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New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Limits of a Changing Bond…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the American release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the movie’s ending, now that everybody has had a chance to see it.

One of the big questions hanging over Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond is the extent to which the character can evolve or change, whether he can grow with the times or must remain fixed in stone. In contrast to Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of James Bond as a professional who seemed to enjoy his work, Daniel Craig offered a more introspective version of the superspy, one who seemed to wonder about what he did and why he did it. As Craig’s final film in the role, No Time to Die has the opportunity to truly grapple with the question of whether Bond wants to change and whether he can change.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below. Note that the piece contains major spoilers.

New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Strange Insecurity of the Modern James Bond Franchise…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the international release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the larger Daniel Craig era of James Bond.

One of the more consistent recurring themes of these five movies has been the question of Bond’s enduring relevance in a rapidly changing world. Each of the five films tackles – whether directly or indirectly – the idea that James Bond is a character and an idea past his relevence. This is a very strange obsession for the franchise, particularly given the critical and (especially) commercial success of the recent films. Daniel Craig’s iteration of James Bond has outlasted most of his cinematic competitors, so why is the franchise so insecure?

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Daniel Craig Era’s Understanding of James Bond as a Performance…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the looming release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the larger Daniel Craig era of James Bond.

One of the more striking aspects of Craig’s enure as the suave secret agent has been an understanding that James Bond is a performance as much as an actual human being. Bond is set of mannerisms and conventions, coming with a set of expectations and weight. Throughout Craig’s time playing the secret agent, there has been a fascination with that level of performance, and the question of what it entails to be trapped within that framework. It’s a very clever and very self-aware approach to a franchise that is almost sixty years old at this point.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

Non-Review Review: No Time to Die

There is perhaps some irony in the fact that a movie titled No Time to Die is the longest movie in the James Bond franchise.

No Time to Die is an interesting mess of a movie. It’s a film that contains a variety of interesting and intriguing elements that never coalesce into something completely satisfying, and are often lost in a mess of continuity accrued from the previous four entries in the franchise. As the final film in the franchise to star Daniel Craig, No Time to Die finds itself tasked with turning off the lights at the end of the night, serving as something of a series finale to the actor’s previous adventures.

Drinking it all in.

The biggest challenge facing No Time to Die is the simple fact that the previous four films in the franchise don’t really form a single or cohesive narrative. They were four separate movies, with each shaped and informed by the reaction to the prior entry. When Casino Royale proved that audiences could accept a modern take on the James Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace doubled down on tweaking the character to fit into the modern action thriller landscape. When that didn’t work, Skyfall course-corrected for a more traditional approach. Following that success, SPECTRE tried clumsily to tie it all together.

No Time to Die spends far too much of its impressive runtime trying to reconcile these films to each other. As a result, the film never really finds space to play with its own more interesting and compelling ideas.

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New Escapist Column! On How “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” Cast Daniel Craig as a Bond Girl…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. Because The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is now on American Netflix, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at David Fincher’s underrated adaptation.

Daniel Craig has always had a challenging relationship with his most iconic role, that of super-suave super-spy James Bond. Many of his roles play off that tension, juxtaposing Craig with the audience’s expectations of him. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is no exception, essentially casting Craig in the role of the Bond Girl to Lisbeth Salander. Craig is repeatedly presented as vulnerable and distressed, often requiring rescuing and often existing as an extension of the women around him. It’s a clever, self-aware piece of casting.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

New Escapist Video! On “GoldenEye” and an Unchanged Bond in a Changed World…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of GoldenEye, we took a look back at the first James Bond film of the nineties, which introduced the suave secret agent to a whole new generation. Indeed, the genius of the film lay in its understanding of Bond. It presented a version of Bond that had no changed, even as the world around him had.

New Escapist Column! On “GoldenEye” and a James Bond Out of Time…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Because GoldenEye is twenty-five years old this month, it seemed like an appropriate time to look back at one of the more underappreciated entries in the franchise.

