Daniel Craig as James Bond 007

No time to buy? – Daniel Craig 007 Collection (4K Blu-Ray Review)

Rating:

This newly spruced up 4K offering on Blu-ray brings along the bonus content that was in the original 2016 package. We have audio commentaries, behind the scenes features, trailers and posters, image galleries and lots of insight into the creation of many characters, stunts and plot points in Craig’s current four film run. The four current films, as a pack, are exciting, bold, brave and radical for the James Bond franchise and it’s hard not to enjoy either all or just a couple for their pros and cons.

However don’t be TOO excited by the extended cut of Casino Royale, because you may have seen this already, and if not, you won’t miss much (if anything) that adds to the story. It features moments that were cut to pass certification for cinema release, including seconds here and there in the Le Chiffre / Bond torture sequence and the Montenegro stairwell fight. It inserts the seconds of torture and violence that were cut, but if you didn’t know they were there, you wouldn’t even notice them back in.

It’s a great package on the whole – worth the asking price? Not really. Not when you can buy existing collections for far less. However they’re after the 4K market here, so unless you are a real 4K addict with money to burn for films you probably already have got or seen numerous times, don’t waste your money again.

This is basically a cash-cow promotion of Daniel Craig’s 007 journey before his “finale” in No Time To Die due in April 2020.

Casino Royale (2006)

Newly promoted MI6 00-Agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is tasked to investigate Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a businessman suspected in financing terror attacks orchestrating terrorist attacks resulting in huge profits for him and the organisation he works for.

With the aid of the beautiful and tough MI6 Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and resourceful field contact René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), a somewhat reckless and brash Bond must use all his skill with the cards as well as his MI6 training to survive as he turns up the heat under Le Chiffre.

But during the assignment and its aftermath, Bond will learn a crucial lesson that will change his life and career forever when it becomes clear not all is as black and white as he brazenly expected it to be…

This film grabs the lazy, self-indulgent and stale run of the latter Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond films, turns it upside down, shakes it violently, pushes it around a little, knees it in the face, throws it down a flight of stairs and kicks it in the head before setting it back down ready to tackle a new era of action/spy film and the new era of James Bond film. Casino Royale goes back to the roots of the character created by Ian Fleming in his debut novel and re-energises the franchise for the first time in over 40 years (which is a damn good run before a franchise starts to lose steam!), and re-invents the legend for a whole new generation of old and new fans like nothing seen before. It’s James Bond, but not as we know it.

With sparse CGI work and no by-the-book plots, Casino Royale takes things down a notch from the chaotic and sloppy Die Another Day of 2002 to give us real stunt-work, lush, new locations and a gritty, darker story that is akin to the Cold War-era of espionage Ian Fleming wrote about in the 50s and 60s. This interpretation of 007 is more faithful in that he is more human than we have ever seen before. He feels, he bleeds. He makes mistakes and rash decisions, but these are all important to the new take on the character and his development into the secret agent we all know and love. Daniel Craig makes Bond his own; there are no nods to previous portrayals and the amount of emotional and physical stress he puts himself through is remarkable to see in making this James Bond more relevant and real in the 21st century of realistic action films. He looks good both in and out of the tuxedo, but never quite like he was born to wear it adding a more rough around the edges feel to the blonde haired, blue-eyed assassin.

If anything, Craig can be compared to the 4th 007 actor Timothy Dalton who harnessed the Fleming-vibe of marking Bond darker and more dangerous in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence To Kill. But after the wake of the lovable, family friendly Roger Moore, Dalton’s exceptional interpretation just wasn’t what the world wanted from their Bond. How times change…

The mainstream introduction of Eva Green gives her the screen time and platform she deserves as a good actress capable of equaling her male co-stars in terms of sexuality, dominance, and assertiveness. As a modern-day Bond girl, she looks the part with sex appeal and that crack of fragility that is crucial to the sub-plot between her and Bond and makes her one of the most memorable and important roles in the current series.

Our other co-stars do a sterling job with their roles, thankfully avoiding the Bond cliché of good and bad, and rather coming across as people simply trying to do their job in a dangerous world where lines are always blurred between the heroes and villains. And while our main villain Le Chiffre, the wonderfully sly Mads Mikkelsen, may not be the egotistical, world dominating psychopath of the golden era of Bond films, but that flamboyance has gone, and it’s refreshing to see a villain dressed in immaculate suits with a subtle but effective physical defect. He’s a villain who could easily hold power in everyday society playing with stocks and shares for his own evil gain. And his bubbling frustration is excellent to see as he goes up against Bond in the Casino Royale poker game which offers a real sense of the Fleming novels come to life with a confrontation depending on hero and villain out-smarting and out-thinking each other without guns, bombs or explosions – it’s all about the power of the mind and who can hold their nerve the most in a well-paced and engrossing middle act.

