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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Campbell’

They say there’s no such thing as a job for life any more (personally, right now I would settle for a guaranteed six months), but that’s not the case for everyone. Once a movie star, always a movie star – which is to say that, once you achieve a certain level of success, you are always going to be guaranteed some kind of gig simply because of how recognisable your name is, as long as you don’t mind lowering your standards and possibly working abroad. Every maker of low-budget genre movies is delighted to be able to slap a proper movie star name on the publicity, often in inappropriately large print.

But why should you, as a successful movie star, contemplate demeaning yourself in this way? Well, most likely because you can’t get a decent gig any more, either because no-one is going to see your films or you have done something so unspeakable even Hollywood film producers won’t be seen in your company. Yes, we are here to talk about Mel Gibson, who managed to almost destroy one of the most successful careers in Hollywood with various bouts of alcohol-fuelled bigotry. Even through Gibson’s wilderness years, however, he was still managing to land the odd part, with the longest pause between lead roles coming between Signs, in 2002, and Edge of Darkness in 2010. This latter film appears to have been a slightly marginal release – the end of January is not a prime juncture to be releasing a thriller with an $80 million budget – and possibly Gibson agreed to do it for a reduced fee, or perhaps because he was a big fan of the original material.

The movie is directed (not entirely surprisingly) by Martin Campbell. Gibson plays Tom Craven, a veteran Boston detective who has a slightly awkward relationship with with his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Nevertheless, Craven is delighted when she comes round for dinner, even though there is clearly something on her mind. Maybe even more than that, for she is suddenly taken violently ill, and on the way to the car they are jumped by a masked gunman. Emma is shot and instantly killed and the killer makes his escape.

Everyone’s assumption is that this is someone from Craven’s past with a score to settle, but he is not so sure. His investigations lead him to Emma’s employers at Northmoor, a private company linked to the defence establishment, and also reveal that she was part of a group of activists working to limit environmental damage and nuclear proliferation. His discoveries eventually attract the attention of Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), an enigmatic British security consultant employed by Northmoor and its allies in the government to keep situations like this from attracting publicity: Northmoor is illegally producing nuclear weapons for deniable use, and when they attempted to reveal this, Emma and three of her friends were murdered. Can Craven bring the truth to light or will the conspiracy silence him as well?

Yes, well, the key thing to bear in mind about Edge of Darkness is that it is based – loosely! – on a British TV serial (mini-series, I suppose) from 1985, which Campbell also directed. To call the TV series critically acclaimed is an understatement – for many serious critics as well as viewers, it remains a landmark piece of TV drama, emblematic of a time when British television drama was not afraid to be bold, ambitious, and include a touch of fantasy. Although ostensibly about a conspiracy within the nuclear industry, the series touches on a vast range of themes and ideas, incorporating the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, the implication of a generational feud between rival secret societies, Anglo-American politics in the 1980s, and some genuinely fantastical elements (the original script ended with Craven mystically transforming into a tree, symbolising the coming restoration of the balance of nature by the elimination of the human race). It is a mind-boggling, frequently breath-taking achievement.

This is not true of the movie version of Edge of Darkness, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, just another bog-standard Mel Gibson revenge thriller, about a man on a mission to get justice for his daughter’s death. Forget the place of humanity within the ecology of the planet, the closest this comes to a substantive subplot is Craven’s increasing realisation that he didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought he did.

It does make you wonder what Martin Campbell really thought the core of Edge of Darkness was, for once past the initial set-up and Emma’s murder the two pieces diverge in almost every imaginable way – the characters of Craven, Emma, and Jedburgh are just about recognisable (the fact that Robert De Niro walked off the movie led to Winstone being cast, which at least inverts the nationalities of the characters from the TV version), but the character of Bennett is promoted to being chief villain, and Danny Huston plays him almost as a panto bad guy. This is another of those movies which sets up the stock figure of the private security contractor as a hissable villain – which I suppose is as good a way as any of allowing American audiences to process any ambiguity they may feel towards their country’s foreign policy adventures over the last two decades without the film criticising, even implicitly, members of the country’s armed forces.

