“Old dog, new tricks.” Damn right.
Usually with these Bond reviews, I kick things off by saying how “it picks up where [insert previous Bond film] left off, with 007 bedding new broads, killing new cronies, and saving the world from some seriously bad dudes.” This time, however, we’re singing a different tune. Forget about whatever the hell it was James was doing in Quantum of Solace four years ago. You know what, just forget that movie ever happened. Skyfall picks up with a nice clean slate. James is in Turkey chasing down a stolen hard drive, he winds up in a fist fight on top of a moving train, and thanks to a bad call by M, ends up getting shot by a fellow operative. With a chip on his shoulder and a mortal wound to recuperate, he hits the bottle, grows some stubble, and lets the brass at MI6 sweat it out, still under the impression that he’s six feet under. But then, in total buzzkill fashion, a terrorist cell up and hacks into the MI6 mainframe, starts publicly revealing the names of undercover agents across the globe, and then blows up MI6’s headquarters for good measure. Realizing that his country needs him more than he needs Captain Morgan, James suits up and heads back home to uncover the responsible party before more agents get compromised and M gets a lead salad. TIME TO KICK SOME ASS!
As far as reboots go, these last three Bond films have run the gamut in terms of quality and execution. Casino Royale reinvented the wheel by stripping away the gadgets, humanizing James, and, god forbid we get bored, injecting 100 cc’s of cheetah adrenaline into our foreheads. Then Quantum of Solace came along to give us the most convoluted, droll, dialogue-heavy script in the series, and complemented it by making James the mopiest mother-effer on her majesty’s secret service. It was a hard act to follow, and, boy, did it show. Blame it on the writers’ strike. So, with these two royally contrasting entries to go off of, let’s just say I was pretty clueless as to how Skyfall would be approaching things.
Lo and behold, Skyfall is a throwback.
Now, there was very good reason for why Casino Royale nixed all the gadgets and orgies that had been synonymous with Bond over the years. Kids, Uncle James had jumped the shark. Dude probably had 12 different strains of mutant hepatitis from years of close encounters with Pussy, Christmas, and every other stripper-named vixen he encountered. And while my first-hand knowledge of the British secret service is admittedly lacking, no amount of forethought could ever bring one to prepare for a situation where, if the need arose, they could para-surf their way out of a glacial tsunami…on the jerry-rigged roof of a car. Once upon a time, this had all been good fun, but somewhere down the line, it all started getting ridiculous.
But after pulling pages from John McClane’s handbook of DIY ass-kickery, things have finally come full circle. Q Branch has been reinstated, gadgets and all, and Bond has so-much-effing-game that he can break into a woman’s room, walk in on her mid-shower, and instead of being bludgeoned with her soap-on-a-rope, she scans his nudity before jumping his bones. That, is some game. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d ever get a Bond movie like this again, and I wasn’t sure I wanted one either. But the transition back to basics is a smooth one. The movie actually starts out pretty similar to the way Casino Royale did, with Bond getting into a motorcycle chase over the rooftops of a Turkish city, then trading his wheels for an excavator to re-couple the moving train he’s on. Needless to say, it’s a pretty wild scene that feels like Casino Royale as much as it looks like it, but it’s the way the scene ends that really brings us back to the golden era of Bond. Not to mention that the gadgets are both minimal and practical, and, frankly, Bond can shack up with as many women as he wants so long as he’s not a sad bastard anymore. Thank God that got taken care of.
Man, it is just so good to have Daniel Craig back. This is the James Bond we all went ape over six years ago. His sense of humor’s back, the one-liners are back, and, ladies rejoice, his magic pot-bellied six-pack is back, too. Who cares if he’s throwing back the occasional Heineken between martinis? This man earns his beers. The great thing about Craig is that he brings such a great balance of raw power and effortless swagger to James, and he really makes the character given all the uncharacteristically heavy stuff he’s been put through as of late. If his mourning and moping over Vesper Lynd was any indication, Bond is so much more complicated now than he’s ever been before, and Craig just knows how to handle him. Not saying I’m on the bandwagon, but there is most certainly a case to be made for him being the best Bond of them all. Case in point.
