2012-11-09

Skyfall – Bond Returns To Classic Form

by Yo Snyder

Bond. James Bond. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That the way
he’s supposed to say it. For some reason, James Bond seemed to forget
who he was in Quantum of Solace and instead tried to emulate the
gritter, real-world sensibilities of Jason Bourne instead of staying
true to himself. It made for a decent action pic, but it wasn’t a Jame
Bond movie. Skyfall is. In fact, Skyfall is the most
classic of the Daniel Craig Bond films to date (it’s almost
Connery-esque in its own way), but it achieves that will still retaining
it’s modern, more lethal yet mortal edge introduced in Casino Royale.
All of the elements of a classic Bond film are here, but then Sam
Mendes helps this movie transcend it’s own genre to become a genuinely
great movie regardless of whether or not it’s about Bond, James Bond.

However,
there is something that rankled me a bit about this otherwise excellent
movie. Leading up to its release, the cast and crew talked about how
some of this story was informed by the fairly recent movie The Dark Knight
by Christopher Nolan. What I didn’t realize is they meant that this is
the James Bond version of that exact story, to an extent. There are
large chunks of this movie that feel almost like a Bond remake of The Dark Knight,
right down to the unhinged but brilliant villain and his very
meticulous, clockwork like plan which includes wanting to be captured
and then escaping on his own terms. Now, don’t hear me wrong; it all
works. This is a great movie, and a great James Bond movie, but the
familiarity of it all in relation to The Dark Knight was rather
distracting at times. In the end, however, I didn’t feel like I saw a
remake of Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, instead I felt like I had
seen a masterpiece of the James Bond franchise.

Of course the
success of it all rests squarely on the broad shoulders of Daniel Craig,
and he’s more than equal to the task. He continues to portray the most
human of the Bonds; deeply conflicted and full of pain, but fiercely
devoted to King and Country, unerringly loyal, deceptively smart, and
brutally lethal. And this time, he even has a lighter side. We get to
see more of the wit and charm that’s always been a part of the
character, and as with everything else, Craig makes that aspect uniquely
his own as well. The other stand-out is Judi Dench as M. She’s a leader
who knows what’s at stake in today’s modern world of shadowy espionage,
and she’s not afraid to make the tough calls; even at the expense of an
agent’s life. Those choices come back to haunt her in a very personal
way this time around, but she determinedly and fiercely stays the
course. Yet, you also know that she cares about every life under her
command, and to an extent, even more so about Bond. She’s the mother he
never had, and it’s their relationship that forms the emotional core of
this story.

Of course Bond is only ever as great as his villains,
and despite the passing resemblance to a certain Clown Prince of Crime,
Javier Bardem’s Silva is easily the best Bond villain of the modern era,
and certainly has to rank high in the fifty-year pantheon of the
franchise. As M puts it, he’s from where Bond comes from; the shadows.
He used to be the surrogate son to M, but she put the mission before the
man for the greater good, and that has left him feeling deeply
betrayed. It’s also messed with his head, a bit. He may not have any
grand plan to rule the world or hold it for ransom or any desire to grab
for power, but he’s still a towering figure among Bond villains and
looms every bit as larges as anyone Bond has faced. Just one more
element that gives Skyfall that classic feel.

There are
plenty of other elements that make this a truly classic Bond adventure. Q
is back; a bit different from what one might expect, but still every
bit as entertaining. He even has a line that serves as one the many
great call backs to the history of this long-running franchise. Q: “What
were you expecting? An exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that
much any more.” The Daniel Craig Bond films haven’t exactly been known
for being a lot of “fun” up to this point, but there is a lighter spirit
in this one as it celebrates the fifty years of the character. There
are also a couple of other fun surprises that help put this franchise
firmly back on classic footing while also pushing it forward into the
modern era. It’s a delicate balance but it’s done extremely well. 

Still, despite all of the classic James Bond flair, Skyfall
is a very personal story for Bond, for Silva and for M. At one point,
Silva remarks with incredulousness; “Are you still clinging to your
faith in that old woman?” Sometimes it feels like today’s “modern”
culture is saying to the same thing to anyone “old-fashioned” enough to
still cling to their belief in “that old God”. We live in a modern,
forward-thinking, high-tech, progressive world; is there still room for
faith in the Divine? Besides, what do we do when it feels like God
betrays that faith, i.e. when he doesn’t live up to our
expectations. Silva’s problem is that he couldn’t see the bigger
picture; only what happened to him. When it seems like God has “failed”
us, that’s generally the case with us as well. Job is perhaps the best
example of that of all time. He felt like he got a raw deal, and maybe
he did, but he didn’t see the big picture. When God finally does show up
on the scene, he straight-up asks if Job knows it all, and if doesn’t,
does have any right to question the one who does? Jobs response sums it
up all so well, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen
you.” (Job 42:5) In other words he thought he knew about God, but when
confronted with the stark reality of who God really is, he realized his
questions were all missing the point. There’s more at stake than just
our personal comfort. We don’t like hearing that, but it’s true. It’s
also true that no matter what happens, we can keep faith in God because
he will do what’s best. Not always what we want, not always what we
like, but what he knows is best. Can you trust him? I’ve never found a
reason not to; even in my darkest moments of doubt. 

Skyfall is The Dark Knight (almost to a fault) to Casino Royale‘s Batman Begins,
but more importantly, it’s a return to classic form for the James Bond
franchise. It’s also probably one of the most beautifully shot Bond
films. From a fight scene completely done in silhouette to a church
scene lit by a giant fire; Sam Mendes makes excellent use of light and
shadow throughout the entire film. And that’s all complimented by a
superb soundtrack that, like the film itself, is modern yet still
classically Bond. It’s hard to believe this franchise has been around
for 50 years. What may be harder to believe is fifty years later, the
23rd movie of this long-running franchise may not only be one of the
best in the franchise, but sets things up perfectly for a very bright
future for the next fifty years.

Score: 6 of 7 (It’s a Bond movie, expect some intense action and some sensuality)