James Bond: Nobody Does it Better
You may be shaken – not stirred – to learn that the new Bond movie has dispensed with the old catchphrases, but Daniel Craig et al know better than anyone that action speaks louder than words. By all accounts, on that score Quantum of Solace has plenty to say for itself. It's a "crash bang Bond", according to the Guardian. An "all-out action movie", declares Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent. Our favourite spy is "running wild", mourning Vesper from Casino Royale in his own inimitable (but meaner, colder) fashion.
The Bond movies have been delivering blistering action sequences on a regular basis since before Daniel Craig was a gleam in his mother’s eye. The most successful film franchise of them all practically invented the action genre.
But this isn’t necessarily all good. Somewhere along the way – and fans will have differing opinions as to just where – the set-pieces began to dominate the show to the point where even the producers seemed to have lost interest in anything else. The stunts were the only things that seemed to change in a series where every plot was the same plot; every arch-villain was a paler copy of the last one; and every girl was a Bond girl.
That's why the Craig back-to-basics exercise became necessary, and why Quantum of Solace is the first Bond movie to follow directly on from the previous one. I don’t think anyone considered calling it "Casino Royale 2", but they could have. (It would have been just as meaningless.) The idea now is that we can still have our action, but between them Craig, the screenwriters and director Marc Forster have ensured that the violence reveals character at the same time.
I’m still waiting to see this movie, but I like the sound of that. Craig brought a definable edge to the role in Casino Royale, a bloody-minded, hard-boiled and hard-bodied intensity. If – as Geoffrey Macnab says – his performance this time makes the last outing "seem lightweight", well, consider us sold. I liked Brosnan well enough, but Craig seems to me the first actor to play Bond in a long time who seems dangerously present in a scene. If the thing’s got a solid story to back it up as well, then even Ian Fleming might have been satisfied. A few old groaners, accompanied by the requisite winks and smirks, well, it seems like a small price to pay.
In the meantime though, the era of DVD and YouTube makes it so much easier to sit back and pluck out the most memorable action highlights from 21 previous Bond films.
Consider these an appetizer, or the ultimate pre-credit sequence. 007: all action, all the time.
1) Fisticuffs, From Russia With Love 1963
On balance the Sean Connery era produced the best Bond films, but purely in action terms they’ve largely been superceded by the more expensive, special effects driven movies that followed. Still, you don’t need a big budget to stage a good fight, and Bond’s set-to with the thuggish SPECTRE henchman Red Grant (a blond Robert Shaw) in a train compartment here has an intensity and violence the later movies haven’t been able to duplicate.
2) Ski chase, The Spy Who Loved Me 1977
The Bond producers like to set the bar high with their thrilling pre-credit sequences – too high, sometimes. Roger Moore’s best Bond movie also features the best opening salvo of them all, a brilliantly edited ski chase through the Alps topped off with breathtaking plunge off a 5000’ cliff. If you’ve seen Alan Partridge’s re-enactment you’ll know how great the original is.
3) Tanker truck climax, Licence to Kill 1989
Timothy Dalton made an authentically grim Bond. It was hard to warm to him, but when push came to shove he pulled his weight like the best of them. This was a box office disappointment, but it’s one of the few films in the series where the climax knocks the spots off the pre-credit sequence. Bond leaps from a crop duster onto an oil tanker and gives hot pursuit to bad guys in similar trucks through the mountains. Proof positive that if sufficiently motivated – say, by on-coming stinger missiles – you can pull a wheelie with a 12-wheeler.
4) Sky diving, Goldeneye 1995
Another opening sequence: Pierce Brosnan made a memorable entrance with a vertiginous bungee jump, which he immediately tops by riding off a cliff on a motorbike. No Roger Moore style parachute for him. Instead he sky dives after a runaway plane (kids, do not try this at home). Later, for an encore, he stages a demolition derby in St Petersberg at the wheel of a tank. And they said the Cold War was dead.
5) Speed boat chase, The World Is Not Enough 1999
This is the longest Bond pre-credit sequence ever – it lasts a full 15 minutes – and if the rest of the movie lived up to it this would have been an all-time classic. The movie kicks of at Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (and why not?), but the action really kicks in when the scene shifts to London, and Pierce Brosnan gets involved in a wild speed boat chase on the Thames, culminating in a shoot out on top of the Millennium Dome and escape by hot air balloon. So that’s what they built the Dome for.
6) Construction site chase, Casino Royale 2006
That old fallback the foot chase found new purchase by shifting it to the vertical axis. The newly-installed Daniel Craig huffs and puffs after a freelance terrorist/dedicated free runner all over a Madagascar building site, including up the jib of a crane. It lasts a good ten minutes and climaxes with a glorious shoot-em-up in some anonymous foreign embassy. By then it’s crystal clear that this Bond means business – even if his antics do raise embarrassing questions in the House.