Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Skyfall" Celebrates The Essence of Bond

Daniel Craig & Judi Dench in Skyfall
The James Bond movies have been going strong for 50 years now. The series has had its ups downs over the years, and fans continually debate their favorite Bond actor or what entry is the series' best. But few would argue that when Daniel Craig took over the role in 2006's Casino Royale, he helped to reinvigorate the series, and came closer to author Ian Fleming's conception of Bond more than any actor since Sean Connery, or perhaps the criminally underrated Timothy Dalton. Casino Royale set a new high water mark for the franchise. Craig’s follow-up film, Quantum of Solace (2008) was not quite as well-received, though it still had some good moments. Now Craig’s third turn in the role, Skyfall (2012), has arrived, and it’s one of the best Bond movies in recent years. Please note the following review contains some mild spoilers, if you haven’t seen the film.

As the film opens, we’re treated to a classic style 007 chase sequence, as Bond and another agent (Naomie Harris) trail an assassin in Turkey. M (Judi Dench) is monitoring the action remotely; the killer they’re chasing has a disk containing some very sensitive information. Bond catches up with the man, and as they struggle on top of a moving train, the second agent trains a gun on them from a distance. M orders the agent to take the shot; because it’s more important to secure the information the man is carrying than worry about Bond’s life. The shooter misses; Bond gets wounded, and falls into the water below; cue the opening credits and an excellent, old school sounding 007 title track from Adele.

Of course, that’s only the beginning of the story. With Bond presumed dead, and the top-secret information lost, M is under fire (and under investigation) from the British government. Meanwhile Silva, the mysterious villain behind the theft of the disk begins a very personal attack on M and MI6. Bond returns (was there any doubt?) but is shaken by his experience, and not quite the man he was before; he’s got some mixed emotions about what M did, but still feels a sense of loyalty to her. Bond is sent after the shadowy Silva (Javier Bardem), but does M know more than she’s telling about this man? What is Silva’s connection to M? And what is his endgame? Before the story is over, both M & Bond will have to face some very personal demons, and reflect on the choices they’ve made in their lives.

The film examines the relationship between Bond & M in a much deeper way than we’ve seen before in the series. It’s an almost parental connection, though there are more layers to their story, and Silva’s origin factors into things as well. In both Casino Royale and to a lesser degree, in Quantum of Solace, the filmmakers started to get beneath Bond’s skin, and show what makes a man like 007 tick. The films are almost an unofficial trilogy, with Skyfall concluding the story of where Bond has been, and offering us a hint of where the character may be going. The acting is top notch; Dench, Craig and Bardem are all excellent in their roles; in fact, I think this is Craig's and Dench's best work in the series. There are also good supporting performances from Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw as Q, a character returning to the franchise for the first time since the end of the Pierce Brosnan era.

There are all the usual things we’ve come to expect from a Bond outing; exotic locales, exciting action sequences, beautiful women, showdowns with the villain of the piece, and even a bit of sly humor. Since the movie is being released during the 50th anniversary year of the series, there are some great visual references to past films, and an appearance by an iconic vehicle that fans will surely recognize. The direction by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition) is superb; in fact, it’s the first time an Oscar-winning director has helmed a Bond film. There’s great cinematography by Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men, A Beautiful Mind), and a good score by Thomas Newman (The Green Mile, Erin Brokovich), both of whom have previously worked with Mendes. The script by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and series newcomer John Logan (Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis) is sharp & well written, with some excellent dialogue, especially in the scenes between Bond & M, and their exchanges with Silva.

Skyfall not only pays homage to what makes the 007 films great, but lays the groundwork for the future; in a way, it distills all the best elements of Bond’s past and present into one package, and it's both the end of one story, and the beginning of a new journey for 007. It’s not only a good Bond movie, it’s a well made film on any level. This is the best of Craig's three outings in the role, and it's certainly one of the finest films in the series. The movie will have extra resonance (and some nice surprises) for you if you’re a longtime James Bond fan. But Skyfall is solid entertainment that should also appeal to those who appreciate intelligent, well-crafted action fare. Bond is definitely back, and it doesn't look like he'll be leaving us anytime soon. Here's a link to the film's trailer:

Next time: Ben Affleck's "Argo"

No comments:

Post a Comment