More like “The Bond Ultimatum,” this is the Bournization of Bond. He may still spend some time in a dinner jacket, but this Bond is not the cool, debonair spy who seldom misses and never questions. This Bond is almost feral. He is seldom sure but he never, ever stops.
For the first time, there is no “Bond, James Bond” introduction and no dry flirtation with the ever-reliable Miss Moneypenny. Past Bonds have seemed like infomercials because they were so overstuffed with product placement, but this version is so stripped down to essence that there is not even time for Q to demonstrate an array of new gadgets so that we can have the pleasure of anticipating each of them in action.
This is the first Bond film to be an explicit sequel, beginning where Casino Royale left off. And so, in addition to non-stop action, brilliantly staged, we get to see Bond in the process of becoming Bond. Craig’s Bond is still near-feral, rough around the edges, his fury not yet under control. In the last film, he showed himself to be damaged but capable of being vulnerable until the death and apparent betrayal of Vesper (Eva Green) left him furious and equally determined to exact revenge and to protect his heart, if not his body or his soul, from any further trauma. Yes, this time it’s personal.
The issue of betrayal arises at all levels in this movie, right from the beginning, when even allies like the Americans and the inside circle of British spies can no longer be trusted. M (Judi Dench, as tart as a Granny Smith apple) has to rely on Bond, who may be rough, edgy, furious, even brutal, but who is not conventionally corruptible.
Every era gets the Bond it deserves. Every Bond is a reflection of his times. The Cold War Bond was the last of the unabashed pre-feminism alpha males. In the run-up to the Reagan era we had the Bond of excess — overstuffed with product placement and plots so literally out of this world that Bond ended up in outer space. And now we have the Bond of the era of compromised morals and unclear alliances. This is a rebooted Bond, building to some future time when gadgets and girls and martinis may re-enter the story.
Some things are unchangeable. No “Bond, James Bond,” Miss Moneypenny, or Q, but Bond does wear a dinner jacket (beautifully) and globe-hop to an array of glamorous locations. All the better for chasing around them and blowing them up. The girl (there must always be a girl) is as bent as Bond is, also driven for revenge and willing to do or destroy anything to get it. But don’t spend any time trying to figure out what the title refers to — basically, nothing. It is the title of a James Bond short story that has no other connection to this movie.
The film is not just tough on Americans; it portrays the world as a bleak and inherently compromised place. The bad guy insists on being paid in Euros, not dollars, and the CIA is willing to sell out just about anyone for oil. But it is another, even more precious liquid that is at risk here. Bad guy Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) glowers effectively and Gemma Arterton is refreshing as Ms. (Strawberry) Fields. Her departure from the story is, as in Casino Royale, a quick visual homage to an iconic Bond image, reminding us that if our era requires a Bond more gritty and less glamorous, Craig, Dench, & Co., have delivered him.