Monday, November 26, 2012

Skyfall

Now this is how you do a Bond movie. Skyfall marks Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond, and while the excellent Casino Royale (2006) brought Bond into the modern age, Skyfall examines the character’s relevance. In a post-9/11 world where national security operates so differently than it used to, is there still a place for James Bond? In answer to that question, we get one of the greatest Bond films ever made, folding in franchise staples alongside welcome additions. This year marks Bond’s 50th anniversary on screen, and I could not have hoped for a more fitting celebration of the character.

A thrilling chase sequence in the film’s opening minutes culminates in Bond’s apparent death (I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that he survives). After some time off, he reluctantly returns to work after a cyberterrorist attack rocks British Intelligence. Bond wonders if he still has what it takes as he sets out in search of the terrorist (who turns out to be Javier Bardem in one hell of a performance). 

Daniel Craig’s reinvention of Bond came as a breath of fresh air in 2006. A character that had by most accounts grown stale seemed a real person again, and Craig’s icy edge moved Bond closer to the character Ian Fleming originally wrote (Timothy Dalton made Bond tougher to some extent, but Craig perfected it). In Skyfall, Craig shows more vulnerability than before, making Bond a tortured soul, and the script delves deeper into Bond’s past and psychological makeup than any Bond film to date. Even the title, which I assumed was the codename for some evil plot involving a laser, holds deeper meaning. In many ways, Skyfall is Bond’s most mature outing.

After the dreary Quantum of Solace in 2008, some Bond fans wondered if Casino Royale had been a last hurrah; maybe the franchise really was finished. Skyfall addresses these concerns early on and never lets up, as characters wonder if agents like Bond are even needed in the field anymore. “Maybe we’re both played out,” Bond tells M (Judi Dench, who gets well-deserved amounts of screen time and dialogue). Bond’s quartermaster, Q (a franchise regular noticeably absent from Craig’s reboot until now) was traditionally an older inventor, but here he’s a young computer nerd (Ben Whishaw) who brags that he can do more damage in a few hours at his computer than Bond can do in a year in the field. In the world of digital espionage, why is Bond still necessary? “Occasionally,” Q acknowledges, “a trigger still needs to be pulled.”

The two most important aspects of a Bond picture (beyond Bond himself) are the villain and the girl. Casino Royale had the best Bond girl ever, and now we get the best villain. Javier Bardem has won an Oscar playing a creepy villain before (No Country for Old Men), but this performance is completely different. He has so much personality, and the energy between him and Craig is electric. Also, his schemes and motivations make sense, an important quality few Bond villains possess. The franchise hasn’t featured a truly memorable baddie since Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye (1995), but even he pales next to Bardem’s quirky computer expert gone wrong.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) has captured beautiful moments in artsy dramas, and it turns out that his talent also extends to action. Skyfall opens with a stunning chase sequence on foot, motorcycle, and train, and every action scene to follow features the same expert craftsmanship. It’s really hard to believe this is Mendes’ first action film (I’m guessing it won’t be his last), but like the best Bond pictures, it’s not all action. In between the excitement, we’re treated to the right mix of intrigue, sexy banter, and dry English humor.

Skyfall’s smart script takes a long, hard look at the history of James Bond, reinventing some of the franchise’s best traditions while leaving others behind. I love that this film tackles head-on the question of Bond’s relevance in the modern world. For fans, Skyfall serves as a delightful look back, and it left me convinced that Bond will (and should) stick around for the next 50 years.



For the Parents: 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking 

True to James Bond tradition, Skyfall features a few mild sex scenes (more implied than shown) but no nudity. There’s a steady stream of intense action and violence, but again, nothing too graphic. Dr. No (the first Bond film) established these rules in 1962, and they haven’t changed much.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed in full.
    But no note for Finney?! :) C'monnnnn...

    ReplyDelete