on the plane with all the other anarchists and ends up in Kazakhstan, which is one of the top-ten largest countries in the world in size. (Bet you didn't know that.) They are at some sort of nuclear testing site, and this is where Bond meets the physicist and nuclear weapons expert Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards, who is not bad, not bad at all in this role. I bought it totally. Especially considering some of her bad dialogue, some very cliched pretty-and-educated-girl-scientist-with-a-chip-on-her-shoulder quips that are very cringe-inducing. Not her fault, man.
It gets pretty dumb in Kazakhstan. Not Denise's fault. Not the Kazakhs' fault either. The anarchist villain is there. (He is played by Robert Carlisle, the guy from The Full Monty.) He figures out Bond is not supposed to be there. And Christmas Jones quickly relizes she has been working for some pretty bad people, and she helps Bond. The anarchists try to set off a nuclear bomb, and while Bond beats up the bad guys and swings around on a chain, Christmas disrams the bomb. Good job, Christmas! Much better than Paris, who just slept around until she got killed by her psycho husband.
So Bond heads back to the Far East, and meets up with Waylon again. They get picked up by a fishing boat but they are quickly captured by Carver-Murdoch, who takes them to his media center in Saigon, where they escape and ride around - handcuffed! - on a motorcycle, pursued by a helicopter that just won't stop shooting at them. Finally they slide under the helicopter and throw a chain or something into the rotors and it veers off course into a building and blows up. Waylon then gets away from Bond and has her own fight scene when she is attacked by, uh, I was never really clear on this, but I think it was renegade Chinese Army operatives. She was attacked by five or six of them and she opened a big can of whup-ass and whupped their asses. Michelle Yeoh is fucking awesome, and she really whups ass. She does her own fight scenes too, which makes her about ten times cooler than Pierce Brosnan Bond or any of those other pussies that have played James Bond.
James Bond goes back to Baku where we find out that, yes, Elektra is working with the anarchist Renard. (Bad Sophie Marceau! To think of all the time I wasted defending the French from stupid Republican rhetoric! I feel so betrayed!) She kidnaps M (who has come to Baku for some reason) and she is using the pipeline to transport nuclear material to Istanbul (or something), so Bond and Christmas Jones have to ride this weird little tube-thingie inside the pipeline and, working together, they save the day! (Somehow.) But there is a big explosion and everybody thinks they are dead.
Bond sneaks back to the South China Sea, meets up with Waylon, and they attack the Stealth boat. It seems that the British fleet and the Chinese Air Force are about to have a confrontation, and the Stealth Boat, under orders from Carver-Murdoch, is going to dispatch a nuke into Beijing, which will kill all the Chinese leaders, create a major war, allow Carver's ally General Chang to take over China, and enable Carver to assume control media in China. Of course, Bond and Waylon put a stop to this plan and all the bad people are killed. And, because Bond had the totally awesome Michelle Yeoh helping him, it was even easier than usual.
After making out with Waylon for a bit, Bond suddenly remembers that Elektra and Renard have kidnapped M and are going to blow up Istanbul. So he goes there and stops them, with the help of Christmas Jones, and Robbie Coltraine. and he rescues M and kills Renard and Elektra. And then he starts looking over the scripts for Die Another Day and After the Sunset.
JAMES BOND IN THE 1990s
Yes. I noticed I had reviewed more than half of the Bond films and had not said anything about James Bond in the 1990s. That is partly because there were so few Bond films in the 1990s. There were seven Bond films in the 1960s. (I am including Casino Royale (1967) here.) Five Bond films were made in the 1970s. Then there were six Bond films in the 1980s. (This includes 1983's Never Say Never Again.)
After License to Kill (1989), six years passed before the appearance of Pierce Brosnan Bond in Goldeneye in 1995. Six years! Before this gap, there had never been a gap of more than three years between Bond films. (The three-year gap happened between The Man With The Golden Gun in 1974 and The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977.) The end of the 1980s just seems to have sucked the will out of the Bond films. Whereas Moonraker's U.S. box office was $70 million in 1979, the U.S. box office had dwindled to $51 million for The Living Daylights (1987) and down to barely $34 million for License to Kill (1989). (Timothy Dalton gets the blame for this, which I think is unfair. It's those clothes and that hair! Ugh! Poor Olivia d'Abo!)