It’s not just that the movie takes a genuinely thought-provoking and multi-faceted drama and reduces it to something not unlike Death Wish, it’s that even on its own terms Edge of Darkness is just not a very good movie. It is oddly paced, slow at the start (many scenes of Gibson wandering mournfully around empty rooms on his own) and rushed at the end. The requirements of the plot result in many very odd and often inexplicable contortions: there’s a repeated motif where someone poisons someone else, usually with irradiated milk, but as it takes a long time for someone to die from radiation poisoning the film chivvies things along by having them subsequently shot anyway.

If I say that Gibson is competent, then it may largely be because the film has obviously been tailored to suit his persona: he looks intense and beats people up a lot. Ray Winstone actually makes a fairly positive impression as Jedburgh, though this is an almost completely different character from the TV version: rather than a rogue CIA agent pursuing his own rather cryptic agenda, here Jedburgh is yet another security consultant, albeit one who has improbably grown a conscience. Hardly anyone else in the film makes much of an impression, but then the film as a whole hardly lingers in the memory much. The best I can say for it is that it made me want to watch the British version of the story. I fear it may have the opposite effect on anyone not familiar with the TV show, which is possibly the most heinous sin it commits. A bad movie, regardless.

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Current holder of the ‘Well, That’s Really Not At All What I Expected’ award is The Foreigner, one of those rather anonymously-titled genre movies you often find turning up direct-to-DVD or on streaming sites. My understanding is that this movie did get a theatrical release in some countries last year, which is doubtless due to the fact it has some proper stars in it – Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan – and is directed by the very capable Martin Campbell, who is arguably the director with the most consistently impressive track record in the Bond franchise. So you’re expecting a thriller, with these guys involved, but what exactly? Well, it’s clearly going to be some kind of buddy movie, isn’t it, with Chan and Brosnan possibly as superannuated spies brought unwillingly out of retirement together – Brosnan perhaps as someone a bit pompous, who’s gone respectable, and resents having to work with Chan, who comes across as a well-meaning oaf until it’s time to kick some heads in. Inevitably the two of them bond (no pun intended) through some crazy exploits, before a feel-good ending that leaves the door open for a sequel…

Amazing. Every word of what I just wrote is wrong (to coin a phrase). This is such a wholly different kettle of fish that it’s barely recognisable as a kettle of fish at all. Jackie Chan plays Quan, a single father who owns a Chinese restaurant in London (he and his family emigrated to the UK back in the 80s). His teenage daughter is his pride and joy, and so it is an appalling trauma when she is killed in a terrorist bombing just five minutes into the movie.

The bombing is claimed by the Authentic IRA, a rogue faction of the united Ireland movement, and pressure is immediately brought to bear on the political wing of the organisation to give up the men responsible for the atrocity. First in line for the squeeze is Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Liam Hennessy (Brosnan), who was a senior IRA man before – apparently – eschewing the way of violence. Everyone, including the media, assumes that Hennessy must know who planted the bomb, which brings him to Quan’s attention.

Everyone is a bit surprised when a fairly elderly Chinese dude turns up at Hennessy’s office in Belfast demanding to be told the names of the men responsible for murdering his daughter, but Quan is not to be dissuaded by veiled threats or fobbed off by the usual platitudes. However, their surprise turns to actual amazement when Quan sneaks off to the office toilets and fabricates a bomb out of lemonade and cigarettes, rather like a more violent MacGyver. He is clearly an aging restauranteur with a bit of a past, and he’s not going to take no for an answer…

So, yes, this is absolutely not a comedy film. Instead it is another of those Bus Pass Badass movies, this time starring everyone’s favourite Hong Kong-born knot of scar tissue in an entirely serious role. Well, I say ‘entirely serious’, but the film does require you to accept that Quan – who it turns out had some kind of special forces background during the Vietnam War – has kept up with his training over the last forty years. It’s a fairly big ask, but not an unreasonable one, as seeing Chan do his stuff is partly why you’re watching the movie in the first place. The film is, shall we say, carefully constructed so that Chan does not have to participate in a great many complex dialogue scenes in English, but his performance as a man who has basically had his emotions ripped away by an inconceivable tragedy is entirely believeable.

