Directors: Martin Campbell, Marc Forster, Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelson, Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Rory Kinnear, Lea Seydoux
BBFC Certificate: 15

There’s no denying that James Bond is somewhat of a national treasure. Like most national treasures in 2019, however, that comes with a mild sense of national embarrassment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Bond fan. Growing up in the 80’s I had access to all of the back catalogue thanks to a family friend, so I spent my formative years exploring the films of Connery, Lazenby and Moore and welcomed Dalton’s tenure as the character with open arms. But Bond is a complex character; a misogynistic, violent secret agent who’s methods during the Brosnan era seemed increasingly outdated, leading to the cartoonish and overblown Die Another Day in 2002 which performed so poorly it led to a complete shake up of the franchise. Enter Daniel Craig in 2006’s reboot film, Casino Royale. Be warned, spoilers for all four of Daniel Craig’s Bond films follow!

Ignoring the (incredibly loose) franchise continuity up to that point, Casino Royale adapted the first Ian Flemming novel fairly accurately, embellishing it with a little more action and espionage to give the story a little more bounce, and firmly re-established Bond for a modern audience. The character here isn’t overly different from what we’ve seen before, but in the hands of Craig he’s given far more nuance. He’s more brutal, his wit is more dry and his womanising is made more obvious as a tool in his arsenal to get what he wants. But what’s also striking is how the world around the character has adapted to this. His methods are questioned more, a point especially made in the Casino Royale when M, Bond’s commander played wonderfully dryly by Judi Dench, the only role carried over from the previous continuity, refers to Bond as a “blunt tool”. He’s a weapon that MI6 deploy to go into a tough situation and do a job without distraction. But it’s distraction that the job in Casino Royale brings.

 

Tasked with using his skills at the card table to bring down criminal financier Le Chiffre (a sleazily wonderful Mads Mikkelson) Bond falls badly for his partner Vesper Lynd, played with equal amounts of spite and affection by Eva Green. It’s the relationship with Vesper and her ultimate betrayal and death that forms the backbone of this multi-film story and it’s a level of continuity that the Bond series hasn’t really shown before. This is no MCU, however; the continuity still feels somewhat loose and a little forced across the multiple films, but it’s interesting that it is at its strongest going from what is arguably Craig’s best outing as Bond in Casino Royale, to what is unquestionably his worst in Quantum of Solace.

Quantum of Solace starts mere hours after Casino Royale ends, showing a Bond who is still reeling from Vesper’s death and determined to find the men responsible. Quantum of Solace is a messy, angry film with the shortest run time of the franchise, clocking in at only 106 minutes. It’s also clear that director Marc Forster is somewhat in over his head with the action sequences which are, for the most part choppy and badly edited. On a rewatch, though, the film isn’t without its strengths. The central plot of criminal organisation Quantum buying up land to exploit the water supplies feels like more of a 21st century threat than a baddie in a secret volcano lair, and Olga Kurylenko’s damaged femme fatale Camille is a refreshing break from the usual “bond girl”. There’s also some surprising cinematic flourishes, from the big set pieces at the Palio di Siena horse race and a particularly lavish production of the opera Tosca, to a mostly silent shootout which is striking to watch. As an epilogue to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace works to a point, but as a standalone film it’s certainly the weakest in this box set.

Which brings us to Skyfall, the contender for best standalone Daniel Craig Bond movie, only inasmuch as it was, at the time, the ONLY stand alone film in Craig’s tenure (we’ll get to that in a moment). Seemingly separate from the Quantum continuity, Skyfall is a more personal tale for Bond, one which simultaneously strips the series of its traditional shackles while also celebrating some of that tradition, released as part of the series 50 year anniversary. Director Sam Mendes feels far more comfortable than Forster and the lavish photography and big set pieces elevate the film way above the disappointment of Quantum of Solace.

This time we have a more personal story for both Bond and M, bringing them together to take on a villain who is targeting Dench’s character with a personal vendetta. Javier Bardem’s Silva is a disturbing figure, physically intimidating and sadistic, his closest cinematic analogue is probably Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The fact that this ex MI6 agent’s only real motivation is revenge against M for abandoning him to torture makes the personal focus of the story quite compelling. Undercutting all of this is a suggestion that MI6 is becoming outdated, that modern espionage isn’t designed to cope with this emerging form of cyberterrorism, a thread that’s lead by Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory. Skyfall is absolutely a fantastic film which cuts a darker swathe akin to Casino Royale and plays with the formula up until the finale which pits a besieged Bond and M against Silva’s army in a Scottish highland mansion. It feels part Home Alone, part Straw Dogs and the bittersweet ending with M’s death rounds off a film that’s easily one of my favourites.