Looking at some of these 1990s Bond films, I think the filmmakers might have figured out what went wrong in the 1980s. The plots are still being updated (for example, Goldeneye makes great use of the fall of the Soviet Union) but they had the sense not to include a lot of cultural stuff that might look very out of place. Hair and clothes are very classy or utilitarian. (One exception might be Denise Richards's oufit in the movie I just reviewed, where she seems to have stolen her gear from Lara Croft's backpack - and the backpack!)
It works very well. Except for Die Another Day, I think the Pierce Brosnan Bond films are really good, if a little formulaic and, well, sterile. Die Another Day is dumb, dumb, dumb, but it's a hoot to sit around and make fun of it. Same with The Living Daylights and A View To A Kill. (Neither is as dumb, dumb, gloriously dumb as Die Another Day, I must add.
So I don't have nearly as much to say about the good Pierce Brosnan Bond films except that they are good. And it is good that they are good. But they are not so ripe for material for a writer like myself who just likes to make fun of things. It is quite a dilemma, is it not?
How do I feel about the coming film version of Casino Royale? As a Bond fan, I want it to be good. I want it to be great. But as a writer, I want it to be bad because it will be more fruitful as a source of merriment and ridicule. And doesn't the world need a few more laughs? (And not from one of the president's speeches, please. That's not funny any more.)
NEXT: I dunno. I'm having trouble finding a copy of Ian Fleming's last volume of Bond short stories, Octopussy/The Living Caylights. I would really like to review that because then I would be finished with the Fleming books. (And I have no intention of reviewing any of the other Bond novels by other authors. There are dozens! No way!) I still can't find Thunderball - the movie. So next time I'm in the mood to review a Bond film, I'll just pick one. At this point, there is only one Bond film I haven't seen - License To Kill. I am kind of eager to see all of them so I can say with authority that Moonraker is the worst James Bond film. So maybe License To Kill will be next. And if it's worse than Moonraker - watch out!
(I must apologize. I know I said I would review The World Is Not Enough in the style of Gertrude Stein but the movie was a lot better than I thought it would be. I assumed it would be bad because they cast Denise Richards as a nuclear weapons expert. I was wrong. Sue me. Ms. Richards is not bad in the role. And I ended up liking the movie, which made it an inappropriate choice for what I wanted to do. I am currently working on a different perspective which should be posted very soon.)
I really liked The Man With The Golden Gun while I was reading it. If I had written the review last week, when I had just read it, I would be raving about it. Yes, I noted a few problems, such as the Four Amazing Coincidences which will be the focus of this review, and the ending leaves a little to be desired, but I was very pleased with it. I think the great strength of The Man With The Golden Gun is its brevity. It's only about three-fourths the length of the average James Bond novel, and it reads very quickly. I read it in two or three days when I had to make several long train trips to northern Los Angeles county. Such quick reading leaves little time to be critical.
It is very different from the film. The film version is a lot better than the book. In the film, Bond is lured into a trap, a death hunt with Scaramanga, the greatest assassin alive, the man with the golden gun, who gets a million dollars per kill. The movie has some great cat-and-mouse stuff, even remniscient of The Most Dangerous Game at times.
In the book, Bond returns to England a year after he was believed killed after the events of You Only Live Twice. He has been brain-washed by the Russians and sent to kill M, an event that is diverted in a most unlikely manner when M pushes a button that causes a panel of bullet-proof glass to fly down from the ceiling, protecting him from Bond's weapon. Fortunately, Bond waits patiently for the glass to come down before firing.
Bond then spends a few weeks or months reuperating from his ordeal before being sent on a mission to kill Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun, the most dangerous assassin in the world. Scaramanga operates from Castro's Cuba, and he has been taking a toll on British secret service officers. They send Bond because he is their best marksman and most resourceful agent, but also because they are not sure he can be trusted after his ordeal. If he survives the mission, it will be because he has succeeded, and he will have redeemed himself.
