Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Cinematography by: Roger Deakins
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem,
Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finny
The Daniel Craig trilogy finally comes to an end, yet somehow manages to set the path for even more exciting things to come. There are those who will argue that the latest entry in the James Bond franchise is very much a stand alone, and that it has no previous connection to Casino Royale (2006) or Quantum of Solace (2008), but for me, Skyfall is every bit as connected, and every bit as necessary, to the development of Craig’s 007.
All cards on the table, I think Craig is the best Bond this franchise has ever seen. I know there are Connery loyalists, Moore apologists, and I myself, grew up on Brosnan, but objectively, given Ian Fleming’s original conception of Bond’s character, Craig literally transcends the pages of Fleming’s original novels and gives us a Bond many haven’t seen, or taken notice of, since George Lazenby (a lot of you just went who?). If Casino Royale was a reboot, and Quantum was every bit a sequel to it, then Skyfall is the final piece of an already well established puzzle. Craig’s Bond has gone from “The bitch is dead” to “This man and I have some unfinished business” / “I never left.” Hell, the last scene of Quantum, of Bond walking away in the snow and the appearance of the classic gunbarrel sequence is, not only worth the price of admission alone, but a clear indication that Bond is slowly becoming the Bond of the past.
With Skyfall, Bond comes full circle. Bond comes home. I realize that doesn’t seem to mean much, as he’s always been a part of MI-6, and he’s always been 007, but in two films, he’s never been at home, or even comfortable in his role. He became a Double-O agent in the first one, and spent much of the second one trying to get revenge, and while both instances have been personal, they’ve remained close matters of the heart. It’s never involved home, be it MI-6, but more importantly, home, as in England. This film changes all that. The villain, Silvia (Javier Bardem), changes all that. He’s an old agent out for his own revenge, from M (Judi Dench) and MI-6.
I could talk about stolen NATO lists, and the fact that Bond returns from the dead (all done in the opening minutes and followed by Adele’s brilliant Bond theme), but those are not the heart of why Skyfall worked for me. Every relationship built, be it between M and Bond, between Bond and Silvia, Bond and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), or even Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw), is a masterful example of why this character has sustained the test of time for 50 years. No, it hasn’t always been flawless, but at the heart and soul of this franchise is a man and his absolute love and loyalty for his job, and if that means he has to lose the love of his life to become completely devoted to that cause, so be it. That’s the kind of man he is. He’s a broken man, who can only be fixed, or even slightly put back together again, by those that put him in the field to be broken in the first place. It’s toxic, but it’s home, and he’d do anything for that organization.
This Bond has always had weight, but this Bond is finally fun, and it’s about time the franchise found that balance again. There had been far too many complaints that Craig’s Bond isn’t a wise cracking, constant one-liner equipped agent, but I never felt that way. The sheer dry wit on display his first two times out the gate was magnificent, and I feel bad for anyone who never understood that the humor came entirely out of the situation, and the film never felt the need to beat your over the head with “insert one liner here.” I could watch Bond’s first meeting with Vesper on infinite loop, it’s that brilliant. With Skyfall, Craig lets Bond loose (translation: Bond smiles more), and he doesn’t lose any of his personal depth in the process, which I find was a sacrifice many of the previous Bond films made. On top of that, he’s now got the gadgets, he’s back at the old M’s office, complete with Moneypenny and Q in tow.
I’ve already raved about Craig, and his ability to bring Bond to the 21st century with grace and style, but also with toughness, yet at the same time, a sense of chipped armor. His supporting players however, are equally as important. Dench proves time and time again that her M is not only a great one/force to be reckoned with, but no one could better pass the torch on than her. Javier Bardem is a treat to watch. The man knows how to embrace a villain like the best of them, but he also brings these nuances that are hard to ignore. His Silvia is by far his most outrageous incarnation yet. There’s just something about him that makes you want to keep your eye on him, even when he’s not entirely in focus/frame. Rounding out the cast, you’ve got Naomie Harris, who rightfully earns her place as the new Moneypenny. We’re so used to her being this prim and proper, behind the desk kind of gal, but she more than proves her worth in the field, and it only strengthens any relationship her and Bond will share down the line. Lastly, there’s young Ben Whishaw, who I think is the only one who can stand up to Bond in a way that no other could. He’s obviously much younger, but he’s smart and arrogant, and when it comes to having fun, he’s perhaps Bond’s only equal.I’d be a fool not to mention Roger Deakins’ cinematography. This is perhaps the most beautiful film I have seen this year (and I still haven’t seen Cloud Atlas), and it is hands down, the most beautiful Bond film they’ve ever made. Every set piece, every landscape, hell, every bit of the frame, is oozing with the potential to be a work of art in its own right. This brings me to Sam Mendes, the man who put all of this together. I don’t think anyone doubted that the director of American Beauty, Road to Perdition, or Revolutionary Road could make a horrible Bond film, but I don’t think I expected so much sheer love for the material, both old and new. He perfectly captures, and understands Bond’s nature, his very essence, as both a part of MI-6, but with those around him. This world, that 50 years of Bond on film has created, is his world, and we never lose sight of that. So, 50 years? This is only the beginning.