And what is also good is that we are given room to breathe in the action sequences and globe-trotting as a whole. We actually see the nerve-shredding stunt work and the brutal fight scenes with camera and editing work that doesn’t cause headaches like more recent films tend to do with “shaky cam” and “super-fast editing” that moves so fast you can’t keep up. This is a visual treat to see something made so well that we can actually feel, wince and cheer at and take in the passion and detail put into making it look and feel so real in the exotic locations that deserve their screen time.

EON had a very risky chance to take re-introducing James Bond after such a lull in 2002, but director Martin Campbell (who introduced Pierce Brosnan to the world as 007 in 1995s GoldenEye) delivers more than you could ever wish for in a relevant, exciting and current James Bond film that removes the weaknesses from the past and simply aims to go higher, bigger and braver than ever.

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

When James Bond (Daniel Craig) seeks vengeance for the death of Vesper Lynd under orders from Mr White (Jesper Christensen), the British spy is soon caught up battling a much larger, more intricate crime syndicate; Quantum, led by corrupt businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).

With the help of the beautiful and strong-minded Camille (Olga Kurylenko), and old allies Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and long-suffering boss M (Judi Dench), Bond must uncover the truth behind Vesper’s betrayal and uncover just how dangerous Quantum really are…

Following on from the power-house of Casino Royale, this rushed sequel was never going to live up to the standards set before. Despite a returning cast and a much-loved 007 in the lead, this was a production plagued by the 2008 Writers’ Strike and suffered a weak script and rushed re-shoots because of it.

But away from the production troubles that are evident with the final product, it’s not THE worst Bond film at all. Yes, the story is lackluster with no real sense of direction or threat – Amalric’s Dominic Greene lacks any dominant screen presence unlike Mads Mikkelsen before him, and also has a very weak ‘evil’ plan – and the visionary director Marc Forster seems to want to make his film a work of art with nauseating sharp, fast edits and enigmatic sound and visual cuts.

However this does show Daniel Craig in a good light, and you can argue his portrayal as James Bond here is one of his best from the current 4 films. He is more like a wrecking ball than ever before, motivated by revenge, but he seems far more human without dwelling in depression, like Skyfall, or reluctance for the job, as in SPECTRE. Here, he seems more comfortable in the role and plays Bond with a more sharp sense of humour (he smiles a lot more) but also shows him as an effective agent. If the film was better, it could have been his defining Bond film.

The action too can’t be slammed; we have action on land, sea, and air like any good 007 film. It’s dangerous, loud and frantic all helped by a blistering score by David Arnold. Again, while the edits don’t help in letting us SEE what’s going on half the time, the atmosphere and 007-fuelled excitement is there.

With another good supporting cast with the likes of the alluring and ass-kicking Olga Kurylenko, the demure Gemma Arterton and fan-favourites Giancarlo Giannini and Judi Dench, Craig is in good hands for the most part. But, on the flip-side, he doesn’t have too much to work with against the previously mentioned Mathieu Amalric who, despite having the slimy Bond villain sneer down to a tee, doesn’t evoke much danger and just comes across like a low-life businessman. Even Jeffrey Wright as Felix is shoe-horned in and doesn’t do much.

Location wise, it certainly delivers on that front. Bolivia and Austria are stand-outs, with the Perla de las Dunas hotel and Tosca floating opera performance benefiting from Forster’s artistic eye. We also have plenty of Bond-moments like the blistering pre-title sequence that is up there as one of the best, the hints of the 007 theme snaking through the action and the evolution of Craig “becoming” the super-spy we know and love.

At just over 100 minutes it’s the shortest James Bond film in the current 54-year history, but it’s not bad for it. No time is wasted, nothing is drawn out and no plot-points are bloated – it’s action from the off and we are globe-trotting within no time in the good company of Craig.

It’s just a shame the script is weak, the villain is weak and the overall desperation to tie things up with Casino Royale is weak. This could have been a shining outing for Craig as it sort of feels more like the stand-alone Bond films of the past if it wasn’t for events and characters being linked to things here. It deserves more appreciation, that’s for sure, and is actually an easy watching Bond escape if the likes of 2hr+ action films can feel like a drag sometimes.