Also operating very much against type is Pierce Brosnan. Now, it may be that one of the reasons why this film didn’t get a theatrical UK release is that it ventures into some slightly ticklish areas – I don’t just mean the fact that this is essentially a fairly lightweight thriller which features multiple bombs going off in public areas, either (I’m never very comfortable when terrorist atrocities are treated as the stuff of genre entertainment, but maybe that’s just me). Brosnan’s choice of beard, glasses, and accent makes it pretty clear that his character is intended to be a kind of roman a clef version of the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and one suspects that lawyers had an interesting time ensuring this movie was not actionable – there are numerous mentions of the IRA throughout, but references to Sinn Fein itself are much less frequent and oblique.

Once you get your head around all this, though, Brosnan also gives a perfectly good performance in a somewhat tricky role – Chan is obviously the good guy in this movie, but Brosnan is playing a much more ambiguous figure, whose exact role in the plot is not immediately clear. The two of them have very little screen time together, though, which is a bit of a shame.

In fact, this rather feels like two quite different films which have been spliced together – there’s a morally ambiguous political thriller about Ulster politics and the connections between politicians and the men of violence, starring Brosnan, and then there’s a much more straightforward action movie with Chan in the lead role. I have to say I would have appreciated perhaps a little more of the latter, for the action sequences are where The Foreigner really comes to life – the film is puttering along engagingly enough in its opening section, then a bunch of IRA heavies turn up to Quan’s B&B to run him out of town, and suddenly we’re into a proper Jackie Chan action sequence with people flying out of windows and tumbling down flights of stairs. It’s a little more restrained and has a harder edge to it than you might expect, but it’s still exhilarating stuff.

In the end, though, this is still quite a dark film – apart from Quan, there are no significant good guys, and the British authorities are depicted as every bit as ruthless as their terrorist counterparts (we see prisoners tortured and executed). At the conclusion, there is a definite sense of closure, but not really that of a happy ending – the dead stay dead, no matter what, and no-one has come out of these events unscathed and untainted. It’s an unusual and downbeat note on which to end, but one entirely in keeping with the tone of the rest of the movie. This is a pretty decent thriller, once you get past the apparently peculiar casting choices for the two lead roles, and the two stars deserve credit for trying something different and working so hard to ensure it succeeds as much as it does.

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In recent times we’ve had to become accustomed to the Bond franchise taking mini-breaks on a fairly regular basis (mainly due to the travails of movie studios and the occasional row about creative direction) but for nearly thirty years it was one of the most reliable series out there, with never a break of more than three years between films. So the non-appearance of any new Bond for half a decade in the early 90s was a bit of a shock. Coupled to the relative underperformance of the ill-liked Timothy Dalton films, and some fairly major geopolitical upheavals occurring in the same period, and some observers were even heard to suggest that time had finally run out and the fabled licence to kill had expired.

So when the production of Martin Campbell’s GoldenEye was finally announced in 1994, I was a little relieved, even if the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Bond wasn’t something I was over the moon about. This was a movie which would inevitably have big expectations upon it, and for me Brosnan was really more of a light comedian or romantic lead, just a bit too smooth and lightweight for the role. (I always say that everyone has the right to be wrong sometimes, and as you can see that’s an informed opinion.)

As it turned out, of course, GoldenEye emerged as a new kind of Bond film and the most entertaining in a very long time. To begin with, it’s not afraid to be resolutely traditional, with a lengthy teaser depicting Bond and fellow agent Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrating a Soviet weapons facility. The mission goes bad and only Bond escapes.

Nine years and the collapse of the Soviet Union later, Bond happens to be in the area when an experimental helicopter is stolen by the beautiful but rather psychopathic Xenia Onatopp (gotta love these Bond movie names), a breakthrough role for Famke Janssen. However, Bond’s boss (Her Majesty Judi Dench) doesn’t consider this very significant, which turns out to be a mistake as said chopper is used almost at once to steal the control elements of a Russian satellite weapon codenamed GoldenEye.

