It was 1962, and Ursula Andress emerged from the tropical island surf sporting a provocative swimsuit, and a tradition was born. The seductive scene would become the first iconic image in a line that has lasted a half a century and counting. Fifty years; 23 movies makes it the longest running film franchise in motion picture history. He had many faces over those 50 years: Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, George Lazenby, and even David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen in a 1967 spoof. For the last three films, he’s been played by Daniel Craig. They all had somewhat different styles. They all had a line of beautiful women. They all faced different challenges and foes. But they all shared the same name: Bond…James Bond.
James Bond first appeared in the pages of Ian Fleming’s novel, Casino Royale. Fleming was himself a former British Intelligence Officer and had been engaged in what he liked to call “shenanigans” in that role. He admits that many of Bond’s tastes are lifted from his own preferences. It can be safe to say that Ian Fleming was as much James Bond as any of the men who have played him. The books were written one a year during his two-month vacation as a news writer. He would escape to his vacation home in Jamaica during those 6-8 weeks and in short order produce a Bond adventure. It’s likely not a small coincidence that the first Bond film would feature the island location predominately as its setting. For most of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the films were taken directly from his Bond novels. Eventually the film series surpassed the novels and has been operating as original scripts for most of the last 30+ years. In those days the end credits always revealed the name of the next Bond film. Now we merely get a blanket statement that James Bond will return.
His name is Craig, Daniel Craig. Love him or hate him, we have to accept the fact that this blue-eyed, rather rugged sculpture of a man has been the face of James Bond for going on five films. I’ll admit to being more of a nostalgic Bond fan, and have the image of Sean Connery forever etched into my brain as the quintessential 007. But it’s not only the drastic change in appearance and demeanor that makes this a hard choice for me to embrace. Now we have a UHD Blu-ray (4K) release that brings together these first four Daniel Craig films. It’s something I hope soon happens with the other films in the franchise. Craig fans should feel pretty good that he gets the first 4K treatment. The Bond films have always sported incredible productions, and these films were just made for the eventual advent of 4K home entertainment.
Casino Royale (2006)
In the same fashion as Batman Begins, Casino Royale, the 21st Bond film, starts over the franchise with a new outlook. Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in this film based on the 1953 novel by Ian Fleming, which hopes to rejuvenate the series by getting rid of some of franchise trademarks as well as the gadgets they supply. Grossing nearly 600 million dollars worldwide, Casino Royale was commercially a great success, but does the new Bond fall short of past expectations, or does this reboot on the series provide for good cinema?
James Bond isn’t yet an agent of double-0 status, but in order to accomplish this he is sent to Prague to assassinate a rogue agent who has been selling British secrets, as well as his associate. After accomplishing this, the film opening begins in traditional Bond fashion with a fresh gun barrel sequence followed by the opening credits. Already the film appears to be a lot darker than past Bond films, and I have yet to hear a corny catch phrase.
At this point Bond is granted his double-0 status and with it, a license to kill. Already the film begins with some intense action scenes including explosions, gunshots, and a free-running chase through the streets and buildings of Madagascar . It turns out that Bond’s target has been working for Le Chiffre, an unscrupulous banker who manages the money of some pretty evil guys. Bond catches on to one of Le Chiffre’s plots to blow up a prototype airliner in Miami for his own personal gain, of course foiling it. This causes Le Chiffre to loose massive amounts of money and therefore hold a Texas hold’em poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro, Better find some time to practice. Bond, funded by MI6 for the 10 million dollar buy-in, is to enter the tournament in hopes to bankrupt Le Chiffre, forcing him to cooperate with them.