Losing Judi Dench was definitely a blow and a plot twist that was kept very well under wraps, but Skyfall sets up a great cast for the next film in the series, 2015’s Spectre. We have the characters of Miss Moneypenny and Q, played here by Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw in more modern takes on the roles, as well as Fiennes who takes up the mantle of M. Rory Kinnear also makes a welcome return as series regular Bill Tanner, alongside Craig. Spectre is much more of an ensemble piece with each of the characters playing a key part in the story. It’s a shame then that the story doesn’t do justice to this with a plot that very much wants to have its cake and eat it.

We have two threads here – firstly Bond is on the trail of Spectre, a criminal agency and the parent organisation of Quantum. They’re cleaning house and plotting something big under rule of their shadowy leader, a man who Bond discovers to be his adopted brother Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz on top form as usual). Meanwhile, M is facing down a threat from within the British government as project Nine Eyes, a global intelligence initiative, is threatening to close down MI6 in favour of automated cyber espionage. Unsurprisingly these two threads converge as it’s discovered that Oberhauser, now going by the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld, is behind everything.

Yes, Spectre is a bit of a mess, but it is in many ways a somewhat glorious mess. Sam Mendes returns to the directors chair and delivers some more fantastic looking set pieces, but the plot that threads them all together is incredibly tenuous. Anyone familiar with the franchise will recognise that Spectre is the organisation that Sean Connery’s Bond originally went up against, an organisation that, thanks to some complicated legal shenanigans, was unable to return in the films starring Roger Moore and beyond. It’s very clear that Quantum was set up to fill that hole, but when Spectre once again became available, some hasty retconning took place plot wise – Spectre was behind EVERYTHING all along! This reveal, as well as that of Blofeld (basically Bond’s Joker) being a former childhood acquaintance of Bond, undoes a lot of the previous continuity from Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall. It feels messy and largely unsatisfying, which is a shame because the action sauce that coats the meat of this plot is some of the best in the series, from a chase down a snowy mountain, to a car chase through the Paris streets and a finale in a collapsing MI6 building, there’s a lot to enjoy about Spectre, but there’s also a lot which proves to be a slog. The whole “is he or isn’t he?” aspect of Oberhauser/Blofeld’s true identity also felt unnecessarily bloating to the overall story in the same way that Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Khan/Not Khan did in Star Trek Into Darkness two years before.

And so we come to the decider – next year’s No Time To Die, Craig’s final film as Bond, the capper to the actors continuity entrenched run. Not a lot has been revealed about the plot, but all the gang are back along with some new faces to take down a new threat in the form of Rami Malek’s Safin. Rumour also has Christoph Waltz returning as Blofeld but hopefully director  Cary Joji Fukunaga can send Craig off with style.

This box set collects all four Daniel Craig starring James Bond films on both Blu-Ray and, for the first time, UHD. It’s a reissue of last years Daniel Craig Collection Blu-Ray and DVD box sets and features all the bonus content that was present on those, meaning that the usp here is for the UHD/HDR transfers. If you want to see these films at their best, this is the set to get.

Really the Bond movies are pre-packaged to be poster children for the new UHD format with their globe hopping stories allowing the camera to take in multiple sights for the higher resolution and expanded colour palette. Just look at the dusty horse race in Quantum of Solace, the neon lights of the Shanghai scenes in Skyfall or the snowy mountains in Spectre for further proof – these films are lush on UHD with Casino Royale proving to be the only real disappointment here. For some reason the picture on the UHD disc feels somewhat muted in comparison to the others – not badly so but it’s certainly something that’s noticeable. The audio here also seems a little off with dialogue coming in very low in the mix, something that doesn’t seem to be a problem elsewhere.

For the Bond fan who wants to make the jump to 4K, though, this is an essential set but if you already own the films elsewhere you might want to consider whether you want to double dip, as there’s nothing really new here.

James Bond: The Daniel Craig Collection (UHD)
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