I love The West Wing. Adore it. Totally.

Wednesdays on NBC (9-10 p.m. ET)

Well, not *totally*. In no particular order, here are 10 RUBBISH things about it, which my latest rewatch has thrown up… (Spoilers ahead.)

  1. Aside from a couple of examples, the journalists in it are all sycophantic, naïve and easily fobbed-off.
  2. It gets the British idiom hopelessly fuddled at times. Aside from the usual confusion over England/Great Britain/the UK, the British Ambassador keeps referring to himself as representing ‘Her Royal Majesty’. (There’s also the preposterous idea that the Daily Mirror would pay thousands of dollars for a picture of a White House staffer standing next to a call girl. Like they’d care!)
  3. The episode where CJ goes home to Ohio is very dull.
  4. The episode where CJ is followed by a documentary camera crew is terribly hackneyed. It also features loads of characters presented as regulars who we never see at any other time.
  5. How Toby is treated in the final year or two is awful. Not only what they have him do, but also how he’s then absent from most of the final season.
  6. Amy Gardiner really annoys me. Her doe-eyed arrogance makes me reach for the fast-forward button.
  7. The notion that anyone would consider Leo – an ex-drug addict and alcoholic, who’s tied to the last president and has just had a heart attack – as a Vice President nominee is laughable.
  8. The 9/11 episode. Well intentioned, sure. But so, so patronising. In fact, almost everything to do with real-world Middle East countries is just horrendous. The story that bridges seasons five and six sees characters go to Gaza then solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis over a long weekend. Yuck.
  9. Great characters routinely get dropped to semi-regular status or forgotten about all together: Laurie, Gina Toscano, Lionel Tribbey, Will Bailey, Bob Russell, Charlie, Joe Quincy, Mallory, Elsie Snuffin…
  10. Joey Lucas should have been promoted to the regular cast as soon as she appeared.

See, I didn’t even MENTION Mandy!

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)

Skyfall

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

The most recent James Bond outing is tremendous entertainment, full of vim and zip and energy. It’s also an engaging character story that weaves M and Bond’s pasts together for a sensational final act. “Where are we going?” asks M at one point. “Back in time,” replies Bond… The last half-hour is mostly set at Bond’s childhood home, and sees him given two surrogate parents. As the trio defend the house from the bad guys’ assault, the movie becomes some kind of hybrid of Straw Dogs and The A-Team, and it’s gripping stuff. After the clean slate of Casino Royale and the po-faced Quantum of Solace, director Sam Mendes is deliberately embracing classic Bond traits and motifs. We get a new Moneypenny, a new Q, the return of an Aston Martin DB5, and even a belting title song sung by a large-lunged diva. The final few moments coalesce our new team, and the final scene is set in a deliberately 60s/70s/80s M office. But it’s far from by-the-numbers. After a great opening action sequence, which starts in a small dark room then constantly opens up and gets bigger and bigger in scale and ambition, we get surprises galore – M’s moving death, a new M, the new Moneypenny, what the film’s title refers to. Huge chunks of it are set in London, which is great fun and new for a Bond movie, and the whole film looks amazing. Director of photography Roger Deakins gives each location its own colour scheme and feel: Shanghai is bright neon, expensive sheen and glass; London is grounded and everyday; Macau has the soft, warm glow of lanterns and lots of yellows, reds and oranges; the Highlands are desolate and airy, while Skyfall itself on fire at night produces some beautiful and surreal imagery (pictured). It’s such a shame the superstructure of the plot is so poor – when you sit back and analyse Raoul Silva’s plan, it’s reliant on monumental coincidences and him knowing precisely what would happen when far ahead of time. The film loses a mark because of this haphazardness. Nine ceramic bulldogs out of 10.

Bond: In three films, he’s gone from reckless rookie to washed-up veteran. He says “bring me to him” when surely he means “take”. When Silva tries to unnerve him with a bit of homoerotic flirting, 007 acts nonchalant (“What makes you think this is my first time?”).

Villains: Ola Rapace plays assassin Patrice. There are numerous heavies and bodyguards, none of whom is featured. Headline bad guy Raoul Silva enters the story at the 67-minute mark (a beat after the DVD layer change, in fact!). He’s an arch, melodramatic lunatic who knows full well he’s a Bond villain. Javier Bardem plays him camp and cruel, and excels in the character’s brilliant opening scene (he’s introduced with a monologue all shot in one lengthy take as he walks from 30 metres away up to the camera). It’s a shame his plan is head-scratchingly full of plot holes.

Girls: Bond has a beach-hut shag, who we don’t learn anything about, and there are some bob-cut babes working in the casino. French actress Bérénice Lim Marlohe – Jesus Christ, how beautiful is it possible for one human being to be?! – plays Silva’s haunted girlfriend Sévérine. She’s not in the film for long, but it’s a terrific performance. (The less said about Bond twigging she was a sex slave from the age of 12 then shagging her in the shower the better.) Basically, Judi Dench is Skyfall’s female lead…

Regulars: …M has a large and vital role in the story; Judi Dench is excellent, as always. She is absolutely Bond’s equal in their various one-on-one scenes – it’s the best ever Bond/M relationship, butting heads but always conveying underlying affection. Also, Dench becomes the first person in a Bond film to say fuck. Her aide, Tanner, returns from Quantum of Solace. We meet three new characters who will presumably become our new gang of regulars. Eve Moneypenny (her name is held back until a few minutes from the end) is initially a slapdash agent cocking up a mission, then gets grounded and becomes a secretary (anyone remember feminism?). Naomie Harris is distinctly unlikeable in the role, and she and Daniel Craig have no chemistry whatsoever. Conversely, Bond and the new Q (played well by Ben Whishaw) instantly strike up a fascinating relationship of grudging respect. He’s a young, anorak-and-glasses geek who’s clearly off-the-chart clever and a bit stuck-up. Their first meeting is a lovely scene that nods to the past and also inverts the clichés. Finally, Ralph Fiennes (really excellent) appears as Gareth Mallory, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He’s one of the genre’s great you-think-he’s-a-twat-then-he-proves-his-worth characters, and by the end of the film he’s earned both Bond’s trust and M’s job.

Action: The opening chase sees Eve driving erratically, causing chaos and naming the brands of cars for product-placement reasons. Bond then gets on a bike to chase Patrice across Istanbul rooftops and through markets. (It’s a common action-movie trope, isn’t it? Filming a chase in a Mediterranean city? Gotta go across rooftops! This, Quantum of Solace, The Living Daylights, The Bourne Ultimatum, Taken…) There’s the stuff on the train, with a ridiculously tongue-in-cheek JCB gag, then a train-top punch-up. Bond is then shot – accidentally, by Eve – and falls a terribly, terribly long way down to a river. There’s the explosion at MI6 headquarters, with a shocked M watching on from Vauxhall Bridge. In Shanghai, Bond tracks down Patrice to a skyscraper: he hangs onto the bottom of a lift as it climbs dozens of floors, then watches as Patrice assassinates someone. In a tremendously beautiful sequence – impressionistic lighting, constantly moving reflections, lots of shadows and silhouettes – Bond and Patrice fight to the latter’s death. Bond also has a brawl at the Macau casino, and falls into a pit with some komodo dragons. He later kills four or five of Silva’s goons in a sudden burst of ultra-violence. Silva’s escape from MI6’s prison includes Bond chasing him through tunnels and the London Underground – he has a near-miss with a train, has to run along a platform to jump on a train as it leaves Temple station, then slides down the dividing bit of a pair of escalators. (This last stunt makes no sense: any Londoner will tell you those middle bits have regular ‘Stand on the right’ signs sticking out of them.) Silva sets off a small, prepared explosion to cause a train (which is empty for some reason) to crash down towards Bond. Silva storms the parliamentary committee and there’s a huge gunfight. The climactic battle at Skyfall house is all Home Alone improvised defences, machine guns, grenades, fire, gas explosions and helicopter action. Bond and a henchman fight underwater after falling into a frozen lake. During the final confrontation in the chapel, Bond kills Silva – then M dies in his arms.

