In a matter of days, ‘Skyfall’ will be the highest grossing James Bond film of all time with nearly $600 million worldwide in less than a month. But ‘Thunderball’ is still the box office champ, if the box office numbers were converted to today’s dollar, coming in at nearly a billion dollars. But that doesn’t detract from ‘Skyfall’ being one of the best of all 23 Bond films, and probably the best reviewed ever.
While it takes place in several countries, ‘Skyfall’ for me felt like a more intimate film, along the level of ‘From Russia With Love’ or ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. It’s not a story of destroying or taking over the world, even though the criminal Silva does have a dastardly plan in mind. The heart of the story concerns an aging Bond and ‘M’ (Judi Dench), attempting to figure out if their brand of derring do still has a place in today’s hi-tech age. Bond is recuperating from a wound on a island paradise and gets back into action when MI-6 and M are attacked. But we’re looking at a Bond who takes awhile to get back on form.
Daniel Craig and Judi Dench have always had crackling chemistry, but in ‘Skyfall’ we get to see how deep the relationship goes. The story in fact, revolves around M, who is being hunted by Silva, a former agent who’s holding a grudge. More on him later. M has always been like the stern, strict school teacher who nevertheless had a soft spot for Bond’s bad boy. Well mannered around her, and always referring to her as ‘mum’, there is still something about M that Bond’s always been vulnerable to, even in the face of his issues with authority figures. ‘Skyfall’ sheds a bit of light as to why that is, with a look back at 007′s past. Judi Dench is someone I could watch all day and I really hope she gets nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She’s deserving.
Naomi Harris does a fine job as Eve, a young agent teamed up with Bond in the field. She’s cute, smart and has an easy rapport with Craig, who seems to truly enjoy sharing the screen with her. In fact, the usually dour Craig probably smiles more in his scenes with Harris than in all of his Bond three films combined. Her role is significant and bodes well for the future.
In a smart bit of role reversal, Q is revived for ‘Skyfall’ in the form of Ben Whishaw, currently onscreen in ‘Cloud Atlas’ and this week on the BBC’s second season of ‘The Hour’. Whippet thin with a thick mop of curly hair, this Q is a brilliant cyber kid and Bond is the cranky veteran.
Back in the day, some of the best humor from the Bond films came from Sean Connery’s continuous teasing of the original Q (for ‘Quartermaster’), Desmond Llewelyn. Older and impatient, Llewelyn’s retorts to a nonchalant Connery were always good for a laugh. In ‘Skyfall’, Q gets the better lines but more importantly, Whishaw and Craig already fit together like an old pair of shoes.
One of the cornerstones of the Bond series is a category formerly called ‘The Bond Girls’, now more appropriately named ‘The Bond Women’. There is usually a ‘good girl’, in the form of a British agent, and another woman who’s either bad, or on the fence, but brought over to the side of right by 007. Perhaps the most extreme example of the latter was Connery’s Bond not only bringing Goldfinger moll Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) to the side of law and order, but also converting her from a lesbian to a full blooded heterosexual!
‘Skyfall’ continues the tradition of incredibly beautiful and exotic women who catch Bond’s eye, with the entrancing Severine, played with mystery and allure by the French-Cambodian actress Berenice Marlohe.
Severine doesn’t have a lot of time onscreen, but in just a few minutes Marlohe shows that she’s more than just something nice to look at. She runs the gamut from sexy to fearful to hopeful and hopeless without ever delivering a false note. It’s hard to believe that prior to ‘Skyfall’ Berenice Marlohe could barely get auditions, let alone be cast. I don’t think she’ll have that problem anymore.
And now we get to what has to be one of the greatest villains in the fifty year film history of James Bond. Daniel Craig saw Javier Bardem at a party and asked him about being in a Bond film. Bardem said ‘sounds like fun’, and he, along with director Sam Mendes set about to create what would become Bond in reverse. ‘Javier Silva’ was designed to be Bond if went over to the dark side, was sexually ambiguous, had bad hair and was really upset with his boss.
Bardem came up with the idea of the blonde hair, which gave him an unforgettable look. He previously used crazy hair as the killer Chigurh, in ‘No Country for Old Men’ and took home an Oscar, so when he has a hair concept, it’s probably best to let him run with it.
Silva raises hell almost as soon as Adele finishes singing the smashing ‘Skyfall’ theme song, and doesn’t actually appear onscreen until seventy minutes into the film, but his arrival was well worth the wait. For those who haven’t seen the film, I’m not going to spoil the fun, but his initial encounter with Bond is one of the most powerful and simultaneously hilarious scenes in the history of the franchise. It’s said that a hero is enhanced or diminished by the quality of his antagonist. After the wipeout that was Dominic Greene in ‘Quantum of Solace’, the producers knew that they needed a villain that would match up with Craig’s Bond, and they couldn’t have done better than Bardem. He’s raised the bar for the next criminal mastermind.
‘Skyfall’ is ultimately the final piece in the origin story of both James Bond and his world. It actually takes everything back around to the beginning, and provides the next film with a clean jumping off point that can head straight into the adventure, since the foundation is now firmly set.
I loved the film. When I started writing these posts, I placed ‘Skyfall’ at number four on my top five, but after seeing it a second time on the Imax screen, it moved up to number three, knocking ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ down a peg. The only thing that didn’t work for me was the score. While Adele really delivered one of the best Bond themes ever, the score by director Sam Mendes go-to guy, Thomas Newman, just didn’t have a feel for what makes a great Bond score. It actually felt a lot like Hans Zimmer work on the Batman trilogy. Placing the James Bond theme in the right spots would have added immensely to an already deeply satisfying film.
‘Skyfall’ sits at 93% positive reviews on rottentomatoes.com, but there are those who don’t think it’s classic Bond because ‘there’s no gadgets’, ‘there’s no humor’, ‘it’s too serious’, ‘Daniel Craig is a stiff’, etc. Time moves on, and one reason Bond is enjoying its largest success fifty years after it began is an awareness that the franchise can stand and actually thrive by continuing to grow and change while still providing the thrills that audiences have come to expect. I’m not the same moviegoer that I was when I started watching James Bond movies. I’m the same person, but my reality and experiences have changed, and I appreciate that Bond movies continue to change and evolve. The evolution doesn’t always work, but it provides a learning opportunity.
This hasn’t come up yet in anything that I’ve read, but ‘Austin Powers’ really changed the game. After building a franchise based on sending up the Bond films, it became impossible to stick strictly to the formula without becoming a total laughing stock. And as moviegoers have become more sophisticated, providing stories that are richer in character development without skimping on the action is a plus, not a minus. I feel confident in predicting that Bond 24 will lighter in tone and less focused on the inner 007, and more focused on the adventure at hand.
One of Daniel Craig’s goals was to lighten Bond up a bit, since he’s grown past the trauma of ‘Casino Royale’. I think Craig was effortless in tossing off a few choice quips, but my favorite piece of funny business from him was a scene at the casino in Macau that had no dialogue!
Sony has announced that they’d like to get back on the every other year release schedule, feeling (rightly so) that four years between films is too long. Daniel Craig is set for two more films, that will put him near 50 years of age by the time his tour of duty is up, and Michael Fassbender will be the right age to step in.