Skyfall (2012)

When a top-secret list of MI6 agents is leaked, agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to retrieve it. The man responsible for the leaks is former agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who is waging a war against MI6 and M (Judi Dench) – but why? It’s up to James Bond to pull himself back from the brink of self-pity after failing to apprehend the list once to find out why.

Traveling the globe and with the help of Silva’s mistress Severine (Berenice Marlohe) and Whitehall staff Q (Ben Whishaw), Eve Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) and Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Bond faces his most personal mission yet that brings the danger closer to home than ever before…

In a very relevant Bond film, real people and a real country are in danger through this story of cyber-terrorism and what lies in the shadows. It’s a story of good vs evil, and let’s Craig be an almost “heroic” Bond without the personal vendetta angst he bore the first two times, and set in a very “modern” world we live in.

From the amazingly shot pre-titles, it feels like the first time we see Daniel Craig’s Bond at his most comfortable in a mission. He knew his allies, he knew his enemy and knew his orders. Thankfully, not a single character was wasted, no matter the size of their role.

Craig looked and felt the most comfortable he has yet in his 3 films as 007. He forges relationships with the other characters that you believe in. He is flawed but takes steps to rid his demons. You feel for this man because he’s the man you’ve loved for 50 years. The Walther is there, the Martini is there, the quips are there. However, he does still need to work on losing that “brutish” look to him and that swagger.

Judi Dench is back as M and it’s her best film out of the 7 she has done. Tough as nails, firm yet tender, Dench shows why she is the Bond girl of this story and we see more to her than any previous film in the series. Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny who was set up well, along with Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear with their roles as Whitehall’s finest. Kudos to the late, great Albert Finney as Kincade, taking a good bit of screen time in the finale. A wonderful actor, and one who keeps Bond, and us, grounded with his likable personality.

Javier Bardem is a nice return to the villain we’ve not had for a long time in the franchise. Silva is chilling, dangerous and unstable but brilliantly clever. Yes, you may compare him to The Joker from The Dark Knight, but he’s in a league of his own and really injects the film with nothing but menace from his overdue entrance. Berenice Lim Marlohe is under-used as Severine, but only when you see how great she is as a girl who has a sexy, tough outer shell but very fearful and alone inside under the expensive clothes and make-up. She is a vital cog in the film, smoldering with her looks and sharing a wonderful scene with Bond and Silva.

Istanbul, London, Shanghai, Macau, and Scotland. That’s all that’s needed for this film and each location works. The cinematography delivers in ways never seen in a Bond film before with sweeping shots over magnificent landscapes, every frame full of colour, life and well thought out shots.

The tension is racked up more than ever thanks to Thomas Newman’s score. It doesn’t break new ground, but it’s handled the way a soundtrack should be. It complements the film and doesn’t over-shadow it. Plus, yes, there are lots of welcome return riffs of the James Bond theme without it getting boring. The main theme by Adele, Skyfall, sounds just as good on-screen and cut down fine as you don’t lose the haunting vocals and deep meaning which means even more as you watch the film unfold. A brilliant song, a perfect match.

This is all down to a cast and crew that know their audience and know their Bond. 50 years later and they deliver a classic feel in a modern, relevant setting. Director Sam Mendes directs the best Bond film for years with an understanding of the film franchise itself to give audiences what they want. It’s edited in a way we can see the story unfold and not rush to keep up, even if hell is breaking loose on-screen.

Skyfall is still James Bond, it’s still everything we love. It’s a Bond film like nothing you’ve seen before, but you will NOT forget it for days after. It’s certainly one of the better James Bond films that celebrate the old and new.

SPECTRE (2015)

Returning from Mexico City after carrying out an assassination of a hitman thanks to intel from a face of his past, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is grounded by M (Ralph Fiennes) for his reckless actions as the Joint Intelligence Service set out to close down the outdated 00 section.

But Bond is following a trail thanks to an engraved octopus ring and a name; ‘The Pale King’. Enlisting the help of Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond goes off the grid in a trail that leads him to Rome and the very heart of a sinister organisation who has links to terrorist attacks across the globe; SPECTRE.

Whilst M battles to keep the 00-section alive, Bond finds help from one man he once tried to kill; Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who, for a price, gives him the location of his daughter Madelaine Swann (Seydoux) who can help crack the investigation.

Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) is the mastermind behind SPECTRE and a man who has a personal connection to 007 that will shed new light on the pain of his past and the pain yet to come…

SPECTRE feels like it is Daniel Craig’s first “classic” James Bond. Yes, we don’t need to repeat the nostalgia of the past, but we can’t deny there is a winning formula audiences want to see from their 007 regardless of the actor of the era. And those elements are there more so than before; the established mission, a memorable villain and henchman, the Bond girls, the car chase, the stunts, the action, the Vodka Martini. Just don’t expect to see much of the special executives for counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge, and extortion. Well, ok, you’ll get a little extortion and a bucket load of revenge. That’s it. No stolen nuclear bombs or laser satellites here.

Léa Seydoux climbs up the Bond girl ranks of the Craig era to sit comfortably behind Vesper Lynd. She’s emotionally vulnerable, and her personal issues work well in the overall context. However, her development is under-cooked and with the events that play out, never convinces me of her journey with Bond is anything like it was with Vesper Lynd. and, as said, a very good actress alongside Craig.

Christoph Waltz, the man you now see was born to play a deliciously sly and cunning Bond villain doesn’t let the team down as Franz Oberhauser. While sadly under-used even more than Javier Bardem in Skyfall, the difference is his presence is felt during this film when he’s not on screen. He’s a threat, and he has power. The film’s action ripples out from his center, and Oberhauser is always looming over this story even when he’s not present. “You came across me so many times yet you never saw me” rings more true now.

Waltz doesn’t play it as classic camp, not at all. He is a man who has pretty much got what he wants; he is confident, laid-back and in control. He’s clever and merciless and very dangerous. Waltz isn’t physically intimidating, but then not all the best villains are; it’s how they come across on-screen and he comes across wickedly brilliant – super dialogue that makes so much sense in the context of the story, linking everything in the Craig era to the nefarious SPECTRE organisation perfectly. He makes this film for me and is my favourite villain of the Craig era to date, and in any way shape or form I hope we somehow see him again in ‘No Time To Die’.

David Bautista is our evil henchman, Monica Bellucci is the eldest Bond “woman” in a blink and you’ll miss her role, and Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris return as the solid and now comfortable MI6 team. Other players Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Stephanie Sigman, and Jesper Christensen are all crucial to this puzzle. None of them are discarded and all sizzle on-screen to help form the allies and villains around Bond and his world at MI6.

For each location used, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema expand on what makes each one come alive. The jaw-dropping Day Of The Dead celebration in Mexico City. The architecture of Rome. The frozen plains of Austria. The sun-baked landscape of Morocco. The playground of British Governments in London. The cinematography delivers just as much here as it did in Skyfall, maybe not as picturesque Roger Deakins, but still letting you see and appreciate these gorgeous locations and what they all offer to us as viewers and to Bond traversing them.

The soundtrack was the factor that didn’t shout out much to me. Thomas Newman returns and already seems to have struck up a comfortable rapport with Mendes in using music to narrate their interpretation of James Bond. Lots of familiar cues return from Skyfall both for drama and action, which isn’t a bad thing as it gives the film a sense of familiarity and presents us with new themes for certain “Bond moments”. The main theme by Sam Smith, “Writings On The Wall”, is certainly not one of the most welcomed songs in the series and certainly no Adele, but still sounds classic Bond.

As said, on the whole, this has good and bad points. The relationship between Bond and Swann, the crux of this story and the basis of the title song itself, feels rushed and under-developed. It’s hard to invest in their relationship as much as you did with Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale. Granted, Eva Green really owned her part and Léa Seydoux does hers convincingly, but scripted words are said and actions are taken that come across as nothing but rushing.

It’s annoying that both Waltz and Scott are given so little to do and be great villains was also a big shame. Much of the film’s villain is Mr. Hinx, who pops up now and then but doesn’t serve much except to cue the action sequences. Even the London finale bored me – drawn-out, gloomy, lacking tension, repetitive music, an awful CGI Bond and a silly helicopter battle. The finale should have taken place in Morocco between Bond and Oberhauser, but for sentimental value to link everyone and everything together, it had to be London.

On the whole, a fitting return to more of the welcome 007 traits of the past presented for a modern generation but something makes the story and characters feel forced, rushed and part of a very lacklustre story-arc starting in 2006 that has become something dominating Craig’s 007 journey. It’s hard to know what will happen in No Time To Die leading on from the five-year gap since SPECTRE, which both excites me and leaves me feeling nervous as to where this established 007 universe will now go.

Available on the Ultimate At-Home Experience 11th November 2019

4K Ultra HD to Include Dolby Vision®

Comment