Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skyfall Proves Bond is Thrilling at Any Age


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 As the methods of enemies change, the once solid counter-terrorism methods that M (Judi Dench) uses are now viewed as out of date by the government.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.

7 comments:

  1. Great review! I agree that Skyfall is a gorgeous film. I think cinematography is where they should get attention at Oscar time, along with editing and sound. Like you say, it's so hard to say what really is the "best" Bond film. That's always the hype up front, but it will depend on how will it holds up in the next 5-10 years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am with you in regards to the film deserving a cinematography nomination. What Deakins’ achieves with the look of Skyfall is outstanding.

      Delete
  2. Good review CS. Not my favorite Bond flick of all-time, but still a very good one that reminds us all that we love from Bond, and what we can come to expect from the next couple of ones. Hopefully, just hopefully, they don't go back to it's QoS ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I agree QoS was disappointing, I do not hate it like most do. I think it is a mid-level Bond film that had several great moments. Unfortunately these moments were not explored fully. The Tosca scene in the middle was the highlight of that film for me.

      Delete
  3. Great review Courtney. This is now in my top 10 Bond films of the entire franchise. I'll divulge more into it next week as I'm still doing work on my Bond marathon post-mortem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look forward to reading your thoughts on the film. Skyfall would make my Bond top 10 as well, it may even move up depending on how it holds up to subsequent viewings.

      Delete
  4. Sorry but a bit late to the party. I saw Skyfall when it came out and just bought the Amazon instant video for my Kindle. I've recently become aware of the capability to carry around a few films (i.e., Skyfall, Breathless, Annie Hall) on my person to provide a mood-altering stimulus in an otherwise tedious setting. Skyfall certainly delivered that and more with a nod to the past, beautiful cinematography, and even managed to insert a brilliantly executed recital of Tennyson by one of England's acting stalwarts, Dame Judi. While watching that sequence of Bond racing down the boulevard, I actually thought what a great year it was for the Brits, what with Wiggins winning the Tour, the Olympic triumph , Rory McElroy winning a golf major, Andy Murray winning the U.S. Open, and now Bond saving God, Queen, and country. (It certainly doesn't hurt to become the highest grossing Bond film in history too.) For those that railed against the "new" Bond, Mendes and Craig managed to retain the essence of Bond, for me anyway, when Bond jumps from the excavator bucket and suavely tugs on his cuff, maintaining the good style sense that separates Bond from the Jason Bournes and Ethan Hunts of the other parallel worlds. Daniel Craig has the right stuff and gives hope to all us graying spy wannabees. I look forward to Craig's likely swan song coming up. With pleasure.

    ReplyDelete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.