Male bonding

The trials and tribulations of a 007 marathon, as recalled by Michael Armstrong

The trials and tribulations of a 007 marathon, as recalled by Michael Armstrong

Across a barren desert, one man strolls. Sunglasses gleaming, hair cropped short, pouting like his life depended on it and wearing an amazing dust-proof tuxedo, Daniel Craig is back to kick even more ass than he did in Casino Royale. Still Bond. Still Blonde.

You can’t miss him. On any trip to the cinema the posters project his image, the man who forever ended the debate on which Bond would win in a fight. Sure, it’d come down to him and Connery, but seriously, the man can run through walls. Roger Moore wouldn’t stand a chance. But does that make Craig the best Bond?

It’s a question that encourages the kind of pointless debates that boys love. Thanks to my best mate Neil, and his handy box set of all 22 previous films, I set out to educate myself on all things Bond in time for the release of Quantum of Solace. Over the course of three weeks, we watched all 21 official films, even managing to struggle through the ill-advised 1970s Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again.

It started well, with a few of the lads joining in on our project, and we made quick progress through the classic Sean Connery films. Every cliché we associate with a Bond film today has its root here, though the biggest surprise is how fresh and different the early Connery films are. Dr. No is surprisingly tense and moody, while From Russia With Love uses its locations to create an exotic feel more akin to an Indiana Jones film then the laissez faire globe hopping we’re used to from 007. Only with Goldfinger does something more recognizable emerge: the bombastic theme song, the megalomaniacal bad guy and of course, last but not least, Q’s amazing ability to predict exactly which handy gadget will save 007 this time.
Every successive film is more imaginative than the last, until finally we reach my personal favourite, You Only Live Twice. This is the peak of Connery’s career as Bond, a film as implausible as it is enjoyable. From Little Nellie to the crater base, Connery ended his first run as the character with a blockbuster that couldn’t help but overshadow its sequel, the one-off George Lazenby outing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby delivered an irritating and wooden performance that could safely be ignored were it not for the bad taste left in the mouth when, in the final scene, we suddenly discovered he could act. So far, so Connery.

Soon, we were faced with the longest stretch, the seven films of Roger Moore, spanning nearly two decades throughout the 1970s and 80s. Approaching the halfway mark, our group suffered a few casualties courtesy of The Man With the Golden Gun, but Neil and I ploughed on through the light-hearted Moore era with relative ease. While often derided as being too tongue-in-cheek, his best films are among the most enjoyable in the series, particularly Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me and his biggest hit, Moonraker. At times, his humorous style has more in common with Austin Powers than Ian Fleming’s original creation, but a viewing of Sean Connery’s unauthorised comeback Never Say Never Again brought home Moore’s contribution to the role. Connery may have invented the wheel, but without Moore, the series would have died off long ago.

Moving into the more modern Bonds only cemented the place of the classics in our minds. Predictable plots, uninspired villains and insipid love interests mark both Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan’s films, with one exception. Only Licence To Kill truly delivers in terms of plot and pacing, and boasts some genuine character development – a rarity in the Bond series.

Goldeneye isn’t a bad effort, but it’s clear the series took a turn for the worse under Brosnan. Though his portrayal of the character helped reintroduce 007 to a new generation, he presided over two of the worst Bond films, the special effects-laden Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough. This inane heap of garbage wastes the talents of Robert Carlyle, casting him as a man with a magic bullet in the centre of his head that makes him stronger (I’m not kidding). It is no surprise that exciting films such as The Bourne Identity launched sequels of their own at this time, while Bond seemed stuck in the 90s Britpop era.

After the fireworks and excess of the four Brosnan blockbusters, Casino Royale was like a breath of fresh air, ending our marathon on a high note. This taut, pugilistic thriller tells the story of Bond’s very first mission, with fine supporting performances from Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Jeffrey Wright. If Brosnan represented all we expected of a pre-millennium Bond, Daniel Craig’s James Bond embodies the stripped-down grittiness that is the norm for an action hero in the noughties.

With every reinvention, Bond becomes a man for his time, but, ten years down the line, isn’t there a chance that Craig’s efforts will seem as dated as Brosnan’s are today? The efforts of Sean Connery and Roger Moore are too entrenched in our culture to go stale, having gone through ironic kitsch and come out the other side. The true test for Quantum of Solace won’t be in the box office figures, or the Rotten Tomatoes score, but decades later, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, when two eejits decide to spend all their free time watching a good old Bond movie. Commendable as Craig’s portrayal is, when given the choice between a hard-edged post-9/11 assassin and Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow, somehow I think they’ll prefer to be stirred, not shaken.