Comedy: There’s an arch moment of Bond ‘shooting his cuffs’ after his daring leap onto the moving train. When Bond turns up unexpectedly at M’s townhouse (a scene that echoes one in Casino Royale), he’s told MI6 have sold his flat as he was presumed dead. “I’ll find a hotel,” he says. “Well, you’re bloody not sleeping here,” replies M. Bond’s word-association session with a psychologist is witty stuff. When 007 returns to active duty, Tanner says to M, “I didn’t know Bond passed the [evaluation] tests.” M dryly replies, “He didn’t.” Bardem has great fun with his opening scene, hamming it up knowingly. When Bond races along the platform and jumps onto the back of a speeding tube train, a laconic man nearby says to his wife, “He’s keen to get home.” Bond is then hanging off the back of the carriage and shouts through the glass to an off-duty driver: “Open the door!” (Never mind Thor or Jack Bauer, seeing James Bond on the London Underground is the best ‘iconic-fictional-character-rides-the-tube’ moment of recent years.) When James and M are in his Aston Martin DB5 – originally intended to be the motor he won in Casino Royale, then changed to the Goldfinger car for 50th-anniversary hijinks – he threatens to activate her ejector seat. “See if I care,” deadpans M. When they reach Scotland, Kincade assumes ‘M’ is short for Emma.

Music: The incidental music is by Thomas Newman (Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Lost Boys, American Beauty), and it’s great. It’s especially effective during Silva’s escape and his attack on M, when it powers us through and distracts us from asking too many awkward questions. The title song, by Adele, is trad but good: the best Bond song of the 21st century.

Personal connection: I first saw Skyfall with Fraser Dickson and Carena Crawford, on Monday 29 October 2012 at the Odeon Marble Arch. As someone who’s lived in London for 12 years now, I adore seeing lots of locations I know well in the film. I’ve gone past the MI6 building on the 436 bus many, many times; I’ve often been to Whitehall and Trafalgar Square; I’ve been in the undercrofts of the Old Royal Naval College (where the scene with M and the coffins was shot); of course, I use the tube all the time; and – most excitingly – when Bond and M are driving out of London, they turn off Lewisham Way (where I used to live) onto New Cross Road! Whoever thought that grimy student dive The New Cross Inn would be in a James Bond movie?

Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008)

Quantum of Solace

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Unlike a lot of people, I love the title. It’s the name of an Ian Fleming short story and is a fantastic phrase. Also, this movie is a direct sequel to Casino Royale, which is a thoroughly interesting thing for the series to do. However, overall Quantum of Solace is a very cold, detached film. That’s not a ridiculous approach to take with a spy thriller about characters hell-bent on revenge, but it does make it difficult to care about what’s going on. The influence of the Jason Bourne franchise has now become copying rather than the more satisfying stealing and improving that Casino Royale carried off with aplomb. The action is staged and shot very, very inventively, it must be said – yet it all lacks heart. I don’t necessarily object to ‘style over substance’ or an avant-garde approach to Bond. Boundaries must be pushed, new things tried. But the whole film feels empty. Soulless. Was this a deliberate reflection of the characters’ damaged psyches? If so, it doesn’t work. Some scenes, such as the Palio di Siena horse race and the stuff in rural Bolivia, seem like sections from a visual tone poem like Koyaanisqatsi (how’s that for a wanky film reference?) rather than from an action thriller. Bond has some very on-the-nose dialogue, occasionally telling himself what’s happening, while the actual plot – bad guys hoard water supply – is not exactly scintillating. On the upside, I did like the distinctly 1970s feel to much of the production design and imagery – we see it in a modernist London tower block, Bond’s Robert Redford sunglasses and jacket, the use of the Barbican’s Frobisher Crescent as a location, CIA dickhead Gregg Beam’s moustache, and a Russian housing estate. (MI6 headquarters, by contrast, is a grey, anti-septic Apple store with Minority Report touchscreens!) Maybe in a few years, we’ll look back at Quantum of Solace and reappraise it – the same way the reputations of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Licence to Kill have blossomed with age. But for now it feels like James Bond’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – an adequate if uninspiring coda to a much more successful movie. Six cans of motor oil out of 10.

Bond: He’s on a revenge mission after the events of the last film, even if he tries to insist he’s not bothered about Vesper’s death. During a late-night flight to South America, we see him sloshed on martinis – a series first.

Villains: Mr White returns from Casino Royale. The main baddie is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a Jools Holland lookalike who works for global crime syndicate Quantum. His principle heavy is a guy with a bowl cut called Elvis. They’re in league with rapist scum General Medrano.

Girls: Camille Montes is a Bolivian agent who’s out to avenge the deaths of her parents. She’s played by Olga Kurylenko, very earnestly. She and Bond have an interesting chemistry, though – he recognises something in her, a familiar darkness maybe, and she’s the first headline Bond girl who 007 doesn’t sleep with. The beautiful Gemma Arterton plays a prim MI6 consulate agent, Miss Fields. She’s basically there so Bond can have a shag and then gets killed by people who have seen Goldfinger. She does have a nice moment at a party when she deliberately trips up a bad guy then coyly says, “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry!” Bizarrely, despite it being set up as something Bond wishes to know, her forename – Strawberry! Geddit? – isn’t revealed until we read it in the end credits. There’s also a cute woman working on the desk of a Haitian hotel, the stewardess on the CIA’s private aircraft, Miranda’s Sarah Hadland (playing an airport check-in woman, are we?), the hotel worker who Medrano attacks, and Mathis’s sunbathing girlfriend, Gemma. Right at the end, Stana Katic – star of kooky crime drama Castle – has a small role as a Canadian agent who’s being duped by Vesper Lynd’s ex-boyfriend.

Regulars: Mr White returns, as mentioned. M is on fine grumpy form (we see her home again and hear her hubby off-camera). Tanner has been recast with Rory Kinnear. Felix Leiter gets a small role, which was reportedly going to be larger but then rewritten during filming: Jeffrey Wright gives him a very defeated, world-weary attitude. Bond drags Casino Royale’s Mathis into the story.

Action: The contribution of second-unit director Dan Bradley (fresh from two Bourne movies) is very evident throughout. The opening car chase, for example, is superbly shot, edited and sound-mixed for maximum visceral impact. Bond’s pursuit of telegraphed traitor Mitchell – a bodyguard whose name is mentioned a couple of times just in case you were in any doubt he’d be important – is all frenetic handheld camera, running across rooftops, leaping from building to building, falling glass and characters hanging from swinging ropes. Bond’s brawl in a hotel room is likewise very Jason Bourne: the room gets wrecked, 007 uses found objects as weapons. Bond knocks a guy off a standing bike by flicking the handlebars, then he steals it so he can follow Camille. He later rides off the quay, jumping from boat to boat. He saves Camille and there’s a good chase. A lengthy sequence in Austria, at a performance of Tosca, is expertly staged – the build-up of tension, the opera itself, the audience of 1,500 extras, Bond twigging that members of Quantum (one of them the dad from Friday Night Dinner) are meeting there then using an earpiece to cut into their conversation, and the gunfight with its abstract sound design… all excellent. In Bolivia, Bond kills two cops who find Mathis in his car boot. There’s an aerial chase with Bond piloting a Douglas DC-3 cargo plane; he and Camille have to jump out with only one parachute. M shows up in Bolivia and suspends Bond, so he beats up three MI6 heavies while handcuffed and escapes. He then has to flee CIA gunmen too. The remarkably short climax at the desert hotel sees Bond kill the guy who sold out Mathis. There are then explosions galore (one minor car crash sets off a chain reaction that destroys the whole complex – how did it pass health and safety?). Camille goes after General Medrano, while Bond does lots of running and jumping then fights Greene. The sequence ends with a startling moment when Bond considers shooting Camille in order to save her from being burnt to death. (A 2012 study by the University of Otago in New Zealand says this is the most violent Bond movie yet, with 250 instances of “trivial or severely violent” acts.)

