Man, wasn’t Casino Royale great? It was fresh, it was sexy, it had a great new Bond and one of the best opening scenes ever. EVER. Sure, it had some rough spots, a weak third act, a bit TOO much disregard for the tropes and history of the franchise, and unless you were familiar with the ins and outs of professional poker, some scenes left you unsure of what the bloody hell was happening. But it was still the kick in the pants the stagnant Bond franchise needed, and brought it back from the depths of self-parody.
Then Quantum of Solace happened.
What a piece a’ shit that was.
But now after a four year hiatus, Bond’s back for Skyfall. Daniel Craig’s back in the lead role, and the American Beauty guy is in the director’s chair, because why the hell not. Is it good? Yes. Is it very good? Hells yes. Is it perfect? No. But it’s damn better than the last one, so let’s take a look.
The story opens with your typical day for Bond, high speed chase after some computer thingy, little fisticuffs, and then if you’ve watched any of the trailers or tv spots, you’re not at all surprised to see Bond bite a bullet and fall seemingly to his death. Where things get interesting is the rest of the movie, which sees a now dead Bond in Heaven spending the rest of eternity apologizing to all the people who’ve gotten murdered for having associated/played hide the pickle with him over the years.
Well, no, but that would be interesting.
No, surviving through some means we’re never told, Bond spends a while off the grid, wallowing in pills, booze and women, because this is still Bond, the guy’s junk apparently contains the leprechaun’s gold for the ease he lands beautiful women with. But when the computer drive Bond was trying to retrieve turns out to have contained a list of world-wide undercover operatives, and that list starts being leaked online by a mysterious mastermind with an axe to grind against M and MI6, Bond comes back to the game, because it genuinely appears as if every other MI6 agent has all the intelligence and problem-solving skills of a chimpanzee with its head stuck in a bucket.
Again, if you’ve paid attention to the trailers and whatnot, you’ll notice that this week’s word of the day is meta-text. A good chunk of the film is devoted to talking about how Bond is out of the game and needs to shape up after almost dying, because get it? We’re really talking about the franchise! That moment in the trailer when Bond says his hobby is resurrection, he’s really talking about how his movie franchise keeps clawing its way back from cultural obscurity! We’re being clever!!
I poke fun, but there’s really nothing wrong with it as a plot point/bit of self-referential meta-textuality, and it serves to highlight the one thing about this movie that will probably divide audiences. Unlike the last two flicks, which were about as self aware as a man who still hasn’t noticed he just drove through a crowd of screaming grade-schoolers, this movie revels in how self-aware it is. Remember how Casino and Quantum did away with all that tongue-in-cheek, wink at the camera silliness? Well Skyfall sometimes seems to be making up for lost time with all the camera-winking it does with shout-outs or put-downs to previous movies on top of sly self-referencing.
This can be both a good thing or a bad thing. Bad if you were into the new, more serious direction the franchise was taking, good if (like me) you kinda missed the days when Bond movies could just have some damn fun with themselves. Put simply, if Casino Royale was a reaction against the self-parody the franchise had become by the time Pierce Brosnan hung up the suit, Skyfall is a reaction against that reaction.
But before you go thinking this means the movie is some goofy screwball farce, where it goes right is that it manages to balance the more serious, intelligent spy thriller precedent set by the last two with the fun, double-entendres and eye-rolling jokes that the franchise became known for. Tone-wise, it sits in a nice comfortable spot in between the gritty seriousness of Casino and Quantum and the out-and-out camp of the Roger Moore days.
Direction wise, Mendes is a damn good step up from Marc Forster’s shaky, badly filmed and edited efforts in Quantum. The action scenes are fun, easy to follow and inventive. It doesn’t have the slightly more risky, creative spirit Martin Campbell brought to Casino Royale, but it’s still an extremely well put-together film.
Craig continues to bring a humanity and soul to the role, and Judi Dench still makes for a perfect foil in M. Notable newcomers include Ralph Fiennes as M’s boss Mallory (hint hint!) and Javier Bardem as the villain Silva. Fiennes is great, as usual and Bardem….I don’t really want to tell you about Bardem besides to say he’s really good. Notice how he’s barely had any lines or exposure in the trailers, etc? There’s a reason for that, kiddies. Suffice to say, Silva is a very different kind of Bond villain, in his motivation and some of the…finer points of his character. Want to know more? See the movie, you’ll know what I mean. Ben Wishaw also has an excellent turn as the new Q, and his brief verbal sparring match with Bond is probably one of the more fun scenes in the movie.
Now, as I said before, the movie isn’t perfect. For one thing, while we’ve all come to merrily accept that Bond’s attitudes toward women are at best charmingly quaint, he does occasionally veer toward the uncomfortable in this installment. Just look up the “scotch” line and you’ll know what I mean. Also if you really start to think about it some of the finer points of the plot it starts to unravel like a knit sweater at the hands of a kitten on speed, particularly how the vaunted MI6 falls for literally the oldest trick in the fucking book.
End of the day, Skyfall is an excellent entry in the Bond series. It isn’t the franchise-redefining kick in the pants that was Casino Royale, but it isn’t the near-franchise-killing knife in the kidney that was Quantum of Solace. What it feels like is a return to form. After a brief moody phase that led to an unsettling period where the Bond franchise spent a lot of time screaming at its parents and cutting itself to feel alive again, it feels like the spirit of fun that had previously been an integral part of what makes Bond what it is has finally come returned. But this time it’s been tempered by past mistakes and has a better grasp of how to walk the line between seriousness and camp. Now let’s all try and get this franchise back to business as usual and collectively ignore the last one. Please. Pretty please.