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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise, “Skyfall” is something of a throwback.  It takes a back-to-the-basics approach from an unusual director (Sam Mendes, director of “American Beauty”), the same type of thing Mission:Impossible did last year with Ghost Protocol, with good success.  Gone are the sexy cars, sleek weapons and amazing gadgets.  In their place are the kind of expressive cinematography I’ve come to expect from Sam Mendes, and a lot of psychological/moral ambiguity.  “Were you expecting an exploding pen?” Q asks Bond.  “We don’t go in for that kind of thing anymore.”

No, we don’t.  Action films across the board have been trimming down to the basics lately, and it’s need adjustment I, for one, am really enjoying.  Instead of focusing on obscenely large guns and action scenes basically defined by how many sheets of glass shatter, we are returning to gritty good guys who rely on their wits, creativity, some bailing twine and a pair of vice grips to get out of a jam.  Such heroes are a great deal more relatable, (one might even say more human) than the giant alien robot types that have dominated action cinema for the last few years.

“Skyfall” takes that relatability a step even farther.  For as many Bond films as I can remember, our hero has seemed basically invincible; surviving an impossible explosion (or torture scene) one moment, sipping a martini and seducing a Bond girl  in the next scene. But this time around, Bond seems old and decrepit; he is unable to pass basic competency tests, and the fact that he is even permitted to be a field agent becomes a major plot point.  Clearly this is a tip of the hat to the aging Big Dogs who have been faithfully watching Bond films since they were pups; in that way, “Skyfall” is walking the same path as films like “The Expendables” franchise and “Red,” encouraging the AARP crowd that they can still kick butt when called upon.   However, I’m a little confused: is this film supposed to be the next in line after “Quantum of Solace,” which as clearly the follow-up to “Casino Royale,” which was supposed to be Bond’s origin story?  If so, he’s aged a ton over three films, and if you told him he has to save the world 20 more times just to catch up to Pierce Brosnan, he might actually fall over dead.  It’s to Daniel Craig’s credit that he can play Bond both as a fresh young pup and as a haggard, aging dinosaur of an agent in the span of three films.

“Skyfall” is a strangely small Bond film; the world is never really at risk this time around — no nuclear weapons, space guns, bioterror agents, nothing.  Bardem wants to kill M, and Bond is determined to stop him.  So it’s really about Bond’s psyche – his family is dead, and M is all he has.  She’s a mother figure, but hardly a loving one.  She turns out to be a ruthless bureaucrat, and clearly values Bond’s life far less than he values hers.  But Bond remains loyal to her despite all this ambiguity.  Maybe it’s more than the physical demands of the job that are making him look so haggard and run down these days.

It also raises the question of whether the world is actually worth saving, if it holds no hope of love, peace and happiness its saviors.  Is it just one damn mission after another for the OOs?  Their mother figure, M, Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench) is at the very heart of “Skyfall.”  Our bad guy (Javier Bardem) is a rogue agent who wants to hold M accountable for her sins–primarily the ones she committed against him. He loved her and was devoted to her, and she traded him to the Chinese for information.  He hunts her down with gleeful abandon, calling on all kinds of resources to bring about the demise of a 70-year-old woman.

Bardem has a lot of fun playing the villain, chewing scenery at every turn, and he’s fun to watch, though not nearly as scary (or ultimately, memorable) as the villain he played in “No Country for Old Men.”   But even though I enjoyed Bardem’s performance, his character is another in the increasingly long line of giggly, effeminate villains, much like Tom Hiddleston in “Avengers” and Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.”  And just like in those films, he allows himself to get caught as part of his master plan.  That was a terrifying turn of events in Batman, it worked ok in Avengers, and it remains decent, if a little suspect here.  But I’m calling it out: the next film in which the bad guy gets himself caught will offically be old and tired before it even opens.  It’s played out. We need a new story.

For all the ways “Skyfall” departs from the traditional Bond script, it does seem to be deliberately putting in place the pieces of the Bond mythology that have been noticeably missing from the last few films; we finally get a Q (Ben Wishaw) though he’s short on exploding pens, and kind of an idiot.  (Helpful tip: when you confiscate the laptop of the world’s greatest hacker, it’s probably a good idea not to hardline it right into your own system.)  Also, by the end of the film, we’ve discovered Moneypenny, and the double entendres with Bond have begun.

“Skyfall” is an exciting, visually striking film, especially in its final sequences.  It’s definitely a big step up from “Quantum of Solace,” which I found to be flat, boring and ridiculous.  (Explosions!  Lots of them!  Isn’t this exciting?) It’s not quite as good as “Casino Royale” — in my mind, the opening action sequence of “Casino” still ranks as one of the best, most exciting action sequences of the past decade — but many people are ranking it in the top tier of the myriad James Bond films, and I think it deserves that accolade.


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3 Responses

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  1. Personally, Craig is my favorite Bond. His Bond isn’t aarfid to throw a punch, doesn’t dress up in a clown suit, and he especially doesn’t drive an invisible car (I still can’t wrap my head around the last two). In regards to Skyfall being the last Craig Bond film, I’ve heard that there will be at least two more James Bond movies with Craig in the role. Whether they’ll be good or not remains to be seen, but with previous films like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace under his belt, as well as Skyfall, I’m sure the next two will be just as good.

  2. There are some attention-grabbing points in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I’ll take maintain an opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish more! Added to FeedBurner as well.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. This Week on DVD: February 12, 2013 | linked to this post on February 12, 2013

    […] Skyfall The latest James Bond flick was much better than “Quantum of Solace,” but not quite as good as “Casino Royale,” in my opinion. Read my full review here. […]

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