Comedy: There’s amazingly little of it. Bond is carrying an unconscious Camille off a boat and hands her to a dockside porter, quipping, “She’s sea sick.” A Bolivian taxi driver natters away as his passengers try to talk. Bond enjoys one-upping Fields over which hotel to stay in. When meeting Felix in a crummy bar in La Paz, Bond says, “I wonder what South America would look like if nobody gave a damn about coke or communism.” That’s about it. The use of different stylish fonts for each on-screen caption made me smile.

Music: David Arnold’s final Bond score (so far) is perhaps his least distinctive – it’s certainly never made much of an impression on me. The theme song, Another Way to Die, is dreary hipster hogwash from Jack White and Alicia Keys.

Personal connection: I first saw this with Mark Wright and Fraser Dickson, on Monday 10 November 2008 at the Odeon Marble Arch.

People I’ve met: Not met, but I did once share a tube carriage with Sarah Hadland.

Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)

Casino Royale 2006

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Pierce Brosnan was let go after Die Another Day (to his chagrin) and, for the first time, the series was definitively rebooted. The producers wanted to film Ian Fleming’s first novel, in which Bond is a rookie double-O agent. It was the bravest, boldest move the series has taken. And my God, did it work. The movie begins in black and white, shot like a film noir – but then we cut to glorious, eye-popping colour for the beautiful title sequence. A triumph of graphic design, it’s both old-school and modern, timeless and fresh, just like the rest of the film. Casino Royale has a justified and earned confidence about it – at every step, it makes the right decision, takes the correct turn. As with GoldenEye, director Martin Campbell’s contribution is immense. He drives the storytelling with powerful momentum, but also a delicate touch. Tension is created especially well: huge chunks of the middle third are scenes of people sitting round a card table, but our attention and engagement don’t flag. The film is 138 minutes yet never feels dull or fatty. This is all muscle. The first two Bourne films had recently raised the bar for action cinema – both in terms of spectacle and emotional resonance – and Casino Royale clears it with ease. Crucially, we always see the results of the story’s events, both physically (Bond is often bleeding and bruised) and emotionally (Vesper has a breakdown after witnessing a violent death). This is blockbuster filmmaking of the highest order. Licence to Kill is, and will remain, my *favourite* James Bond movie. But Casino Royale may very well be the *best*. Ten Algerian love knots out of 10. Christ, 11 out of 10. A million out of 10.

Bond: Lots of people reacted skeptically or downright negatively when Daniel Craig was announced, fearing he was too short or too blond or too ugly or just nebulously not right. How fucking stupid do those craigisnotbond.com idiots look now?! He is superb. This is recognisably the same man we’ve been enjoying for 20 movies – cocky and charming, clever and cultured – but Craig brings a new sophistication of emotion as well as a fantastic physicality to the role.

Villains: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, excellent) is our lead bad guy. He takes puffs from an asthma inhaler, his eye weeps blood, and he’s clearly under pressure from his bosses. His cat-and-mouse games with Bond – ending with a brilliantly played torture scene taken from the book – are a joy. He gets killed off with 30 minutes to go by Mr White, a shadowy fixer from their unnamed criminal organisation. There’s also bent MI6 station chief Dryden; bomb-maker Mollaka (played by the guy who invented freerunning, Sébastian Foucan); Ugandan warlord Obanno, who invests $100m with Le Chiffre then wants it back; Alex Dimitrios, a dodgy middleman who loses his 1964 Aston Martin to Bond in a card game; dialogue-less bomber Carlos; Mr White’s colleague Adolph Gettler, who wears mismatched sunglasses; and Le Chiffre’s bald bodyguard, Kratt.

Girls: Le Chiffre has a girlfriend, Valenka, played by Ivana Miličević (who was Angelique in an unaired pilot for a Dark Shadows remake in 2004). Bond seduces Dimitrios’s incredibly sultry wife, Solange, to get some information – her first scene, where she horse-rides along the beach in a bikini and Bond steps out of the water in swimming trunks, has something for everyone. The hotels in the Bahamas and Montenegro both have pretty receptionists. But the star of the show is Vesper Lynd. “I’m the money,” she says when she meets Bond. “Every penny,” he says, clearly and understandably impressed. That opening scene is a sexually charged flirtation where we’re skillfully told an awful lot about both characters. The actors are just terrific: it’s a high score draw. Vesper has a vital role in the story and a seismic effect on the character of James Bond. She’s played sensationally well by French actress Eva Green. Perhaps her English accent is ever-so-slightly off now and again, but no matter: she ranks alongside Tracy di Vicenzo and Pam Bouvier as one of the very best female characters we’ve seen. She is also *extraordinarily* sexy (and, frankly, has the best boobs in the entire series).

Regulars: Creepy bad guy Mr White will appear again. Despite the reboot, M is still played by Judi Dench (yeah, it doesn’t make sense: get over it). The first time she speaks in the film she gets a rattling-good monologue: “Who the hell do they think they are? I report to the Prime Minister and even he’s smart enough not to ask me what we do. Have you ever seen such a bunch of self-righteous, ass-covering prigs? They don’t care what we do. They care what we get photographed doing. And how the hell could Bond be so stupid? I give him double-O status and he celebrates by shooting up an embassy. Is the man deranged? And where the hell is he? In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have a good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War.” We see both her home – an expensive flat with views of Canary Wharf – and her husband. All the M/Bond scenes are great. There’s no Moneypenny or Q, however: in the former’s place is a male aide called Villlers, in the latter’s is a team of computer boffins. René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is a character from the novel who will be in the next movie too. And we get a new Felix Leiter, played with pensive worry by Jeffrey Wright.

Action: We see Bond’s first ever kill: a frenetic, violent fight in a gents. The freerunning sequence near the beginning of the movie is *fantastic*. Outlandish, breathtaking, but always grounded in plausibility and full of character, it’s the greatest foot chase in cinema history (step aside, Point Break). Bond and Dimitrios struggle silently in a crowded museum, Bond stabbing him to death without anyone noticing. The extended sequence at Miami Airport is wonderful – plot, character, tension, action and wit all in evidence. Le Chiffre and Valenka are attacked by machete-wielding thugs; Bond has a very violent fight with them in a stairwell. During the card game, Bond is poisoned – cue a terrific scene in which he has to call MI6 HQ for advice on how to restart his heart (after he passes out, Vesper saves the day by administering the vital defibrillator shock). When Vesper is kidnapped, Bond chases after her in his Aston Martin – the scene ends with a dramatic, done-for-real crash where the car flips over and cannon rolls seven times (a world record for a movie stunt). Finally, there’s a mad dash through Venice (Vesper the only person wearing red so we can spot her in the crowd) and the climactic sequence in a sinking building (superb).

Comedy: Much more than some people assume. “Put your hand down!” orders a frustrated Bond to undercover ally Carter, who keeps touching his earpiece and giving himself away. When Bond later breaks into M’s swish Docklands apartment, she asks him, “How the hell did you find out where I lived?” He replies, “Same way I found out your name. I thought M was a randomly assigned letter. I had no idea it stood for–” and then M interrupts: “Utter one more word and I’ll have you killed.” In the Bahamas, Bond crashes a Range Rover to cause a distraction then casually throws away the keys. When flirting with Solange, Bond suggests a drink ‘at his place’. When she asks if it’s close, he drives quickly round the hotel car park and back to where they started. Richard Branson has a blink-and-miss cameo. Bond’s laconic ‘ow!’ when injected with a tracker device is very funny. When he teams up with Vesper, Bond reads aloud their assigned cover story: “…and you’re Miss Stephanie Broadchest,” he lies. The banker controlling the poker game’s stakes, Monsieur Mendel, is a deliberately camp and quirky character. When asked, for the first time, if he’d like his martini shaken or stirred, Bond snaps, “Do I look like I give a damn?” Twice, Bond returns to the card table after Le Chiffre thought he was dead: Mads Mikkelsen’s dry double-takes are very good.

