I had all but given up on James Bond. Just recently, I gave Casino Royale (2006) a second chance to impress me, and am now ready to declare it one of my least favorite films in the long-running series. And I finally got around to watching its sequel, Quantum of Solace (2008)—the only Bond film since 1979’s Moonraker that I didn’t see in its original theatrical release—and found myself even more disappointed. I couldn’t follow either of the plots. I felt there was too much of Judi Dench’s M. There was no sense of FUN. And, perhaps most significantly, I didn’t buy Daniel Craig as James Bond. After two stinkers in a row, my interest in seeing Skyfall diminished rapidly.
But then I took a chance and went to see it on the Saturday of its opening weekend, with my wife Ginny and my 9-year-old daughter Maddie in tow—this being Maddie’s first-ever Bond film.
Well, to use a quote from another film series, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Skyfall is a return to form, a highly entertaining film that I hope is a harbinger of things to come.
The plot is fairly straightforward: Something from M’s past comes back to haunt her and threatens the future of MI6, the British Secret Service. Bond, who has his own issues with M resulting from a critical decision she makes during the film’s opening sequence, has to confront this formidable threat—but he’s physically and psychologically diminished, and he just may find himself sympathizing with the other side this time.
The first half of the film may be a bit slow in places, but it never gets boring or confusing. (In fact, Maddie leaned over to me at around the halfway point and whispered, “I’m really liking this movie so far!”) The second half, however, is downright terrific, with the main villain taking center stage and Bond discovering what he’s really up against. It’s here that we get to see a wonderful, affectionate acknowledgment of the series’ 50-year history—an embracing of the past that the previous two Daniel Craig entries tried to shy away from. And it’s during the latter part of the film that we find out what “Skyfall” actually refers to. I felt it was worth the wait—and quite revelatory.
Speaking of revelatory, I’m no Bond expert, but I think we learn more about 007’s backstory in this film than in the 22 previous movies combined. Not enough to humanize him in a major way, or to take away the air of mystery surrounding his character, but you certainly get more of a sense of who he was before he joined Her Majesty’s Secret Service and what shaped him into the man he is today.
The main villain, Raoul Silva, as portrayed by Javier Bardem, is the most colorful, compelling, and downright enjoyable Bond antagonist in many, many years. His motivation is pure and simple, and while his ultimate goal is less epic than that of, say, Ernst Stavro Blofeld or Auric Goldfinger, I think in years to come, Bardem’s Silva may be as fondly remembered as those two classic characters. Bardem really goes all-out and seems to be having a great time.
|Javier Bardem as Silva|
I can’t say I ever really warmed to Judi Dench as M, and I didn’t particularly care for her during the first half of Skyfall. But I have to say, by the end of the film, she won me over.
|Judi Dench, playing M for the seventh time|
Ralph Fiennes, an actor I’ve always liked, has a supporting role as Gareth Mallory, a British bureaucrat tasked with overseeing—and overhauling—MI6. But he proves to be much more than that, and I was delighted. I guessed the resolution of his story arc about halfway through the film, and I was very happy to be proven correct.
|Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory|
Naomie Harris, a beautiful actress who was so impressive in the 2002 horror film 28 Days Later, is a welcome addition to the series. She plays Eve, an MI6 agent who forges a relationship with Bond that is both unique and somewhat familiar. There’s a nice payoff with her character that should have a significant impact on the series.
|Naomie Harris takes aim|
In the same vein, we’re finally introduced (or, rather, reintroduced) to Q, the tech wizard who supplies Bond with all those memorable gadgets. Here, he’s played by Ben Whishaw as a young, somewhat arrogant, geeky introvert—think Cillian Murphy as Jonathan Crane in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. I still miss John Cleese in the role, but Whishaw makes a good first impression. (Maddie enjoyed him the most!)
|Ben Whishaw as the new Q|
But above all else, my feeling is that with Skyfall, Daniel Craig has finally become James Bond. He shows hints of humanity and even warmth, and there are a few moments of genuine humor. Those funny moments are never forced or goofy, as they were in the Roger Moore films—they come from the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Two particular moments stand out: Bond interacting with a train engineer on the London Underground, and later on, his reaction to M’s crabbiness as he’s driving her to safety in his car. I found myself genuinely rooting for Craig’s Bond in this film. I actually cared about what happened to him, and I wanted him to triumph.
Sean Connery’s still the best Bond of all time, and will most likely remain so. While many will undoubtedly disagree with me, I still rank Pierce Brosnan as #2. But with Skyfall, Daniel Craig lands at #3, with the potential to move up a notch before too long.
The film ends with the promise, “James Bond will Return,” and for the first time in a number of years, that’s something I’m really looking forward to.
© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2012.