This is the fiftieth anniversary for the Bond franchise and the third outing for Daniel Craig in the role.
We open with a pre title sequence set in Istanbul where Bond has been sent to retrieve a missing disk with the names of intelligence agents hidden in terrorist organisations – a bit more serious than the usual run of the mill laptop left on a train affair.
Bond chases the thief through the streets and over the roofs of Istanbul - if you saw the Top Gear Special on the cars of Bond you’ll have an insight of how this was done – a more traditional chase and fight aboard a train (or more particularly on the top of a train) before Bond is shot and falls off a bridge into the roaring torrents below.
Roll the opening credits.
Rather unusually, the pre credits sequence has an effect on the main action of the film as M starts catching political heat from the lost disk and her computer is hacked while she’s out of the office causing an explosion in MI6’s headquarters and the death of 6 officers. After this debacle, M is told by her political masters that once this current mess is sorted out she’s out of a job so going home she’s startled to find a returned Bond waiting for her. In their new headquarters (rather appropriately Churchill’s old wartime bunker) Bond’s given a complete physical and psychological examination which he’s told he’s passed and then told to get his new kit from Q (not John Cleese any more), a spotty faced kid barely out of University, and in keeping with the rather minimalist gadgeteering of the Craig years all he gets is his gun and an emergency radio transmitter. And a ticket to Shanghai. And the Walther is coded to work only for his palm prints, of course.
Although the Bond films are straight up action adventures (most of the time) the scenes in Shanghai may as well have been set on an alien planet, really bringing home the transformation in that part of the world in a way that the news reports of China’s economic transformation haven’t really managed.
The action then moves to Macao with a more traditional meeting in a casino with a pretty woman whose bodyguards were more intent on her than making sure she didn’t get into trouble. With three bodyguards against Bond, he finds himself almost overwhelmed until a Monitor Lizard takes a liking to one opponent and another finds stiletto heels almost as effective a weapon as the knife. Bond then takes up his lady’s offer of a sailing trip out to sea to meet his nemesis. As in an earlier Bond, this is an ex-agent gone bad (Six really needs to look into its retirement package…). Like certain politicos back home, this villain believes the days of the agent on the ground are over but after a deadly variation of the apple on the head trick Bond, and a trio of Apaches take villain guy prisoner and bring him back to London. Q attacks the heavily encrypted computer with a degree of gusto that a more experienced hacker might have worried about, though, to be fair, it’s Bond who gives him the clue to break the encryption. Meanwhile, M’s at yet more hearings into the future of the 00 branch. This part of the film was rather cool as we intercut between the hearing and the villain’s breakout as his computer subverts MI6’s systems, and the subsequent chase through the London underground. Although this film doesn’t really go in for mass shoot outs in the style of the Roger Moore films, the action sequences are brilliantly, ah, executed as demonstrated in the gunfight in the committee room. But the villain gets away!
As M is bundled away to safety, her aide-de-camp finds himself pushed out of her ministerial car as an unknown driver whisks her off. It’s Bond of course but in a government car fitted with all the latest tracking devices, they’re not safe and so Bond takes M to the lockup where his Austin Martin DB5 is revealed to a bar or two of the original Bond theme and ‘Yeah!’s of delight from the older males in the audience! With Q busily supplying almost an almost false trail for Bond’s opponent to follow, we find ourselves up in the wilds of Glencoe and Bond’s ancestral seat. Although the house is stripped of most of the contents, we get a quick lesson on ‘IEDs and your house’ with M showing an alarming facility for mayhem – up to this point, I’d seen her as a bureaucrat but she’s clearly had field experience along the line. And then we get the major confrontation of the film as the house is invaded by the villain of the piece and his minions (where was he getting them?) aboard their helicopter gunship. This constitutes the major action scene of the film, and again, it’s relatively minimalist with Bond, M and the auld family retainer, played with an incredibly posh English accent by Albert Finney (IMDb reports that Sean Connery was considered for this role which may have been a touch too self-referential).
Alas Judi Dench’s M doesn’t survive the fight and the film ends with us being introduced to a new M (we’ll have to see if he does become the permanent actor for the part). This was a shame as Dame Judi has been a fine M, and never better than in this film but we’re all getting older.
We’re promised that Bond will be back. But how many more films for Daniel Craig? Apparently, at forty-three, he’s beginning to feel the strain…
This was a far more introspective film than we’re used to from Bond but I don’t feel it really suffered from this and getting someone of the calibre of Sam Mendes as director really paid off. According to IMDb’s article many of the plans to shoot scenes in foreign climes had to be scrapped due to the uncertainty of the survival of the franchise after the collapse of the studio but Britain stood in excellently on its own merits.