(Bond swot points will, of course, be awarded for knowing that the title GoldenEye is ultimately derived from the name of Ian Fleming’s holiday home. Really ridiculous swot points will be further be awarded for knowing that the holiday home in question appears to have been christened in turn after a breed of duck.)

Apparently out of a general disapproval of this sort of thing rather than any particular British strategic interest, Bond is sent to Saint Petersburg to find the stolen weapon and sort out the criminals involved. Along the way there are, inevitably, a couple of dodgy helpers (Robbie Coltrane and Joe Don Baker), a devotchka in distress (Izabella Scorupco), an exploding pen and a watch which shoots laser beams.

One doesn’t often get the chance to say this about a Bond film but GoldenEye is a very intelligent movie, mainly in the way it’s aware of the audience’s expectations and is extremely diligent about meeting them. It works very hard to establish Brosnan as Bond from the start, sticking him first in the Aston Martin from Goldfinger and then in a succession of stock Bond situations – the car chase, the incidental shag, the casino sequence, sparring with the bad guy. The end result is that you don’t have much choice but to accept Brosnan as the character – who else could he be? It helps a lot that both actor and script willingly embrace the essential absurdity of Bond and don’t try to make him all edgy and realistic.

That said, one of the things that makes Pierce Brosnan such a great Bond is the way he manages to strike a balance between so many different elements and synthesize them into a single characterisation. In the past I’ve said that Brosnan is well aware he’s playing an icon and treats the part as such – he has some of Connery’s swagger and some of Moore’s unflappability, and even occasionally some of Dalton’s intensity. He is the composite Bond par excellence, even if in this film he hasn’t quite got the look of the character right (hair too long and some dodgy wardrobe choices near the start).

One of GoldenEye‘s concessions to modern sensibilities is in its attempt to at least make a token exploration of Bond’s character from a vaguely realistic point of view. ‘You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,’ M tells Bond quite early on, which is quite a brave move given this is the kind of criticism the character’s always drawn. No attempt is made to rebut these charges, of course, as there is obviously some truth to them! And later on there’s a scene in which we see Bond deep in thought as he ponders the fact he’ll soon have to kill a former friend, which leads to a moderately earnest discussion of his reluctance to really get emotionally close to people. This scene does hit a bit of a bum note – on first viewing, the friend I was with leaned over and whispered ‘Here we go, New Man Bond time’ before it had even got started – and this may be why this sort of thing didn’t reappear in the other Brosnan films.

The first half of GoldenEye may be extremely deftly made, with enormous skill and wit, but it is still really just karaoke Bond for the most part, and knowingly so. It doesn’t take the character or the series anywhere genuinely new. All this changes when James Bond climbs into a T-54 tank and, in pursuit of the bad guys, proceeds to demolish large areas of Saint Petersburg. This whole sequence is bursting with a sort of boisterous delight in its own destructiveness and takes place on a scale not seen in a Bond film for many, many years. Political relevance and character insights are nice things to have around, but these movies are really about action, wit, and guilty pleasure and the tank chase delivers them in spades, demonstrating exactly why there was still a place for Bond at the heart of popular culture.

It’s such a great sequence that the rest of the film seems slightly disappointing as a result, something of a return to the Bond formula. But this is only relatively speaking, of course. The film continues as solidly as it started, eventually arriving at an appropriately pyrotechnic conclusion. If the mention of Guantanamo Bay in the closing seconds seems a little jarring, well, that just shows that the world keeps changing even if Bond himself stays largely immutable.