Music: David Arnold’s fourth score in a row. The best bit is early action cue African Rundown. Because this is essentially 007’s first case, the full-blown James Bond Theme is held back until the very last shot. The theme song is Chris Cornell’s dull-but-inoffensive You Know My Name.

Personal connection: I went to see this at the cinema twice – firstly with Mark Wright at the Odeon Marble Arch on Tuesday 21 November 2006, and then with Robert Dick at the Odeon Beckenham on Saturday 20 January 2007. It demanded to be seen again.

People I’ve met: In 2003, I briefly worked with actor Robert Jezek, who has a tiny role as a policeman in Casino Royale.

Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002)

Die Another Day

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

I’ve often been quite down on Die Another Day. I maintain that it does have some significant shortcomings, but I did really enjoy seeing it again. The film rattles along entertainingly, and the plotting is a very smartly done. It has a more-complex-than-usual story and a repeat viewing is great fun: as David Frost would say, the clues are there. For the first time, the title sequence forms part of the story: it’s a visually stunning, part-literal, part-abstract dramatisation of Bond’s 14 months of torture, interrogation and imprisonment. The stuff set in Cuba (actually shot in Spain and at Pinewood) is a smorgasbord of exotic locations, stylish production design and textured, lived-in sets. The Q scene is wonderful, Rosamund Pike graces every scene she’s in, and there are lots of nice anniversary nods to the series’s heritage. However, like a football team who have lots of possession but then shoot wildly over the crossbar, the film loses its way in the final third. As the outlandishness increases, the enjoyment lessens. For a kick-off, it becomes far too sci-fi for my Bond tastes. We get DNA manipulation, an invisible car (!), space lasers targeted at planet Earth, and the bad guy in a cyberpunk armoured suit. Also, there’s too much CGI – or more crucially, piss-poor CGI. The series has usually prided itself on a ‘do it for real’ attitude to stunts and spectacle, but fails big time here. An example: there are two scenes that involve surfing. The first is shot with stuntmen in Hawaii and looks great. The second, with Pierce Brosnan matted into computer-game graphics, is *risible*. Die Another Day came out within a month of The Two Towers: while Gollum was raising the bar for movie special effects, James Bond was looking amateurish. Eight cameos from Madonna out of 10.

Bond: He gets locked up for over a year in a North Korean prison – a bold move, said by some (implausibly, I think) to be the producers’ attempt to explain what Bond was doing on 9/11. That event is referenced – “While you were away, the world changed,” M says to Bond – but surely the film’s complex storyline had been decided upon three months before filming began. When he’s released, 007 has straggly hair, a Robinson Crusoe beard and a hoarse voice. We’ve not seen this in a Bond movie before. This is, of course, Pierce Brosnan’s final run out in the role. He’s been excellent: light and breezy when required, but able to give the whole thing weight too.

Villains: Rick Yune plays featured heavy Zao, who gets diamonds embedded in his face after an explosion (a nice heightened touch, but why doesn’t he remove them?). There’s also General Moon and his unnamed female torturer. The lead bad guy is one of the most interesting in any Bond film… He’s first presented to us as North Korean loon Colonel Moon, played by Will Yun Lee, who beats up his anger therapist and rumbles an undercover Bond. He’s seemingly killed before the titles. We later meet cocky businessman Sir Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who’s a dynamo of smarmy charm and playful menace. When you watch the film knowing these two men are the same person – who underwent DNA-replacement therapy to change his appearance – Stephens’s performance is even better. He often hints at the truth, amusing himself that Bond hasn’t twigged yet. Graves has a couple of henchmen: tough guy Mr Kill (“There’s a name to die for,” quips Bond) and nervous Euro-geek Vlad. Gorgeous posh totty Rosamund Pike plays the icy-cool Miranda Frost, Graves’s PA who we later discover is an MI6 agent. In the movie’s other wonderful plot twist, it’s then further revealed that she’s actually been in league with Graves all the time.

Girls: One of the MI6 medical team is a real cutie (“Thanks for the kiss of life,” Bond says to her as he walks out). There’s a hotel masseuse called Peaceful Fountains of Desire. Halle Berry plays Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson, an NSA operative who’s introduced with a purposefully iconic shot: standing up out of the water in slow motion. It’s a confident performance – perhaps too confident. A bit like Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies, the fact she’s a kick-ass secret agent means she has no ‘journey’ or character depth. (Her unlucky nickname is just a gag – “Born on Friday the 13th!” – and doesn’t go anywhere.) Roger Moore’s daughter briefly plays an air stewardess. Madonna has an excruciating cameo as fencing teacher Verity.

Regulars: Charles Robinson appears again, collecting Bond from Korea and later helping out M. Michael Madsen plays NSA blowhard Falco – he was meant to be a new regular in the series, but never appeared again (perhaps because of the later reboot, perhaps because he’s rubbish). M has some excellent one-on-one scenes with Bond. Moneypenny has a tiny role, and sadly Samantha Bond’s final scene in the series is a ludicrous moment where she’s rumbled using a virtual-reality machine to have a wank. After being primed for the job in the last film, John Cleese is now officially Q. His lab is in a disused tube station with a secret entrance under Westminster Bridge. It’s Cleese’s best work since A Fish Called Wanda. He’s lost the buffoonery from The World is Not Enough and inherited the same weary impatience Desmond Llewelyn had for 007’s flippancy.

Action: The pre-titles sees Bond escape the bad guys on a hovercraft across the Korean DMZ minefield. The whole sequence, which ends with Moon’s apparent death and Bond being captured, is shot in a grim, muted colour scheme. Bond and Zao fight at the clinic. Jinx leaps off some battlements into the sea (another poor CGI shot). Graves parachutes down to just outside Buckingham Palace. Bond and Graves have an excellently choreographed fencing duel at Blades gentleman’s club. A scene of intruders inside MI6 HQ – presented as real, then revealed to be a virtual-reality training session – sees Moneypenny and Robinson ‘killed’ and is cleverly directed like a first-person shoot ’em up. Jinx breaks into Graves’s secret lab. Bond and Mr Kill fight while lasers beam randomly around them. Bond flees in Graves’s single-seat racer, so Graves aims his satellite laser at him. Bond ends up dangling from an ice cliff as the laser cuts away at the ice. We then get the CGI-heavy surfing – the single most embarrassing moment in any James Bond movie. Soon after, there’s a chase on a frozen lake – Bond and Zao each in gadget-loaded cars – which concludes inside the melting ice hotel, where Bond has to rescue Jinx from a flooded room. Bond and Jinx use ‘switchblades’ to drop into North Korea. The final sequence aboard Graves’s 747 – which rather implausibly keeps flying for ages after it’s been severely damaged – features punch-ups and knife throws; a depressurised cabin; Bond vs Graves; Miranda (in a *very* fetching sports bra) vs Jinx; and Graves being sucked into one of the aircraft’s engines.

Comedy: Bond is given the once-over by a high-tech medical team: “No biological agents in the prelim scan. He’s clean. Pulse 72, pressure 120 over 80. Indications of neuro-toxins, histamine, serotonin and enzyme inhibitors. Scorpion venom. Note also traces of a venom antiserum. They’d sting him then administer the antidote. Yet his internal organs seem unaffected. Liver not too good… It’s definitely him, then.” When recovered, Bond confidently strolls into a posh hotel, dripping wet and in his pyjamas: “My usual suite please,” he says to man on the desk. Bond and Jinks have plenty of flirty banter. To avoid the suspicion of some guards, Bond and Miranda pretend to be snogging lovers. “Are we still being watched?” she asks between kisses. “Oh, they left ages ago,” replies 007. Vlad gleefully tells Graves that Bond has beaten his land-speed record while fleeing the ice hotel. There’s a surfeit of callbacks to old Bond movies because this was the 20th film in the series and was also marking its 40th anniversary (“New watch,” says Q, passing it to Bond. “This’ll be your 20th, I believe.”)

