Monday, November 12, 2012


James Bond is a character so iconic and so long-lasting in movie history that I hesitate to even call it a film franchise anymore.  Rather, its an institution, a tradition.  If "Skyfall" is James Bond's fiftieth anniversary in film, than that means that this franchise is older than both my parents, and is only a year younger than the President.  And now with six actors putting on the tuxedo and sipping dry martinis - shaken not stirred - its pretty clear that James Bond will last forever.  Hollywood is never going to stop making these movies, the tradition is simply too strong.  Just like the Batman franchise and Star Wars:  its only going to end when Western Civilization ends.

The new Daniel Craig movies were a major reboot of the Bond formula, which I'd say was sorely needed after the four Pierce Brosnan films.  I'm not a huge Bond fan or scholar, and since I'm a child of the Nineties I grew up with Brosnan as my template for James Bond.  However, today, I can't say his films were particularly great.  "Goldeneye" is easily the best, though "Tomorrow Never Dies" is very entertaining thanks to Jonathan Pryce's excellent run as the villain.  But by "The World is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day", it was obvious that the puns, the smugness, the ridiculous gadgetry, and the entire mood was all wrong.  The movies were still entertaining and profitable, but they were so goofy and light that they were impossible to take seriously, basically the "Batman and Robin" of James Bond.  Daniel Craig may be my favorite Bond*.  I recently rewatched "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace" since they were playing on USA, and I must say, "Casino Royale" really is an incredible movie, I had forgotten how good it was.  Its quite a thing in your movie when the action sequences are the least interesting thing because you just want Craig to back to his brilliant romance with Eva Greene or the real tension on the poker table.  A lot of people really hate "Quantum of Solace" and I don't fully understand why.  It was, yeah, average, and  I thought it was a middling effort that could have been better, but it still had a lot of things I liked.  And I thought it was setting up better things to come.  That better thing is here now, and its called "Skyfall".

"Skyfall" is probably the best James Bond movie I've seen.  At the very least, its the one that's the most emotionally intense and goes deepest to James Bond as a character.  We've already seen Daniel Craig's Bond tested deeply by first falling in love with, and then losing, Vesper Lind, and he's dealt with getting revenge for that.  But "Skyfall" isn't merely testing James Bond, its putting pressure on the entirety of MI6, its an existential threat to Britain's entire traditional intelligence service, mirrored in James Bond's own mental and physical degradation, along with threats to Judi Dench's job as M.  Meanwhile the new Bond series brings forward its best villain yet.  Javier Bardem is funny, crazy, and somebody you really think could actually defeat James Bond and the entirety of British Intelligence.

The opening of "Skyfall" features James Bond and a new female agent named Eve chasing bad guys across Istanbul, and its an action-packed scene that shows off exactly what kind of movie we're in for.  I felt the car chase that opened "Quantum of Solace" was really cool and exciting, but it certainly didn't have the depth and complexity of this first movement.  James Bond has a motorcycle chase on top of roomtops, he fights a guy on top of a train, there's a shootout with a bulldozer on top of the train.  Unfortunately, it doesn't end very well since James Bond gets shot by his own ally and falls into the river, presumably dead.  Its not a spoiler to say he survived, since without it we'd have no movie.

Daniel Craig's James Bond always seemed like a massively unhappy person in all of the movies, and this all the more so in "Skyfall" where the failed mission of the opening left him bitter and resentful of his old job.  By the time the plot finally gets moving and the threat reveals itself, James Bond has become an alcoholic, bitter man with a huge injury in his shoulder that has not quite healed.  He only goes back to MI6 after seeing their HQ exploded by a brilliant hacking move by a mysterious villain (who the trailers have already told us is Javier Bardem).  Unfortunately James Bond still has not healed up, and hasn't even shaved.  He can barely hold himself up on a bar with only his arms for thirty seconds, so he's worse at it than me and my five-year-old brother.  Cool, I'm stronger than James Bond!  Ladies, come here!  So James Bond is left at his weakest, while the villain is far more effective, brilliant, and totally insane than before.

This is happening at the same time that British MPs are wondering if MI6 is even worth running anymore.  Its not just James Bond who is broken and seemingly in need of retirement, MI6 has been one step behind Javier Bardem the entire movie - and the villain doesn't even show up until halfway through the film.  Meddling bureaucrats seem to think that the classic ways of James Bond punching bad guys on top of trains and having motorcycle chases on top of rooftops are passe and out of touch with reality.  So Judi Dench's M is told that she has only two months left until retirement.  Every day that the heroes just try to hold themselves together and get ready to strike is another day that Javier Bardem gets stronger.

All this plot building means that the movie really doesn't get started until roughly an hour in, when before most of the action is taking place in MI6's underground emergency offices.  James Bond doesn't even start globehopping until his journey to Shanghai, and he doesn't shave his awful uncharacteristic stubble until after that.  Once the adventure gets started though, James Bond is back to sipping martinis, bedding women, and wearing tuxedos like he's supposed to.  The movie has a strange structure where the first act is just James Bond becoming James Bond again - kinda just like Bruce Wayne did back in July - then only the second act is traditional James Bond adventuring, and the third act is a beautiful surprise that I'll only describe vaguely in order to avoid spoilers.  Instead of chase scenes in Aston Martins and supermodel femme fatales in some exotic third world nation, the final battle takes place in a country house in Scotland, as low tech and unsophisticated a battle as one could imagine.  And that third act really is the most compelling part.  "Skyfall" unfortunately is a movie that begins rather slowly, but its definitely worth watching until the end.

