A whole new look to James Bond is on the way and the big question on everyone’s mind is, will Daniel Craig — and the movie — deliver. My spidey senses tell me “yes” in a very big way and as a life-long Bond fan, it’s got my butt tingling. Okay, too much information. Despite being a fan of the last Bond entry, this is a franchise that needs a serious kick in the arse. When Quentin Tarantino was talking about making a low-key, hard-edged Bond feature with Pierce Brosnan (they’re neighbors, apparently), I couldn’t help but be excited about the potential of the franchise. I knew, of course, the powers that be would never let Tarantino’s dirty paws touch their beloved franchise and it’s kind of depressing. Where is the imagination? Do they just want carbon-copy Bond films with different babes, villains and stunts inserted?
I must say, however, that word on the latest entry is strong and from the looks of the trailer, we may have an interesting mix of tradition and innovation. But is it too late? Is Bond still relevant in the age of, for example, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt? With the impending release of the latest Bond adventure, Casino Royale, we thought we’d take a look at cinema’s three most popular spies for a little comparison shopping. Now I’m going to be judging these three sneaky bastards on four all-encompassing criteria. They are: Quality of the Movie, Box Office Power, Ability to Pull Chicks, and Ability to Work Independently. Let’s get right to it.
Quality of The Movies
James Bond: When I was a kid, Bond was a god. More specifically, Sean Connery was a god. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Thunderball or You Only Live Twice. On top of that, Dr. No, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love are classic spy films. Octopussy was the greatest movie in the history of cinema when I saw it in theaters. I watched Roger Moore battle Grace Jones (Jesus, she always freaked me out) and Chris Walken (Jesus, he still freaks me out) in A View To A Kill. For me, it was always about the character, more so than the movies. The movies are almost always entertaining but looking at the last three Bond films, I only thoroughly enjoyed Die Another Day, as over-the-top as it was. I have a feeling the supposedly grittier Casino Royale is going to be a step in the right direction, but if the producers were smart (and from what I hear, they ain’t), they would hire some quality big-name writers and directors to give the franchise some pop. As of now, the quality of the movies are pretty hit-and-miss. 4 out of 10
Ethan Hunt: Here is a franchise that always had the right idea from the start. Each film is fresh and I happen to like all three of the Ethan Hunt adventures. Everybody likes to crap on the second film and I get it — it’s completely nuts — but I dug it. It’s without question the guilty pleasure of the three, but better that than a complete bore. The first film is premium stuff — a smart movie (sometimes too smart) with first-rate direction by Brian DePalma whom Cruise somehow kept under control. But the third film is my favorite. It injected the franchise with a shot of urgency and Cruise gives his best Ethan Hunt performance yet (I guess I can say “ever” now). All three films are marked by their directors, yet work within a series: the first is the suspenseful adventure, the second is the action-packed super hero film, and the third is the grittier, more innovative thriller. Given the choice between a new Bond film and a new Ethan Hunt film, right now I’d accept the more impossible mission every time. 8 out of 10
Jason Bourne: Here we have a franchise that is more interested in character and making a good film than it is blowing stuff up. The Bourne films are so good the other franchises began copying it. Grit is in and Bourne started the trend. I liked the first Doug Liman film because it was a satisfying, relatively low-key action film. Liman didn’t need the big action sequences because he had a smart script and a great cast. Paul Greengrass took things to the next level in the sequel, giving the character even more depth and amping up that grit factor I was referring to. The action (check out that car chase!) and the acting (witness the scene between Damon and Julia Stiles) only got more intense and the result is one of the best spy thrillers I’ve ever seen. Because the stories are personal, and because there is always a chance the more somber Bourne series could end on a sad note, the audience feels there is more at stake. 9 out of 10
Box Office Power