There are so many other good things about this film, from Martin Campbell’s direction – it’s easy to see why they brought him back to introduce Daniel Craig’s Bond – to the supporting performances. Robbie Coltrane is obviously enjoying himself a lot, while Joe Don Baker appears to simply be reprising his performance as CIA loose cannon Darius Jedburgh from Campbell’s Edge of Darkness. The only element of the film which seems questionable is Eric Serra’s soundtrack – clearly Serra’s been employed on the strength of his work on Leon, and the music here bears a resemblance to that score. He treats the Bond theme as something to be tinkered with and deployed in different forms, almost like a motif, which brings variable results, and sticks a fairly objectionable soft-rock ballad over the closing credits on which he himself provides the vocals. It’s not entirely surprising David Arnold was brought on board for the next film.

As I’ve mentioned before, GoldenEye is probably my favourite of the Brosnan Bonds, which as time goes by seem more and more to occupy their own niche in the history of the franchise. In the earlier films there’s a continuity of style, up to a point, even when the lead actor changes, with the films evolving without a great deal of self-consciousness. But with GoldenEye the series suddenly seems to become aware of its own traditions and staples and even cliches, and also its reputation and iconic status. The defining characteristic of the Brosnan films, for me, is the way that they’re so knowing about these things in the way that they meet them, play with them, and occasionally subvert them. Coupled to Brosnan’s constantly entertaining lead performance, the result is a set of films of a consistently high quality, and at least as rewarding to watch as any in the history of the franchise.

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The colour green, so my researches on t’internet have revealed, has many and various symbolic associations – with immortality, with nature, with love and with financial prosperity. Most significantly right now, it is also famously the colour of envy. Given the truly colossal revenues raked in by the various movies spawned by Marvel Comics over the past decade and a bit – and here I’m thinking of the legion of blockbusters based on X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and so on – it would be deeply surprising if their long-time rivals at DC Comics weren’t a striking verdant shade right now. The only successful movies DC have put out in the same time period are the two Christopher Nolan Batman pictures – massive popular and critical hits, to be sure, but even so…

Well, not surprisingly, DC are having another crack at big-screen success, in the form of Green Lantern, directed by Martin Campbell. Campbell, as you may know, directed two of the best Bond movies of all time, in addition to the brilliant TV thriller Edge of Darkness, so he can do the business – even if a SF-themed superhero fantasy seems a bit of a departure for him. I, as you probably don’t know but will soon be painfully aware, used to be a pretty hard-core Green Lantern fanboy. My search for a particular back-issue (the infamous #51 of the third series) is a running joke for my family. So this could turn into a bit of a bumpy ride. Oh, well, can’t be helped…

Green Lantern boils down to being the story of brilliant but irresponsible test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) whose devil-may-care antics cause all kinds of problems for his boss and sharer of unresolved sexual chemistry Carol (Blake Lively – cripes, that actually seems to be her real name). But things change when a gobbet of green energy plucks Hal off the streets and transports him to the side of a dying alien cop (Temuera Morrison, briefly), recently crashlanded thereabouts. The cop is looking for someone to take over his job, to which end he bequeaths Hal a green lantern. Why? you may be wondering. Well, let the man himself explain, in the words of the original comic:

‘A green lantern… but actually it is a battery of power… given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system… to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and injustice…’

Well, that’s that sorted out, then. (The dialogue in the movie isn’t quite as hokey as the stuff John Broome was writing back in the 50s, but it’s a close thing.) The lantern comes with a matching ring, the wearing of which gives Hal the power to summon up anything he can think of (in any colour he wants, as long as it’s green) as well as fly through space. All these powers will come in handy as the giant space nasty that mortally wounded the cop is heading for Earth, preceded by a scientist (Peter Saarsgard), whose exposure to the cop’s corpse gives him enormous psychic powers and a bit of a swelled head…

Well. From being green-lit to hitting the screen, the gestation period for one of these enormous summer movies – which this definitely is – is about three years, which means that Green Lantern got the go-ahead just about the time that the first Iron Man was racking up some serious revenue. It’s very hard to shake the suspicion that the latter is responsible for the former. All of these movies are very similar in their structure, of course, but the characters, their development, and relationships in this film are all terribly familiar.

