James Bond is back, in one of the series' finest entries.
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a lifelong, hardcore fan of James Bond and his adventures in nationalistic espionage. That said, unlike the perceived majority of 007 fans, my favorite flavor that the series has to offer features less gadgetry and fantastical bullshit and more of an emphasis on characterization, a solid, believable plot, a Bond who exudes a sense of menace — the man is, after all, a supposedly cold-blooded professional killer — and a minimum of humor that does not originate organically from the narrative. The signature one-liners that infested the series for far too long amused me when I was a kid, much like the over-the-top sci-fi gadgetry and vehicles, but with an adult's perspective and more of a grounding in just how nasty international spookshow fuckery really is, my entertainment needs from this department have changed and it's good to see the James Bond series changing for a less naive world. Daniel Craig's take on 007 for the 2000's pleases me immensely, in that his quiet, alert demeanor registers as though someone had stealthily inserted an asp into a cocktail party and from the moment he walks into that room, you have no doubt that someone is going to meet a nasty, coldly-administered demise, with the approval of the British government, no less. And it is with all of that in mind that I proclaim the latest 007 entry, SKYFALL, to be the best of the no-bullshit, straight-up thrillers in the series since 1969's polarizing ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (a film that many cite as the very best James Bond film ever made). I won't give away any spoilers because this film is rather unpredictable for a Bond flick and it's best approached cold, so for those who want to avoid even the most minor spoiler-free outlining of the plot, let it suffice to say that SKYFALL makes it onto my Top Five short list of best/favorites from the series' roster of 23 installments.
WARNING!!! Here comes the synopsis with no real spoilers but some details that explain the basic initial plot, so read no further if you want to go in cold.
The story opens with Bond and a fellow MI6 operative (Naomie Harris) on a mission in Turkey, where they are tasked with retrieving a stolen hard drive containing the real names of all undercover operatives who have infiltrated terrorist organizations around the globe. The mission hits a major snag, so 007's boss, M (Judi Dench), makes a judgment call that unintentionally allows Bond to feign his death and live off the radar for three months (in what amounts to a tropical paradise with a hot babe, natch). However, shortly after M writes Bond's obituary and declares him legally dead, the top floors of MI6 are bombed, killing a number of agents and drawing Bond back to the land of the living. Complications swiftly arise that lead to M having only two months to suss out the source of the bombing and retrieve the still-missing list of agents before it gets sold or leaked, so a not-quite-up-to-snuff 007 is put on the trail. Bond's search brings him into the sights of Silva (Javier Bardem), a charming madman who has a major grudge against M, and you'd better believe that an already dire situation rockets straight down the bowl once that meeting occurs. When all is said and done, some very serious shit has gone down and we learn some very interesting things about Bond and his boss...
SKYFALL is a first class thriller from start to finish that respects the audience's intelligence and uses its 143-minute running time to allow for what's probably the most character development in a James Bond movie since ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. (If you saw that film, you know exactly what I'm talking about.) With the exception of the welcome return of a familiar bit of classic-era hardware, there's no gadgetry that strains believability, the plot's motivations for the characters make perfect sense, a blistering hand-to-hand fight sequence is shot in silhouette and its choreography is so outstanding that its never visually confusing (which cannot be said of the majority of fight scenes in major studio releases), but it's Javier Bardem's Silva that steals the movie, especially in his introductory scene in which he engages 007 in one of the most unforgettable Bond/gloating villain exchanges in the series' history.
James Bond (Daniel Craig) meets Silva (Javier Bardem) in a sequence that's an instant classic.
To sum up: I loved SKYFALL and I intend to see it again as soon as possible. The initial viewing was strictly for the Bond fan in me, and subsequent viewings will serve to allow me to savor and study its many pleasures for future geeky discussion when more of my friends have seen it.
But with all of that said, I should stress that SKYFALL is likely to be another of the series' entries that will polarize its audience. It's a delight for Bond fans like me who enjoy the more realism-based installments, but those who go into this kind of thing expecting wall-to-wall action and over-the-top "super-spy" tropes — both those codified by the James Bond series, and those taken to next generation extremes by the Jason Bourne franchise — might be put off by the film's strong emphasis on building up the characters at the relative expense of visceral razzle-dazzle. Which is not to say that film isn't exciting; it's riveting throughout and its scenes of mayhem and carnage resonate, but you'll find yourself shit outta luck if your taste in 007 leans more toward the comic book extravagance of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE or THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (which, let's face it, are pretty much the same movie when you get right down to it). Be that as it may, this one gets my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION, so TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!
Oh, and for the record, my Top Five James Bond films are as follows:
- FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963). My very favorite of the lot. A terrific, realistic Cold War-era spy thriller that embodies everything a perfect James Bond film should be, with classic Bond Sean Connery at the apex of coolness.
- ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969). George Lazenby's sole turn as Bond, this was a departure from the increasingly absurd/over-the-top of the series up to that point, instead emphasizing plot and characterization. That, and it has an ending that is literally shattering.
- CASINO ROYALE (2006). The rebirth of Bond for the 2000's and a cracking good thriller across the board.
- GOLDFINGER (1964). The film that carved the Bond series' tropes in stone. After this one, the series mostly fell into a repetitious formula that grew more and more bloated and outlandish with each installment, a state of affairs that only served to point up GOLDFINGER as the classic gem that it is.