Author's Note: When I first created this blog earlier this year, I did so with the intention of flexing the various writing tools in my arsenal. Movie reviews were supposed to be part of the gig, but this is actually my first one, so I beg and plead with you to be open with criticism, but also forgive me if the piece isn't exactly a great piece of writing. :)
Before Daniel Craig took over the role of James Bond in 2006’s “Casino Royale”, the common assumption about Bond was that he was a globe-trotting, martini swilling, gun firing debonair with a passion for women, fast cars, and always getting the mad genius that he was after. Whether it was Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan, the character of Bond was about cleaning up nicely and dressing to the nines.
This incarnation of Bond, however, has been more about the dirty and grimy aspects of the spy realm. Craig has brought a bit of a tortured soul to the character and coupled it with a physicality that actors like Brosnan simply could never have dreamed of bringing to the role. Add to that the gritty cinematography that films like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have popularized, and you have a Bond that seems perfectly at ease in the underbelly of the criminal world as well as the playboy meccas of Miami, Monte Carlo, and Shanghai.
Whereas “Quantum of Solace” played up the “revenge” factor in Bond’s efforts to find the network responsible for the death of his lover Vesper Lynd, “Skyfall” instead focuses more on more noble pursuits. Raoul Silva, a terrorist played ably by Javier Bardem, uses computers to infiltrate the chief spy bureau of the United Kingdom, MI6, and starts a reign of terror that ends up costing countless agents their lives, as well as a lot of bureaucratic headaches for Judi Dench’s M. Bond has to try to stop Bardem from completely undermining all of the world’s intelligence agencies, as well as preventing Silva from enacting revenge on M, who used him in a prisoner exchange while he was in the custody of foreign militants.
In addition to the “team player” role that Bond seems to take on when the MI6 headquarters is attacked, he also has to deal with the notion that he is getting older and therefore a step slower. The “hero showing his age” narrative has been used extensively in movies recently, with one example being Christian Bale aging eight years in “The Dark Knight Rises” and struggling to keep up with the younger and stronger Bane. After suffering a serious setback in the opening action sequence of the film, Bond has to rediscover his ability to not only fight off beefy baddies with bad intentions, but also in the simple act of firing a gun accurately. His struggle to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, is a fascinating part of the film, and is a testament to the ability of director Sam Mendes to add some humanity to a character that was a single-minded killing machine in the last installment of the story.
Another delicate balance that Mendes was able to strike was in contrasting the old school approach of Bond with the new school techniques of Bardem. Yes, Bond has been modernized a bit since the reboot of the franchise in “Royale”, but the divide in styles between the two main players in this drama serve the narrative of the film quite well. The focus on that element of the story was best summed up in the cheeky interaction between Bond and the new Q, played by young whippersnapper Ben Whishaw, when they met at an art museum shortly after Bond was reinstated into the agency.
There were also references to the modern state of world affairs in the film, with Silva releasing the names of five undercover agents onto YouTube at one point shortly after the MI6 attack. This was eerily reminiscent of the decision by the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks to release footage of an attack by US soldiers on Reuters journalists directly onto the video-sharing website in 2010, and also had undertones of similar actions taken by the hacktivist group Anonymous, who has released documents from scores of companies in an effort to preserve democracy on the internet.
Perhaps Mendes’ greatest achievement, aside from the ability to weave real world events with the suspension of disbelief required to properly enjoy a Bond film, was his creation of a villain in Silva that the audience can simultaneously feel a great deal of sympathy for, but at the same time be utterly appalled by his callous pursuit of revenge against M. This conflict of emotions is uncommon in the Bond universe, when the bad guys are always heinous maniacs with no redeeming qualities, but that characteristic is a pretty strong endorsement of Mendes’ decision to cast Bardem in the role in a masterstroke of casting.
Finally, as for Bond himself, Craig really nailed the texture that he had achieved in the first film in his stint as 007. No longer overcome by grief after the death of Vesper, he displayed some serious cunning at various points in the film, including in the final climatic scene in Scotland. In addition, he proved that even though it has been six years since his first turn in the main role, he still has the physicality required to play Bond, and that was on full display during a memorable scene that saw him fighting an assassin on the top floor of a skyscraper.
Reviews have already been pouring in praising this film, saying that it is Craig’s best performance as Bond and the best one of the new trilogy of films featuring him. It is hard to argue with that, as the stripped down Bond film that only takes place in three main countries (Turkey, China, and the UK) really worked in Mendes’ hands. Finally getting to see Bond take to the streets of London in a big way was a nice change of pace from his normal globetrotting ways, and the various Easter Eggs that are the part of any Bond film were nice reminders of where the series has been.
Overall, this movie has to be considered a “must-see” for fans of the franchise, and one that the average movie goer would appreciate as well.
Rating: **** out of five stars