Comic Review: ‘James Bond’ #1

Written by:  Warren Ellis / pencilled by:  James Masters

What’s it about?

“VARGR” : after avenging the death of fellow agent 008, James Bond – 007 – returns home to take up the workload of his fallen comrade whilst elsewhere, sinister plans are being drawn against him…

In review

Just in time for the international release of Spectre, Dynamite Entertainment has launched its first James Bond comic book after acquiring the licence to Ian Fleming’s iconic super spy last year.

Written by Warren Ellis, fan-favourite author of the likes of Iron Man: Extremis and Global Frequency, Dynamite’s James Bond #1 presents the opening chapter of “VARGR” and depicts a version of the cold hearted (yet oddly romantic) and lethal spy that is more in line with Ian Fleming’s novels as opposed to the at times tamer and more heroic version of the character often favoured in the Bond film series (a portrayal itself that is every part as valid as the character envisioned by Fleming).

Ellis certainly doesn’t withhold on the lethal aspect of Bond, with a tense and thrilling 9-page opening sequence that slowly reveals 007 as he pursues – and violently dispatches – the killer of 008 that will both shock and delight readers.  The dialogue here is sparse as Ellis wisely relinquishes the bulk of the storytelling to penciller James Masters, who delivers a moody and partially retro style that helps to evoke the atmosphere and spirit of Fleming.  The sequence flows perfectly from panel to panel until Bond himself is fully revealed, the dark haired, smartly suited figure depicted as Ian Fleming imagined (even down to that scarred cheek).

What follows is (perhaps deliberately) more slowly paced and less enthralling with Ellis laying out exposition as Bond returns to MI6.  If a little heavy, it serves to introduce readers to the supporting characters and an opportunity to become more acquainted with Bond in the hum-drum office environment as he flirts with Moneypenny, receives a dressing down from M and discusses politics with Chief of Staff Bill Tanner in the cafeteria before reporting to the Quartermaster – ‘Q’ – to prepare for his next assignment.  It plays out much like a Bond film yet via Ellis and Masters is infused with the feel of Fleming’s novels, giving us a version of 007 that manages to be both reverential and simultaneously all of its own, grounded with a dash of real world concern as Bond is confronted with a new spy-regulating law that prevents him from carrying a weapon on British soil.

Whilst largely functioning as a prologue to the overall plot of “VARGR”, James Bond #1 comes to a tantalising close as we’re introduced to the imposing Mr. Masters, the impending threat that will (no doubt) soon be presented to Bond.  With the measure of preliminary exposition dealt with, here’s hoping that Warren Ellis and James Masters build a sprawling and exciting adventure that’s worthy of the attention of James Bond fans new and old.

The bottom line:  Despite some heavy set-up, James Bond #1 delivers hints of what could prove to be an appealing new iteration of Ian Fleming’s iconic creation.

James Bond #1 is published by Dynamite Entertainment and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for Dynamite Entertainment's 'James Bond' #1 by Dom Reardon.

Cover art for Dynamite Entertainment’s ‘James Bond’ #1 by Dom Reardon.

Film Review: ‘Spectre’ (spoiler free)

Bond is back…

Starring:  Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Belluci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen

Directed by:  Sam Mendes / Written by:  John Logan, Neal Purves, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth / 148 minutes

What’s it about?

Whilst the British Secret Service faces an uncertain future, James Bond receives a message from his past that puts him on a dangerous path as he seeks to uncover a sinister criminal organisation known as Spectre…

In review

Ian Fleming’s James Bond – 007 – returns to the big screen for the 24th official entry in the enduring and phenomenally popular spy film franchise.  With the overwhelming success of 2012’s Skyfall, Bond film producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson stoked the flames of anticipation by securing the return of Oscar Winning director Sam Mendes.  Spectre is a solid and thrilling, yet at times imperfect, follow up to that aforementioned game-changing Bond feature.  It’s a well-crafted and often exciting action thriller that perhaps suffers a little under the weight of high expectations and efforts to repeat and surpass the heights of Skyfall and arguably lead actor Daniel Craig’s finest hour, Casino Royale.  With Skyfall we were presented with an interesting progression of the modern Bond film which was more firmly rooted in the pages of Ian Fleming’s original novels and cerebral spy serial Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy whilst melding the very best elements of Sean Connery’s tenure as the iconic spy.  What Spectre does is strive to heighten those elements to mostly positive results, with a few stumbles.