In the movie, the confrontation between Bond and Scaramanga took place in Thailand, but most of the action in the book takes place in Jamaica. The reason for this is simple: the previous film, Live and Let Die, took place in the Caribbean. When the filmmakers decided to make The Man With The Golden Gun next, they opted to pick a different locale and so Roger Moore was wandering all over the Orient.
Back to the book. Bond wanders around the Caribbean for a few weeks, following leads, and he is always a day or two behind Scaramanga. He ends up in the Kingston airport on the island of Jamaica, with no leads, and he is planning on going to Havana to see what he can find out there.
AMAZING COINCIDENCE # 1: Bond goes over to a bulletin board in the airport where people leave messages for each other. And there is a note for Scaramanga, giving a meeting-place in Jamaica for that very evening. The place is a whorehouse and it later turns out that Scaramanga is going there for a little "recreation" and also to buy some marijuana, which he gives to the locals as payment to burn the sugar cane and generally wreak havoc in Jamaica's sugar cane business because it helps Cuba's economy. I have a bit of a problem accepting that Scaramanga would use a communication system like this for a meet-up and marijuana purchase involving arson and sabotage. And he certainly wouldn't use hus own name. It is certainly an original method of intelligence gathering. Usually, the guy looking for information beats up people or gets his info in a very vague manner from contacts or from HQ.
So Bond changes his plans and makes a phone call to the British Secret Service station on Jamaica. Which leads us to ...
AMAZING COINCIDENCE # 2: The agent he gets hold of is his old secretary Mary Goodnight. She transferred to Jamaica after he disappeared. I could accept this coincidence pretty easily because it is an adventure genre tradition to have old colleagues run into ech other. But Fleming does so little with her. She helps Bond get a car and some basic information, and then she shows up for a moment later on at a very dangerous point in time and endangers Bond. Totally gratuitous.
So Bond goes to the brothel rendezvous and meets up with Scaramanga. They both put on a tough guy act, which leads us to ...
AMAZING COINCIDENCE # 3: Scaramanga is building a casino/hotel in Jamaica and there are investors coming to size up progress on the project (which is behind schedule) and decide if they want to continue. Scaramanga needs somebody tough to help with security, so he hires Bond to help out for a few days. Wow! That is just dumb. That is almost as dumb as Goldfinger sparing Bond's life because he needs help with paperowrk. Scaramanga is a big man in Havana, he is known all over Latin America, and he can't find his own security guys. He has to pick up a total stranger in a brothel.
And who is on the staff at the half-finished Scaramanga Hotel and Casino?
AMAZING CONICIDENCE # 4: James Bond runs into Felix Leiter at the hotel. He is working for the CIA again, and he is undercover at the hotel as the major-domo or something. The CIA is keeping tabs on one of the investors, a KGB agent. I think I can accept this because Bond is always running into Felix Leiter. It's just one of the genre traditions.
But it has just become a bit much at this point. The book is to short to bear the weight of so many coincidences.
Well, Scaramanga eventually becomes suspicious of Bond and he tries to kill him during a train ride through the jungle. The train crashes off a bridge and the rest of the investors are killed but both Bond and Scaramanga manage to jump off the train in time. Which should lead to a classic confronation between Bond and Scaramanga as hunter and prey and back again in the jungle. But it doesn't. Scaramanga has been badly wounded and he tries to kill Bond with a subterfuge, a derringer hidden in his hair. Bond turns in time so the bullet just grazes him and he quickly kills Scaramanga. BUT the bullet was coated with poison and Bond is only saved by the actions of a Jamaican policeman who, attracted by the smoke from the train crash, arrives on the scene just in time!
So that's The Man With The Golden Gun. It was the last Bond novel that Ian Fleming completed. It has been rumored that Fleming didn't complete it, that it was finished by someone else. I wonder if Fleming considered it complete. It is kind of short and he may have wanted to go through it again and iron out some of the problems I noted, but perhaps he died before he got around to it.
It may be the last Bond novel by Fleming, but there are a couple of shorter works, collected in Octopussy/The Living Daylights, which I hope to review soon.
For more on The Man With The Golden Gun, see the wikipedia entry.
NEXT: James Bond in the 1990s.