Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bond Goes Back to Basics in Skyfall

     Plenty of people were pissed when Daniel Craig was chosen as the new bond back in 2005--he was too small, too blond, too weathered. A lot of tensions were eased when Craig's first foray into the storied franchise, 2006's Casino Royale, was released into cinemas. Although a few maintained that their fears were justified (Bond had turned into a humorless killing machine that would give Jason Bourne a run for his money), it was clear that Bond had entered a new age of darkness and excitement that was keeping up with the world's collective anxieties. Two years later, Quantum of Solace left a bad taste in many a viewer's mouth: its confusing plot and typical action caused the film not feel like a Bond movie, though it was still entertaining enough.
     I've never been a huge fan of the Bond movies: I can barely make it through some of the older ones, and it's rare that the films make any sort of good progress between the bi-yearly incarnations. So where could the series--heading into its 50th Anniversary year after much legal trouble involving the production and studio--go? Apparently, the only direction was up: bringing in the great drama director Sam Mendes (creator of the fantastic films American Beauty and Road to Perdition)], Skyfall (the 23rd entry in the long-running list based on Ian Fleming's books) is an absolute blast, a stripped-down simple story of James Bond facing an awesomely-over-the-top villain, his childhood, and the inevitability of death. Progress forward is reaching back into the best aspects of the Bond canon.
    Skyfall throws you into the plot quicker than the film will make $100 Million dollars: Bond is chasing down a running man who has stolen an important hard drive with information that may affect the world. It's one of the most exciting openings of the year: with motorcycles, trains, excavators, and sniper rifles all making appearances, finally culminating in a surprising event and the new theme song sung by Adele. The opening action and great title sequence sets the tone for the rest of Skyfall: we're back to basics, a resurrection and merging of everything that has gained James Bond millions of fans over the year--a winking humor, a sense of purpose, a simple (yet exciting) story.
     M, played with an expert authority by Dame Judi Dench, begins to be in deep shit: that hard drive has data that could destroy MI6 and all of the undercover agents that are supposed to be protected by the government agency. She's getting old and tired and would like to leave a lasting legacy, but an interesting connection with a certain villain brings her knowledge to the forefront. And what would a great Bond movie be without a great villain? Javier Bardem (already a bad-guy master after his incredible job in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men) portrays Silva, a homo-erotic man with a penchant for showmanship and a disgusting grin from swallowing one-too-many cyanide pills. He's mischievous and funny, and he provides a good foil to Craig's portrayal of a Bond who has gained a calm control after experiencing death.
     To defeat Silva, a hacker who seemingly has control of every single computer system in the entire country, Bond must confront something scarier than Silva's deformed smile: his sense of self and memories of being a child orphan. I won't give away the climax, but it all comes together in a great showdown that allows Craig to add a little dramatic flair to his otherwise stone-faced portrayal of Bond. New characters make appearances that set up their inevitable story arcs in future Bond films: Ben Whishaw is Q, a computer nerd who is bound to help Bond with new gadgets in the later films. Ralph Fiennes is a higher-up in government that may be extremely more important than his normal job makes him seem. And Naomie Harris (of 28 Days Later fame) is an agent that harms and helps Bond in equal measure.
     The Bond films needed this. Though Casino Royale seemed like an origin story, one that echoed the sentiments of Christopher Nolan's first Bruce Wayne film, Batman Begins, it's Skyfall that becomes the rebirth that Ian Fleming's character really needed: a story that's both simple and emotional that brings forth questions of Bond's past that have never been raised before. It makes the point that although villainy, in this day and age, can be as uncomplicated as gaining access to fire-walled Internet sites and secret government websites, we still need heroes to root for, heroes to cheer for, heroes who can come to grips with their own personal demons to take down a force set to demolish the notion of humanity. Skyfall is Bond, and everything that is great about the character. Bond resurrected.      (A)

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