Music: Another first-rate score from David Arnold. Madonna’s title song is liked by friends of mine – Joe Lidster, Sean McGhee, Davy Darlington and others – but to my ears it’s stilted, vocoder dross that has no place in a Bond film. (A dance remix, even worse, plays over the end credits.)

Personal connection: Having moved to London a few weeks earlier, I was back visiting Derby on Wednesday 27 November 2002. With an afternoon to kill, I went by myself to the 12.50 showing of Die Another Day at the UCI. In 2006, I was project editor on You’re Him, Aren’t You?, the autobiography of actor Paul Darrow. In it, he discusses his experience of working on the film: he played a doctor, but is barely even seen in the final cut. “The director, Lee Tamahori, was very pleasant, but clearly under pressure,” he wrote. Darrow also talked about working on The Saint and Roger Moore bursting into his dressing room with some champagne to announce he was the new James Bond. (I knew at the time that the dates maybe don’t add up – The Saint finished in 1969; Moore was cast as Bond in 1972 – but we left it in as an actor’s embellished anecdote.)

The World is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999)

The World is Not Enough

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

The final James Bond film of the twentieth century. And it’s a good’un. There are blemishes, which I’ll discuss below, but overall this is stylish, engaging and very entertaining. The plot is well underway by the time the movie begins, and the story sees 007 as detective. He has to use his brain to crack the case, put the clues together and work things out himself. It’s a deliberately twisty-turny story with one of the series’s best ever shock reveals, and seeing it develop across two hours is a joy. It’s also great to see M emotionally involved in the proceedings, while the action is first class (especially the epic chase on the River Thames: a rare London-based Bond sequence). Nine Millennium Domes out of 10.

Bond: Brosnan appears to do a Sean Connery impression in the opening scene (“my hidden ashshets [sic]”). He also gets the archest “Bond, James Bond” yet, pausing mid-sentence as he and Dr Christmas Jones speed up a hydraulic lift.

Villains: The outstanding Patrick Malahide plays a smarmy Swiss banker in the first scene. In the series’s biggest plot twist yet, the main villain is Elektra King, who for the film’s first hour is presented as a victim. It’s a daring thing to do and, writing-wise, is a triumph. Sadly, French beauty Sophie Marceau isn’t good enough for such a complex part: there’s no X factor in what should be a *killer* role for an actress. Elektra’s in league with her former captor, ex-KGB agent Renard, played by Robert Carlyle. He gets a unique entrance into the story: Bond, M and others talk about him, explaining how he feels no pain, while we see a large 3D projection of his head. There are also a couple of non-descript henchmen.

Girls: Credited only as ‘Cigar Girl’, the first Bond girl in the film is a slit-skirted assassin played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta. (“Would you like to check my figure?” she says, handing him a bank statement.) Bond goes for a medical and has the doctor, Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas), stripping off in no time. Valentin Zukovsky has a couple of dialogue-less molls sitting on his desk. The main Bond girl is Denise Richards as hot-panted and tight-vest-wearing nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones. She’s hopelessly – *hopelessly* – miscast but isn’t actually as awful as reputation has it. It’s just that it’s a B-movie performance.

Regulars: Moneypenny is again never far from an innuendo – and has a catty comment for love rival Dr Warmflash. It’s like GoldenEye’s feminist reboot never happened. M gets a meaty role and is personally involved in the story: a chance for Judi Dench to shine. A portrait of previous M Bernard Lee is visible at MI6’s Highland retreat. This is Desmond Llewelyn’s final film playing Q – presumably this was known at the time, as not only does he get a beautifully poignant final moment (“Always have an escape plan…”) but he’s been given an assistant. That assistant, jokingly referred to by Bond as R, is played by John Cleese. He’s mostly a klutz, and the scene is played for laughs, but there’s also an entertainingly dismissive attitude towards 007. For some reason, he talks in American: ‘beverage-cup holders’ and ‘zippers’ get mentioned. Tanner and Robinson appear in the same film for the first time, sharing lines in a briefing scene. GoldenEye’s likeable gangster Zukovsky returns and this time he has a henchman: gold-teethed traitor Mr Bullion, played by gold-teethed musician Goldie.

Action: Bond leaps out of a high window, knowing his fall will be tempered by the fact he’s holding onto a cord tied round a comatose bad guy. There’s Bond’s mad dash through MI6 HQ before a massive explosion (part achieved by fantastic model work of the real SIS building), then the *sensational* speedboat chase down the Thames. In a tremendously exciting sequence, we get stunts and gags galore – a 360-degree spin, Bond’s boat going underwater to avoid a low bridge (Brosnan adjusts his tie while holding his breath), a cameo from some then-current docusoap stars (the traffic wardens who get drenched), the boat smashing through a fish market and a restaurant, and finally an arch shot of the boat flying through the air with the Millennium Dome in the background. (In a wide shot looking east, you can see my flat.) Only then do we cut to the title sequence – 13 minutes into the movie. Later on, there’s some skiing action, Bond and Elektra being attacked by para-gliders, the gunfight in the missile silo, Bond and Christmas’s daring slide down the pipeline, Zukovsky’s beluga factory being trashed by chainsaws dangling from helicopters, and the submarine climax (gunfights, flooded compartments, sets at strange angles).

Comedy: John Cleese’s scene has a fair amount of slapstick (and some dry wit too). Bond gets plenty of punning one-liners. Some of the Azerbaijani extras at the pipeline are hilariously awful, unenthusiastically waving their arms in the air and looking bored. Bond has a pair of X-ray specs (pictured) that allow him to see through people’s clothes (to check if their armed): Brosnan has some great reactions as hot women walk past him. At one point, Christmas says, “But the world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I have to get it back or somebody’s gonna have my ass.” After a beat, Bond says, “First things first.” 007’s super-gadget BWM gets sawn in half before he gets a chance to properly use it (a deliberate joke on the director’s part, seeing how much the car was shown off in Tomorrow Never Dies). The final line of the film is famously nauseating: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year,” purrs a post-coital Bond.

Music: David Arnold wrote the score again. It’s absolutely tremendous. Garbage’s title song is likewise excellent.

Personal connection: I first saw this at the UCI in Derby with Stuart Oultram. I still have the ticket stub, Pritt-sticked into my appointments diary. We saw the 17.45 showing on Thursday 23 December 1999. We sat in unassigned seats in screen five and paid £3.90 each (those were the days!).

Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Enjoyable enough. That might be damning it with faint praise – but while there are some significant flaws, Tomorrow Never Dies is still an entertaining roller-coater ride. But like a roller coaster, there are downs as well as ups. First off, it looks wonderful. The title sequence (designed by Danny Klienman) is one of the best ever; there are plenty of interesting locations and cleverly designed sets; and the film has a beautiful anamorphic cinematography, full of smart compositions and dramatic lens flares. However, the story has virtually no intrigue: we’re told almost everything right off the bat and, as viewers, are always ahead of Bond in the storytelling. As I say, it entertains for two hours and there’s plenty of fun, but it doesn’t really add up to much. (Incidentally, there are *loads* of famous faces in small, military roles: Julian Rhind-Tutt, Gerard Butler and Christopher Bowen on board HMS Devonshire; Colin Stinton and Al Matthews at the USAF base; and Michael Byrne, Pip Torrens, Hugh Bonneville, Jason Watkins and Brendan Coyle on HMS Bedford.) Seven cunning linguists out of 10.

Bond: Brosnan gets the whole spectrum in one film – comedy, action, romance and genuine grief. He’s top draw at all of them. For the third time in the series, we see Bond in his naval uniform.

