Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bond bored? Say it ain't so!

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I have confused feelings about the first glimpses of Skyfall, the 007 movie that's due out this November.

There's Daniel Craig, who puts the "tease" in "teaser trailer" with his magnificently butch and battered Bond. So far, so good.

Then Bond starts playing a word association game with a mysterious examiner. "Gun," says the examiner. "Shot," says Bond. "Murder," says the examiner. "Employment," says Bond. It sounds like violent free verse. What to make of this enigmatic intro, which sets an odd tone for the usual Bond tropes that follow (exotic locations, explosions, femmes fatales)?

The critical consensus on the new trailer is that it's "mean and moody." With its allusive dialogue and oblique images, it looks as if Skyfall will reflect the current trend to get all art-housey with the action genre, a direction that has seen both payoffs (Paul Greengrass's lean, laconic Bourne instalments) and pitfalls (Marc Forster's dire, dismal, fake-profound Quantum of Solace).

I was nervous when the producers announced they'd hired prestige Oscar winner Sam Mendes, who's known mostly for middle-class suffering (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), to direct the 23rd Bond flick. I was very nervous when it came out that Mendes had brought in playwright Patrick Marber, the guy behind the pseudy psychosexual drama Closer, to help with the script.

I was very, very nervous when Mendes announced that his film would deal with Bond's "lassitude, boredom, depression, difficulty with what he's chosen to do for a living."

I'm not saying we need to go back to the days of gadgets and giggles, to the invisible cars and the Pussy Galore innuendo and all those things the Austin Powers comedies were right to spoof. But lassitude, boredom, depression? Jeepers, can we all just have a martini and loosen up a little?

I get that James Bond changes. And a darker, tougher franchise can work. For me, Bond was reborn the moment Craig walked out of the surf in a brief blue bathing suit in Casino Royale. Craig's an actor's actor, who brings a soulful and slightly thuggish heft to the role. And his blunt, bruised handsomeness gives Bond a dangerous quality.

Craig's first outing, Casino Royale, was aces. Director Martin Campbell balanced grit and glamour, character and action, and allowed just a couple of cracks through which to view Bond's inner life.

But it doesn't take much for Casino Royale to tip over into Quantum of Solace, for complexity to become incoherence, for art-house angst to bloat into pretension, for gravitas to morph into gloom. And with that bringdown Batman as competition, it could be easy to lose sight of the fact that Bond movies are supposed to be, you know, fun.

Mendes doesn't really do fun. The trailer, with its brooding silhouettes and solitary figures staring out over long vistas, seems to be a stern reminder of that. An even worse problem, though, might be that Mendes isn't that great at non-fun. If you're going to hire an "arty" director to class up your action series, you should hire a good one, not the guy who ruined Revolutionary Road. Mendes had a hard time delineating depression in the Connecticut suburbs. How's he going to explore the human condition when his characters are going 160 km/h along a coastal highway or narrowly escaping a burning building?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 E3

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