By Linc Leifeste | November 8, 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, Ian Fleming (characters)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace
I love (but don’t LOVE) the Bond franchise and was excited (but not EXCITED) to screen the latest installment, Skyfall. You see, I have strong nostalgic feelings for this now fifty year old film franchise, probably having seen all the older films between the ages of eight (1981) and fifteen (1988). But by then Timothy Dalton (blah) was in the lead role and the franchise was reeling. The move to Pierce Brosnan added a bit of short-lived excitement (Remington Steele anyone?) but was ultimately forgettable. Over the years I would occasionally catch a classic Bond film (Sean Connery, Roger Moore) and find myself mildly entertained but they never lived up to that deeply seeded nostalgic feeling I carry for Bond. Not once. And then a few years back along came Daniel Craig and despite not having loved his first two turns as Bond, I felt that the franchise had finally been given a promising new lease on life. But with Skyfall, Craig’s promise and my nostalgic fondness combined, along with one hell of a performance by Javier Bardem, to deliver the Bond experience I’ve long imagined.
And how did director Sam Mendes pull this off? By making a visually impressive, dark, suspenseful Bond film that in minimalistic ways nods to many of the Bond traditions. Classic Bond theme music? Check. “Bond. James Bond?” Check. Shaken, not stirred? Check. M. Q. Moneypenny. Aston Martin. But whereas in reality, at some point, the Bond franchise became sophomorically about cartoonishly evil bad guys, unbelievably gorgeous women with suggestive names, inventive gadgets, and all the other enjoyable gimmicks, this Bond honors the past while carving out its own legacy.
The film opens with Bond (Craig) and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in a wild chase through the streets of Istanbul, pursuing a thief (Ola Rapace) who has stolen a crucial hard drive containing the names of western intelligence agents who have successfully nfiltrated various terrorist organizations. Without revealing all the spectacular twists and turns that put them there, Bond and the theif wind up engaged in hand to hand combat on a train speeding across the countryside. M (Judi Dench) and her people are following the action from London and when Eve informs M that she has a chance to take a shot before they’re gone, despite it being clear that she might hit Bond, M orders her to take the shot. She does and Bond falls off the train from the bridge, plummeting to his apparent death in the water below. It’s a thrilling, enticing opening.
From there, the film slows to a steadier pace, showing M dealing with the aftermath of her decision and setting in motion the results of that hard drive falling into unknown enemy hands, ultimately leading to an explosive terror attack on MI6 headquarters. News of the attack reaches a still living Bond, who has been taking full advantage of an opportunity to leave his old life behind, prompting his return to M to offer his services.
All of this beautifully sets up Bond finally coming face to face with the maniacally evil mastermind of the hard drive theft, Silva (Bardem), a former agent of M’s whom she left out to dry. And it is at this point that the film rises to another level. Bardem is delightfully pernicious, crackling with malevolent energy, and a pure joy to behold. I can’t help but think that if he’d not portrayed Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, the last villain this memorable, he’d never have been in this role. He elicits both laughter, mostly nervous, and chills as he momentarily steals the show.
Sadly, the last quarter of the film does not live up to what precedes it, as Bond whisks M away to his decaying family estate in Scotland and along with the ancient overseer (Albert Finney) has to try to defend against a vigorous onslaught from Silva and his henchmen. While I found the ending to feel a bit tired, it wasn’t enough to detract from the energy and drama that set it all up.
I really can’t imagine higher praise than this: other than in its original theatrical inception with a young Sean Connery playing Bond (who I can say without a doubt Craig’s Bond is already rivaling), there has never been a better time to jump on board the Bond bandwagon.