James Bond Overdose Part 23 – Skyfall (2012)

We made it! It took six months, but we finally made it to the end of James Bond Overdose. (“And there was much rejoicing” “yaaay…”). Now we just have to wait another six months for the release of SPECTRE, which looks pretty magnificent.

Skyfall, to put it mildly, is incredible. After the shaky interlude that was Quantum of Solace, I’m glad Bond has been put back on track. Bringing in legendary director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) was a brilliant decision. This is probably one of the most visually beautiful movies in the Bond canon. And it’s also one of the most emotionally grounded. We saw Bond’s persona being shaped in the previous two films, but in this one, we really get to see past the forging of a “blunt instrument” and get inside his head. It’s a more restrained Bond film, as a result, hearkening back to From Russia with Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in terms of tone.

When James Bond (Daniel Craig) is shot and presumed dead on a disastrous mission in which crucial information pertaining to the secret identities of NATO’s undercover agents is stolen, the British government begins to put pressure on MI6, believing that M (Judi Dench) has lost control of her department. The new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) wants M to retire, but she’s not finished yet. An outside force seems to be targeting her specifically and she intends to uncover their identity before more people get killed. Aided by a damaged and recovering Bond, and the brilliant-but-prickly Q (Ben Whishaw), M is able to trace things to the mysterious Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who has a vendetta against M for what he calls her “past sins.”

The plot is pretty straightforward and almost simplistic when you think about it. The “fate of the world” isn’t at stake. It’s much more personal than that. What makes this one work so well is that it really focuses on character. We get a bit of insight into Bond’s inner workings, but not so much that it undercuts the character. Bond works best when he’s channeling his rage and pain into constructive (or explosive) actions. He doesn’t think too much; he acts. As such, we don’t really want to know what he’s thinking at a deep level. We just want to know that he is thinking. And Skyfall works very well in that respect.
 
The closest we get to real insight into Bond’s head is in the opening credits, which are gorgeous and bizarre. The first time I saw this movie, the opening credits threw me for a bit of a loop. The sequence looks more like a Tim Burton art piece, filled with blood rain, skulls, graveyards, and wildly spinning shadows in gloomy rooms filled with stone columns. Through this nightmarish landscape, 007 staggers and drifts like a shade trapped in the underworld. Daniel Kleinman, who’s back after being absent for Quantum, once again gives us a brilliant opening credits sequence that ties in with the plot of the film. Much like how Die Another Day‘s presents an artful portrait of an extended period of torture and its effect on Bond’s psyche, this one follows Bond after he had just been shot, beginning with his floating body being pulled into a whirling vortex in the riverbed. He’s literally being dragged down into a Dante-esque hell where he wanders, lost and terrified, through landscapes that recall both his painful past and his explosive future as he makes his way painfully back up to the world of the living. It’s very different from anything we’ve seen in a Bond film before, and I can see how many folks were turned off by the sheer unsettling horror of the sequence, but I personally think it’s just perfect. 
 
And Adele’s Oscar-winning theme song just makes everything that much better, beginning with a gentle piano intro that recalls the bouncy lightness of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better,” the song then grows into an overwhelming orchestral explosion of oppressive chords and wailing brass that would make John Barry proud. I could go on and on about this sequence, but I’ll leave it at that. Long story short, this may be one of my all time favorites. Daniel Kleinman is a visual genius and I hope he’s able to come back for SPECTRE.
 
Along with Bond, Skyfall also gives M her chance to really shine. She’s been a big player in the rebooted Bond continuity, but with this one, she gets to really feel like a main character instead of a supporting one. In many ways, she’s the protagonist of this whole thing. Bond is more like the rogue T-800 in Terminator 2, charged with protecting her against the maniac who’s trying to kill her. I love how much M is humanized in this one. It makes her so much more complex to see her making difficult decisions such as ordering Moneypenny to take the shot that ends up hitting Bond in the pre-credits sequence. As we get further into the story, we see that she is just as human as anyone else and is far from perfect. It’s Bond we go to see every time a new film comes out, but this one really hammers home that Bond is a weapon and it is M who wields that weapon. The implications of such a relationship is what really gives this story its power since we also see what happens when such weapons are misused and fight back.
 
Bond fans also should be delighted to see some familiar names back in the credits, namely Moneypenny and Q. Naomie Harris plays the Moneypenny (first name Eve) role well. She’s an enthusiastic, take-charge agent (who is nearly as reckless as Bond himself, especially during a high speed chase) faced with the realization that she’s much happier avoiding situations where she might end up being ordered to shoot her friends. In today’s cultural landscape, I can tell that the concept of a female agent who decides that she’d much rather be behind a desk might ruffle some feathers, but it’s her choice, and I think the character is still well developed. 
 
That gold dress says, “I can handle any childish innuendo you try to hurl my way, Bond.”
As for Q, they went in a completely different direction with the character, and I couldn’t be happier. No one could adequately step into Desmond Llewelyn’s legendary (probably exploding) shoes, and so I like how they completely redid the character. Ben Whishaw is a favorite of mine, and his take on Q as a 30-something genius with an old soul is just beautifully done. I may be biased because anyone who uses the word “vexing” correctly in casual conversation instantly gains about a zillion win points in my opinion. He’s like Captain Picard and Sherlock Holmes and all those computer nerds in The Social Network were combined to create a reserved, wry, dryly sarcastic computer whiz who has excellent taste in clothing and tea. I just absolutely love him, and eagerly await to see how his character is developed later on.
 
And here’s a picture, because of reasons.
 
As for the villain, Silva is more unsettling than threatening. Javier Bardem does a smashing job of bringing the character to life, but it’s clear the writers had to give him an almost superhuman ability to manipulate events in order to really make him a threat to the security of MI6. In particular, a magnificent Houdini-esque escape strains credulity, but no more so than Bond’s miraculous recovery from being shot and “drowning” in the pre-credits sequence, so it’s alright to let it slip. What makes Silva compelling is just how strange he is. He’s a similar character to Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye, but while Sean Bean’s character has a slick exterior and a damaged interior, Silva just looks damaged. His insanity shows through his eyes in every scene, and his oddly blond hair gives him an almost sleazy air. He just looks like deviance personified, which makes him incredibly creepy (and that’s hard to do, because normally Bardem is a dashingly handsome gentleman with a rakish smile that won’t quit).
 
I’m not lying
He may not feel much like a threat in the grand scheme of things, but as a complex, damaged soul with an obsessive fetish for revenge, he’s beautifully realized.
 
I was going to gush some more about the cinematography, but I don’t want to go on for too long, so I’ll just say that I have never seen a jellyfish used to such spectacular effect in a fight scene before. Ok, ok, I’ll go away.
 
Random Observations
-Even though this one doesn’t start with a gunbarrel, the first shot feels gunbarrel-y
-It’s cool that Bond is using that big tractor thing as a weapon, but I’m curious why the bad guy just stands there looking surprised. he could easily run away…
-I heart Ralph Fiennes so much. My favorite roles of his are The Constant Gardener and In Bruges, and I get the feeling that those two extremes were combined to create the Mallory character. Antagonistic…but likable.
-Scorpion drinking games = nope. 
-Bond gets scruffy, but unlike Pierce Brosnan doesn’t go for the Caveman Jesus look. 
-“Were you expecting an exploding pen?” Well…yeah, Q, we were, but we won’t hold it against you.
-I was a bit worried about Thomas Newman doing the score. I adore his work on Finding Nemo and American Beauty, but it always felt too contemplative to work for a Bond film. I was wrong. His score is magnificent and a worthy successor to David Arnold’s previous Bond scores.
-The komodo dragon pit is a bit silly…but it does feel like a classic Bond nod.
-Judi Dench quoting Tennyson. Just marvelous.
-They’re all getting ready with the weapons in preparation for Silva and M is all, “I’ll sit in here by myself and make frag grenades.” I love that woman so much.
-Sam Mendes really knows how to shoot an explosion.
-I squee every time I see that leather door into M’s office in the final scene. And Moneypenney is at her desk, and the hatrack is there, and it just makes me so happy. M’s office is just the way we saw it when Sean Connery and Bernard Lee were just beginning to get used to one another. *nerd moment*
 
And now we wait for SPECTRE.
 
In the meantime, catch up on my personal favorites from each era in preparation!
 
Sean Connery
From Russia with Love – The quintessential Bond film, Connery at his finest
Thunderball– Wonderful cinematography, a brilliant score, and my favorite Classic-era Bond film
 
George Lazenby
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – This one wins by default, but it has a great score, excellent action sequences, and a great leading lady with the incomparable Diana Rigg.
 
Roger Moore
Live and Let Die – Well-written and fun, this one is potentially quite dated, but the great action sequences make up for it.
The Spy Who Loved Me – Roger Moore at the top of his game. A wonderful plot, a huge scope, and the fabulous XXX gives 007 a run for his money.
 
Timothy Dalton
Licence to Kill – darker and more brutal than its predecessors, this one explores what happens when Bond gets really really angry.
 
Pierce Brosnan
GoldenEye– my all time favorite Bond film, slick, fun, and perfectly plotted with a wonderful cast.
Tomorrow Never Dies – A fun, fast-paced Bond romp that, while not as serious as Goldeneye, never fails to entertain. Plus, Michelle Yeoh is the best.
 
Daniel Craig
Casino Royale – an excellent reboot with a beautifully written script, showing us a less refined Bond.
Skyfall– and, well, you just read why I like this one. So, no need to repeat that.
 
See you next week!
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