Of course, its a James Bond movie, so I guess I have to talk about the various iconic features of the movie.  Every James Bond movie needs a gorgeous supermodel, a sinister supervillain, a ridiculously-expensive British supercar, and of course the Bond theme music.  The villain I'll speak of in a moment.  The car is the Aston Martin DB5 from "Goldfinger", complete with an ejector seat and front-mounted machine guns.  Its especially ironic to see this prop used again since the new James Bond films go out of their way to avoid using gimicky gadgets, but whatever, its a beautiful car and James Bond gets honestly pissed when the bad guys blow it up.  There are two Bond girls this time.  The first is Naomie Harris, who holds herself well against Bond's banter, but doesn't do much for me looks-wise.  The second is Bérénice Marlohe, a Cambodian-French actress who is probably... in fact, IS the most beautiful human being I have ever seen.  Which is all the more the shame since she succumbs to Daniel Craig's jinx**, and her character is immediately forgotten by everybody.

The opening credits are another Bond institution that must be commented upon.  I thought the Adelle theme song was very catchy, its easily the best Bond theme of the Craig-era***.  My favorite opening animation of this series is still "Casino Royale"'s, I thought this opening was really complicated and cluttered.  But neither of these things actually matter to the substance of the movie, they're just extra fun things that Bond movies always come with.

Javier Bardem's villain, Silva, is the best part of "Skyfall".  This is the best movie villain in awhile, probably since the Joker.  He's a depraved bisexual lunatic that used to be an MI6 agent back in the 80s, before going totally insane when captured by the Chinese.  You'll notice quickly that Javier Bardem's face looks really off and asymmetrical.  And that's not only because his hair is frosted blond.  Its because his top row of death and most of his facial bones are actually a prosthetic put in place after he somehow survived taking cyanide.  Bardem is able to give long crazy monologues about teaching rats to be cannibals, then attempt to seduce James Bond in the very same scene.  The filmmakers have been open in their motivation to make Silva into a Joker-esque character, which they didn't quite succeed at, but they did succeed in giving Javier Bardem's career a second great villain performance after "No Country For Old Men".  He even has his own version of the Pencil Magic Trick in a William Tell act.  When his ridiculously-planned schemes involving hacking MI6 and throwing subway trains at James Bond all fail, Silva has no problem simply gathering up a bunch of dudes with machine guns and simply shooting Bond down to get what he wants.  This is the first Bond villain I've seen who honestly seems like he could actually win.

Importantly though, the action is great in this.  It isn't quite the cartoon spectacle of "The Man With the Iron Fists", but its still impressive.  Director Sam Mendes already showed off his incredible cinematography with "Road to Perdition", and now he uses it to film incredible action scenes.  He can choreograph action so well that he's able to leave the camera running for several minutes on a flat shot of James Bond fighting another dude in silhouette.  This is not a gorgeous movie, but still the most technically competent Bond yet.

So ultimately "Skyfall" has everything you could want out of a movie.  Beautiful women, beautiful cars, great action, a great villain, a good story that actually gives more depth to the James Bond character, and an amazing climax that sets up a whole new stage in the new James Bond series.  I know Master Christopher Nolan has expressed interest in making a James Bond film, but after "Skyfall", it almost seems pointless since his movie has basically already been made.  Great movie, one of the best of 2012, easily.

* Again, this is only because I've seen a handful of Bond movies.  I've seen all of Brosnan and Craig's work, though I really want to see the Timothy Dalton movies.  Beyond that I've seen bits and pieces of nearly every Connery movie, I've seen "On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which was very good), I've seen "Live and Let Die" (which wasn't very good), and that's sadly it.  One of these days I'll have to go back and watch the others, especially the one where Bond goes to the Moon.  But for now, this is all I got.

** Any woman who has sex with Daniel Craig in these movies dies painfully.  Let's review:  there was the wife of the terrorist that James Bond seduced, and was murdered.  There was Vesper Lind, who was drowned by an elevator collapse in Venice.  There was Ms Fields who was drowned in oil.  And now there's Bérénice, who dies rather horribly and the movie offensively never seems to care.  James Bond is more pissed over the Aston Martin, which though pretty, is only half as beautiful as the woman.  There was also a random Turkish woman who James Bond sleeps with in this film, her fate is not shown, but we can be sure that she was devoured by a random shark.  Ironically, the Bond girl named "Jinx", Halle Berry, did not die, because Pierce Brosnan had a lot more luck with his ladies than Daniel Craig has.

*** However, the best James Bond opening theme of the past few years is actually the opening credits of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo".  The worst James Bond theme of my lifetime is BY FAR Madonna's truly awful "Die Another Day" theme.  Everything about that movie is pretty bad.


  1. There's nothing more I could want from a Bond film, I think it's the best. It's really worth watching the old films for prosperity if anything, but in reality this is the best of the bunch. Plus Daniel Craig is by far the most competent actor since Connery.

  2. it always bothered me, Why is m such a dumbass in this film? still among the best though

  3. I don't know why, but I hate Daniel Craig as James Bond with a passion. He just doesn't fit the role of Jams Bond in my eyes. Also, I highly recommend The Man with the Golden Gun and Diamonds are Forever.

    1. Honestly from what I've seen, Roger Moore is easly my least favorite James Bond. Then again, I only saw "Live and Let Die", so who knows?