the_croupier: (bond gunbarrel)
[personal profile] the_croupier

I expected to like it, especially when Judi Dench told Charlie Rose that it had a "very good script." What I hadn't expected was how satisfying it would be as the finale to what is clearly now a trilogy of movies rebooting Bond to an even further extent than I expected. By the end, we have a much more traditional--and yet thoroughly updated--M, and even a Moneypenny (again, thoroughly updated, and yet still essentially true to the tradition).

It's hardly original to say the three films have a lot to do with the early James Bond's relationship with women, but the maternal aspect of his relationship to M is much stronger here than before, and risks becoming too heavy handed when they flee back to his ancestral home--tombstones of Bonds' parents and all.

We also get a line of blatant foreshadowing, when M tells Bond that orphans always make the best agents. So in retrospect, it's not surprising when M herself meets her end. It's not just the parallel of her dying at Bond's abandoned family manse, but also that her death fulfills the point she herself has made: that Bond will not be Bond so long as she, as his mother figure, remains in his life. Hence her death takes us immediately through the remaining arc of the circle begun by Casino Royale: Bond is now Bond, with M and Moneypenny and all the rest ready for all that "work to do." And Bond himself is ready to get about it.

(This is, of course, all horribly about Bond, and threatens to render M relevant only in how she moves his character forward. But I'm willing to give the film a pass on that. I'm not denying that that's exactly what's happening--how can I? But M's death is not a throw-away moment, any more than Vesper's was. Bond films have always been exercises in masculine ego-centrism, and by the standard set by the films of past years, those two death scenes certainly count as "enlightened," even if that's not exactly setting the bar very high.)

I think Dench might be giving the script a little too much credit and Sam Mendes not enough (though she praises him too). I could easily see that script going horribly wrong, and I won't be surprised if some of you reply that, no, it really was all too heavy handed and predictable.

I can see the point. But it really did work for me, and it felt like a satisfying conclusion to Dench's part in the series. It's pretty clear (and very sad) that she's winding her career down, and major anniversaries (50 years of Bond) are always occasions for endings as well as beginnings. This is a very good moment to make an exit, and she does it with grace. (Nice that Albert Finney(!) was not only there, but didn't suffer a pointless death in the way that Bond movies used to off every secondary character--another major improvement of the last ten years).

Of course, M doesn't really get a chance to fulfill her vow, to leave MI6 better than how she found it. So in that sense, I guess one has to say the script does not do well by her. And while she's effective in most of the film, Bond ends up saving her at the last crucial moment. I can see people being unhappy about that.

But I think one could make the case it had to go that way. Silva isn't just the male villain tormenting the female lead here (and M is absolutely the female lead). M created Silva and then made the call to throw him away. She did her part to turn him into a monster--a twisted travesty of Bond gone horribly wrong (and isn't that saying something). For that reason, I would argue he becomes a monster she cannot herself put down. It's for Bond himself to do that. Because, as they both agree, this is about "the last two rats."

Which takes me back to the script. I think it's very well thought out, and reasonably careful about how it sets things up. Mendes then ably sees it through to that satisfying, if sad, conclusion.

Which is also the resolution of a "Bond: The Early Years" trilogy. Just as no lover will impress Bond like Vesper *, it's pretty clear that Ralph Fiennes' M will not be the same for Bond. It's not just that he's male. It's the relationship that's already established between them: mutually respectful, but cool. Professional. Emotionally reserved and matter-of-fact. And seeing it now, how could it be anything else?

Which takes me to the next film, which is when--I would argue--the real reinvention of the character will take place. What we've had so far has been something new: a reboot of a character and his development. Now that that's done, it's time for a film that really is an updated and evolved take on the Bond films of the Connery era. I hope they live up to the promise. (A first, wise step would be to sign Sam Mendes up for it right now.)

(* Unless we see a new take on Teresa di Vicenzo at some point. But Diana Rigg is a hard act to match.)

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The Croupier's Ramblings

November 2013

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