From this point there is great dialog, intense action, and an ever-evolving story. The movie even includes some twists, and scenes I’d never thought I’d witness coming from a Bond movie, including a pretty brutal torture scene. Even Bond acts different — no more charismatic dialog and unlikely use of gadgets; instead he is what he is; a government hit man. Some, including myself, did think the gadgets, the womanizing, the catch phrases, and the over-the-top action is what makes a James Bond movie what it is. Getting away from this previous theory makes Casino Royale unlike any other Bond movie and a complete rejuvenation of the series, almost to the point where aside from character names and familiar MI6 faces, Casino Royale is almost unrecognizable as a Bond movie. Of course the main storyline is very Bond-esque, as it was based on the book written by Ian Fleming, but as I just mentioned it was portrayed unlike any other Bond film to date, much darker.
Even the Bond girls are gone about differently. We don’t have to endure countless seduction attempts, but instead are limited to Bond’s attraction to one, yes, only one woman. The actions in this movie shape Bond for the future. It explains a lot of reasons why he acts the way he does in other films, unless of course in this new reboot of the series he doesn’t act the way he has traditionally.
I think at this point it goes without saying that there are a lot of changes for this new movie, which I think are for the better. Casino Royale is an amazing change for the face of Bond, the action is better and more realistic, the characters are deeper, and I don’t have to endure any more phony sequences. When I say I like the change its in reference to the direction the series has taken in the past few films, I wouldn’t change anything about the Bond movies of the 60’s and 70’s; it was just time that storyline was put to rest and this new fresh one could begin. With that being said, Casino Royale is a great movie that is a must-see for Bond fans or casual viewer alike.
The Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Just as he was as Casino Royale ended, Bond is on the trail of Mr. White (Christensen). He finally manages to get him and bring him to a British Intelligence safe house, where he and M intend to interrogate him. Both are shocked to hear that there are spies inside of British Intelligence. Bond acts quickly to eliminate an immediate threat to M. Unfortunately, the encounter leaves more questions than it has supplied answers. Bond disobeys orders and heads out to root out the organization behind these plots. Through a case of mistaken identity he hooks up with Camille Montes (Kurylenko). It seems that the rather attractive Camille is on a revenge mission of her own. Together they track the bad guys to the doorstep of industrialist Dominic Greene (Amalric) who has tried on more than one occasion to eliminate the young lady. Greene heads an organization that on its surface appears to be a nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of global warming. The Al Gore clone delivers speeches and provides the structure for this apparently “clean” organization. But Greene is meeting with General Medrano (Cosio). The general is plotting to take control of his country, and with Greene’s help, he will succeed. Greene seeks certain lands as payment for his help. Greene’s plot is to hold a drought-ridden country hostage to his demands once he controls the entire water supply. Of course, it’s up to Bond to stop the plot and restore order to a raging country, while seeking a little payback on the side. Felix and his CIA buddies are token characters here, intended to provide a little question as to Bond’s loyalties. There’s a little bit of Bond going rogue here, but I’m not sure anyone really believes that he has. It’s summed up pretty well when M welcomes him back to the fold, so to speak, and Bond replies, “I never left.”
Like all of the best James Bond adventures, this one takes you on a whirlwind tour to some exotic locations around the globe. Bond must visit Italy, Haiti, Bolivia, and even England as he tracks down his prey. There is also no shortage of traditional “Bond girls” in this movie. Starting with the lead Olga Kurylenko as Camille, there is plenty of “natural beauty” on hand. There is even a rather nicely played homage to the Connery film, Goldfinger. Another of the Bond bombshells is drowned in oil and left as a warning to Bond on his bed, covered completely in the black substance, posed much like the gold-painted girl was in Goldfinger. These unmistakable Bond elements lessen the blow for us a little, but you can’t help but feel this is more like a Die Hard film than a James Bond. The action is relentless, and for that you should be thankful, because the plot has enough holes to drive an Astin Martin through, sideways. Kurylenko is supposed to be a stronger character than many of her fellow “Bond girls”, but she never really gets the chance to show what she can do. Give the writers credit for not making her so much the damsel in distress, but we only get enough of her in action to tease us for the entire run of the movie. I have to believe Kurylenko was somewhat disappointed. I’ve seen some of her other work, and she’s a capable actress.
