Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bond... the Best Bond...

James Bond is no stranger to the concept of death. Over the course of 22 films, MI6’s most famous secret agent has seen more than his share of mortality and managed to survive with his trademark confidence intact. He has been portrayed by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig, with each iteration witnessing death firsthand throughout the course of their Bond careers. But while his 23’rd outing, Skyfall, features Bond coming back from certain demise once more, the character was almost dead on arrival long before the film’s November 9’th release. Thanks to parent company Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s financial troubles and bankruptcy claim in 2010, many thought we had possibly seen the end of Ian Fleming’s creation after 2008’s dreadfully dull Quantum of Solace. Despite retaining popularity both for the franchise and current leading man Craig, there was a possibility that we might have seen the end of one of the longest-running film franchises in Hollywood history. Fortunately, while both the Bond name and series are finally returning from their near-death experiences, the character puts on one of his best all-time showings.

The car, like Bond, is vintage.
Thankfully not a mere continuation of the previous story in the Daniel Craig trilogy, Skyfall begins a whole new tale; Bond, thought dead after a mission gone bad in Turkey, has resurfaced after three months and a deadly attack on Great Britain’s MI6 headquarters. While M (Judi Dench) is blamed for the security leaks that led to the attack and the exposure of agents embedded in terrorist organizations, she sends Bond after the man who orchestrated the bombing: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent who decided he could do more by going rogue than he could as a member of a government agency. Not back to full strength, Bond must somehow find a way to defeat Silva while also preserving the integrity of England and MI6 at the same.

Bardem; the Villain of 2012?
This is a Bond film for absolutely everyone. For those who loved Casino Royale’s change in pace from the austerely smooth storylines that preceded it to the brutal, gritty style that emphasized Bond’s confidence, character and humanity, then director Sam Mendes ups the ante by knocking 007 from his perch and forcing him to work up back up to anything approaching his usual self. In following through with this, Craig reminds everyone why we love to see him as the hero of this series; he manages to pack into a very tightly-wound package the charisma, focus and killer instincts that make Bond such an effective and beloved character. Craig does all this with a striking confidence that automatically makes him the most impressive thing in the room, with the addition of a vulnerability rarely seen in Craig and never seen in Bond. It’s a refreshing difference, and one that helps define his past and future. He rarely in this film is his character tasked with anything so superhuman as to defy belief. And his Bond is one who keeps up with style, but doesn’t let it define his life; he’s as comfortable in a classic tux as he is in casual wear. At this point it’s safe to say that Craig has surpassed much-loved Sean Connery as the most renowned Bond of all time, a notable achievement after many (myself included) criticized his casting before Casino Royale was ever finished.

The requisite topless scene.
But for those of you pining for a more old-fashioned spy narrative, you’re also in luck. Released during the 50’th anniversary of James Bond in the movies, Skyfall is at most times homage to the franchise itself. Bardem is by all standards the epitome of a classic bond villain; he doesn’t lack in scope, aim or confidence, and best of all doesn’t need lumbering, monosyllabically-named henchmen to do his dirty work for him. Silva has no problem handling his own business, and the fact that he’s Bond’s physical and intellectual superior creates no end of difficulty for the super agent. This film needed an expert villain (seriously, do you even REMEMBER Quantum of Solace’s bad guy?) and Bardem is so impeccably scary that I doubt you’ll see a better Bond nemesis in the coming years. And Dench’s M is still a force to be reckoned with, accepting a much larger role in the film than she has in her previous entries to date. Dench is one of those actresses you’re always happy to see, and her role here cements her status as one of the best all-time fictional MI6 heads.

His office doubles as mother's basement.
 Skyfall also features the return of Q (Ben Whishaw), the quartermaster who supplies Bond with his weapons and gadgets. I know a lot of fans have been looking forward to Q’s return, and the decision to revamp him and the entire tech department as young hackers with ability to do more significant damage on a laptop in bed before they get up than any one agent can do in a week was a move both inspired and brilliant in execution. Despite these familiar additions however, Mendes makes it clear in his story that the world is a different place than it was in 1962. Unlike previous decades in which we could see with clarity who our global enemies are, our fears have replaced the Soviets or the Chinese with the Taliban, non-centralized terror groups that don’t claim nationality but are just as – if not more – effective in their attacks than those global superpowers we used to worry about. Skyfall masterfully addresses that, and how MI6 and similar espionage groups will be effective in both the Bond future and the modern world.

So much promise, such poor execution...
Of course, not everything classic can be considered good for the Bond franchise. Sooner or later the series is going to have to graduate its female characters to a semi-respectable status, if for no other reason than common decency. In most Bond movies, Bond Girls are either mindless twits who fall in love with our hero or ruthless killers who… also fall in love with him. More often than not, Bond’s love interests get knocked off through brutal, throwaway means, and often without much fanfare. The Women’s Liberation Movement has not hit Fleming’s England yet, and while there have been a few women in the series who have excelled as characters through strength (Grace Jones in A View to Kill), skill (Honor Blackman in Goldfinger or Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies) or intelligence (Eva Green in Casino Royale), the franchise has never featured a true woman warrior who was ever close to Bond’s equal in all respects. Berenice Lim Marlohe is talented but otherwise useless as a typical Bondette whose biggest contribution is a shower scene with Craig, and while we’re teased by the arrival of weapons-savvy female MI6 agent Eve, played by Naomi Harris, we are disappointed twice; once, by Harris and Craig’s nonexistent chemistry, and the second time by the rather pedestrian manner in which the story uses her. 

He's getting too old for this $#!%
But that hardly matters in the long run. Skyfall appears to be not just a new chapter in the Bond saga, but the start of something new and wonderful. Clever in its execution, smartly told and impeccably guided, it’s quite possibly the best Bond movie of all time. That doesn’t necessarily translate to best movie of the year, but as action epics go it easily outpaces the likes of Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises by a good margin. And that’s what makes the future of Bond so exciting and scary: it still has room to grow. With a wealth of respect and adoration from its fans and contributors and a brand-new lease on life, there’s little reason not to believe that the coming 24’th James Bond film will be even better. As we’re told in the closing credits, James Bond will return, and Skyfall proves that the franchise can mature and evolve with the times. The next entry will have to be the one to prove that it can continue down that same path.

1 comment:

THE Real Estate Analyst!!! said...

"The car, like Bond, is vintage." Or is it timeless?