Bond: How should we look at this? If you are looking at overall box office history, it’s pretty hard to top Bond. Homeboy’s films have grossed $4 billion worldwide. Now take into consideration inflation and you begin to get a clearer picture at the power of shaken, not stirred. But this is a “what have you done for me lately?” culture, isn’t it? Looking at Bond’s last five outings, his films have grossed more than their predecessor, sometimes handedly. While The World Is Not Enough grossed a perfectly respectable $127 mil ($390 mil worldwide) — about a million more than Tomorrow Never Dies — Die Another Day hauled in $160 mil (and $456 worldwide). Not too shabby for a franchise in need of reimagining. As for Casino Royale, expect mega-bucks at the box office. All those questions about Daniel Craig will be nullified. This franchise is going nowhere. 7 out of 10
Hunt: The Mission Impossible movies come next with about $1.4 billion in total receipts. The first film started strong in the Prehistoric Kidman Era, went ballistic in 2000 when it peaked with M:I II, and then took a noticeable dive last summer with the release of the third Mission. Still, Ethan Hunt’s box office power is undeniable and I can’t help but feel that if there was an Ethan Hunt fourth outing, huge receipts would follow as the memories of Oprah’s couch fade into the distance. 8 out of 10
Bourne: The Bourne films, by contrast, have continued to gain momentum. They have “only” tallied $500 million total worldwide, but Jason Bourne bitch-smacked both Hunt and Bond’s last U.S. take. It is true that M:I III grossed more overseas than The Bourne Supremacy, but last I checked, I live in America and in America, The Bourne Supremacy dominated both M:I III and Die Another Day. 8 out of 10
Bond: Voted Most Likely To Have The Clap from his peers, Bond’s ability to pull the ‘nani is legendary. He sleeps with an average of two (rounding down) beautiful ladies per movie, so that’s pretty good. I probably average two every four years (rounding up). And with the length of time it takes to make a movie from pre-production to date of release, you might say I’m keeping pace (right?). I will give Bond more credit than me, though. He doesn’t have to pay. 10 out of 10
Bourne: Bourne doesn’t have quite the pull Hunt or Bond have. He isn’t as suave. He’s actually a little rough around the edges, a little awkward even. And so far his heart appears to belong to only one. I polled three lady friends and two out of the three agreed Jason Bourne would top their personal list because his character is more realistic and faithful. Yeah, okay. This isn’t a list for who pulls the heart strings, this is about who gets laid and Jason Bourne is maybe too moral for his own good in that regard. The good news is his one notch on the old belt was Franka “Lola” Potente so he gets more props than he would normally. 5 out of 10
Ability To Work Independently
Bond: Bond always works on his own, no question. I suspect the real reason behind this is he doesn’t want anyone else stealing his lays. Just think if he had to work with the dreamy Jonathan Rhys Meyers? You know Bond would be sending his ass on suicide missions left and right, leaving the guy to duke it out with Odd Job and Jaws while he tapped some hot babe. Still, where would James be without Q? Where would he be without his timely gadgetry; cars that cloak, jetpacks, laser watches, Valtrex etc.? 7 out of 10
Hunt: When I watch sports, I tend to root for great team players who have loads of individual talent. Give me “King” James over Kobe “Teen Wolf” Bryant any day. But I do want my spies to be able go out and do their thing on their own as much as possible. Hunt almost always has the MI team with him. Now I like Maggie Q as much as the next guy (okay, a lot more), but I would hope that if I need some people tracked down, spied on or dealt with, I don’t need to hire the entire NOC list to do it. However, there is no denying that Hunt gets stuck with the ridiculously hard tasks. Can you see Ving Rhames volunteering to jump off of that building in M:I III like a maniac? “Uh, nah, brotha … you go right ahead. All you baby! All you!” 6 out of 10
Bourne: Bourne did hang out with Marie in The Bourne Identity but that was more about not wanting to screw her over more than anything else. Dude likes to work alone and he does it with a vengeance before anybody else has any idea what the hell is going on. He doesn’t need a team, he likes to work alone. And he doesn’t need a Q, he makes his own low-grade gadgets, MacGyver-style. 9 out of 10
Okay, my results from the lab indicate that out of a possible 40 points, Bond scores 30, Hunt nabs 29 (damn you Scientology!) and Bourne, America’s newest hero snares the lead with 31. People, don’t blame me … that’s just how the numbers crunched. Now never fear, things can change if Casino Royale really explodes, Cruise and Sumner Redstone make up and The Bourne Ultimatum tanks. And who knows, there may be another spy on the horizon. Matt Damon is playing a real-life one in this winter’s The Good Shepherd, but something tells me that is a spy cut of a different cloth. As for Bond, he’s primed for a comeback, me thinks. It’s been forty-four years, twenty other features, 5 actor changes and a slew of video games since Dr. No, yet we keep saying “Yesh”. On November 17th, I will be saying “Yesh” again.