Action thriller, Adventure, Suspense. 2012, U.S., 143 Minutes, directed by Sam Mendes
Medium: Currently in Theaters
Rating: 5.0 (5-point system)
In one word:
In probably too many words:
In my opinion, the best of the OO7 film series are those entries that, through character development (rather than action), accurately portray the character of James Bond as his creator Ian Fleming intended. And the more in-depth the character study, the better. The original Fleming-penned Bond stories are, after all, what elevated the anti-hero to a literary art form. As originally portrayed in the early Fleming series, Bond is not a likeable guy. He’s a calculating, cold-blooded killer who goes through women, alcohol, and cigarettes like Donald Trump goes through hairspray, embarrassing tweets, and credibility.
It’s long been my observation that the longer the running time of the film, the more character development you’re going to get. For decades my favorite Bond film was 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which at 2 hours 20 minutes held the record until 2006’s Casino Royale (2 hours 24 minutes) and this year’s Skyfall (2 hours 23 minutes). But, whereas Casino Royale and Skyfall represent the early Bond (Casino Royale was first of the Bond novels; Skyfall has no direct affiliation to the original series), Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a study of Bond later in his career — the phase in his life where women had become more than pleasurable pursuits, killing didn’t come quite as easily, and the flame of remorse began to flicker deep within him. This is the Bond reflected in that 1969 movie, so it may not be your cup of tea if early Bond is more to your liking.
But, my, how this character has fallen. The de rigueur pre-credit action sequence sets up James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) unexpected and premature “retirement” from MI6. After the opening credits we’re transported to a time many months later. Bond is pretty much washed up. He’s slovenly dressed and appears to have a deep aversion to razors or even basic hygiene. He’s a physical and mental wreck and a borderline alcoholic who still enjoys killing far too much, but is finally starting to show some remorse. In one scene, in which the MI6 psychologist is making the recently resurrected Bond go through word association, the psychologist says, “Murder,” and Bond without hesitation blurts out, “Employment.” It’s a rather chilling association when seen on the screen because it flows from the character’s mind to his lips so naturally.
Later however, in Bond’s first meeting with the new head of Q Branch, Q (Ben Whishaw) tells Bond, “Well, I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.”
When Bond then asks, “Oh? So why do you need me?”
Q retorts, “Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.”
Bond replies with words that offer a peek into his evolving inner soul, “Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas.”
With these words it becomes very evident that this is not the young, brash, and needlessly reckless Bond of Casino Royale. This Bond is finally starting to awaken to the consequences of his chosen occupation and the folly of acting on whim.
This film is dark, dark, dark. There are very little of the trappings of the previous Bond films here — few tuxedo-clad scenes, almost no gambling, very muted sexual innuendo, and little in the way of silly puns and ill-timed humor. This film is about what makes operatives of the OO-Branch tick. It’s a study into how they are chosen, what qualities they possess, and why they look to their boss (M — portrayed by Dame Judy Dench) as a parental figure.
It’s also a study into how the inner child of a fellow operative reacts when that parental figurehead betrays him. Without giving too much away, the villain of Skyfall (Javier Bardem) is precisely this sort of betrayed child, throwing the ultimate in temper tantrums while still displaying in the end a chilling love/hate relationship with the person who betrayed him. This setup and the consequences will shock you when the dénouement finally arrives.
Pleasantly gone from this film, as with the two Daniel Craig films that preceded it, are the ridiculous gadgets (save one, which I’ll get to in a moment) that perpetually save Bond in the nick of time in some dramatic yet silly way. This propensity for gadgetry has been the Achilles heel of this film series for decades because it detracts from the sheer inventiveness of the character and diminishes for the viewer his unrelenting will to survive against incalculable odds.
Skyfall was released in the U.S. fifty years and one month after the first Bond film (Dr. No) hit theaters in October, 1962. But it follows in the more recent tradition of Casino Royale, which successfully rebooted both the character and the series in 2006. By the end of Skyfall the reboot is complete — M is transformed into a figure much more in tune with Bernard Lee’s original. Miss Moneypenny has returned to staff M’s outer office. Q is back, but a Q who has more faith in Bond’s inherent abilities than any Q Branch gadgetry. Even the monolithic MI6 headquarters and its modernistic trappings are gone at the end of this film. In it’s wake is a return to an office for M that appears a recreation right out of the first Sean Connery films — dark, heavy wood; oppressively thick drapery; and that wonderful, tufted, leather-clad door that separates M’s office from Moneypenny’s.
What else was brought back to this reboot from the original series? It’s that most iconic of Q Branch gadgets to which I referred earlier, and the sight of its return had the assembled theater audience clapping their collective approval. It’s the return of BMT 216A — “The Most Famous Car in the World.” Still contained within the beautifully handcrafted aluminum body panels of this silver birch 1964 Aston Martin DB5 were the special non-factory “options” installed by Q Branch for the Goldfinger operation, including that marvelous ejection seat. Enjoy your one last cinematic view of this ingenious piece of Bond history. With the physical and metaphorical destruction of BMT 216A this reboot has come full circle, for as previously noted this reboot is about the man rather than the gadgets.