Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall



  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a pretty good James Bond fan.  I can list all the actors who ever played 007. Including David Niven and the guy who played Jimmy Bond in the black and white TV movie before Dr.No was ever made. I'd say I'm a fan.  I've not seen all the Bond movies, but I've seen at least one from each guy and I've seen enough to know Connery and Craig are the best. Hands down.
(my opinion, maybe not yours, but at least you'll see where this review is coming from)

  I love classic 007.  The classiness of it, even when being provocative there was a subtle sophistication to it.  Not to mention there were things you looked forward to seeing, the banter between Bond and Moneypenny, his exchanges with M. So on and so forth.  People keep saying the huge changeover was when Craig took up the mantle in 2006 with the fantastic Casino Royale. However I think the first big change, to me, was Brosnan's debut with Goldeneye.  Almost any Bond fan, hardcore or casual will tell you that Goldeneye is in their top five 007 movies ever.  It also marks the debut of Judi Dench as the eponymous 'M'.  Brosnan's stint as Bond started out really strong, but quickly descended into levels of camp even the Roger Moore movies never reached.  Bond tropes became Bond cliche's.  The whole franchise was tired and groaning at it's own in-jokes so much so that the final Brosnan movie felt like a big joke itself.

  Why am I bringing all this up again when reviews covered the same stuff with the past two Daniel Craig 007 outings? Because I believe Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace started by changed things for the better, but Skyfall sealed the deal in a big way.  But as a character and as a franchise Bond is essentially and finally, reset in a way I don't think many saw coming. And it's very, very welcome.  Casino Royale showed us that Bond is a human being, as if it was showing that everyone's favorite womanizing, martini sipping, super spy had actual feelings and a dark side as well.  It also showed that a Bond movie can be gritty and intense and literally violent and still be a damn good Bond movie. And that IS what it is.  At it's core, Casino Royale is possibly truer to what 007 was meant to be than more than seventy percent of the movies before it. And I'm being generous with that figure as I personally would love to say ninety percent.

  Quantum of Solace was a drastic mistep. It's not a horrible movie, and far from the worst in the franchise, FAR, but it pales in comparison to it's immediate predecessor. I won't go too much into it as the most notable thing that can be said about it is that it wraps up the Vesper Lynd story explored through the previous movie.  'Solace was merely wrapping up Casino Royale, but did so in a pretty underwhelming way.  Due in no small part I'm guessing to that nasty writer's strike. Oh well. Moving right along.
After that, Bond's future as a film franchise was thrown into jeopardy with the financial uncertainty of MGM's own future as well.  After a very long wait for fans and casual audiences alike,  Skyfall was finally announced as MGM got back on solid footing.  Everyone was wondering whether this would be the nail in the coffin for Craig's stint as Commander Bond.  After Quantum of Solace... that wouldn't be too hard.  It wouldn't have been all that difficult to convince audiences that Casino Royale was lightning in a bottle and lightning doesn't strike the same place twice. All that. All it would've taken was another mistep...

  Getting to it finally, I'm telling you that's not the case with this one.  Skyfall is a return to form on SO many levels.  Firstly it shows that Daniel Craig is still amazing as James Bond and that in some meta way as Bond himself is recovering from a life altering skirmish in the thrilling opening sequence that left him to be declared dead as he quietly disappeared into the background of things, Daniel Craig is slipping back into a proper Bond movie after the unfortunate slip up with Quantum of Solace. Bond is finding his rhythm again. And it's so fun to watch.  You can't judge a Bond movie entirely on action sequences, beautiful women and exotic locale alone.  If that was the case... Quantum of Solace might have been hailed as the best bond movie ever. But seeing as how it's not the case entirely, you need things like character development and a good story and all these kinds of things.  Skyfall does this well. Right away it hands Bond with a whole heap of issues to deal with. Being dead. Feeling betrayed. And even more than that, it deals with the notion of getting old.  Is something no longer useful as it becomes 'outdated'? These themes are important and are obviously at the core of the movie.

  It's wonderful watching the movie explore these things, and it does so quite well, especially with the villain and the story behind him as well.  He may be a bit too broad for my tastes, and the fact there's not even a simply nod that he's connected to the terrorist organization the past two movies spent so much time setting up is rather disappointing. But oh well.  Javier Bardem is simply awesome as the bad guy.  It's a good Bond villain. Not a great one. Because some things were slightly mishandled with him overall, but he's super fun to watch.  He's chewing the scenery quite well and when necessary reminds the audience that behind his joking demeanor is a truly menacing and scary individual. Him and Bond make great rivals.  And actually, despite the movie's grim subject matter, it manages to be great popcorn fun.  It has a good helping of one liners, but it knows when to dispense one properly.  It never forsakes a truly dramatic moment for the sake of a cheap chuckle. Something Bond movies had gotten comfortable doing in the past.

  This movie also delves into Bond's relationship with M. It's pretty damn close to mother and son, but there's also this professional detachment they try to keep up even though it's very clear they care deeply for each other. In many ways, this film serves as a vehicle to finally finish passing the torch from previous generations to this very new and bold one.  And at the same time, while wrapping up the past, both literally and in the story itself, the movie injects a bit of classic 007 into the fold. It's embracing the truly classic nature of Bond. Harkening back to the Connery era. This is gold, and it's so amazingly fun to watch. The grin on my face could not be shaken once they started this infusion.  And it merges so surprisingly well with the gutsy action scenes and quickfire pacing of the Craig movies. 

  This movie isn't perfect. It has issues with certain peripheral characters, who honestly didn't need to be peripheral at all.  Some of the actors in these roles are forgettable just the same. Which is sad considering one of them is the latest Bond girl. She's entirely forgettable and not a second thought is paid to her once she's summarily taken out of the movie altogether. Eva Green and the lady from Quantum of Solace were far better at this. (Yes, I'm lazy. I just avoided Googling her hard to spell name. So what.) Better actresses too. It's far from perfect, clearly. But it's so damn good all the same!  And when it ends you have this good feeling about where the franchise is going.  And it's open to so many directions. Bond's arc as introducing him to the 007 franchise, as well as reinventing it is finally complete. It is it's own beast now, and it acomplishes a part of this by bringing classic tropes into the fold in a well moderated and surprisingly effect way. It's completely thrilling. I left feeling like I had seen a truely well made and exciting James Bond movie. It was a great time at the movies and I really recommend it.

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