The film’s title is one of the few remaining original Fleming titles that haven’t already appeared in a filmed version of the superspy. It was actually a short story and bears little to no resemblance to this movie at all. In the end the film will appeal to those of you who thought the first Craig film was simply brilliant. You’ll forgive the plot holes. You still won’t like this one quite as much, but you will eagerly await Craig’s next outing as Fleming’s Bond. For me, I felt a little empty after seeing this movie. I was promised James Bond, and instead I got John McClane.
Skyfall begins with Bond (Craig) in the middle of a mission. He and a female agent (Harris) are chasing an agent who has stolen a computer file that contains the names and aliases of all of NATO’s active spies. A mishaps leaves Bond seriously injured and presumed dead. It’s finally his chance to get away from the espionage game when the world believes he’s dead. An attack on MI6 tugs at his conscience, and Bond reports back for active duty. The attacker is connected with the stolen agent list. The man who has the list releases five of the names and threatens that five more will be released each week. Meanwhile M (Dench) appears to personally be the target. Her computer is hacked, and she’s told to think on her sins.
It doesn’t take long for Bond to track down the villain and discover he’s an ex-MI6 agent, Silva (Bardem). The endgame appears too easy, and as usual, it is. The cat-and-mouse game leads Bond back to his childhood estate and a final confrontation with Silva and his gang.
Times have certainly changed. Daniel Craig tried to be the suave character that has described James Bond for most of that 50 years. It hasn’t really worked out that way. Craig is a fine actor, but he never really fit the James Bond mold. Still, the filmmakers have been quite taken with Craig, and he has been signed for at least 2-3 films. That means we’re going to have Daniel Craig in the role for the better part of the next decade. If Craig won’t fit Bond, there’s only one other way to make this franchise continue to work. Bond must change to fit Craig, and that’s exactly what happens in Skyfall. While many of the traditional elements are still intact, the winds of change are surely in the air. The Bond-girl element has been pulled back just a little. As the above quote implies, the idea of gadgets has been even more dramatically decreased. Q in the guise of Ben Whishaw reminds me more of Dr. Who than Desmond Llewelyn. His first appearance really made me think of Who, and I later learned others had the same instant reaction. I can see the guy taking over that role someday. The villain is driven by such a mundane motivation as personal revenge, mixed with more than a little insanity. There’s no world domination or doomsday machines to deal with here. The climax doesn’t take place in an elaborate lair, and there’s not near the amount of globetrotting going on here. The movie eventually settles into something very much like Straw Dogs. This is certainly a new Bond, indeed.
The film begins very much like a traditional Bond film. Then it settles down. Director Sam Mendes must understand addiction. He knows he can’t take us off of our old Bond cold turkey. He understands we have to be weaned so as not to suffer from immediate withdrawal. The opening train and chase sequence is one of the most adrenaline-packed in the history of the franchise. It features terrific action and set pieces. It’s the biggest action of the entire film. Mendes moves us slowly into his new Bond and thereby softens the symptoms of withdrawal for us. Before we know it, we’ve adjusted to the change and perhaps traded one addiction in for a new one.
While this is disappointing news for Bond purists, it was exactly the right direction to move the franchise. Craig has finally found a character he can wear with absolute ease. This is a Bond who’d rather have a Heineken than a martini. This is a Bond who has a lot of scars both inside and out. He’s not at all self-assured and certainly can’t be described as arrogant and cocky. This Bond carries a lot of ghosts on his shoulder. It’s everything that Craig was trying to do in the first films, but the stories hadn’t quite caught up to him yet. Now both Bond and Craig are in the same place, and whatever your feelings about how true to tradition he is, it does work, and it works well. The film has already performed solidly in its European box office releases. I expect this will likely surpass any of the previous films in its total take.