Of course this shouldn’t matter, and it really wouldn’t if the story was involving and witty and well-played. One of Green Lantern’s main problems is that the script is trying to do too much. The fictional GL universe is a vast and complex one with a lot of detailed back-story, and to me the movie tries too hard to include it all. Rather than letting the story open with Hal so that audiences can learn about things just as he does, everything kicks off with a sonorous voice-over talking about alien immortals and the green energy of willpower, and the fear-monster of the lost sector… I knew all this stuff already and it still seemed a bit over the top to me. Lord knows what newcomers will make of it – the villain’s not the only one who’s going to end up bulging at the occiput, I suspect.

It’s a fairly busy plot with a lot of different threads and not all of them really pull their weight (I apologise for that horribly mixed metaphor). I suspect a lot of them are here just to tickle the happy buttons of the Green Lantern fanbase, who are a dedicated bunch: a previous attempt to make this movie was abandoned when news of the project was greeted with bared fangs online (but then it was going to be a comedy, starring Jack Black). So we get voice cameos from Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kilowog, and a just-about-in-the-flesh appearance by Mark Strong as Sinestro, including three well-known comics characters when the film only needed to use one of them to tell the story. (The ultimate bad guy is Parallax, not the original version – obviously – nor, so far as I’ve kept up with these things, the retcon that replaced him. So they’re really just using the name, then.) That said, the movie focuses very much on the core iteration of the Green Lantern character. The power comes from the ring, which has been worn by many characters down the years: Hal Jordan is the highest-profile of the main Green Lanterns but also (I would argue) the least interesting. No sign of the Alan Scott, Guy Gardner, John Stewart or Kyle Rayner versions here; perhaps one of them will make it into the sequel which this movie takes some pains to set up.

For me, however, the biggest problem with this film is that – well, parts of it are set in California. Parts of it are set elsewhere in Space Sector 2514, in the Lost Sector, and on the planet Oa at the heart of the universe. But events most frequently occur somewhere close to that peculiar realm known as the Uncanny Valley. The what? you ask, again. Well, basically, you know when you see a CGI picture that’s just a little too perfectly rendered to actually feel realistic? When it looks so real it feels fake? That’s when you’re in the Uncanny Valley.

There are great chunks of Green Lantern where practically everything you see on screen is CGI, up to and including Ryan Reynold’s costume and mask. The film looks astounding even in 2D, but you never buy into it and forget you’re watching a movie. For a film about a fairly obscure character with a silly name (I once asked Garth Ennis and John McCrea why they cracked so many jokes at Green Lantern’s expense during his guest-appearance in Hitman #s 10-12, and they basically said ‘because he’s inherently ridiculous’) you need to ground everything in reality, not keep constantly kicking the audience out of the film by throwing a new improbable-looking alien vista or creature at them.

And spectacle does take place of story to some extent. A lot of the plot unfolds via the mechanism of characters making expository speeches to one another with vast CGI landscapes in the background. There’s relatively little ring-slinging action in the movie, and it’s certainly not what you’d call a breathless thrill-ride. The focus on character brings its own rewards, of course, and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively do well (even if Lively does seem a tad decorative).

Green Lantern is amusing and aesthetically pleasing up to a point, and the story hangs together well enough, but it’s sprawling and talky and a bit too much in love with its own universe to really satisfy as a superhero adventure. And I say this as someone who already knows the mythos and was thus in no danger of suffering info-dump overload. Newcomers may just find it a very thin and rather familiar story, swamped by rinky-dinky visuals and too many characters with funny heads. It’s not actually a bad movie, it has nice performances and a certain visual novelty to it – but it’s not close to the standard of the best of the Marvel films. Not DC’s darkest night at the cinema, but a long way from its brightest day, too.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published December 7th 2006:

Ah, Mr Bond, I’ve been expecting you. For quite a while, actually, you’ve certainly taken your own sweet time turning up. Have you by any chance had a bit of work done here and there? I love what you’ve done with your hair…

Whether the Bond franchise was in dire need of a radical makeover following 2002’s Die Another Day is questionable, given the deserved popularity of Pierce Brosnan in the role (not to mention a global box office take of over $430 million). It’s a bit of a moot point now as Eon, Bond’s big-screen custodians, clearly thought so, even if the studio didn’t. Well, they’ve opted for grit over glamour and the results, as displayed in Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, are startling.

