Film Review: Skyfall (Plus some thoughts about Bond in general)

I never considered myself a James Bond fan. In general, the style over substance approach of many flashy action films doesn’t click with me. I am a fan of good plots and good scripts first and foremost, and am usually not taken by a series of cool explosions and one-liners. I had seen some of the Connery films, as well as Moonraker prior to Pierce Brosnan taking over the role. I find the Brosnan era fascinating, in that he pulled off the Bond role well as an actor, but was saddled with four wretched films that just happened to include James Bond. Everyone from my generation may look upon Goldeneye fondly, but that is almost entirely because of the video game of the same name for the Nintendo 64, oft considered one of the best games of that generation of consoles. The film itself, though, is not actually good in any way, despite the Sean Bean dying factor, which is always fun. It is less controversial to point out the failings of Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough or Die Another Day. The Brosnan era was enough to turn me off of Bond completely.

I didn’t see Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace when they came out. I had nothing against Daniel Craig; Layer Cake was good and he did a great job in Road to Perdition. I just didn’t want to watch another Bond movie. It took Sam Mendes to drag me back, kicking and screaming. There was a time that Sam Mendes might have been my favorite working director. The one, two, three punch of American Beauty into Road to Perdition into Jarhead had me hooked. I somehow missed out on Revolutionary Road and Away We Go (still working on rectifying that), but it didn’t diminish my love for Mendes’ work. Once Skyfall was announced and once the (super awesome) trailers began to hit the web, it seemed like this one would be something special.

I did watch Casino Royale a few days before getting the chance to see Skyfall. I can say that Daniel Craig does make a hell of a Bond, and definitely represents the sort of James Bond that has to exist in a world that contains the Bourne movies. Craig’s Bond is rougher than Brosnan, much more adept at the sort of hand to hand combat that feels painful to watch on screen, the type of action that Paul Greengrass brought to the mainstream in the Bourne films. Casino Royale was good for a Bond film, and it seemed like things were heading in the right direction. Sam Mendes couldn’t hurt either.

Skyfall is a big film. Huge, even. It’s as operatic as the teasers and trailers made it out to be. I have seen quite a few people draw parallels between Skyfall and the Christopher Nolan Batman films (specifically either The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises), and it is easy to understand why. Skyfall has a noticeably different tone than previous entrants in Bond lore, especially the pre-Craig films. Casino Royale was designed to be a reboot, returning to a remake of the first Bond film to relaunch the series for the new generation; in this case, that would mean Casino Royale fills the Batman Begins role, and Skyfall ratchets it up quite a few notches. Whether it fulfills the Dark Knight role or Dark Knight Rises role is arguably immaterial, but it does point to a bigger picture, which is a reflection of where Skyfall stands within the Bond oeuvre.

Skyfall is a deeply personal story for the man who has always been designed as aloof. The Bond series has always been designed as escapist entertainment, the sort of film you can go to and turn your mind off (hence my issues from the first paragraph as the sort of movie-goer who often has difficulty turning his mind off) so you can watch an impeccably dressed man bed exotic women and do neat spy stuff while drinking martinis. You never cared about his back story because his back story never played into his continuing conquest of bedding exotic women and drinking martinis. So when the world “Skyfall” causes Craig’s Bond to shut down and storm out of a psych evaluation after growling the word “done,” it piques your interest.

The film is about a Bond that cannot simply jet set around the world, drink his martinis and bed his women like nothing else is going on. He is broken, physically and mentally, and his trust in England and Judi Dench’s M is at its lowest. When Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is added to the equation as a rogue former agent out for an insidious mix of chaos and revenge, Bond sees not only a giant threat to the status quo of MI6, but he also sees his own potential future if things do not go as planned. Bardem’s character represents the perversion of the Bond archetype, of course, but also its fragility, and how the stresses of the job, the need to fight for queen and country can push someone to and over the brink so easily into the opposite role of abject terrorism.

This is still a Bond film, after all, and even this new breed of Bond film still needs to end with a giant action set piece that features lots of explosions. Things happen, the true importance of Skyfall is revealed, and evil is vanquished. I won’t go into the other details that happen, and it should be noted that I got a lot less out of the final few scenes for not being much of a Bond fan than some diehards will. There are a few moments like that, the sort of crowd pleasers designed to remind us of the old days, but luckily they do not become the focus of the proceedings. This is a newer, leaner Bond for the world to see, and if Casino Royale was its introduction, Skyfall represents its ascendancy to the forefront of pop culture. It’s a shame, in a way, that there will be more Bond films. I know that it’s an engine that will not end any time soon, and one day Daniel Craig will abandon the Bond moniker and things will move in a different direction entirely.

The most ringing endorsement I can make is that I actually liked Skyfall, which is not something that happens often with James Bond films. I cannot guarantee that I will continue to like future Bond films as (presumably) someone other than Sam Mendes takes over the role as director, but I will remain at least vaguely interested as long as Craig remains in the role.

 

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