It seems like yesterday that I went to go see Die Another Day with my older brother. I was 13 then and loved every minute of that god-awful film. But it wasn’t so much about the movie for me as it was about seeing one of my favorite heroes get the girl, kill the bad guy, and save the world. It wasn’t until I grew older that I started to see the Bond series as a vast collection of either thrilling or boring spy films. Don’t get me wrong I love the Bond films but the character has kinda been spread thin over the years. It wasn’t until 2006’s Casino Royale that Bond seemed to be showing signs of life again. Focused more on substance over style, Royale was a fresh start for a character that had seen better days. Royale was the perfect reboot and a blueprint for the series going forward as it filled the Bond franchise with a lot of potential. Quantum of Solace took all that potential and sort of threw it up all over itself. Solace is still a good movie but it saw the Bond series digress instead of progress and left Bond in a sort of weird position. I thought that Skyfall would come in and restore order in the Bond franchise but in a weird way Skyfall is a reboot within a reboot. If Casino Royale got the character back on its feet again then Skyfall is the movie that told him where to go. Whether or not if you love the old Bond or the new Bond, Mendes’s Skyfall is an attempt to bring Bond back to those that have loved him for years and those that are just getting to know MI6’s most deadly assassin.
More of a stand-alone movie then its two very linear predecessors, Skyfall opens with a Bond almost uninfluenced by the past two films. Quantum is a thing of the past and so is maybe Bond for that matter. After being (accidently) shot and believed to be dead, Bond enjoys solitude for the first time in 3 movies. It is only when the MI6 head courters gets hit by a mysterious bombing that Bond comes back to reality. Called old and out of touch with modern times (a clear connection to the state of the franchise), Bond is seen as relic in the transitional MI6. Not only is he seen as an antique but so is his boss, M, who has most recently lost the names to every undercover M16 agent. Things are a lot darker and more personal this time around as we see not only a desperate M but also a bearded and wary James Bond. Don’t get me wrong Skyfall is defiantly dark but it is able to produce some very light and thrilling moments. It seems that we as viewers are starting to be drawn in by darkly toned movies and Skyfall is no different but it works as a mix between its tone and its character’s 50-year history. With two mostly solid Craig Bond films in the books, it was time that Bond started to shed its Jason Bourne influences. This time it is all about Bond and the things that make him…. well him.
The plot of Skyfall has the same structural problems as Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, which was released only a few months earlier. It is a complicated story with many twists and turns but it sort of gets caught up in its own web. Filled with various plot holes, Skyfall’s screenplay can take the audience out of the picture at moments. The screenwriters (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan) are able to write a very complete picture but little missteps are scattered all through out the film. Skyfall will get a little more slack then TDKR because of how new this type of storytelling is to the Bond series but as the film ages I believe the mishaps will start to become glaring. This is my biggest qualm with the picture that sees Bond travel all over the world and explore Great Britain for the first time in a very long time. I loved how this Bond was a very English Bond. The franchise had gotten so swept up in its own worldwide story telling that it kinda forget where the character had came from. This time Bond is back in England for a lot of the running time, which is a place that the character belongs. Bond goes anywhere MI6 needs him to but at the end of the day he is one of England’s most iconic characters and belongs walking (or running) down those rainy streets. I’m sure the British are glad to have him back. The other strength of the screenplay is how aware it is of the state of the Bond films. With creative nods to the past and excellent use of pacing and motifs from other Bond movies, Skyfall is a rewarding experience for any Bond lover.
Mendes was sort of an odd choice for the director of Bond’s 23rd outing. His resume is very impressive with the classic American Beauty and the powerful Road to Perdition but he has never taken on a film like this before. Mendes could have gotten too hung up on his own style here but thankfully he is able to mix in his signature with the signatures of the Bond franchise. His dark and ominous style of filmmaking is perfect for a character that lives his life in the shadows. You know you have a great Bond director when you wouldn’t mind seeing him direct another Bond film. In Mendes’s case I hope he directs the next 50. Mendes is complemented by the superb work of Roger Deakins whose cinematography is worth the price of admission alone. I haven’t seen a better-looking Bond film ever as his visuals light up the screen. The scenes in Shanghai are breathtaking and the shot of Bond staring down an assassin on the top floor of a Chinese skyscraper is astounding. If he isn’t nominated come Oscar time then it will be a great injustice.
Daniel Craig is back for his third outing and is solid as ever. He plays Bond his own way and makes the character into a more deadly and cunning version of himself. Craig has always been asked to bring out the more emotional side of 007 but he doesn’t let that get in the way of the Bond that we all know and love. This isn’t your Connery, Moore, or Bronson Bond but it is Craig’s interpretation of a man dealing with his own fragile morality. Craig, in my opinion, is the best Bond we have seen yet and is the man you want headlining this unique franchise. Craig really isn’t the only lead character as Judi Dench gives a powerhouse performance as Bond’s boss/mother figure M. She holds a lot of the emotional weight of the film and has just about as much screen time as 007. Dench is up to the task of not only being a side character but also with being a major player in a Bond film. The rest of the cast is great as well as Javier Bardem plays the sinister Silva. He may not have enough screen time but Bardem does a great job with what he has. Then you have one of the new additions to the franchise, which is Ben Whishaw as Q. He is a new Q for a new audience and he plays the part with both smarts and charisma. Whishaw is casted perfectly and this new younger Q is exactly what this modern Bond needed. This is the perfect, I mean PERFECT, remodeling of an iconic Bond character.
As Skyfall starts to come to a close the film hints at bringing things back to the basics. Even if the film ends with the feel of those 60’s Bond films, Bond is getting ready to embrace a new future. What that future will entail is up to the next set of filmmakers but Skyfall is an exciting step in a new direction. I loved the way that Casino Royale treated the character but I am intrigued at this new remodeling of the Bond mythos. No matter where the films go the fact remains that the Bond movies will only be as good as the person who is calling the shots. Mendes should be the start of the next wave of Bond filmmakers who can help build the series while also leaving their own personal imprint on the franchise. Think about how cool it would be to have a Nolan Bond or a Whedon Bond or maybe even a Tarantino Bond! It is time for the series to become as brave as the direction that Mendes (Skyfall) and Campbell (Casino Royale) have taken the franchise. A lot of people maybe excited in how in touch Skyfall is with Bonds past but I left the theater most excited with how in touch Skyfall is with Bond’s future. Skyfall is a great (sorta) new start for Bond while also being one of the franchises best cinematic adventures.