In celebration of what makes a proverbially “good” Bond film there is perhaps a little too much reverence to what has come before, homages to key moments in From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Living Daylights (to name a few) are generally pleasing but also evoke a feeling of familiarity that wasn’t present in Skyfall.  There’s also an increase in humour which doesn’t always hit the mark (and even in the odd instance threatens to undermine the drama) and the film’s pacing can at times feel a little sluggish.

Despite these grumbles, the effects of which will likely diminish upon repeat viewings, Spectre certainly delivers the goods.  Daniel Craig makes an assured return as Bond, at ease with his effortless swagger, dapper demeanour and unreserved lethality – the best since Connery and the closest to Fleming’s interpretation of the character since Timothy Dalton.  Lea Seydoux, who had a memorable villainous stint in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, makes for a decent female foil to Craig’s Bond as the sparky Dr. Madeleine Swann and there are some fun moments to be had with Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny.  Just as Whishaw gets his time in the field, Ralph Fiennes – returning as the new M – also gets a piece of the action as well as sharing some great scenes with Sherlock’s Andrew Scott, who plays the chief of a new intelligence agency poised to replace MI6 and the double-0 programme.

Spectre also provides a physically imposing (and largely mute) henchman in the mould of Jaws and Oddjob in the form of Mr. Hinx, a terrifying muscular powerhouse that’s an ideal fit for Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista.  This ultimately brings us to double Oscar Winner Christoph Waltz’s main antagonist, Franz Oberhauser, a shadowy figure with connections to Bond’s past and a requisite agenda of evil.  Waltz is simply great with a wonderfully understated and nuanced portrayal that is non-the-less chilling and leaves the viewer in no doubt that he is a capable threat.

The film’s action sequences are second to none, aside from the exciting opening in Mexico City that’s on a par with Goldeneye, there are fist fights as bone crunching as those in Casino Royale, car chases that stand shoulder to shoulder with Quantum of Solace and a spectacular high-stakes finale that threatens to rival Skyfall.

Beyond its strong cast and adrenaline infused action, Spectre has an intriguing script that crafts an enjoyable contemporary spy thriller that is mindful of the post WikiLeaks climate with twists and turns that, although in some instances are predictable, facilitate moments of genuine surprise.  Director Sam Mendes once again guides proceedings with absolute precision, aided by the striking visuals of Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who makes the most of rich and varied locales – ranging from Mexico, Rome and Tangier to Austria and London – to present a visually sumptuous film that’s complemented by Skyfall composer Thomas Newman’s score (shame about Sam Smith’s underwhelming theme song) in a flawed but ultimately solid outing for 007.

The bottom line:  Although not quite hitting the overall heights of Casino Royale and Skyfall, Spectre is still a strong and skilfully executed assignment for Mr. Bond.

Spectre is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide on 6th November.

Daniel Craig returns for his latest mission as 007 in 'SPECTRE'.

Daniel Craig returns for his latest mission as 007 in ‘Spectre’.

James Bond to face SPECTRE in 2015

So, it’s been some months now since it was announced that Skyfall director Sam Mendes would return to helm the next instalment in the James Bond film series and this week finally saw the big reveal – Bond 24 is now titled SPECTRE.

Deriving its name from the evil SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) organisation featured in Ian Fleming’s novels and which due to legal wrangles has been prevented from featuring in the film series since Sean Connery’s departure in the early seventies, it provides tantalising hints into what may be in store for the iconic super-spy as we learn that the plot will see a cryptic message from Bond’s past sending him on the trail of the sinister organisation.