GoldenEye arrived in a changed world, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Many of the underlying assumptions of the Bond franchise were no longer relevant to the new world order. At the same time, the Bond franchise was in an existential crisis following the commercial disappointment of the previous film and the longest gap between installments to date. However, GoldenEye hit upon a novel solution to this problem: instead of fighting against the idea of Bond as a man out of time, it would embrace it.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Understated Power of Pierce Brosan’s Bond…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. With the release of No Time To Die pushed out, and St. Patrick’s Day relatively understated, I thought it was worth taking a look at Pierce Brosnan’s tenure playing James Bond.

Brosnan is often overlooked in assessments of the James Bond franchise, largely overshadowed by the (deserved) reappraisal of Timothy Dalton’s vulnerability in the role and the (deserved) celebration of the emotional complexity that Daniel Craig brought to the icon. This is a shame, because there’s a lot to like about Pierce Brosnan’s interpretation of the superspy. Most obviously, there’s a sense in which Brosnan’s interpretation of the character refused to be tormented and tortured by the work that he did. Brosnan played Bond as a man uniquely attuned to the demands of his job, an unchanging man in a rapidly changing world. The result is a character who seems unflinchingly brutal, but who also collapsed his patriotism into satisfaction of his more personal vices.

Whether intentional or not, Brosnan’s interpretation of the character makes the audience uncomfortable, particularly the joy that he takes in violence and the sense in which little really matters to him beyond satisfying his own urges. It’s a provocative approach to the character, one that stands in marked contrast to the more considered introspection of the the two performers either side of him. Brosnan’s Bond often seems to be challenging the audience, asking whether we enjoy the callous violence and detached brutality as much as the protagonist does, without offering us the “get out of jail free” card that Dalton and Craig’s more solemn portrayals afford viewers.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the “Just Create New Female Characters” Argument…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week, on an interesting and age-old debate.

The question of how best to foster diversity in cinema and wider pop culture is a challenging one. Whenever the suggestion of race- or gender-shifting an existing character like the Doctor or James Bond comes up, the responses are always the same: “just create new characters!” It’s a strong argument conceptually, because it’s rooted in the (entirely correct) moral presumption that women shouldn’t need to repurpose old characters, but instead should have new characters. However, it also glosses over the economic and cultural realities of the current cinematic climate. The debate is more complicated than it might appear.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Rhythm Section

Perhaps the most revealing distinction between The Rhythm Section and the James Bond franchise is that the characters in The Rhythm Section appear to have done their beer sponsorship deal with Stella Artois rather than Heineken.

That’s a little facetious. After all, it seems highly likely that Heineken paid a great deal more to sponsor No Time to Die than Stella Artois paid for a few minutes of screentime in a late January release from producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Nevertheless, there is something to it. Although the marketting copy is keen to sell The Rhythm Section as something of a gender-swapped teaser for No Time to Die“from the producers of James Bond,” boasts the trailer and the advertising – it’s to the credit of director Reed Morano that she is interested in something a little bit more complex and sophisticated.

Taking a shot at it.

Of course, The Rhythm Section doesn’t entirely work. It is a messy and clumsy film. At points, this seems to be a deliberate stylistic choice and a clear point of contrast, an attempt to imbue the classic spy movie format with a sense of the chaos that informs and shapes the real world. At other moments, it feels like a miscalculation and an error in judgment. The Rhythm Section is an earnest attempt to crash the trappings of an espionage revenge thriller into a more intimate personal drama about grief and trauma, but sometimes the mix goes wrong and the film veers into the realm of indulgent self-parody.

Still, there’s a lot to like about The Rhythm Section in spite of its imbalances. The film is genuinely trying something something ambitious, even if it occasionally buckles under the weight of those attempts. At its best, The Rhythm Section suggests a new spin on an old formula. At its worst, it is at least anchored in a compelling central performance amid overwrought clichés. The Rhythm Section might not hit every note perfectly, but it manages to keep time.

Spy, craft.

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