Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Skyfall Proves Bond is Thrilling at Any Age
Posted by Courtney Small
Ever since Daniel Craig first donned James Bond’s trademark tuxedo and bowtie, there has been a divide between the Bond faithful. There were those who immediately embraced the new, more rugged, James Bond and his slightly more realistic approach to the espionage game. However, there was an equal number of fans who found the lack of Bond staples, most noticeable the high-tech gadgets, to be a slap in the face of everything Bond. Fortunately Sam Mendes’ latest film, Skyfall, will not only unite both Bond camps, but also take the franchise in a thrilling new direction.
Skyfall is a film that both acknowledges and embraces that it chronicles a character who has been around for 23 films over the course of 50 years. The themes of getting older and dealing with ones mortality are prominent throughout the film. The world that Bond and MI6 now exist in has changed drastically. Enemies of Britain no longer can be identified by nationality, as most now lurk in the shadows and resort to acts of cyber terrorism instead of straight on assaults. As the methods of enemies change, the once solid counter-terrorism methods that M (Judi Dench) uses are now viewed as out of date by the government. Even M’s top agent, James Bond (Daniel Craig) seems to be showing his age as he is not the man he used to be.
After being shot by a fellow agent (Naomie Harris) at M’s orders, while trying to recover a hard drive that holds the true identities of all the NATO agents currently undercover, Bond is presumed to be dead by his organization. Angered that M did not trust him enough to complete his mission, Bond decides to lay low in the Caribbean drowning his sorrows in alcohol and women. However, Bond returns to his homeland when a terrorist named Silva (Javier Bardem) takes aim at MI6 and M specifically. Unfortunately the gunshot and subsequent time off has taken its toll on Bond, he is no longer the same marksmen as the signs of years of service start to manifest physically. Since Silva always seems to be one step ahead of MI6 technologically, Bond must get back to basics if he has any hope of stopping this madman.
The idea of going back to the roots is something that makes Skyfall feel surprisingly refreshing. While the film makes several nods to previous Bond films, Mendes is quick to point out that it is important to acknowledge the past but not get swept away in the sea of nostalgia. In one scene Bond debates with a much younger Q (Ben Whishaw) the merits of age and experience in an era governed by battles that are won over computers. To further emphasize the point about how the landscape has changed, Q ends their heated debate with a quip about how exploding pens are no longer in fashion. It is this exploration of the legacy of characters such as Bond and M, and not the action set pieces which provides Skyfall with its most engaging moments.
For the first time we get some insight into the personal history of Bond. Mendes mirrors Bond’s childhood issues with the twisted pseudo-mother child relationship that exists between M and Silva. Bond and Silva are two sides of the same coin. They were both used and discarded by their country without the slightest of remorse. However, they have vastly different views on who MI6 agents are ultimately fighting for? What makes this dynamic so riveting is that in many ways M has inadvertently shaped both of these men’s lives. Like any parental figure, she is forced to live with the weight of her decisions which she thought were the best course of action at the time.
While it is nice to see M play a more pivotal role in the franchise, especially since Judi Dench is finally allowed to delve into nuances of the character, it is Silva who makes this story arc work so well. Javier Bardem is delightfully creepy as the relentless Silva. He skillfully walks a thin line in which the character could have easily become an offensive stereotype. Instead he makes Silva akin to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, a villain who has a flare for the dramatics while always keeping his goals at the forefront. Like a monster who has scared the villagers away, Silva reigns over his deserted island like a king. It is a haunting, but effective, image of the destruction that Silva often leaves behind.
Mendes also does a good job of framing Bardem in a way that he always seems to be looming over M and Bond. At one point in the film, you only see the silhouette of Silva as he walks in front the flames of a building on fire. This is one of many gorgeous shots that cinematographer Roger Deakins incorporates into the film. Skyfall is not only one of the best looking Bond films but one of the best looking films this year. Much like Bond himself, Deakins finds that the most effective path is to simplify things by relying heavily on vibrant colours and the mixture of shadows and silhouettes. While this may sound basic enough, what Deakins is able to do with the film can only be described as a work of art.
Is Skyfall the best Bond film ever made? Though many have proclaimed this, as they seem to do with every new Bond film, it will take a few subsequent viewings to truly say where it places in the grand scheme of things. Part of the film’s charm is that it knows the audience has had a long history with this character. However, the fact that this is one of the few James Bond films that actually feels like something more than just a Bond film definitely puts it in the top tier of the series. Although the James Bond franchise has been going on for 50 years, Skyfall eloquently proves that getting older is actually quite thrilling.