Villains: Jonathan Pryce plays media mogul Elliot Carver. It’s a truly dreadful performance: pantomimic and irritating. The whole character is a ham-fisted satire on Rupert Murdoch, so awful it makes me wince, but Pryce’s decision not to take it seriously really doesn’t help. He has a couple of lieutenants: tall, tough, cruel Mr Stamper, who is vaguely reminiscent of From Russia With Love’s Red Grant; and techno-expert Gupta (played by magician Ricky Jay).

Girls: Bond beds a Danish-language teacher. Carver has a PA with super-model looks. Our female lead is Wai Lin, a Chinese agent played by Asian action star Michelle Yeoh. When we first meet her, she’s posing as a journalist, but we soon get to see her being all spy. She’s badass and fun, but the lack of any depth to her character means it’s all a bit flippant. We’re also entering a run of movies where they always cast an already famous American star as a Bond girl – here it’s the second best Lois Lane, Teri Hatcher. She’s not in the film much but is very good and it’s a well-written part (her death packs a punch). Just because it’ll amuse Laura Morgan, I’ll quote one of her deliciously arch lines: “Tell me, James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?”

Regulars: MI6 has a new regular character: Charles Robinson (Colin Salmon), who was created because Michael Kitchen was unavailable to play Tanner again. M gets lots of scowling to do in a war room. GoldenEye’s Jack Wade gets a brief return appearance. Julian Fellowes plays the Minster of Defence (presumably meant to be a new one, not Sir Fredrick Gray from the Moore/Dalton movies). Moneypenny has gone innuendo-crazy, which is a shame after her witty rebranding in the last film. Q gets a couple of scenes at Hamburg Airport, where he’s brought Bond his new super car.

Action: The pre-titles teaser sees Bond single-handedly storm an illegal arms market and steal a jump jet in order to get its nuclear bombs to safety. He gets chased and we have a decent aerial dogfight. The sinking of HMS Devonshire is expertly staged. Bond’s brawl with Carver’s goons in a recording studio is wittily shown through the control-room glass, so the sounds of the punch-up can’t be heard. Bond and Wai Lin independently break into Carver’s secret lab at the same time – when they’re rumbled, he has to flee a hail of bullets while she calmly uses a Q-style gadget to walk down a wall. The scene of Bond driving his BWM by remote control while sat in the back seat is tremendous (and its incidental music – an action cue called Backseat Driver – is simply stunning). Bond ‘halo jumps’ into the South China Sea, then explores the sunken Devonshire. Wai Lin’s down there too: they get trapped with little air. Later, they jump off a tall building, halting their fall by holding onto a gigantic banner – then, handcuffed together, they bicker over how to sit on and operate a motorbike. They next get chased past various Oriental stereotypes and jump *over* a low-hovering helicopter. Wai Lin beats up half a dozen guys in a variety of martial-arts ways. The final act is an action-heavy half-hour on board Carver’s stealth boat.

Comedy: Sitcom legend Geoffrey Palmer has a small but enjoyable role as an admiral who butts heads with M (“With all due respect, M, I think you don’t have the balls for this job.” “Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don’t have to think with them all the time.”). Brosnan is clearly having a blast acting with Desmond Llewelyn in the single Q scene. The fabulous Vincent Schiavelli plays off-kilter assassin Dr Kaufman in a hilariously twisted scene with Bond (“I could shoot you from Stuttgart and still create the proper effect!”). Upon seeing Carver’s skyscraper in Saigon, which is adorned by a massive portrait of the mogul, Bond quips, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’d developed an edifice complex.” There’s good jokes mined from Bond’s unfamiliarity with Wai Lin’s gadgets and Chinese keyboard.

Music: David Arnold has taken over – there had to be a change after the mess of the GoldenEye incidental music. And his work is absolutely fantastic. Arnold’s score is fresh, vibrant, exciting and thoroughly modern – aware of the series’s heritage but not afraid to spice it up. Techno elements and electro beats drive many cues, but the very best is one of the most traditional-sounding: White Knight, which scores the movie’s opening eight minutes, is a masterpiece of action-movie music. The title song is by Sheryl Crow and is terrific. It was a late replacement for a track Arnold had co-written with David McAlmont and Don Black. Sung by kd lang, it now runs over the end credits.

Personal connection: I first saw this at an Odeon in Leicester, where I was at university, in December 1997. My NUS card got me in for £3.

GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995)

GoldenEye

SPOILER WARNING: Just a note to specify that these reviews reveal plot twists. I wasn’t too fussed with the older ones, but over the last 20 years or so the movies have more often used definite surprises in their storytelling. I love these films, so wouldn’t like to spoil them for anyone.

Bond is back, after a six-year hiatus. At the time, that felt like an eternity – but it was only the same distance we now are from Quantum of Solace! We have a new 007, a new M, a new Moneypenny; we’re in a new decade and a new post-Cold War world, and this was a big roll of the dice. It came up double-sixes. What strikes me most about GoldenEye – aside from just how blinking entertaining it is – is how ‘knowing’ the whole thing manages to be. It’s having its cake and eating it: it’s able to be a full-bloodied, full-on Bond movie *and* slyly wink at the audience. It’s an audacious achievement. GoldenEye is very 1990s – there’s talk of sexual harassment and the break-up of the USSR, jokes about safe sex, and the use of the embryonic internet. It’s aware of cliché too: “I might as well ask you,” says the bad guy to Bond, “if all the vodka martinis ever silenced the screams of all the men you’ve killed. Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all these willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” But this is no spoof or undercut of the series. The story is involving and the character stuff very good; the action is superb throughout, and there’s some really excellent model work. A total triumph. 10 “I am invincible!”s out of 10.

Bond: Pierce Brosnan is terrific – instantly at ease in the role. He handles action, comedy and drama with aplomb and plenty of charisma. One of his best moments, which I mention because Robert Dick reminded me of it, is a nonchalant tilt of the head to avoid the backlash of an explosion: effortless cool. The opening sequence is set ‘nine years earlier’ – ie, 1986, the year Brosnan was originally cast as James Bond.

Villains: Sean Bean plays 006-turned-villain Alec Trevelyn. The public-school accent might be a bit distracting, but he’s an effective enough bad guy. He’s in league with off-his-trolley Russian general Ourumov (an earnest Gottfried John) and recruits cyber-geek traitor Boris Grishenko (a fun Alan Cumming). The diabolical highlight of GoldenEye, however, is Xenia Onatopp (“Onatopp?” “Onatopp.”), played by the strikingly sexy Famke Janssen. She’s a fantastically perverse creation – she smokes cigars, murders an admiral during sex by squeezing him between her thighs (well, if you have to go…), seemingly takes orgasmic pleasure in machine-gunning innocent people, and licks Bond’s face as she tries to kill him.

Girls: Brosnan’s first conquest is Caroline, a psychologist sent by M to appraise Bond. He darts around in his Aston Martin with her nervously in the passenger seat, then pops open the champers and moves in for the kill. The female lead is Natalya Simonova, played by the gorgeous Izabella Scorupco. She might have a Secret Squirrel job, working in a satellite control bunker, but she feels like a real woman, a believable human being. She’s no pushover, but is not a spy or agent – she gets scared, she acts tough, she’s clever and resourceful. She actually carries her own subplot for over half the movie, not teaming up with Bond until the 68-minute mark, and then vitally helps with the mission. We’ve come a long way since Britt Ekland. Natalya’s one of the best.

Regulars: Moneypenny’s been recast again, much more successfully this time. Samantha Bond is instantly attractive, classy and interesting, giving as good as she gets in a well-written flirting scene with Bond. Q gets a deliberately old-school gadget show-and-tell that’s played for all it’s worth. MI6 man Tanner crops up, this time played by Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. In a series first, the real MI6 HQ in Vauxhall is used for establishing shots. Most significantly, M is now played by Judi Dench. It seems natural now, but was a bold decision at the time. Making her a woman, and casting such a good actress, adds a new energy to the Bond-M dynamic. The often-shown ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ scene is just knockout. Dench is easily in charge, Bond’s boss and a ballbreaker – but she’s also concerned, fair and empathetic. Seeing how Felix had his leg bitten off in the last film, we get a replacement character: Bond’s CIA pal is now Jack Wade, played with sparkle by The Living Daylights’ Joe Don Baker. Robbie Coltrane appears in a semi-comic role as Russian gangster Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky.

