In his recent comments to the Daily Mail, author Anthony Horowitz took no prisoners as he lambasted numerous elements of the latest outings to come from the beloved James Bond film franchise. Horowitz has just released Trigger Mortis, the latest in a string of continuing 007 novels commissioned by Ian Fleming’s estate. While this does admittedly lend him some credibility as an expert on all things Bond, in my opinion, he is, mostly, wrong.
Horowitz talks about how, despite Daniel Craig’s terrific Bond and the excellent Casino Royale, he has found little nice to say about subsequent film outings. “Quantum of Solace just went wrong,” he said, which is fair. But what he later added was questionable: “Skyfall is my least favourite. […] Bond is weak in it. He has doubts. That’s not Bond. Secondly, the villain wins. The villain sets out to kill M – the film finishes with the villain killing M. So why have I watched it?”
He also criticises elements of the film’s final confrontation; namely the logic of taking on a madman in a remote farmhouse with no weapons, but those are certainly more valid. I’m with him again until he says, “‘I don’t want to know about [Bond’s] doubts, his insecurities or weaknesses. I just want to see him act, kill, win.”
At this point I’m slightly boggling as to how this man can call himself a writer. Yes, I appreciate that Bond is different. One could say that’s just how Bond is. But why? Why are we excusing uncreative storytelling simply because it hides under the guise of it being cool. It is cool – no-one’s trying to deny that – but what’s wrong with wanting a character to succeed for more than just the sake of the pyrotechnics that will surely result?
Car chases and explosions and getting the girl is all deeply exciting; the unmitigated thrill of these things is what founded the action genre, while also keeping it going with the sort of steam-powered, self-referential nightmare machine that is The Expendables. These are good things. But they work best when they’re balanced with a reason behind them. You care most about the trouble a character is in, or the hell they’re going through when you know what it’s costing them, what it means to them. When you know their past and their motivations. Heck, that’s when you plain old care about them.
Captain America: The Winter Solider was an amazing film, but part of its success was because it had Captain America: The First Avenger there behind it saying, “Look, see, this is why this is sad. This is why Steve is finding this difficult. This is why that giant explosion and helicopter crash is so awesome”. You might not have enjoyed Cap’s first film outing as much as his subsequent appearances, but for services rendered in terms of amping up the drama for the rest of them, surely it’s a small price to pay.
This was the same in Skyfall; as we gave time to Bond’s past, it elevated his actions at the film’s climax – and now seemingly, for entire subsequent films – to something above this slick spy we couldn’t have a hope of empathising with to a character that’s a little more human. You want someone to shoot his boss, and for us to care? You’re damn well going to have to show us that Bond cares, first. What he’s doing was already cool, but how about he does it for more than just the sake of it?
That’s what threw me. Horowitz wants a hero without flaws. Who isn’t weak. Who… who can’t lose? Then what’s the point of going to the cinema?! I can save you £7.50 and tell you the ending right now. If there’s no risk and the downfall of your cool, badass character can only be someone else being cooler or more badass than them, which has nothing to do with the faults or failures of the untouchable hero themselves, that’s just about the most boring way to write a climax or a confrontation I can think of. What a cop out. That’s like saying ‘infinity plus one!’ to someone on the school playground.
Bond is a classic Byronic hero. He swoops in, beats the bad guy, shags the pretty girl and moves on without another word or a hair out of place. Yeah, that’s cool. (Kinda sexist, though; in Trigger Mortis, Horowitz has done something different and had Bond’s two potential female conquests snub him for each other, and I’m taking the high road and trying to see that as the girl-power its intended to be, instead of just a different form of objectification.) So, kinda sexist, but more obviously, a bit of a formula.
We’ve had 23 films – of varying but generally high quality – out of that. What’s wrong with giving our lead a little more motivation to do it for a 24th time, on top of Queen and country? It doesn’t take away. It adds.
As a side note, Horowitz has also said that he feels Idris Elba would be too ‘street’ to play Bond; that he’s not ‘suave’ enough. This confuses me slightly, since this was the exact criticism levelled at Daniel Craig upon the announcement of his taking the role – which Horowitz earlier praised – but since he later suggested the wonderful Adrian Lester as an alternative, I’m considering it the lesser of his sins today.
So sorry, Anthony. I get where you’re coming from. I really do. But I think I’ve seen enough action films where the hero is a two-dimensional middle aged white guy with whom I am presumably meant to identify, but can’t due to his having about as much substance as a piece of soggy bread.
And that’s passable – if boring and uncreative – in a two hour flick. But in a film series which has and will continue to cover decades, or even centuries, of film-making, I find it deeply saddening that a man who has dedicated his life to creating interesting and meaningful literature would wish such poor storytelling on one of the world’s favourite characters.