James Bond is back — and he’s here to stay. After four long years since Quantum of Solace — and even longer since Daniel Craig’s debut performance in Casino Royale— Agent 007 returns in Skyfall. Directed by Sam Mendes,Skyfall blends the classic James Bond experience with a modern twist. I was able to be a part of a collegiate conference call with Mendes who explained some aspects of the film.
“The producers said, ‘We don’t want a Bond — we want your Bond.’ Whenever I had a more extreme idea, they embraced it,” he said. “You need very brave producers that are willing to hand over something that has been healthy for 50 years.”
As it turns out, 2012 has been a good year for the United Kingdom — hosting the Summer Olympics and celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was just the start. However, Skyfall is the 23rd installment of a successful British film series that is celebrating its50th anniversary. The unbeatable Sean Connery started it all as James Bond in the 1962 classic Dr. No, and Craig does him justice.
“I have producers who were willing to let me go to places that they’ve never been before in a Bond movie. I think if I felt we were just remaking the same film and doing the same thing as the last 22 movies I probably wouldn’t have been interested in making it,” Mendes said.
Now, I’ll be the first one to admit it: I’m a die-hard Bond fan. I’ve been watching the films since a friend showed me Moonraker and my dad subsequently showed me Goldfinger, which he says I should have seen first. (He was right.) I’ve been watching the leaked clips and analyzing the set photos sinceSkyfall was in its earliest stages of production. Attending the press screening well before the film’s British and American releases is a personal triumph that I will relish for the rest of my life.
That said, I hold the films to a strict standard, and Skyfall is no exception. The film begins with a heart-pounding pre-titles chase in Istanbul.
“The first 10 minutes of the movie, which was the opening action sequence … were very complicated and painstaking [to shoot],” Mendes said.
At the end of the scene, a henchman escapes with the hard drive containing a list of the identities of every undercover agent in MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA and the service where Bond works). Bond’s boss, known simply by her codename, “M,” played by the formidable Judi Dench, faces both a government inquiry and her own secret past as a result.
Bond’s resulting hunt takes him around the world until he finally finds Raoul Silva, the blonde-haired villain played by Javier Bardem. The remaining half of the film is located in places that are much closer to Bond’s heart, England and Scotland.
Bond and Silva participate in a suspenseful game of cat and mouse until the very end. Bardem’s villain is chillingly unsettling, coldly ruthless and even hilarious at times. Bardem joins what is definitely one of the best ensemble casts in Bond film history, including Ralph Fiennes and Dench. Dench is at her finest in her seventh consecutive appearance as M. Fiennes plays the seemingly cold bureaucrat Gareth Mallory, M’s superior.
Now, I consider myself a James Bond traditionalist — I know that there is a certain style and formula to a Bond film that must be followed to separate it from all the other action films, and I judge the films based on these criteria. How does Skyfall hold up?
“[With Bond movies], you’re surrounded by … everyone’s opinion about the kind of Bond they want to see, and you quickly realize that everyone’s Bond is different,” Mendes said. “I tried to make a combination of what I want, as an adult, to see, and … what [my inner 12-year-old] would have wanted to see. So in a way, it’s a combination of tradition and pushing the genre in a different direction.”
Bond fans will undoubtedly agree that Skyfall is very different; the film shows a much more personal side of James Bond than any of the past 22 installments. We get a look into his past, his family and his childhood. Mendes adds an emotional quality that is virtually nonexistent in the past Bond films.
“I felt that there were lots of opportunities with some pretty amazing characters that hadn’t been taken as far as they could go — particularly Bond and M and their relationship — and also Bond’s past, going back into his history a little bit,” Mendes said.
Obviously, Skyfall isn’t perfect. Thomas Newman’s score does not quite hit the mark during a few action sequences and does not involve enough of Adele’s “Skyfall” theme (one of the best Bond themes in recent memory), but overall, I was impressed and surprised with the music; I hope the producers keep him around.
On one or two occasions, small plot points escape unexplained. A few other weak elements such as Daniel Kleinman’s unfocused title sequence and Naomie Harris’ performance as a field agent must be mentioned. (She’s just not that believable.)
Additionally, sometimes Skyfall felt too contemporary (or perhaps too different from the Bond formula) for me; the focus on Bond’s relationship with M and his family was unusually heavy. I even whimpered when the new “Q” — the man who gives Bond all of his gadgets — played by Ben Whishaw, remarked, “What did you expect, an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore.” Where’s the fun in that?
Despite its contemporary feel, Mendes did not skimp on the classic Bond elements; the Aston Martin DB5 had plenty of screen time, there were more one-liners than I could hope for and the James Bond theme was woven very well into the score. I was particularly pleased with an excellent nod to Goldfinger, the quintessential Bond film from 1964, which I will not spoil for you. One more thing: to my fellow die-hard Bond fans, I must say that the last few minutes of Skyfall will definitely get you very excited. You won’t be disappointed. The film will be a favorite among fans and the masses.
That said, I can’t help but wait for Fall 2014, the expected release of Bond 24. For now, I think I’ll see Skyfall in theaters a half-dozen more times.