Action: The famous opening bungee jump is a mission statement for the whole film – leaping into new territory. The subsequent sequence sees Bond and 006 break into a nerve-gas plant, then James has a physics-defying stunt when he rides his bike off a cliff and catches up with a falling plane. There’s a playful car chase in the hills above Monte Carlo (see ‘Music’). The destruction of the Severnaya base is very well directed. Bond fights Xenia at a posh swimming pool in a scene more like rough sex than a punch-up. Bond uses an ejector seat to flee an exploding helicopter. His and Natalya’s escape from the Russian jail is great, and is followed by the outrageous tank-through-the-streets-of-St Petersburg stuff. Bond derails the bad guys’ train by parking the tank on the tracks – quite how he got ahead of a speeding train to do this is best not questioned. 007 and Natalya’s plane is shot down over Cuba; Xenia then shows up and Bond kills her. We end with a massive run of fine action at the secret base, which includes Bond and Trevelyan’s scrap on top of the massive radar dish.

Comedy: In the pre-titles scene, a squeaky wheel on a trolley gets a good laugh. There are a few old-style sight gags, such as a peloton of cyclists being knocked over like dominoes, and the punning quota is at its highest in a while. Bond and Xenia have some innuendo-heavy banter over the card table. James flirts stylishly with Moneypenny. There’s also M reprimanding a sarcastic Tanner, Jack Wade’s knackered car (and his sledgehammer approach to restarting it), and Minnie Driver as a tone-deaf club singer.

Music: The score is by Eric Serra. Oh, dear. Although not a total disaster – some action cues are quite good – it has sections of staggeringly awful music. It’s charmless, badly dated nonsense, sometimes sounding more like the theme to The Krypton Factor than a movie score. Check out, if you can bear, this inane piece from early on in the movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImPfR-6yUu4

The theme is written by Bono and The Edge (how is the drummer?), and sung by Tina Turner. I find it very difficult to have any kind of opinion either way on it. It’s just *there*. Over the end credits is an awful, slushy number called The Experience of Love from Eric Serra.

Personal connection: This was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema. It was in December 1995 and I went to the UCI Derby with my old pal Stuart Oultram.

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

Licence to Kill

Nasty, brutal, violent and upsetting – this is something special. If your preferred brand of Bond is more lighthearted or gag-heavy, then look away now: I’m about to GUSH.

This is my favourite James Bond film of them all. The stakes aren’t world domination or stolen nuclear weapons – they’re *emotional*. Bond is out for revenge because his friends have been barbarically attacked, which gives the whole film weight and passion. The story is loosely based on 1961 Japanese movie Yojimba (no, I’ve never seen it either, but A Fistful of Dollars also used the same format) where one man brings down a large criminal organisation through guile and courage and determination. The beauty of the plot is really quite something: who knows what, when and how, is worked out with both clockwork precision and poetic panache. It’s a constantly evolving and moving-forward story where characters learn things and we learn things about them; and where things happen for reasons. “There’s more to this than your personal vendetta,” Bond gets told at one point – quite right: as well as the main thrust, there are a variety of nuanced subplots (Heller and the Stingers, the Hong Kong investigation, Sanchez’s massive drug deal). 10 cigarette lighters out of 10.

Bond: I once saw a review of this movie that claimed Timothy Dalton failed as James Bond because he played him as someone who gets upset when his friends are killed. This is why I think he *succeeded*. His anger and turmoil are palpable, but his plan to bring down drug baron Sanchez is cold and calculated: a fascinating combination. Dalton recognised that Bond is a killer, a murderer at times, not a detached playboy. This film, aptly given its emotional resonance, features the third reference to Bond’s late wife.

Villains: Franz Sanchez is our bad guy, a 1980s drug lord. He cuts out a guy’s heart, whips his girlfriend, offers and makes good on a $2 million bribe, feeds Felix Leiter to a shark, has a pet iguana and wears sandals and a cardigan. He’s played by Robert Davi. The previous year, he’d been one of two FBI agents in Die Hard who were both called Johnson – coincidentally, the other Agent Johnson, actor Grand L Bush, is also in Licence to Kill. Sanchez’s henchmen include sadistic Dario (Benicio Del Toro in an early role), creepy Milton Krest (a character from a Fleming story story played by Anthony Zerbe), slimy Wall Street twat Truman-Lodge and duplicitous heavy Colonel Heller.

Girls: The beautiful Talisa Soto plays Sanchez’s girlfriend, Lupe Lamora, and is very good in a role much better written than the usual ‘secondary Bond girl’ parts. Della Churchill, who marries Felix in the film’s opening, is played by Priscilla Barnes – she later appeared as a three-nippled fortune teller in Mallrats. The bank manager is Isthmus City has a very pretty assistant, while Sanchez hires a roomful of call girls to impress some businessmen. But the highlight is pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier, played by Carey Lowell. She is, frankly, the best Bond girl of the entire series. Yes, better even than Diana Rigg’s Tracy. She’s a confident, strong, capable, sassy and sophisticated woman who’s as sexy as fuck. She brings a shotgun to a meeting. She rescues Bond’s arse quite a few times. She swears. She hides a gun in her stockings. Best of all, she’s a protagonist: an active player in the story who has her own agenda and makes her own decisions. Every now and again, the Bond films have tried to make the female lead more of 007’s ‘equal’. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t – Pam Bouvier is knock-it-out-of-the-park, sing-it-from-the-hilltops, jump-up-and-down successful. I’ve been in love with her since I was 11 years old.

Regulars: David Hedison, easily the best Felix Leiter we’ve had, becomes the first actor to play the role twice. The believable friendship he and Dalton create is integral to the story – and what happens to Felix in this movie is vicious. M flies out to Florida to reprimand 007 (at Ernest Hemingway’s house for some reason). It’s an electric scene. “Oh, spare me the sentimental rubbish,” snaps M, which is possibly a deliberate mission statement for the series’s new direction. Bond tries resigning and his licence to kill is revoked. Bond hands over his weapon, but then legs it – he’s on his own now, isolated and a one-man army. Moneypenny gets just one short scene, wimpering at her desk as she worries about James: poor Caroline Bliss, who we won’t be seeing again! But whereas she’s barely featured, Q gets his most substantial role yet. He takes leave from MI6 so he can fly to Central America, pose as Bond’s uncle and help him out. He brings a suitcase of gadgets, which get shown off in the film’s most trad-Bond scene. Q and Pam then strike up a lovely double act, the two people who care about Bond but he won’t ‘let in’.

Action: There’s the opening skirmish as the DEA try to arrest Sanchez; it concludes with Bond dangling from a helicopter and tying a cord around Sanchez’s getaway plane in midair. Sanchez later escapes by engineering it so a police van drives into the sea, where divers are waiting to rescue him. Bond beats up a couple of goons at Krest’s warehouse, then coldly murders the traitor Killifer. Bond sneaks onto Krest’s boat and audaciously steals his payment for a drug deal after a scrap with some heavies and a water-ski stunt. Moments after Bond meets Pam, there’s one of 80s cinema’s classic barroom brawls (the movie becomes Road House for a couple of minutes). Bond’s attempt to assassinate Sanchez is interrupted by ninjas from the Hong Kong police – the capture him and are then overpowered by Sanchez’s men (a lovely example of the plotting: because Bond has been tied up, Sanchez assumes he is an enemy of his enemies). There’s also the chaos at the refinery, including Bond’s fight with Dario, followed by the epic tanker chase (one of the best action runs in all of Bond). By its end, James is cut, battered, bruised and wearing a ruined suit: this film has HURT.