The cast is quite impressive. Javier Bardem is a marvelous character who is spellbinding. His performance is quite flamboyant, yet it’s also incredibly nuanced. He strikes the perfect balance and brings Silva to life. Heroes are only as good as the bad guys they have to face, and Bardem is a big reason why this dynamic works as well as it does. His body language sucks you in, and he literally steals the film at almost every turn. He breaks some Bond bad guy ground as well. If you remember some scary rumors that were flying around before Craig was first cast, you’ll enjoy Bardem’s performance all the more. Let’s just say there was once talk about changing one of Bond’s preferences, and it wasn’t the kind of booze he was drinking. Who knows how serious any of that really was, but I think Silva was made to play to that talk somewhat.
“You have got a tricky day ahead of you.”
It’s safe to say that Daniel Craig peaked as James Bond with Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the man who figured out how to make Craig work in the part. The secret wasn’t in the classic images of Bond’s past, but in the future. Instead of trying to mold Craig into Bond, Mendes molded Bond into Craig. It was the right thing to do as long as Daniel Craig was going to continue in the role. With Mendes repeating as director and John Logan from Gladiator and Penny Dreadful fame handling the script, expectations were through the roof for this one. That is before Craig himself toured the interview circuit complaining about playing James Bond. I believe there was a reference to a hot poker in the eye being preferable to reprising the role again. Now I’ve seen Spectre twice, and I don’t believe Daniel Craig has anything to worry about. I suspect the next film will sport a brand new James Bond. And indeed, I think this film proves it’s time for a change. Let the speculation games begin.
As the film opens we find Bond in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. What follows is a pretty impressive sequence that ends in a very thrilling helicopter climax. This is quite a promising introduction. Craig has never looked or felt better as James Bond. It’s one of the most impressive opening sequences in a lot of years for the franchise. If they can keep this kind of electricity flying, this is going to be one heck of a film, and I might have to take back every bad thing I ever said about Daniel Craig. Sadly, one of the best Bond moments leads us into one of the worst Bond credit sequences. I’m not at all familiar with Sam Smith, so I won’t speak to his own talent or catalog of music. But this song is terrible. It doesn’t even appear to tie into the film even a little bit. To make matters worse, the sequence is clearly a computer-generated piece. I guess it’s time to accept that as part of these iconic Bond traditions, but it’s too jarring for me. It seems to me that if you’re going to continue the tradition, either continue the tradition or drop it. It ends up amounting to nothing more than a bad music video. At least there’s the promise of continuing the thrilling action when the film returns. Maybe not.
Bond (Craig) has received a rather cryptic message from the grave. The former M (Dench) has put him on the trail of a mysterious villain who appears to hold the key to most of Bond’s troubles over the last few years. The timing couldn’t be worse. MI6 has merged with MI5, and the 00 program is on the brink of being abolished. It’s all the work of new security guru, C (Scott). It seems he is trying to bring the world’s intelligence network into the 21st century. His project is called 9 Eyes, and he wants to merge all of the surveillance technology of nine nations into one central core. Of course, he expects to be running that central core out of a new flashy glass building for the British CNS. Obviously, the story takes advantage of the NSA headlines and the growing fear we all have of constant surveillance. While Bond is working toward his own ends, it’s up to M (Fiennes) to try to stop this dangerous changing of the guard. He’ll make a pretty good team with Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris).
Meanwhile, Bond is up to his usual globetrotting to track down the organization Spectre with only a ring he confiscated from his adventure in Mexico. It leads him to the widow of the man he killed and the first of the film’s traditional Bond girls. Lucia (Bellucci) leads him to a meeting of Spectre where he hopes to learn more. But he’s been expected and must make a daring escape after a distant encounter with the mysterious Mr. Oberhauser (Waltz).
His next lead finds him face to face once again with Mr. White (Christensen), who is not the man he used to be. That stop takes him to White’s daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Seydoux). It is here that the story remains for quite some time. They take a lengthy train voyage that appears to serve no other purpose but to allow for a close-quarters fight with the film’s henchman, Hinx, played by Dave Bautista. From there it’s the lair of Oberhauser himself and the requisite villain exposition. Of course, his rogue operation ties in with M’s situation, and it all leads to a rather explosive night in London.
