CASINO ROYALE may have been our introduction to Daniel Craig as James Bond.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE may have been… well, whatever the hell that was.
But SKYFALL is the film that finally cements Craig’s legacy as 007 and allows him to own a fraction of this much storied franchise. This is really the film that modernizes James Bond around Craig by using everything we’ve come to know in the first 50 years of the film series as a foundation to then transition into this sleeker, trimmer, more streamlined Bond for new audiences getting their first look at the character with the Craig model. This is the equivalent of J.J. Abrams’ take on STAR TREK – it’s not so much a reboot as it is using the past to help lay ground for a new future that both Bond fans old and new can identify, appreciate and support.
In this 23rd installment of James Bond, 007 is out chasing after a hard drive that contains a NATO list filled with identities of ever single agent embedded in terrorist organizations. Needless to say, if it fell into the wrong hands, that’d be a very bad thing for the world over and a scandal of epic proportions for MI6. Therefore, when it becomes possession of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a dangerous figure from M’s past hellbent on revenge (Dame Judi Dench back in full force with more material than she’s had to work with in a Bond film before), it’s up to Bond to stop the spread of the list as he does best and protect his boss from the target firmly planted on her back.
However, unlike all previous Bond films, this is far less about the mission at hand for Bond, with Bardem’s villain almost entirely on the periphery in SKYFALL. Silva’s motivation for revenge is quite thin and barely enough to fill an entire Bond adventure as it is. And while you won’t find me climbing on the love train proclaiming SKYFALL to be the best Bond film ever, thematically it may just be the series’ most interesting, and that starts with Bardem and, furthermore, the relevance of Bond at this point in history.
Let’s start with Bardem, as his Silva represents the flip side of the coin to 007. This is a former MI6 agent who didn’t exactly part the intelligence organization on the best of terms. However, it’s his choices that make him who he is today, on the wrong side of the law. This could easily be James Bond, choosing to line up against the hero, using his training, his intelligence for personal gain, as opposed to protection of country, particularly when you factor in Bond’s near-death experience in the film’s action-packed opening sequence that came at the hands of M. Bond could turn his back on M, could turn his back on MI6, give into his feelings of betrayal to go into business for himself, or with Silva, or with any number of shady individuals… but he doesn’t. His nature remains true to itself. It doesn’t change perspective based on circumstance. So, while Silva may be a lesser threat than other Bond villains, it’s what he means in respect to who Bond is and who he could easily become that makes this relationship rather interesting.
As far as Bond goes, SKYFALL really digs into his importance in an ever-changing world, where the enemies of England or the United States or any number of countries is no longer so clearly defined. Countries aren’t necessarily at war with each other… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t individuals who have stepped into fill that void in the inevitable grab for power that exists among mankind. So how do we combat these unsavory characters and their groups or their cells or their organizations? How do we infiltrate al-Qaeda or the Asian Dawn movement? With individuals of our own… intelligence analysts and field operatives and spies and James Bond. The rules may have changed, but the game is still the same, and the tools that have been used over the years with the best results are still the best we have at our disposal.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t miles on the James Bond model. It may be a bit old-fashioned, something we’re reminded time and time again throughout SKYFALL, but it’s still reliable. The film provides nods upon nods to the James Bond we’ve come to know and love, be it his classic Aston Martin or the gadgets we’ve come to expect from Q (Ben Whishaw this time around). Those are from a different time in Bond’s history – be it Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton or Brosnan. They’re nice memories, but they really have a diminishing place in the more reality-driven world of Daniel Craig’s 007. What SKYFALL really has to say is that James Bond is the constant. At his core, he will remain the same, even as the world transforms around him, with SKYFALL being a pretty clear transition from old Bond to new.
Sam Mendes has pieced together a new vision for Bond that may have actually played better as the introduction to Craig’s Bond than CASINO ROYALE did. While CASINO ROYALE went a long way in re-establishing 007 for us, SKYFALL goes even further in exploring a bunch of new elements in Bond’s world, specifically MI6, for his stretch of films moving forward. This is the real passing of the torch from Brosnan to Craig.
SKYFALL is without a doubt the most beautiful Bond film in the catalog, with director of photography Roger Deakins easily lining himself up for some recognition from the Academy here. There seems to be an endless array of scenes that just look gorgeous from a sexy shower scene to a silhouetted fight to the beautiful Scottish countryside to… well, if I named them all, I’d basically be running down the whole film for you. So not only do you have SKYFALL as the most intriguing thematically, it’s also the best looking. Sounds like a pretty stellar Bond film to me.
This is much more of a character study of Bond, and, if committed to the page, could certainly be confused with a thesis on the role of James Bond in the 21st Century. There certainly is enough action to satisfy your hunger for those big set pieces in a Bond film, but this is a bit different look at Bond than we’ve gotten before. It is a fascinating examination of 007 that sets up the future for Daniel Craig in the role for a long, long time.
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