It used to be that Bond movies always helped compliment a year in cinema. One of the longest running franchises in cinema, James Bond films have ended up becoming a spectacle on their own where people eagerly await the news about who will play the martini drinking, uber British spy of MI6. Then we wait to see who will be the new Bond Girl, the apex of beauty and another feather in the cap of the Broccoli franchise. But the series was in peril due to some financial backing and the series was shelved. It didn’t help that Quantum of Solace was abysmal so the franchise needed that new breathe of life that a kind of, sort of reboot could offer. With Hollywood’s love affair with all things dark and gritty, Bond got a new license with an acclaimed director, better financial backing and Daniel Craig coming back with a bigger, better Bond than we have seen to date.
Skyfall seemed like it was needed by the movie going audiences, instead of just another Bond film. Spanning over 50 years, we sometimes become complacent with Bond as just another expected movie at a certain time. We forget that the lifespan of the series comes from the development overtime, a finer palette of all things espionage, and the series has grown into something more than just shoot first, bed women and fancy gadgets. Sure that is part of the appeal, but with one of the best Bonds to date and lean towards more grit and sophistication, Skyfall manages to instill the familiar trappings of a Bond movie, while also setting itself apart as one of the most developed story lines to date.
Daniel Craig dons the pinnacle of British spy fashion once again with a signature opening scene that is both fast and frenetic. Bond is on the trail of a hard drive that contains the list of all the undercover spies imbedded in terrorist organizations. He chases down the thief in a spectacular chase sequence that ends up on the top of a moving train with the hard drive in sight. Another agent is there to assists but is given an order by M (Judi Dench) to take the shot to stop the thief before he gets away. The shot misses the intended target and Bond is seen falling into the river. Bond is still alive but living in solitude, with a woman of course, grappling alcoholism and a crestfallen pride of being essentially expendable by M. He is brought back into the fold when MI6 is under attack by a sophisticated cyber terrorist and former agent of MI6 who has a grudge against M. Javier Bardem plays the former agent/terrorist Silva, as his vengeance leads Bond on a chase to save M’s life.
This is the sort of Bond film that we deserve. The series showed flashes of brilliance with Casino Royale and the start of a more, realistic 007. I mean, most of my memories of watch the series as a kid is all about elaborate villain plots, fancy gadgets, Bond ladies and a sort of campy spy franchise. It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate that as it was a hallmark of the franchise, but overtime, there has to be a growth with the series and suited super spy. Skyfall is as much of an origin story that we will ever get for James Bond. It sheds a little light on Bond as a person, where he came from and what he has developed into over his time of killing baddies and bedding women. It feels a little bit like a reboot of the series, a retcon of the past series that grounds it into a sense of reality and purpose. We know about Bond’s parents, we know his relationship with M and what he has to do overcome in order to be the spy that he is.
Skyfall isn’t so much about fancy gadgets or sleeping with a slew of women that Bond typically does, rather we are seeing the birth of a stronger Bond and dare I say, an emotionally vulnerable spy. It’s scary to imagine the dapper looking spy being vulnerable, but Daniel Craig has flashes of emotional brilliance that lets the audience see certain chinks in his armor. The story also helps develop Bond into this tragic figure, realizing that with all he does for his country, all those foiled villain plots of domination and destruction, he can easily be discarded without a thought of his service. Craig is at his best in Skyfall, calm, collected, fierce and steely, 007 is well maintained machine that shows some wear and tear during the course of the movie.
Silva could only really be played by Javier Bardem. Think of his character in No Country for Old Men and then realize that Silva is by far an away, wilder than ever. Flamboyant, vengeful, and calculating, Silva is the sort of Villain we expected to see in the classic films like Dr. No or possibly running some sort of moon base. Instead, we get a veneer of a deeper, jilted character who is in someways like Bond, but more scars than he lets on. Judi Dench plays a much larger role as it her character and mother like figure M who is at the center of the two agents. Dench plays a straight, stoic M with a light demeaning to her character and also a lot more fleshed out in terms of her role and meaning to Bond and the agency. It is wonderful to see the omnipresent M being given a story of her own, something that means more to the series instead being just the caretaker of MI6.
But it isn’t just the actors who bring their A game to the 23rd Bond film, but acclaimed director Sam Mendes brings his surgical eye to the series. Absconding with the shaky action cam that plagues so many action centric movies, we get a clear feel for action sequences without all the jittery camera work. Skyfall is one of the better looking, leaner movies with tightly grouped action scenes and fantastic camera work in exposition scenes. We are getting a director who knows what and how he wants a movie to look, never distracting and well paced. Sure there are the moments of grandiose set designs which you can’t really escape because “it’s a Bond film”, but they look gorgeous and never detract from the directing of Mendes. Everything feels and looks superb.
Skyfall is the Bond movie that the franchise needs and the fans of the series deserves. Sure, the movie is paving its own path with the Bond franchise, but it never forgets its root. The guitar strumming of the Dr. No theme and the reveal of the classic Bond Aston Martin car elicit glee and excitement from this reviewer. It never lets you forget that they know what the franchise has built, but they make sure that this 23rd film is something more than fancy gadgets and a flavor of the week Bond villain and vixen. This is certainly the shock that the franchise needed to deliver a grounded Bond film, something more than we can ever hope for with a tenuous connection and reveal of the super spies past. The beginning jolt of the opening of the series is capped off with a closing that solidifies the series in the direction that needs to go. It’s a James Bond film that is still an old dog, but it certainly has learned a new set of tricks to keep it going.
Rating: 5 martinis out of 5.