Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Sky's the Limit

I've enjoyed reading the many James Bond retrospectives that have appeared concurrently with the release of "Skyfall," Daniel Craig's third outing as Bond.  What's fun is the diversity of opinion - people largely agree on what constitute the great Bond films, but after that it's a real crapshoot.  For example, I've seen "Quantum of Solace" as high as #11, as well as all the way down at the bottom.  Likewise, everyone seems to agree that "The Spy Who Loved Me" was Roger Moore's best Bond, but after that they're all over the map.  The Connerys tend to be in the upper tier, the Daltons in the bottom third, and the Lazenby - well, that one seems to be a love it or hate it proposition. 
I don't consider myself qualified to come up with a ranking of the entire catalogue, but I can say that I've enjoyed every Bond movie I've ever seen - even "Quantum of Solace."  I grew up with the Roger Moore Bonds, and the first one I saw in a theater (a drive-in, no less) was "Live and Let Die" - which, by the way, still has what I consider the most over-the top (and unintentionally amusing) death scene in any movie.  I also enjoyed the Pierce Brosnan Bonds a great deal, and think he's been underrated as an actor - personally, I believe he could have pulled off the "dark Bond" that Daniel Craig has perfected over the past 7 years.

Having said all of that, there is little question that "Skyfall" is one of the very best Bonds - and may even one day be considered the very best.  As others have written, it is a throwback to the past, with an antagonist (a terrific Javier Bardem, teetering on the brink of hamminess but never quite crossing over) less concerned with conquering the world than seeking revenge for more personal concerns.  James Bond is not a comedian in this movie, nor is he a superman - he's actually pretty screwed up, and if you watch and listen closely you can pick up some hints why.  That doesn't mean the movie isn't without humor, but it's certainly no laugh-fest on the level of something like "Moonraker."  In a way, "Skyfall" is almost like a reboot and an homage in one - although the entire enterprise is deadly serious, one can't help but crack a smile as each nod to the past occurs.

My very favorite moment in the movie, and I won't give it away although it's easy enough to find if you Google the title of the film, is the meaning of "Skyfall."  In the past, "Skyfall" would have been some complicated plot of world domination, most likely led by a Mr. Evil-type character with a big ring on his finger and a persian cat sitting on his lap.  Not this time, and when the reveal happens, it is a true moment of inspiration - the kind that leaves you sitting there thinking, "damn it, I wish I had thought of that - and why didn't I?"

So kudos all around.  I haven't always been a fan of Sam Mendes' films, but he does a terrific job here, injecting a sense of relevance into the Bond franchise that hasn't always been there in the past.  Judi Dench is amazing as always, and this is without question her best and most affecting portrayal of "M."  Ralph Fiennes is his predictably good self, and even I was smart enough to figure out where that particular plot point was heading.  And the reinvention of "Q" is a master-stroke: respectful to the past, but also a complete renovation of the character to fit today's times and technology.  Even the "Bond Girls" are strong - and seem like real people, as opposed to caricatures.  And hey, Adele's song is pretty great too.

In the end, there really isn't much not to like.  And at the end of the day, I don't really care where "Skyfall" ends up in the Bond canon - all I know is that it's one of the best films of 2012.


Mon-sewer Paul Regret said...

Like you, I enjoyed Skyfall. I'd disagree, though, that it's a throwback to the past, for reasons you detail in your review. The earlier Bonds had villains connected to evil organizations intent to bring the world to its knees; Bardem's character is different in that regard. Again, as you note, Bond is not a comedian or a superman, but instead a disturbed individual. I think we agree that these are among the things that make Skyfall so good, but I'd say they work because they are not a throwback, but an attempt at something new.

Jeff Vaca said...

All good points. My familiarity with the Connery Bonds is not what it should be, but for some reason I was thinking that Craig's take was similar to what Connery did with the character in "From Russia With Love."