Sunday, November 11, 2012


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.


  1. QUANTUM OF SO WHAT was outright garbage, but I'm shocked to find out you couldn't stand CASINO ROYALE. With the exception of aspects of its content being updated for the 2000's, it hews pretty closely to the basic plot of Fleming's source novel — which, let's face it, extremely few of the films do — and the Bond of the novels is rather a cold guy, which is what I believe the Craig run of the films is going for. As a lifelong Bond goon who's absorbed the novels and the films — two completely different species, by the way, with only passing similarities — I love Craig's Bond for his focused, cold approach to his role as a government-sanctioned school bully with a gun, and his flaws hark back to the 007 of the novels, a man who was more than a bit of a mess.

    Part of the problem with some audiences not digging Craig is that over the past five decades we've gotten used to James Bond as a worldwide cultural touchstone that has evolved (or, more accurately, devolved) into something quite other than his pulp fiction template, namely an infallible, indestructible superman who's also a combination clothes horse and quip-machine. By returning Bond to his thriller novel roots, audiences are being forced to re-think what they know of the character and his genre's tropes, a shared international pop culture style that has worked its way into our collective storytelling DNA to the point where those who've never even seen a James Bond movie can make comments or jokes about the nature of over-the-top spy movie sexiness, crazy gadgetry, megalomaniacal villainous excess, terrible gags (which were later co opted by Schwarzenegger and other 1980's action heroes), and complete and utter defiance of all known laws of physics. In short, Bond became as familiar and beloved as Mickey Mouse, only with a slightly more adult edge, and as a result his coolness (and all that goes with it) were blunted by decades of ludicrous entries like MOONRAKER, A VIEW TO A KILL, the appalling OCTOPUSSY, DIE ANOTHER DAY, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, and so on. Yes, there was the occasional gem to be found among the more rote (or outright horrendous) installments, but the perpetual returning of Bond to the screen felt like it had more to do with giving the audience its required dose of something familiar that it had grown accustomed to over the course of two generations, and that was fine for most viewers. Me, I always savored the un-neutered 007, the somewhat cruel, ruthless bastard whose exterior facade of jaded aloofness masked a single-minded, vicious brawler whose near-total disregard for human life was put to good use in the name of queen and country and the freedom/security of the western world. I chafed as I endured film after film where Bond was reduced to a jokey catwalk model, with only occasional glimmers of his former hardness turning up during the Dalton and Brosnan runs, so I welcomed Craig's thuggish MI6 catspaw with open arms. (And for the record, the problem with Dalton's movies was not, contrary to popular belief, Dalton; it was the scripts he was saddled with. He was a very good, mean Bond, especially in LICENSE TO KILL, a film that the general public and many Bond fans dismiss with distaste for its relative savagery when compared to the rest of the series.)

    As for SKYFALL's examination of 007 pre-MI6 origins, the stuff seen in the film is indeed new to the series, though Fleming did sprinkle dribs and drabs about Bond's past throughout the novels. Once he'd seen Connery's performance in DR. NO, Fleming was impressed enough to concoct Scottish/Swiss ancestry for Bond in the later novels, but that had little bearing on those stories and what was crafted for SKYFALL was much more organic and served the narrative quite well.

    Lastly, I dug Judi Dench as M from the get-go. She was an efficient, no-bullshit hardass, and that's exactly what 007 needs to focus him on his missions, and keep his personal excesses (somewhat) in line.

  2. I loved Casino Royale, did not like the sequel that much.

    As for the best Bond, my votes:
    1. Sean Connery and Roger Moore-- I liked the fact Roger Moore brought humor to the role.
    2. Daniel Craig
    3. Timothy Dalton
    4. Pierce Bronsnan (he looked way to wimpy to be a James Bond)

  3. Glenn, it's a shame you warmed to Judi Dench just in time for what has been reported to be her last outing as M. From what I read, she will be retiring from acting due to progressive vision loss.

  4. "Batman...James Batman"

    Don't get me wrong; I dug the movie, with its strong direction, smart script and often gorgeous cinematography (something few Bond flicks have ever been accused of possessing).

    However—and I'm sure I'm not the first to point it out—Skyfall borrows liberally from Batman. He's got an Alfred, a Commissioner Gordon, a stately Wayne Manor, a batcave, a batmobile, a Robin in Miss Moneypenny, and more, not to mention a newly revealed fact about his distant past.

    All that said, again, great flick. Count me in on the Judi Dench cheering section as well.

  5. That was quite a hand injury M sustained.

  6. I'm one of the few people on Earth who didn't mind QUANTUM OF SOLACE. :-p