Given that the major critical and commercial success of Skyfall set the bar rather high, there’s certainly a sense that producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are taking every step to ensure that SPECTRE is (at least) equally successful, not only by securing Mendes (who will be joined by Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema) as director but by once again enlisting screenwriters John Logan, Robert Wade and Neal Purves.  This will give the film a sense of continuity and consistency given that both Mendes and Craig have cited that the narrative of SPECTRE will be affected by the events of Skyfall – perhaps not as direct a follow on as Quantum of Solace was to Casino Royale but it seems that there will be significant links.

The excellent Daniel Craig will be back as Fleming’s James Bond – 007 and will be accompanied by returning Skyfall cast members Ralph Fiennes (the new ‘M’), Roy Kinnear (Tanner), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Ben Whishaw (‘Q’).  They will be joined by Bond girls Monica Bellucci (The Matrix) and Lea Seydoux (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) together with Sherlock’s Andrew Scott and Guardians of the Galaxy’s (and muscular power-house) David Bautista.

That leaves the most enticing and arguably most exciting casting coup of all – double Academy Award winner Christophe Waltz (Inglorious Basterds).  Of course we’ve been told that Waltz will be playing a character named ‘Oberhauser’ but would a James Bond film going by the title of SPECTRE fail to feature the head of the organisation – Ernst Stavro Blofeld (previously played onscreen by such notable actors as Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas), surely a role suited to an actor of such incredible presence and stature?

Now, to await the announcement of who will be providing the film’s title song…

Principal photography on SPECTRE commences on Monday 8th December with locations including London, Rome, Mexico City, Morocco and Austria.  The film is due for worldwide release from November 6th 2015.

What are your hopes (and fears?) for 007’s next cinematic adventure?  Share your thoughts below!

The superb Daniel Craig will return as Ian Fleming's James Bond - 007 in 'SPECTRE'.

The superb Daniel Craig will return as Ian Fleming’s James Bond – 007 in ‘SPECTRE’.

Have You Seen… ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ ?

The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…

Year:  1969

Starring:  George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Tell Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti

Directed by:  Peter Hunt / Written by:  Richard Maibaum (with additional dialogue by Simon Raven)

What’s it about?

Whilst on the trail of SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond finds himself falling for the alluring and beautiful, yet troubled, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo.  But first Bond must obtain information from the Contessa’s father, Draco, leading to an undercover assignment in Switzerland – his mission: to prevent Blofeld from unleashing germ warfare on an unsuspecting world…

In review

I was originally planning to feature On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as part of the GBUK Film Classics reviews but thought that perhaps the more casual viewers of Bond films (or new Bond fans introduced via last year’s mega hit, Skyfall) may not be all that familiar with some of the earlier screen adventures of the iconic super spy.

Largely dismissed upon its original theatrical release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has in the decades since gained the recognition it fully deserves as one of the best Bond films (many even consider it to be THE best).  The incredibly popular Sean Connery was always going to be a tough act to follow but George Lazenby proved to be a worthy, albeit brief, successor in a film that brings the character closer to Ian Fleming’s literary creation whilst retaining some of the charm and likeability that Connery had brought to the role.

Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, OHMSS is a very personal film for Bond and the first time we’re given a deeper insight into his character as he falls for the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (aka “Tracy”), played by Diana Rigg.  Rigg, fresh from her popular stint as Emma Peel (alongside Patrick Macnee’s John Steed) in classic and often quirky British TV series The Avengers, is by far the best screen Bond girl.  Far more than the archetypical damsel in distress or just mere eye candy, yes she’s beautiful, but Tracy is a strong and feisty character with dimension and a vulnerable quality that Bond finds endearing, all brought to life by a wonderful and immensely talented actress.  She’s the sort of character we don’t really see again until Vesper (Eva Green) steals Bond’s heart in Casino Royale (2006).

