Daniel Craig’s James Bond is back to punch, shoot, outdrink and outdress us all – Skyfall
The James Bond franchise has had its ups and downs over the years, and Ian Fleming’s dapper, deadly secret agent has had his share of missions where the ludicrous drowned the realism. The new cycle of Bond films have returned the character to his more grounded roots, but with the arrival of Skyfall, director Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig have embraced the glorious oddness that made the Roger Moore tenure, if not high cinema, at the very least interesting. The resulting film comes apart at the seams a bit in the final act, but in so doing it takes us to the personal side of Bond, into 007 territory never before explored on screen. No, Skyfall doesn’t offer up on a platter the senses-shattering origin of Bond, but it does give a look into what went into making the man behind the shaken martinis (hint: the title has something to do with it).
Skyfall, despite some of the hype, isn’t great. But it’s very, very good.
Thoughts (in honor of the hero, we’ll stick to seven):
- The successor to the criminally misused Pierce Brosnan — who seemed so perfectly suited for the role, but was hamstrung by silly fin-de-siecle plots — Craig now fully inhabits Bond. He’s by far the most aggressive of any iteration to date, and I think it’s safe to say that, in a cross-universe rumble with the Lazenbys and Moores and Connerys and all the rest, he’d be the one standing at the end. Badass. With this film, though, the mileage is showing. The punches hurt more, dangling from things stretches the arms more than their owner would like, and there’s the shadow of doubt that this might be an agent who needs to be put out to pasture — Bond has taken some hits, and retirement beckons (though his vacation diversions, as we see here, carry the threat of death). He even has trouble passing the MI-6 fitness requirements, like some beat cop who’s eaten one too many donuts. This is some of the same territory explored this summer in The Dark Knight Rises, as that other gadget-armed champion came up against the greatest villain of them all: time. It’s handled a lot better here, though, and includes some needly repartee with a new Q young enough to be Bond’s son. No matter the march of years, there’s still something so magnetic — timeless, even — about a killing machine who rips the roof off a train car, leaps to its floor, and then pauses to make sure he’s showing the proper amount of cuff.
- There’s a motorcycle chase though Istanbul (not Constantinople) early in the film, and at one point both bikes are ridden up stairs. Any time a motorcycle goes up or down steps in a movie, I’m enthralled. You had me at hello.
- Adele is dangerously close to an acute case of over-exposure (and I live in fear that her lyrics of women wronged will lead to a violent estrogen revolution), but her title song, which plays over wonderfully produced opening credits, harkens back to all the great song/sequence combos from the Golden Age of Bond. The silhouettes never looked so good, as we’re given an artsy taste of all that’s to come.
- Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is larger than life and straight out of the Goldfinger playbook of hammy villainy (my ears heard has name as “Silver,” perhaps adding to this metallurgical pull). He’s a man consumed by a vendetta, one whose reach is global, but whose goals are ever so personal. A former agent himself (one wonders if he had a double-0 number), he enters the action bearing a grudge against M (Judi Dench, who has been one of the bright spots in the franchise ever since joining up), and viewing Bond as one part brother, one part mortal enemy. His first appearance is one of the many moments of the film where Mendes’ skills are readily apparent. It’s a long, unbroken shot, as he walks slowly towards a bound Bond, unravelling a long tale about rats and survival with every drawn out step. Many people will focus on what comes after, as he engages (an unwilling) Bond in not-so-vaguely homosexual banter, but the bit with the rats is the true takeaway. (It’s a great story even on its own.) He’s campy is the classic Bond tradition, a tad funny, and very deadly, as a hot chick roped into a William Tell scenario will testify. All he’s lacking is a cat to stroke — perhaps Bond was his substitute for that.
- Have you ever wanted to see Bond and M go on a road trip? THEN, MY FRIEND, I HAVE JUST THE MOVIE FOR YOU.
- Ralph Fiennes brings his usual professionalism to the film, as a cabinet minister with intelligence oversight, one who at first appears to be the typical oily bureaucrat, but soon evidences reserves of guts and gumption. He’ll be back in future films, one expects (this seems obvious, judging by the final scene), and he’ll be a welcome addition.
- The babes aren’t as at the forefront in this film as they’ve been in others, but yes, they are hot. HOT HOT HOT. Would you expect any less? And one even winds up having a very familiar last name.
The first half of the film is your typical rocket ride, and it’s handled with aplomb, with settings that are a feast for the eyes. Mendes is an assured, accomplished director, and his strong hand is evident in scenes crafted with a deft touch. But the shift in the second half (after some VERY predictable developments), is jarring. Exchanging exotic locales for grey, cold Scotland is a rough trade, but the problems have more to do with you knowing what’s coming. There are no surprises left, and every turn in the road is readily seen from miles away. It leaves the viewer wanting something more — or at least it did me. Others will disagree (judging by other reviews, you might change “others” for “most”).
Negatives aside, this is a fun, well-done entry in a durable franchise, and caps a three-picture cycle that has thoroughly reinvigorated the Bond machine. Skyfall ends with you ready for the next round, and a lot of us are going to be looking forward to what Craig and company deliver next.
Three and a half martinis out of five.