For that matter, everyone in this movie is awesome. Dame Judi Dench is one tough cookie and gets a whole lot of much-deserved screen time as M; Ben Whishaw is our latest Quartermaster (points to anyone who knew that’s what “Q” stood for) and it’s probably the best role I’ve ever seen him in to boot; Naomie Harris has spunk to spare as our latest Bond girl, Eve; and since I’ve got all kinds of time for Ralph Fiennes, one can only imagine my surprise and excitement when he showed up with such a prominent role as M’s superior officer (or at least I think that’s who he was).
And then there’s Javier Bardem. You probably know how this next paragraph’s gonna go.
If Javier Bardem could play every villain in every movie from here on out, that’d be just super. Here he is as the nefarious Silva, and while there ain’t that much I can divulge about him in detail, Bardem, as usual, does not disappoint. Of all the eccentric folks that Bond’s squared off against over the years, Silva’s quite the original. He’s like the ambiguously gay, bleach-blonde love child of Hans Landa and The Joker. I know, the fear is palpable! Yeah, he doesn’t seem all that bad from the outset, he actually seems quite pleasant for that matter, but, folks, aren’t those always the worst ones? Plus, he’s got the brains to match the duds. While everyone is working overtime to ramp up their defenses and lure him into their traps, he’s invariably ten steps ahead, amused by the rats as they fall into their own snares. From his lighthearted personality to his ingenious nature, he’s a Bond villain of the highest order, and as much as I loved what Mads Mikkelsen did with Le Chiffre, Silva’s got himself some layers. Been a while since we’ve gotten one of them. I mean, what’s not to love about a villain who enters into battle blasting John Lee Hooker songs from his blackhawk? Nice touch, Silva. Very nice touch.
But alas, I find myself torn over Silva, or rather the said ingenious plan he puts into motion. Without giving anything away, Silva’s reign against MI6 goes from being complex to a fault, to being straightforward to a fault. For all the work and brainpower he puts into his plan, his ultimate goal, while understandable, seems a bit too “small time” as far as motives of a terrorist mastermind go. And it’s not that the scope or execution of his plan doesn’t hold water, it’s just that, for a guy who can essentially control the world from the comfort of his MacBook, he takes a very roundabout way of achieving something that he probably could have pulled off within the first ten minutes of the movie. Long story short, this script was a collaboration of three writers, and for all the things that work about it, there are definitely times when it feels like there were too many hands in the cookie jar. Examples include: occasional pacing lulls, a climax that struck me as oddly anticlimactic, and a bunch of instances where someone could have easily offed their target but ended up losing their window for some weird reason or other. It’s the risk you run with more than two writers, and it’s the one thing keeping this movie from nabbing a 9. Some fat could have been trimmed, and when you’re clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, the plot would have flowed better for it.
Still, keep in mind that these complaints are pretty minor in comparison to the things I liked about this movie, writing or otherwise. The attack on MI6 brought Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to mind, the last five minutes gave me some major flashbacks to The Dark Knight Rises, and at the end of the day, it was great seeing Bond go back to his roots. In a lot of ways, this is an unusually risky Bond film in terms of the ground it covers, the stakes it raises, and the guy they got to helm it. With the arguable exception of Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes doesn’t make movies like this. If James Bond were a suburbanite who secretly hated being a suburbanite, Mendes would have been on speed dial for this sucker. But I love that he stepped out of his comfort zone and gave this one a whirl. He really put together a fine action movie, one that any action director would be proud of, and it also happens to be the best-looking Bond movie ever made. Truly gorgeous set pieces from one locale to the next, and that wouldn’t have been the case had he not brought himself to the table. Point is: way to go, Sam.
Alright, time to wrap this beast up.
The best news of the day is that Skyfall cements Quantum of Solace as being a Mulligan of the highest order. The good news of the day is that it’s easily one of the better entries in the series. As for how it fares against Casino Royale, well, I suppose that news is debatable. Personally, I’m still partial to Casino Royale and everything it did to make this franchise phenomenal again in one fell swoop. Then again, they’re two different movies with two very different approaches. Skyfall is a completely unexpected and more than welcome return to form for a series that, for better or worse, has strayed from its roots as of late. While it could have benefited from some focus at times, it is nevertheless a fresh start and a bold step towards fleshing out a character we’ve barely known for five decades. And the icing on the cake: it’s a total-freakin’-blast.
Theme song and opening credits ain’t too shabby either.