Most people who enjoy the James Bond films have an opinion as to who is their favorite. Sean Connery also gets plenty of votes, as does Pierce Brosnan, and even Roger Moore manages to score on a few of the ballots. Let’s just say that Timothy Dalton pretty much represents the Independent Party here and rarely ever gets mentioned as a ‘favorite’. The names listed above represent an older ballot…one prior to 2006 when Daniel Craig burst onto the Bond scene in the magnificently thrilling Casino Royale. Fast forward two years and Quantum of Solace only added to Craig’s popularity, although the film itself fell short of its predecessor in nearly every way. So, here we are in 2012 and James Bond is back yet again as the infamous secret agent 007 in Skyfall, the third entry for Craig, which is not his last. (Daniel has signed for a couple more rounds as 007) Let’s face it, the Bond Character is Craig’s bread and butter. He hasn’t had much success outside of the character (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo being the exception). I’m sure that’s just fine with him. He is our generations JAMES BOND. He embodies everything that we know 007 to be and then some. All of the previous actors who tackled the role offered something different and something memorable to make their version of Bond stand out in some form or another. Even Dalton, who is my least favorite of the group, wasn’t a complete mess and it can be said that he handled himself quite nicely in his sub-par productions, for which he can’t take total blame for. Daniel Craig is the perfect Bond as here is why. Not only does he nail the suave, well dressed, ultra cool aspect of the character, but he also gives the secret agent much more of an emotional palate, which allows the viewer to ‘feel’ more for what he is going through. And so far, thru his first 3 films, Bond has had his fair share of betrayal, heartbreak, and tension. Skyfall only amplifies what we have seen up until now and raises the stakes a bit. Craig’s most redeeming trait however is the ease at which he handles the action sequences. He is by far the most physical actor to take on the role and in today’s era of the bigger action pieces, the better, it’s great to see him do it with such realism. Now, onto the film itself…
I have high praise for Skyfall, but it’s not a perfect film. Casino Royale, in my opinion, is the ultimate James Bond film and is the standard that all Bond films should aspire to. Director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, American Beauty) turns out to be a great choice to helm this Bond entry because he is adept at balancing the drama with the action. He does a fine job with the sequences that build tension and he definitely gets the most out of his actors. I will say that Mendes comes up short on one particular aspect of any Bond film – the action, while good, ends abruptly and almost too soon, which left me wanting more. The exception to this would have to be the incredibly well filmed opening sequence (taking away a couple of shotty CGI shots and bad stunt doubles). The first 15 minutes of Skyfall are thrilling and the film wastes no time getting the engine started. Unfortunately, the movie tends to go a bit off track from this rousing sequence throughout and doesn’t continuously maintain the suspense and great pace that accompany the first act of the picture. It does have moments of redemption, especially when Javier Bardem’s Silva shows up.
Bardem’s creepy, somewhat campy, portrayal of the villain is what keeps the film from becoming a tedious bore near the halfway point. His Silva shows up at exactly the right time to give the film a much needed bad guy boost. I enjoyed the backstory given to Silva as it involves M (Judi Dench). He has a literal hatred for her and for good reason. He is a bit of a physical mess due to her betrayal of him many years prior to the current events taking place in the film. Javier is perfectly cast in this role. We’ve seen a bit of this before in No Country for Old Men, although this time he’s much more vocal and hell bent on revenge. Some might consider his performance a bit over the top, but not me. Javier’s performance is mesmerizing and he keeps you curious as to just what Silva is going to do next. If Skyfall had opted for your ‘average’ villain, the film would not have resonated so well with me. Proper villains…or great villains, are key to the Bond films and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan give audiences quite the psycho in Silva.
Judi Dench’s M gets a lot more screen time in Skyfall as the plot basically revolves around her. Every character in the film has a relationship with her…whether it’s a personal one or strictly business. Bond himself questions M’s loyalty to him after she decides to risk his life to accomplish the mission at the beginning of the movie. As the film goes on, M and Bond’s relationship grows stronger and you get a feeling that Bond sees her as a motherly figure in his life. That’s another great thing about Skyfall…we get even more backstory for Mr. Bond. His parents…his childhood home. The script is clever in tying it all in during the final act. M becomes Bond’s mission to protect, while at the same time, Silva makes it his mission to destroy her. Don’t get me wrong, this villain wants Bond dead too, but it’s not his primary focus. M also becomes a target of British Intelligence when MI6 begins to crumble and is seriously threatened. The powers that be are quickly losing faith in her…perhaps due to her age, or her personal loyalty to Bond. Either way, it is at the request of her so-called boss, Gareth Mallory (portrayed by the great Ralph Fiennes), that she retire. Of course, M will have none of that…at least not until Silva is either captured or dead. Judi Dench continues to prove that she is the perfect choice for M, and she really gets a chance to shine in this particular oo7 storyline. James Bond’s loyalty to M is truly tested here and it shows on his face. Another reason Daniel Craig is far superior to his predecessors. He can show a wide range of emotions and his first three films really did put him on an emotional roller-coaster.
Adele’s theme song, Skyfall, is a perfect fit for the film as well. The woman has amazing vocal range and the sultriness of the track matches the tone of the movie. The Bond girls this time around are Naomie Harris, who plays Bond’s partner Eve (she has another name which is revealed at the end) and Berenice Marlohe, who plays Severine, the object of Bond’s all too brief affection and another target for Silva. Harris does good work here and she has some really great scenes that she sinks her teeth into. Unfortunately, Marlohe is severely underused and it’s a shame because she has amazing screen presence when she appears. Her character really fears Silva…and the terror she feels comes across as intense and real. She literally shakes like a leaf when she talks of Silva and I just wanted to see more of her. Not to mention, she is absolutely stunning to look at. Another character we are introduced to is Q, portrayed by Ben Whishaw. In Skyfall, Q is young and brilliant, but has yet to become much of a ‘gadget’ type sidekick for Bond. In fact, the film itself doesn’t rely heavily on technologically cool instruments to help Bond along the way…deciding rather to go ‘old school’ and let 007 take care of things with guns, knives, and basic kick-assery. I’m sure we will see Q in the next few films in the series, so the gadgets will eventually start to make some appearances.
I must also give praise to the cinematography here because everything is so beautifully shot. Whether it’s Thailand, London, Scotland, or just a rooftop shot, visually the picture is a feast. The plot of the film itself is very reminiscent of the first Mission: Impossible film, where a certain ‘secret’ list of British agents gets out in the open and their lives become threatened once their identities are revealed. It’s a backdrop that gives the film a purpose, but at the end of the day, this is really just a good old fashioned ‘loyalty test’ movie. The film sails on the Bond/M relationship issue and just how far will he go to protect her from the revenge minded Silva. The final half hour is excellent. Bond goes back to his childhood home to set up a showdown between him and Silva. I enjoyed the retro feel to the final act, because we get even more backstory for Bond and M even gets heavy into the action by firing a few bullets herself. Javier Bardem plays the psycho part to perfection all the way up to his inevitable demise. The films ends with a promise that Bond will most definitely be back…and based on the quality of this installment, having Bond around for years to come is a good thing. The longest running series in cinema history is better now than it’s ever been. Thank you Daniel Craig.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE Rating:
CASINO ROYALE Rating: