Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bond on Planet Earth

For the first 20 minutes or so, the final Pierce Brosnan Bond, Die Another Day, was on its way to being one of the best movies in the franchise.

The opening premise was great. Bond is in North Korea on a mission. The North Korea on this planet. Earth. At least a close enough approximation of Earth that most of the rules of real life apply. Things start going wrong for Bond but at first it looks as though he's going to get himself out of trouble in typical Bond fashion and then...

All his superpowers desert him. He gets caught. He's thrown into prison and tortured. The effects of both prison and the torture show on him. For a while he's not Bond anymore. He's a man in a horrible situtation. He doesn't even get himself out of it. He's freed in a prisoner exchange, and "freed" is a relative term here, because it appears that he's now something of a problem for MI6 and they plan to hold onto him until they figure out how to solve the problem. He's their prisoner. He escapes but not because he becomes Bond again, but because he gets lucky. He doesn't begin to turn back into Bond until he's safely away and striding across the lobby of a hotel still in his prisoner's torn pajamas and with a year's worth of beard and uncut hair to check in.

But that isn't the end of his troubles. M has made it clear to him that he's not Bond again yet. He may never be. He was compromised. His cover's blown. There's no telling what secrets he gave up when he was being totured---and this was the shocking part for Bond fans. M's believing that Bond broke.

But he's Bond! James Bond!

Bond doesn't break.

But M knows. Bond is just a man. Well trained, highly skilled, tougher than most, but still human. He has limits, and she doesn't know what the limits are and if he reached them. She assumes he did, because that's the safest and smartest assumption.

Which leaves us in doubt.

The plot that's now been set up is Bond proving to M and himself he can still be a good agent. We're coming very close to this universe. We're at least in the same universe as the two Timothy Dalton Bonds and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. We may even be approaching the border of John le Carre's territory.

Die Another Day is giving us a glimpse of what a movie about a real James Bond operating in the real world would be like.

Then Halle Berry appears and the guy with diamonds all over his face and things blow up and Bond gets an invisible car and we're so far back into the comic book Bonds that the last and worst of the Roger Moore Bonds are beginning to look good by comparison.

There can never be a le Carre version of Bond, since le Carre's whole premise is that spies are lesser mortals and have to operate ruthlessly to compensate. Le Carre's world isn't just a world without Bonds. It's a world where even a real life version of Bond is an impossibility. No one that smart and that skillful goes into government service, at least not into espionage. Smiley isn't even the exception that proves the rule. In civilian life he'd make a passable college professor or a competent attorney, a solictor, though, not a barrister. His best talent is recognizing weaknesses, everybody's, including his own.

But I would like to see a Bond who had to operate in a universe closer to Smiley's than to Blofeld's.

Anthony Lane makes it sound as though Daniel Craig's Bond comes as close as Bond will ever come in Casino Royale.

I haven't read any of Ian Fleming's novels since I was a kid. Can anybody tell me what universe they take place in?


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