This Bond must be the bionic one I gather from all the running. Daniel Craig's Bond is by far the most athletic in terms of full-on sprinting. Skyfall is the latest in what looks like a Daniel Craig trilogy (these days we never know who will be Bond) following Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). He’s the sixth version of author Ian Flemming’s fictitious British spy known as Bond, James Bond (twelfth if counting Woody Allen, David Niven, Peter Sellers and three others from the 1967 version of Casino Royale), and the cool thing is is there’s enough Bonds for everyone. I grew up first liking Roger Moore in the role, then went backwards in the filmmography to admire the Sean Connery version. Craig is most like Connery in my estimates considering there’s more realism in Craig’s and Connery’s man—no need for underwater or invisible cars, no space shuttle rendezvous in space, no third nipple. This James Bond movie is about many things but following the first two Craig films Skyfall is really about Bond coming into his own. He will no longer need "the fruit" in his Vesper Lynd martinis. And he will no longer need that same martini which is the equivalent in number of ingredients to a youngster’s soda kamikaze. He will however give a damn about whether his martini is shaken or stirred, and quite honestly you see by his life style that one shaken is more analogous to his chosen profession than one stirred.
The Story: Skyfall is very much a masculine and mature film in terms of thrills focusing mainly on Oscar worthy production value and a sort-of dry British theater outing that centers on adult conversation. It’s about a spy on the verge of losing his identity, his life, his livelihood. What does it mean to be a double-O agent working for MI6 instead of a bartender running a poolside bar in the Bahamas? It means one must man-up and face the music, like a man, while first becoming a man. And as we all know the measure of a man in a Bond film is calculated by how successful he is against his adversary played here by the Oscar winning actor Javier Bardem.
The Goods: This Bond film is more labyrinthine in terms of milieu, in tunnels, doorways, elevator shafts and other enclosed compartments conveying a strong sense of confinement for Bond. It really picks up that enclosed feeling from where the lackluster Quantum of Solace left off. There's always an aquatic piece that fits into Bond films—most notably Casino Royale’s ending—which we have that here too. In fact there's a calming ocean wave and fountain motif that suggests a Zen-like internalizing that Bond submits himself to in trying to find the calm in all of his storms. You can see that director Sam Mendes did his homework with those other two Craig films in making this 23rd Bond episode feel like a trilogy’s end while also building a character to withstand the franchise legacy. Bond is also in silhouette more often in Skyfall than any other Bond film, like a good film noir graphic novel...a spy in the shadows but also a man in the shadows of his youth, not quite the man he's about to become which is the name-brand spy he is in Dr. No (1962), Thunderball (1965) and Goldfinger (1964). As you may recall, Casino Royale, Flemming’s first Bond novel, started Craig’s journey with Bond’s treacherous, freshman entry to the profession. In this Bond film he is literally bounding from the strangling internment of that occupation and emerging from the shadows to be the kind of hero he will need to be to protect Queen and Country. You will see as the film progresses that Bond gravitates for and finds himself in more wide-open spaces than from where he’s at in the film’s first act. And he moves increasingly more into light by film’s end.
If a character is as established as Bond, does the director make a difference? Michael Apted who directed Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorky Park (1983) and Gorilla’s in the Mist (1988) directed a Bond film, probably Pierce Brosnan’s worst, The World Is Not Enough (1999). Director Terence Young was 17 feature films into his career before he made Dr. No, from Russian with Love (1963) and Thunderball. Guy Hamilton who directed Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever (1971) and two Roger Moore Bond films including what would probably be Moore's best, The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) also did Force 10 From Navarone (1978) and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985). John Glen, the director not astronaut, did five Bond films but nothing better than Aces: Iron Eagles III (1992) after his last Bond film, one with Timothy Dalton, License to Kill (1989). Martin Campbell who did Casino Royale also did Edge of Darkness (2010) with Mel Gibson, No Escape (1994) with Ray Liotta and the first Pierce Brosnan Bond film GoldenEye (1995). He also did the Hopkins-Banderas Zorro films.
Its probably only Marc Forrester who did the very boring and unexciting Quantum of Solace, where MI6, not M, loses faith in Bond that has any real vision as a director proven by his Oscar nominated Finding Neverland (2004), and the quirky and fun Stranger than Fiction (2006), which is perplexing considering how un-solace Solace is. Forester's other work includes the Oscar winning film Monster's Ball (2001), The Kite Runner (2007) and Brad Pitt's soon to be released World War Z. The overrated Paul Haggis wrote Solace and I'd say he's mostly to blame for the lame.
What I'm suggesting is that it's rare that a director of someone's caliber like Sam Mendes does a Bond film. His American Beauty (1999) shot by the late great Conrad Hall won Kevin Spacey an Oscar for best Actor. It should be noted that Mendes also had Hall photograph Road to Perdition (2002) which would have been Hall's last film. And the lighting in that film is impeccable. In addition to Jarhead (2005) and Revolutionary Road (2008), Mendes apparently has directed several plays for the stage and has won a Tony for his skills there which are all over Skyfall in terms of timing, delivery of lines and placement of characters both in proximity to one another and within the boundaries of the frame. And Skyfall is considerably darker in lighting and tone. Just compare it to Casino Royale andQuantum of Solace. Or any of the Bond films starring anyone other than Connery or Craig. Skyfall is photographed by probably Conrad Hall’s only equivalent, the Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007))
What does all of this have to do with Skyfall? Well there's more at work here director-wise, managerial-wise, than just another Bond film. And that’s what’s important. It breaks with tradition while building toward the heritage of Bond in the movies as we know him.
The Flaws: All of this is fine and dandy, and quite analytical, and good drama, and some of the best filmmaking in a Bond film yet but where’s the fun? We’ve waited for a few more gadgets and toys and we’ve waited for a new Quartermaster who is the weapons and tech guy commonly referred to as Q; and we’ve waited patiently to see Craig in use of said objects and in the company of said personnel. We get a little taste of that but not to the extent we expect nor deserve. It’s very disappointing and rather quite distracting in the sense that when we meet Q played here by Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murder (2006), Cloud Atlas) we’re led to believe he’s more old school than we can take at this stage in the Craig trilogy. He’s no Desmond Llewelyn and no John Cleese. Granted Skyfall is about old school and I like that, and I treasure the mementos of Bond’s history scattered about in Skyfall. But it’s time for more Q, and time we get the coolest spy stuff we’ve ever seen. It’s okay to be ashamed of the cheesy ‘70s and ‘80s Bond films, and it’s okay to have origins and new beginnings, but we still like to be entertained with extraordinary spy-film activities that give us a spectacle of wonder. If we had wanted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) we would have asked for it.
The Call: Previous Bond films have all been action films by the numbers. Shot of a bomb, show the two fighting, show the threat of what the bomb will do, cut back to the bomb, then a close-up of Bond...you get the idea. It’s what we’re used to. This version is a Bond film like nothing really we’ve seen before. It’s dramatic, it’s brooding, it’s beautifully contrasty and magnificently shot, and the dialogue and conversation between Bond and villain is so much more substantial in weight and intensity. Is it the best Bond film ever? I suggest you spend the ten to find out.
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. Running time is 2 hours and 23 minutes
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