Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the first Bond film, Dr. No. Also, I reviewed Casino Royale earlier this week (undeservedly voted the 56th greatest film of all time by Empire readers in 2008), and Skyfall, the 23rd official Bond film, is released soon, so this seemed to be the perfect time to do a Top 5 list related to Bond in some way. As much as I would have liked to have done a comprehensive list of my five favourite Bond films, villains, girls, gadgets, cars, locations, henchmen, lairs, guns and kills, I’m afraid I don’t know nearly enough about the series to do that, seeing as I’ve seen quite a few of the films only once, and many of them I can’t remember. I do know that my favourite film is Goldfinger, which also features my favourite henchman, Oddjob. Scaramanga is probably the best villain I can remember, or perhaps Max Zorin, but that’s mainly for the actors playing them. So instead of any of those lists, I’ve compiled my top 5 of the actors who have portrayed Bond onscreen in the main series (I’ve not seen the 1967 David Niven-starring Casino Royale). Seeing as there’s only six actors currently in the series, this was a pretty straightforward list to compile.
How does one create two of the best loved British comedies of recent years? Initially it seemed purely to involve director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but recently Wright’s foray across the pond, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was well reviewed but barely seen, whereas the Pegg/Frost scripted Paul drew huge crowds but lacklustre reviews. No, the secret it would seem is to keep this trio together, with Wright and Pegg on scripting duties, Pegg in the lead role and Frost as his incompetent sidekick. Pepper the rest of the cast with the cream of British acting and comedy, including Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Peter Serafinowicz and Dylan Moran, with Bill Nighy and Martin Freeman appearing in both films. Also, there must be cameos you can miss even without blinking – in Hot Fuzz, Cate Blanchett plays Pegg’s ex-girlfriend behind a decontamination mask and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is the Santa who stabs him through the hand- but crucially, the film must remain thoroughly British.
For this is the true secret of these films. Whereas other great British filmmakers seem to shy away from their country of origin (Danny Boyle, Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock) opting instead to embrace the more commercial stylings of Hollywood, Wright and co. make sure that if you cut the film in half, it reads Made in England all the way through. From the settings – the zombie-infested streets of London or the sleepy rural village of Sandford, to the cast, sense of humour and the solution to any problem (“I dunno… pub?”) there have never been comedies this British since Kind Hearts and Coronets.
It is also difficult to pin down what kind of a comedy the films are, as they feature equal quantities of character driven sitcom (Shaun’s vying affections for girlfriend Liz and best mate Ed), genre pastiche (there are more references in both films than could ever be listed), social commentary (upon discovering a zombie, Ed and Shaun first assume she is drunk), outlandish set pieces (battering a zombie with pool cues to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now) and subtle farce (The foam housing of twin pistols either side of a thermos in a pensioners bag). This cornucopia of comedic styles means that, if you didn’t like the last joke, it’s OK as another will be along shortly.
The most important aspect though seems to be to make sure there are repeated, quotable lines, whose meanings change throughout the course of the film (“He’s not my Dad,” “You’ve got red on you.”) or off-hand or unintentional predictions that inevitably come true. Of the two films, Fuzz rates a little lower due to a bout of Return of the King syndrome, with more explosive endings than are strictly necessary. Shaun also offers more rewarding repeat viewings, with many lines not landing their full impact without prior knowledge of the rest of the film.
Shaun of the Dead Choose film 9/10
Hot Fuzz Choose film 8/10