Fri 9 Nov 2012
Those who have been reading my reviews consistently over the years know that I haven’t been the biggest fan of the Daniel Craig era when it comes to James Bond (see my Top 10 Worst Bond Films List at About.com). And sure, everyone hates “Quantum of Solace” but I was that rare bird who also found a lot to dislike in “Casino Royale“.
The problem isn’t so much with Daniel Craig himself but with the direction in which the franchise has decided to go up to this point. In the movies, Bond has always been primarily about seduction and wit; he outthought his opponents far more than he physically overpowered them. Craig’s Bond has been basically a battering ram with sociopathic underpinnings and for his first two films they worked really hard to extricate themselves from the character’s cinematic legacy. The series was still rooted in espionage but the only threads connecting this Bond to his forebearers were character names and that he worked for MI-6. Aside from that you might as well have called him James Bourne.
Now Craig’s third Bond film, “Skyfall”, is hitting theaters (already making a ton of cash overseas in earlier release) and this might surprise you but I liked it. All of the distancing that Craig’s Bond has been doing in the last two films is gone and this has been put together with fans of the earlier works in the series very much in mind.
Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have now written the last five Bond movies, stretching back to the holiday classic, “The World is Not Enough” (Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones? Hilarious). Although I envy their paycheck, I wouldn’t want my name associated with any of the recent Bonds (theirs made the bottom three on the list I made for About). Maybe its the influence of director Sam Mendes but with “Skyfall”, there was a little bit more strategy to Bond’s actions, the villain (Javier Bardem) was written to be far more like some the iconic ones from years past, we see the reintroduction of Q (Ben Whishaw), and there is a certain character and a certain vehicle that should make most Bond enthusiasts excited (though the character gets officially introduced in a rather clunky and obvious manner).
The action continues to be well-handled, with multiple chase scenes involving tons of physicality which lend themselves well to the slightly meathead persona that Craig’s Bond has developed. However, as thrilling as some may find these scenes, the true joy to be found is in Bardem’s portrayal of the bad guy. This is a villain Bond fans will remember, ruthless in his actions but so willing to verbally spar with both Bond and M (played again by Judi Dench). The best scenes in the movie all belong to ones with Bardem in them and it was so delightful to see how over-the-top he played the character.
Before anyone thinks I fell completely in love with the movie, there are a number of problems. The new additions to the franchise (Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris) almost feel like they were added in half-way in the writing process once someone told Purvis and Wade this was Bond’s 50th Anniversary. Also, while I shouldn’t complain about embracing the Bond mythos, you all know I’m going to.
How is it that you spend the first two films of the Daniel Craig era practically urinating on a legacy built up over decades and now decide to make an about-face and cherish all that’s been thrown aside? I’m glad to see that someone realized it’s okay to be a bit less like all the other spy movies being made right now and continue a well-established tradition but from a continuity perspective within one actor’s Bond-arc, this makes no sense. Again, I’m happy this has happened and this is the kind of Bond film I was hoping “Casino Royale” would be but I left the theater completely baffled as to the sudden shift in ideology.
Now, with all of that huffing and puffing over with, the bottom line is that fans of the franchise, both young and old, will find a lot to like in “Skyfall”. It has some problems in the story resolution but sets up the possibility for continued success with Daniel Craig wearing the tuxedo (he’s signed on for two more and at one point was offered an additional three by the producers). It has all the elements a good Bond film should have: seduction, action, a standout villain, and a fantastic opening theme song (this time by Adele, so good it harkens back to the classic “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey). And although the seduction bit was a bit muted here, having the other elements done as well as they were, the entertainment factor remains high and will make forking over the price of admission seem like a good choice for most fans of the series.