It’d be fair to say that producers “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman will have been nervous about casting a new James Bond but with George Lazenby they needn’t have fretted too much (although they would later, Lazenby wouldn’t return for Diamonds Are Forever).  The Australian model, whose only acting experience at that point was in a Fry’s chocolate commercial, proved he could deliver on the screenplay’s more layered approach to Ian Fleming’s character (Lazenby has his detractors but I feel he’s a good fit for the role in this film).  No doubt in a conscious effort to prove that Lazenby could hold his own against comparisons to Sean Connery, the film’s fight scenes are particularly brutal with the blows of Bond’s fists literally sending his opponents flying into the air and across the screen (just watch the film’s opening scenes and you’ll know what I mean).

Telly Savalas is the villain of the piece – SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld, whose plans this time around involve germ warfare.  Donald Pleasance was an enjoyably maniacal (albeit a tad cheesy) Blofeld in You Only Live Twice but Savalas is a much stronger and more formidable presence in this film.  He is aided by evil henchwoman Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat).

Despite Bond’s courtship of Tracy, Bond’s infiltration of Blofeld’s compound in the Swiss Alps, under the guise of academic Sir Hillary Bray (where Lazenby was dubbed by George Baker), allows for him to – naturally – use his charm on Blofeld’s striking ‘angels of death’ – all for Queen and Country of course (I tried, but sadly failed, to resist a Roger Moore-esque raise of the eyebrow as I typed that out)!  Blofeld’s plot to utilise germ warfare is not as daft as it sounds and plays out rather well.  It’s less outlandish than a lure hidden beneath a crater and a testament to what Saltzman and Broccoli wanted to achieve with OHMSS by bringing Bond back to his roots.

Director Peter Hunt, having served as an editor on prior Bond outings, successfully fuses together all of the disparate elements of a classic Bond film, from the striking locations (this time Portugal and Switzerland) and epic visuals to the special effects and exemplary stunt work (much of which Lazenby strove to perform himself) that bring the exhilarating action sequences (including gripping high altitude ski pursuits and thrilling car chases) to life.

Composer John Barry provides yet another exciting, rousing score (arguably one of his best and noteworthy for there being no title song) that – as with many other Bond films – is the icing on the cake.

Why you should watch it

It’s a Bond film that has all the elements the audience would expect but with a larger focus on characterisation.

Standout moment

Having escaped Blofeld’s clutches, Bond is pursued into a Swiss village where he finds Tracy.  The pair flee in Tracy’s car as Blofeld’s men continue to give chase…

Did you know?

The search for the next James Bond involved testing over 400 actors, amongst them a young Timothy Dalton.  Dalton would of course be issued his Walther PPK in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill.

Watch it if you like…

Casino Royale (2006), Goldfinger

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Have you seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?  Share your thoughts below!

Could James Bond be ready to hand in his licence to kill as he falls for the mysterious Tracy? Stars George Lazenby and Diana Rigg have good chemistry in  'On Her Majesty's Secret' Service' - one of the best entries in the long running Bond film series.

Could James Bond be ready to hand in his licence to kill as he falls for the mysterious Tracy? Stars George Lazenby and Diana Rigg have good chemistry in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – one of the best entries in the long running Bond film series.

Also on Geek Blogger UKGBUK Film Classics:  From Russia With Love

GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

Looking at some all-time film favourites…

 

“Red wine with fish.  Well that should have told me something”

 

Year:  1963

Starring:  Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee

Director:  Terence Young / Written by:  Richard Maibaum

What’s it about?

Crack spy James Bond is dispatched to Istanbul on a mission to capture a Soviet coding device but soon becomes embroiled in the plots of the nefarious SPECTRE organisation…

In review

From Russia With Love is the second cinematic outing for Ian Fleming’s literary super spy (and based on Fleming’s 1957 novel of the same title), James Bond (aka 007), and ranks highly as one of the best – quite possibly THE best – of the enduringly popular film series.

Whilst 1964’s Goldfinger would catapult James Bond into the stratosphere as a pop culture icon and world-wide phenomenon, From Russia With Love presents the audience with a strong, pure Cold War spy thriller that isn’t burdened or encumbered by the weak and formulaic plotting that some of the later Bond films would suffer from (sorry Sir Roger).

