Thursday, November 8, 2012
"Skyfall" (opens November 8 throughout San Diego) is the 23rd James Bond film and it arrives on the 50th anniversary of 007's screen debut in "Dr. No." This calls for some geeking out.
Ian Fleming's 007, a spy with a license to kill, has fueled one of the longest running and most successful film franchises of all time. Six years ago, Bond got a major reboot with a new actor assuming 007 duties in "Casino Royale." In that film and "Quantum of Solace," Daniel Craig gave us a fiercely intense Bond for the modern world, and one with grit. Now he returns for "Skyfall."
For anyone who felt invigorated by the "Casino Royale" reboot and then a bit deflated by its follow up "Quantum of Solace," let me allay your concerns and say that "Skyfall" puts the franchise back on track. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson -- whose father (Wilson's stepfather) Albert "Cubby" Broccoli was the man who brought Bond to the screen -- deserves kudos for not simply resting on daddy's laurels. They have dared to tweak the formula and try new things to keep the franchise fresh and fun. They have had some rough patches but "Skyfall" pays off brilliantly.
As "Skyfall" opens, we find Commander Bond (Craig continuing to grow and mature in the role) on the trail of a missing hard drive that contains names of agents deep undercover in terrorist organizations. This is extremely sensitive information and extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. So dangerous that M (Judi Dench) is willing to risk Bond's life to get the information back. So "Skyfall" begins with Bond's "death."
Of course he's not really dead (and that's not a spoiler). But his injuries from his previous assignment do leave him pretty beat up and off his game. But even though he's not in peak form M sends him back into the field to finish what he started. His pursuit leads him to the reclusive and flamboyant Silva (a mouth-wateringly good Javier Bardem). Silva, as one of my Bond geek friends pointed out, has less of a "scheme" involving a master crime and more of a simple revenge plot. But his actions bring M and her past to center stage in an interesting way.
"Skyfall" does not give us the Bond we saw in "Casino Royale." This is a much more vulnerable one and that changes the tone of the film. "Skyfall" is about getting older, about old school versus new, and about how to change the culture of espionage to deal with the modern world of terrorism and the Internet. In a sense, "Skyfall" plays like a Bond take on "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." It offers less action but more plot about the workings and dirty dealings of MI6. But don't let that put you off. "Skyfall" still delivers on the action and fun.
One of the ways it delivers is by referencing old films as it redefines the new ones, and Daniel Craig's Bond represents the convergence of the old and the new. Craig's now a veteran of the franchise yet his Bond represents a fresh take on Ian Fleming's character by returning him more to how he was in the books. This Bond has some grit and edge, and it's great. But Craig gets to make some sly references to previous Bonds. Take a scene in which he gets to use a komodo dragon as a springboard to escape. That recalls the silliness of the earlier Roger Moore Bonds and the time that he jumped along the backs of alligators in "Live and Let Die." And when Bond has a chance to go back home, he heads to Scotland, which references Sean Connery's Scottish ancestry. (When the Scottish Connery was cast as the first Bond that supposed did not sit well with author Ian Fleming but after Fleming saw Connery in the role, he decided to give his literary Bond some Scottish blood.)
Bardem's Silva also serves up a nice intersection of old and new. His over the top and delicious performance harkens back to the likes of Goldfinger and Dr. No, yet he's definitely a villain of the new and modern world of the Internet and cyber-terrorism. But each and every second he's onscreen is a moment to be savored. He, Bond, and M form an interesting triangle in which he tends to take things personally. That's why he wants revenge for the perceived betrayals he's suffered while Bond takes similar things as merely the risks of his chosen profession and nothing personal in the least. Everyone's just doing their job and sometimes that means you sacrifice one of your own.
The film has fun with its Bond heritage as it introduces the new and very young Q (a wonderfully nerdy Ben Whishaw) who jokes about how they don't do exploding pens in Q branch any more. Bond makes jokes about his pimply faced new Quartermaster, which in turn sets up a nice series of give-and-takes about new technology versus old. Some of the references and changes this film makes are not merely humorous but rather cast the story in a darker light than the previous Bonds. There is no Bond girl with a smirky porn star name. Instead we get Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), a bit of a femme fatale with a dark past and maybe even a thin layer of complexity.
Directed by Sam Mendes and written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, "Skyfall" is one of the best mounted production of Bond ever. In addition to truly fine casting (Ralph Fiennes even comes on board), the technical quality is top notch. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (a multi-Oscar nominee and a frequent collaborator with the Coen Brothers) makes this the best looking Bond ever. The Shanghai sequences look spectacular and I wish I had been able to see this in a true IMAX theater to fully appreciate it. There's also composer Thomas Newman, production designer Dennis Gassner, Bond costumer Tom Ford, and editor Stuart Baird. They all lift this production to a higher level and deliver the goods.
"Skyfall" (PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking) completes Bond's backstory with the satisfying introduction of Q and Moneypenny. It also ends in a manner that's certain to give all diehard Bond fans a total geekgasm. I have to confess that on first viewing I felt a tinge of disappointment because I was expecting something more like "Casino Royale." But after I got past my expectations to see the film that was actually on the screen, I have to say that I began to develop a real appreciation for what the filmmakers did. So "Skyfall" may not be the film you are expecting from the franchise but it's a film that will prove more satisfying with each viewing. Here's looking forward to Bond 24.
Companion viewing: "Dr. No," "From Russia With Love," "Goldfinger," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (worst Bond actor in George Lazenby but best Bond girl in Diana Rigg), "Casino Royale" (1967), "Tomorrow Never Dies" (for Michelle Yeoh's action scenes), "Our Man Flint"
Recommended Bond websites: