SKYFALL begins with a blissfully old school straight action packed pre-title sequence, beautifully choreographed with a light touch, a wink and a nod that the Daniel Craig era hasn’t had up to this point. For example, when Craig as Bond crashes through the back of a train car with a bulldozer, he leaps inside and, when he lands on his feet, he straightens up and adjusts his cuffs. But by the end of the sequence, things take a abrupt turn for the worse and dramatically so, showing that there is something more at stake here and these actions actually have consequences. It’s obvious from point on that SKYFALL is headed into uncharted territory where a Bond film is elevated from just light entertainment into a movie with substance and even a heart.
For SKYFALL delves into MI6 for the first time in the series and the relationship between 007 and M which plays out throughout the story to a harrowing conclusion, the finest in the series especially given the setting. And James Bond has finally been made into been transformed into a character of flesh and blood, one with deep rooted flaws and emotions, all because the filmmakers have delved into his past to inform his present.
It’s about time. I’ve been clamoring for this for years. When I was twelve years old, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was my favorite James Bond adventure and still is to this very day. Back then, I wanted a hero to save the world from an evil genius whose hidden lair lie within a Japanese volcano. But as I grew older, the films seem to grow younger and even childish. Sure, they continued to entertain, but always superficially without continuity or weight. Bond as a character seemed to tread water when I knew damn well he could swim the channel. It’s understandable that the Broccoli family wanted to protect their one and only cash cow, but they smothered him. Ian Fleming's creation was treated like a fraile precious object, protected from the outside world for fear of spoilage. Therefore, Bond and his stories remained the same without continuity or even a chance of growth. The formula was just that and that alone made it diluted.
Every time the series took a momentary serious note, it was just a baby step or a breather until the next chase. Bond is married in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE only to have his wife murdered by Blofeld in the closing scene. In the very next installment, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, Bond meets up Blofeld again. Any mention of the late missus? Nope. Instead we're treated to a slap-happy Las Vegas affair with Jill St. John and a pre-pork sausage Jimmy Dean. Roger Moore visits his wife's grave at the start of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, but his comeuppance with who is assumed to be Blofeld is handled in Looney Tunes fashion. Timothy Dalton’s Bond in LICENSE TO KILL avenges his CIA friend Felix Leiter, only to have him stray uncomfortably into a MIAMI VICE episode. When Pierce Brosnan came on board, there were positive signs that the character might actually evolve, especially with the introduction of Judi Dench as M. In THE WORLD WAS NOT ENOUGH, she was put into jeopardy for the first time, something SKYFALL echoes. By DIE ANOTHER DAY, however, Bond and the films are turned into a piss poor video game. But with the series reboot beginning with CASINO ROYALE, the dial was turned too far in the other direction, a serious tone that manages to be dour and frankly quite joyless. SKYFALL is a complex juggling act, keeping all the elements in the air at the same time while bridging the gap between the old and the new, thereby regenerating the series for the future.
So many things add to the enjoyment of this film: The cast including Javier Bardem’s brilliant villain, Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whisaw as Q, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris and, of course, Craig who earns his 007 stripes with full honors. Roger Deakin’s superb cinematography makes SKYFALL the most beautifully shot of any Bond film and possibly the finest of any movie this year. Stuart Baird’s razor sharp editing makes 2 1/2 pass by like nothing.
Back in the the 80s the rumor mill (something we had before the Internet), the name of Steven Spielberg was badied about as a possible director of a Bond film. It seemed too good to be true. With Sam Mendes at the helm of SKYFALL, I'm convinced that not even Stevie-boy could match what he's done. Mendes, along with screenwriters Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, have done for Bond what Christopher Nolan has for Batman.
Now for a few quibbles:
I have to admit that I’m not a big Adele fan, so the title song is a bit lukewarm for my taste. At least she kept her histronics in check. Thomas Newman's score, for the most part, works well throughout, though in the pre-title feelings lacking in the car chase, almost laconic. I also find Silva’s big assassination attempt on M to be rather clumsy and unimaginative for something he had been plotting for years on end, though it does set up the superb finale.
All in all, on my list of Top Ten Bond films (see past blogpost: BOND, JAMES BOND: NOBODY DOES IT BETTER), I’ll still put YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE for sentimental reasons my sentimental reasons, but SKYFALL sits right behind it. I could say that the former is my favorite as a boy, while the latter, as a man.
James Bond has finally grown up. Maybe so have I.
With great pride and pleasure, I can say without hesitation, that the legend continues and four words give this fanboy another reason to live:
James Bond Will Return.