Comedy: Often black. When Bond discovers shark-chewed Felix, the bad guys have left a note that says, ‘He disagreed with something that ate him.’ Wayne Newton – an easy-listening singer whose biggest hit was Danke Schoen, which I only know from Ferris Bueller – appears as fake TV evangelist Professor Joe and gets some smarmy laughs. Dalton is on fine irritable form: “I hope you don’t snore, Q,” he snarls when forced to share a bedroom; “Piss off,” he underplays to a tight-arsed agent who questions him. The look of contentment on a henchman’s face when Lupe talks to him is very funny. “What about the money, patrón?” asks a goon when some cash gets covered with blood. “Launder it,” is Sanchez’s deadpan reply. My favourite laugh in the film comes when a furious Pam learns Bond has slept with Lupe. “Don’t judge him too harshly, my dear,” says an avuncular Q. “Field operatives must use every means at their disposal to achieve their objectives.” Pam, arms crossed and seething, just snaps, “Bullshit!”

Music: John Barry had quit the series (due to either throat surgery or after a tiff with A-ha, depending on which source you read), so Michael Kamen was hired to score this one. He wrote the music for many fine 1980s movies – The Dead Zone, Brazil, Highlander, the Lethal Weapons, the Die Hards – as well as TV classic Edge of Darkness. Here he gives us a dark, brooding, dangerous score with a Latin feel at times. The theme tune is sung by Gladys Knight and is based on the famous horn phrase from Goldfinger.

Personal connection: In 1989, I went to the cinema (I think for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and saw a poster in the lobby promoting the upcoming Licence to Kill. I’d been very excited about the new Bond because of a behind-the-scenes programme I’d seen on ITV. I was therefore *gutted* when I realised it was a 15 certificate. I was 10, so wouldn’t be able to go.

The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987)

The Living Daylights

Wow. This is fantastic. It’s an expertly structured adventure full of intrigue, double-crosses and plot twists, taking Ian Fleming’s best short story as the basis and also building on the promise of For Your Eyes Only. At first, we’re in a shadowy world of the KGB, the Cold War and defections across the Iron Curtain – but the movie then pulls an audacious trick when you realise that’s all subterfuge. This is a *thriller*, not a frivolous throwaway. The script doesn’t assume the audience is stupid: we’re expected to keep up with the plot and wonder what’ll happen next. There’s a real drive and momentum to the whole thing, and the silliness levels are vastly, vastly reduced. Only the lack of any decent female characters prevents it getting full marks. Nine key rings that beep when you whistle out of 10.

Bond: After Roger Moore retired, Pierce Brosnan was cast at the new James Bond – but then had to drop out when he couldn’t get free from a TV contract. Sam Neill also screen-tested for the part. Eventually Timothy Dalton – who’d been considered for the role as early as 1968 – won the job. He’s my favourite James Bond. He’s tough, arrogant, suave, a bit of a snob, easily irritable, and takes things personally – he’s a fascinating and plausible human being, not a super man secret agent who’s emotionally unaffected by the story.

Villains: We get a trio of them. Georgi Koskov (the charismatic Jeroen Krabbé) is a Russian general who stages a defection so he and his cohorts can make a fortune trading in drugs. His partner in crime is Brad Whittaker, a loon of a disgraced-soldier-turned-arms-dealer with a private army and delusions of grandeur – he’s played by Joe Don Baker, who a couple of years earlier had dazzled in Edge of Darkness (this is not the last time we’ll see him in a Bond movie). Finally, their personal assassin is the blond, athletic Necros (body: Andreas Wisnieswki, voice: Kerry Shale), who likes to listen to The Pretenders on his Walkman before strangling people with the headphone cord. (General Pushkin, played by John Rhys Davies, is set up by the bad guys as the film’s villain. It’s a shame this character wasn’t General Gogol as originally planned – the actor was ill and the story had to be rejigged – because it would have been even more interesting to have it be someone we’ve known for several movies.)

Girls: Sorry to be indelicate, but the first woman this new James Bond meets – a bored socialite lounging about on a yacht – might very well be the least attractive ‘Bond girl’ in the whole series. The film’s female lead is Kara Milovy, played by Maryam d’Abo. She’s a naive young woman with a Cassandra Trotter haircut who is manipulated by every single man in her life (including Bond). The performance is good enough, but it’s a real shame we don’t get a stronger female character: surely the wet and gullible Kara was dated even in 1987. Bond’s friend at the Czechoslovakia pipeline has a massive bust, which she uses to distract her boss. Whittaker’s North Africa holiday home is populated by clichéd bikini babes sitting round his pool. Pushkin’s wife (or mistress?), Rubavitch, is played by Virginia Hey from Mad Max 2. (As mentioned, Pushkin was originally going to series regular General Gogol. Gogol’s secretary in The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy was called Rublevitch – coincidence or was this going to be the same woman?) Two cuties kidnap Bond and take him at gunpoint to see Felix Leiter (why they do this rather than just ask him is not clear!): one of them is Catherine Rabett, who later played the lesbian Cissy Meldrum in You Rang, M’Lord?

Regulars: We might have a new, younger Bond – but it’s still the same M and Q. In the pre-titles sequence, the former has a wood-panelled office built into an aeroplane (and is then surprised when the papers on his desk go flying after the door has been opened). Q, meanwhile, gets to go out to Austria to help with Koskov’s ‘defection’ and also has a flash Whitehall workshop. One of the many gadgets in the lab is a boombox that fires rockets: “It’s something we’re making for the Americans,” he gleefully tells Bond. “It’s called a ghettoblaster!” Lois Maxwell has now retired from the role of Miss Moneypenny (she was 17 years older than Dalton, so the flirting would have been interesting). The part has been recast with Caroline Bliss. She’s rather nondescript in an underwritten role, and oddly doesn’t have any scenes at all with M (or indeed outside of Q’s lab). Sir Fredrick Gray appears again, as does Gogol very briefly. John Terry (24, Lost) is pretty wooden as a bland Felix Leiter: he and Bond have no chemistry at all.

Action: Bond and two other double-oh agents parachute onto Gibraltar in the opening sequence: it’s a training mission that goes very wrong. The action highlight is Bond (clearly actually Timothy Dalton) clinging onto the roof of a speeding jeep. Necros’s single-handed assault on MI6’s safe house is fantastic (he poses as a milkman to get past the security gate, then uses exploding milk bottles to cause havoc). There’s a good sequence featuring Bond’s gadget-heavy, winterised, B-reg Aston Martin V8 Vantage, followed by Bond and Kara sliding down a mountain while sitting in a cello case. Bond gets chased across Tangier rooftops, a scene which now feels very Bourne. There’s a quick fight with Soviet prison guards. The Mujahideen attacks an air base while Bond steals a cargo plane full of opium – Bond and Necros end up brawling while dangling out the back of the aircraft. Bond’s confrontation with Brad Whittaker at the climax is, remarkably, the only time the two characters meet.

Comedy: The bickering between Bond and MI6 contact Saunders is really nicely played by Dalton and Thomas Wheatley, and because of that Saunders’s death has a real punch. There are numerous examples of laconic humour in the movie… “Why didn’t you learn the violin?” Bond snaps when he and Kara struggle with her cello case. “We have an old saying too, Georgi,” he says to the bad guy. “And you’re full of it.” Later, after breaking out of their cells, Kara exclaims, ‘We’re free!” – Bond looks at her wearily and says, “We’re inside a Russian air force base in the middle of Afghanistan.” One of the few old-style ‘gags’ in the film is a moment where a shower block gets knocked over, revealing two naked soldiers.

Music: The score is John Barry’s final work on the series – and is an absolute doozy. It has an underlying electronic feel at times, but is still very James Bond-ish. (Barry gets a nice cameo at the end of the movie, playing a conductor.) A-ha’s title song is one of the series’s best. There are also a couple of specially written songs from The Pretenders in the film (which are also often quoted in the incidental music).