By Shane M. Dallmann
The 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise already demands an event worthy of the occasion… but even if it hadn’t, QUANTUM OF SOLACE would have demanded something far more worthy of the phenomenon.
Now, I didn’t actually hate QUANTUM, but I found it the least Bond-like of all Bond films. Daniel Craig had already taken the role by force in CASINO ROYALE and was perfectly fine in said follow-up, but the herky-jerky editing and abbreviated running time never let the pure Bond effect settle into place–even when the filmmakers threw in the woman drowned in motor oil for the sake of a GOLDFINGER moment. Sorry–too obvious.
So again–SKYFALL had quite a lot riding on its shoulders… and I am more than happy to report that it lives up to all of its responsibilities–and THEN some.
Yes, the series was officially ‘rebooted’ when Craig took the role, but CASINO ROYALE established a respectful continuity with the previous films all the same by retaining Judi Dench as “M” and the use of an actual Ian Fleming story–along with such sharp rebukes as “Do I look like I give a damn?” to the classic “Shaken, not stirred.” QUANTUM used a Fleming title but almost nothing else in its apparent attempt to distance itself from the past. SKYFALL is neither a Fleming title nor a Fleming story, but it certainly acknowledges the character as created by Fleming as he might exist in today’s world… and it also graciously accepts its cinematic heritage as neither of the previous Craig films did (including a carefully shaken martini being referred to as “Perfect” by Bond).
I’m not going to get into the story as there’s so much to discover here. I will simply assure you that SKYFALL gives you absolutely everything you could want from a Bond… ANY Bond. The slamming preliminary sequence. The concept of Bond being left for dead (interestingly, part of both the book and the movie called YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, though the idea was handled completely differently in each case). The marvelous title song by Adele and the haunting title sequence. The exotic locales (including the casino in Macau). The beautiful women that may or may not be able to help Bond… and whom he may or may not be able to help himself (Naomie Harris as Eve and Berenice Marlohe as Severine). Brutal life-or-death fights, death around every corner in many a surprising form. An amazingly compelling villain (there’s already Oscar talk for Javier Bardem as Silva, who goes Sean Bean’s GOLDENEYE nemesis one better while boasting a none-too-dissimilar motivation).
And all of it in a world that often wonders why we even need a James Bond anymore–and that always expresses concern when an actor seems to be getting “too old” for the role: it’s an absolute credit to Daniel Craig that he can pull off this concern in only his third go-round–his refusal to play Bond as unflappably dapper pays off in huge dividends here as “the old ways” are contrasted with the reality of cyber-terrorism and faceless, baseless enemies. One gets the feeling that anything–absolutely anything–could happen here. (And one thing that definitely DOES happen is the first–and by my guess, only–legitimate F-bomb to be heard anywhere in the series… I will leave it for you to discover as it makes a legitimate impact and is not in the least gratuitous.)
But in the meantime, the “Bond” elements missing from the previous two entries are also starting to fall into place… as you probably saw in the trailers, we have a new, young “Q” who possesses the cyber-skills you’d expect from a stereotypical ‘nerd’ but who nevertheless knows exactly, precisely what Bond’s going to need. There will be more surprises. There will be a wonderful supporting performance by Albert Finney. And THIS time we get the GOLDFINGER moment that actually works… no spoilers here, but the moment is enhanced with the very music you need and a truly uproarious dialogue exchange between two crucial characters. This one’s for YOU, you “old-school” fan, you.
I don’t need to prove my credentials. I’ve read every Bond book and have seen every Bond film multiple times–I’m as well-versed and respectful as any fan you could name. I acknowledge highs and I acknowledge lows. As such, I can’t pronounce SKYFALL to be “better” than, for convenient example, GOLDFINGER, because SKYFALL, by its very nature, could never have existed without such heritage. I will, however, acknowledge SKYFALL to be as great a James Bond film as has EVER been made.