With the success of Dr. No the previous year, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli wisely and astutely brought back director Terence Young (who would also go on to direct Thunderball) and screenwriter Richard Maibaum (who returned for most of the subsequent Bond films through to 1989’s vastly underrated Licence to Kill and even the James Bond Jnr. animated series), the former keeping the action flowing and the tension ramped up against the backdrop of the beautiful locations, including Istanbul and Venice, and the latter providing all of the characteristics of a classic spy adventure.

In terms of casting, Sean Connery makes an assured return to the role of Britain’s titular secret agent, with all the charm, charisma, wit and physicality seen in Dr. No.  Although he may not necessarily be the closest interpretation of Ian Fleming’s character (honours for Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig in that respect), Connery certainly carried through the toughness and moral ambiguity of a man licenced to kill whilst making the character his own and presenting a heroic lead that audiences could root for.  It’s because of this he still rightly deserves recognition as being the best screen Bond.

Robert Shaw, a consistently superb actor, is in fine form here as the homicidal assassin Red Grant.  The fact that Shaw appears from the opening (where he effortlessly eliminates a masked Bond-a-like) yet has no dialogue until much later in the film is unsettling and adds gravity to his climactic and brutal face off against Bond.  He gives us one the most memorable of Bond villains, a true threat to our hero and every inch as dangerous.

Newcomer Daniela Bianchi provides the right measure of glamour and allure as Tatiana Romanova and of course who can forget 007’s key Istanbul ally Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) and wicked SPECTRE agents Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Kronsteen (UFO’s Vladek Sheybal)?

The (soon to be) recurring supporting characters are also present:  the late, great Bernard Lee as ‘M’, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and the first appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as ‘Q’.

The action is above that of just an average 1960s spy film, from the shootout at a Gypsy camp to the tense final confrontation with Grant on the Orient Express and the ensuing helicopter chase and subsequent pursuit by SPECTRE agents as Bond and Romanova attempt to escape to Trieste by boat.

From Russia With Love is completed with an atmospheric and romantic score from John Barry, his first for the Bond film series (although he arranged Monty Norman’s ‘James Bond Theme’, composed for Dr. No).  Barry would go on to score a further ten Bond adventures and is rightfully considered the quintessential Bond film maestro.

Standout moment

After an odd exchange at dinner aboard the Orient Express, Grant’s true identity as an agent of SPECTRE is soon exposed.  Holding Bond at gun point, Grant is determined to complete his mission but didn’t reckon on Bond’s tenacity…

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It’s a sharp, exciting and classic Cold War spy adventure with Sean Connery at the top of his game.
  2. It’s a James Bond film that doesn’t rely on a plethora of gadgets and unlike some of the weaker entries of the series it isn’t encumbered by a tiring formula.
  3. It features arguably one of the best Bond villains thanks to a strong turn from the unforgettable Robert Shaw.

Did you know?

Pedro Armendariz was diagnosed with inoperable cancer during filming.  After finishing most of his scenes he returned home and sadly took his own life, with remaining shots completed using a stunt double and director Terence Young as stand-ins.

If you like this then watch…

Goldfinger:  Another confident return for Sean Connery, this time under the direction of Guy Hamilton.  It’s a favourite among many and establishes some of the familiar hallmarks of the series and features the first appearance of that iconic Aston Martin.

Casino Royale (2006):  The Bond film series re-launches with vigour in Daniel Craig’s first outing.  Wiping out the daftness of Pierce Brosnan’s dire finale in Die Another Day, it refreshes and updates the series without forgetting its roots, presenting a brutal yet very human James Bond who bleeds physically and emotionally, dropping his guard when he falls for the alluring Vesper (Eva Green).

He's behind you...Sean Connery is at the top of his game in 'From Russia With Love' but has his 007 met his match in Robert Shaw's Red Grant?

He’s behind you…Sean Connery is at the top of his game in ‘From Russia With Love’ but has his 007 met his match in Robert Shaw’s Red Grant?