The news that Brosnan would be replaced for this final Fleming adaptation by the surprising choice of Daniel Craig attracted only slightly more attention from the lunatic fringes of Bond fandom than the revelation that the new movie would ditch over forty years of admittedly rather duff continuity and be a very definite re-start for the franchise, but Eon have stuck by both decisions.

So the movie opens with Bond receiving his 00 rank and rapidly discovering the talents for monumental carnage and indiscriminate fornication and adultery that have made him such a family favourite for many decades. Surveillance on a Madagascar-based mercenary leads to Bond putting a serious spanner in the works of terrorist financier Le Chiffre (nicely played by Mads Mikkelsen), and, more importantly, probably the best action sequence of the year, as Bond relentlessly pursues the astonishingly agile free-runner Sebastian Foucan all over a building site. Seriously short of funds and pursued by some very nasty creditors, Le Chiffre is forced to organise a high-stakes card game to recoup his losses, and Bond’s prodigious gambling talents make him the obvious man to take him on…

Expectations for this movie were high, but it delivers in spades. Most importantly it does the business as a tough, realistic thriller. The opening act, with Bond basically wandering around the Bahamas and Miami for an hour, destroying everything in his path, is perhaps a little overlong, but from here the movie goes into a fairly close (by Eon’s standards) adaptation of the original novel. The character of Mathis, here played by Giancarlo Gianinni, finally makes it into a Bond movie, and Felix Leiter very briefly pops up (it seems that these days he is once again an African-American). The book’s most notorious sequence also appears, although Le Chiffre’s carpet-beater is replaced by a length of rope. Eva Green gets a chance to do a bit more acting than the average Bond girl, even if her relationship with Craig is a bit too underwritten to really convince. Martin Campbell’s taut direction is better suited to the various gunfights and chases anyway.

But the really startling thing about this movie is the way it handles the central character. It essentially ignores the characterisation that has developed (or rather hasn’t developed) over the previous twenty films, and goes back to source. Daniel Craig’s performance as Bond is closer to Ian Fleming than I would ever have imagined. He enjoys the good things in life and is extremely good at his job, but his job is applied brutality – he’s cold and hard and ruthless, and when things don’t go his way he’s prone to acts of almost irrational violence. That said, the movie makes it clear he’s not just a blunt instrument – this is a cunning and almost scarily perceptive man. You don’t want him as an enemy – but then, neither do you really want him as a friend…

Daniel Craig brings him to life tremendously. It would be unfair to the other Bonds to say he’s the first not trying to copy Connery, but he seems to be the first whose performance isn’t in some way a reaction to the great man’s interpretation. He’s playing a human being whereas Brosnan in particular was inhabiting an icon. (The Brosnan pictures, slick and accomplished though they all were, are now looking to me at least like karaoke Bonds – the greatest hits of the 60s and 70s remixed and repackaged with a knowing wink.)

There’s a lengthy coda to one action sequence where we see Bond back in his room drinking whiskey as he washes off the blood, something previously unimaginable. The relaunch allows the writers to have a lot of fun with the various elements of the Bond legend – the clothes, the Aston Martin, the drink, the catchphrase. But it’s telling that they miss a lot of the staples out completely. There’s no sign of Q, in particular, or his invisible car. (Though that’s probably the idea of an invisible car, come to think of it.) Essentially the reboot has given the scriptwriters the opportunity to dynamite away most of the dead weight of formula and tradition that have accumulated around James Bond over the decades. Rather surprisingly, the character revealed – and maybe released – by this is as compelling and guiltily entertaining as he must have been fifty years ago. Where they’re going to go from here I haven’t the faintest idea – but I can’t wait to see. This is very probably the best Bond movie since the 1960s, and one of the best action movies of 2006. Highly recommended.

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