Longswords and James Bond

Let’s have another movie swordfight breakdown! One of my faves is from, I kid you not, the Bond movie Die Another Day. Really! Swordfights show up in odd places sometimes. Now, all things considered, Die Another Day was a pretty terrible movie in most other respects – all flashy action shenanigans – but hey, it was a good waste of a few hours and the set pieces were fun to watch. Plus, no one ever said that a Bond movie had to be high thinking entertainment!

I’ll always think fondly of it because of the duel between Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves.

You may be asking, “Claire, why do you like this mad flailing masquerading as a fight? Surely there are other, more worthy swordfights you can talk about?”

Sure, there are. But this one is just enjoyable on so many levels. The juxtaposition of the refined, gentlemanly social club with the balls-to-the-wall bashing of steel weapons! The visceral thumps and whacks as Bond and Graves punch and shove each other and destroy parts of the scenery! And yes, the mad flailing!

See, mad flailing isn’t bad. Mad flailing in Star Wars is just there for… hell, I don’t even know, because stunt people need to be paid. It’s there for the sake of the flailing, and it serves no purpose. Mad flailing between Bond and Graves is because both men are trying, really hard, to beat each other to death by way of metal sticks. The actual swordplay is close to irrelevant; it’s not logical, or sensible, or tactically sound, and it would look very weird if it were accurate. So it’s not! It’s two dudes hacking at each other out of ego, mutual hatred, and the need for oneupmanship.

The point is that mad flailing is a good thing when it means something in the scene, and conveys something about the characters or the plot. Mad flailing for the sake of mad flailing is… mad flailing. That gets pretty boring fast. (Again, see the Star Wars prequels that I love to bring up all the time as an example of awful swordplay.)

The lesson here, kids, is that it’s all about context. You can get away with all manner of silliness in movies as long as you make it relevant to the context – especially in stupid action movies.

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