Why has no one said what an orgy of mediocrity the new Bond film is? It is almost hilarious. Rake through the many reviews and you will see nothing but five-star upon five-star frothing rave, and hardly a single mention of the gopping ludicrousness of almost all of the film.
I know you may feel even this is predictable — bitchy critic hates silly film — but I didn’t even hate it when I finally saw it. It just felt completely empty of anything, which I wasn’t expecting, but I guess that is where we find ourselves with the current culture. Look at nearly every big event in art, film, music and fashion, and you will see stuff that actually used to mean something being drained to the point of nothingness by fretful committees of greedy branding obsessives who basically dislike their product. It’s not just Bond; it’s musicians like the bland Adele as well.
For example, Bond cannot now have sex with anyone for fear of coming across as gropey or too masculine. So what we are presented with isn’t an undulating shagscape of inviting Bond girls with whom anything is possible, but a band of slightly weary career women who pass him pityingly between them, like carers. Following the luscious, nearly naked Ana de Armas into some wine cellar on a job in Cuba, Bond is briefly allowed to make some tentative leering remark about how quickly she’s getting him into a corner. Only for her to give a disgusted little titter, as if she would ever do such a thing: what a needy, old centrist dad. Then she whips out a rolled-up suit and makes him wear it, because, in the minds of the nuclear-strength fashion bores who now run the franchise, the sex isn’t the sex; the suit is.
What would Sean Connery’s Bond have made of her sniggering rebuff? Would he have meekly put on the suit, as Daniel Craig does, or gone in for another try? There must be some middle ground, surely, between the grim Connery slapping women into sex, and Craig essentially being told he is too sad to even touch the hem of some agent’s dress, which, by the way, was so revealing that in the ensuing fight I’m amazed we didn’t get a slip of the nip. But it appears there isn’t.
If you want to know what Craig himself thinks of it all, dip into any of the strange interviews he’s recently been giving and you will find a clearly distressed individual who will literally say anything that comes into his head. He has been going to “gay bars for as long as I can remember”, he irrelevantly burped out in one interview last week, because when he was single they were great places to meet women and he disliked the “aggressive dick-swinging in hetero bars”. What? Who goes to gay bars to meet women? Which Bond was ever afraid of big “swinging dick”? It is as if, like Bond, he simply wants to be everything to everyone, so that no one can criticize him or take him down.
It is within this framework of total fear and wanting to please everyone that the filmmakers have managed to produce by far the weakest Bond villain we’ve seen. One second in the company of Rami Malek’s personality-free Lyutsifer Safin and you will want to lie down in his boring poison garden yourself.
We’re told he’s “complex” and “mysterious”, but you will find this is in fact code for not really wanting to risk any problematic portrayals of hinterland or ethnicity. How do you create a good villain if you don’t want to offend anyone? In the past villains and henchmen have been a minefield of horrible racist stereotypes; in today’s Bond there can be no disrespectful costumes, strange religions, deaths by indigenous poisoned darts, totems, dolls, ritualistic killings or bizarre tribal practices. You wouldn’t get an Oddjob, Nick Nack, Kananga or Dr No now: essentially it’s goodbye to nearly everyone Roger Moore’s Bond ever met.
This leaves us with a flavorless drip of no specific background, who won’t offend anyone, who doesn’t really do anything, whose most controversial wardrobe item is a kimono, at the center of what’s essentially a three-hour perfume ad, in which Bond breaks off from killing people only to show off his new mobile phone or eye one of the thousands of Range Rovers that cram every shot.
Some of it made me laugh, especially when one flunky machine-gunned a scatter cushion and another carried around a bionic eye at a party (inevitably dropped). But Craig is clearly so worried about Bond appearing lecherous or rapey or grotesque, he simply allowed himself to be reassigned the last Bond girl for shags. How listlessly monogamous: he’s simply given up.
Camilla Long is a columnist for The Times of London and The Sunday Times