Spectre is actually the most classic James Bond of the Craig era. That may seem like an asset, but it really isn’t. The two worlds don’t really blend well, and what remains is an entertaining film that never quite lives up to the excitement and energy of the first 10 minutes. The film is absolutely overlong at 148 minutes. The pacing drags, often making the middle of the film feel rather listless. There isn’t a lot of chemistry between Craig and Seydoux, and that’s a serious problem. They spend far more time together than most of the Bond/Bond girl relationships, and it’s a heavy weight for the film to carry. The best chemistry of the film can be found in the trio of Q, M, and Moneypenny. They get to have a bit of time for their own caper, and I rather liked the way they worked. James Bond is not so much of a team franchise, but perhaps this is one element that should be expanded upon. The three actors here are perfect in the parts, and I rather liked the change-up.
The globetrotting won’t disappoint. This film takes us from London to Rome, Tangiers, Austria, and Mexico. You can also expect some nail-biting action sequences. There’s a rather nice car chase that ends in a splash. Bond also gives chase in an airplane even after it loses its wings, and there’s the helicopter sequence in the beginning of the film. We don’t get to spend enough time there, but Waltz has a villain’s lair that rivals Dr. No’s.
Christopher Waltz is the kind of villain we might have expected to encounter in the Connery days. It’s that casual sinister style that made past Bond villains so iconic. Waltz is at ease in the part, and like all good bad guys, it doesn’t occur to him for a second that he’s a bad guy. Dave Bautista offers the expected muscle but wasn’t used as well as he could have been. He has a strong presence, but he never gets to do anything more than attempt to beat the crap out of Bond.
I think the most outstanding flaw here is Daniel Craig himself. As someone else pointed out, it’s hard to tell if my impressions were colored by his forceful rhetoric or genuinely how I experienced the character. Whatever the reason, there was little passion or energy in his performance. Craig looks like an actor who is sick of the part and desperately doesn’t want to be here. Oddly enough, the opening sequence appeared just the opposite. I don’t know when in the filming schedule the Mexico segment was filmed, but I suspect it was early on. Later there are times Craig just looks tired. It’s time he was given that rest.
Where the film shines most is the incredible cinematography. Here the movie lives up to every Bond expectation and tradition. The movie looks beautiful. Hoyte Van Hoytema is the same guy who filmed the original Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He has an incredible eye, and it works perfectly when given these kinds of locations to film.
Each film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p images are arrived at by an HEVC codec with bitrates that range from just under 50 mbps for Casino Royale to averages near 70 and peaks well over 100 for Quantum Of Solace. All of the films show marked improvement over their Blu-ray releases. Each has scenes that clearly demonstrate this. An early jungle scene in Casino Royale is a great example. The detail allows fast-moving scenes to offer more than merely a blurred background. More of those background details suddenly clear for us. The HDR allows more vivid color, which helps with the establishment shots of all these exotic locations. Some of the Bond-girl dresses stand out with nice colors and textures. Black levels also offer some nice shadow definition, which helps when Bond is sneaking about under cover of darkness. These movies look more filmic with these new masters, and I have no doubt the differences will be worth it.
Three of the films offer just the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with little differences from the Blu-ray releases. Spectre offers the 7.1 audio presentation, and that also appears to be identical to the Blu-ray releases.
The Audio Commentaries are also preserved here.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of each film and represent the extras from the previous releases.
Of course, this collection is a bit premature and is one film short. Craig is about to wrap up his James Bond days with the upcoming film No Time To Die. We all thought he was finished last time, including Craig, who made some rather unflattering comments about things he’d rather do than be in another Bond film. Still, it’s clear that Barbara Broccoli really loved him in the role and offered him a blank check to return. The new Bond film has had a rather stormy production, with directors playing video games while the crew waited for several hours to actors quitting the production and Daniel Craig’s serious injury which delayed shooting. Now we’re told the next Bond will be a woman, who could very well make an appearance in this film. Can Bond survive the coming years or decades? I can’t help but pine for the days of Sean Connery and those wonderful scripts. I’m told that doesn’t work anymore. “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore.”