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When The Sky Fell
A few months ago I saw the midnight opening of Skyfall in IMAX. I’ve been a Bond fan since I was a kid. I read many of the books and watched most of the films. My main problem with the franchise was how it was steadily devolving into blockbuster action flicks. The films seemed to loose touch with what made Bond interesting. Die Another Day, the last time Pierce Brosnan filled Bond’s shoes, could very well have sank the series. It was so incredibly cheesy that sometimes it felt like a direct slap to the balls to Bond fans worldwide.
Thankfully, that changed. In 2006 the last film to be based on one of Ian Fleming’s stories, Casino Royale, was released and it changed the way the public viewed Bond. Once again he was a cool, calculated killer and not some blundering idiot who spouted off lame one liners before dressing like a clown and disarming a bomb (yes, that actually happened in Octopussy). The new leading man, Daniel Craig, was extremely well received by critics and fans, as was the film itself.
Quantum of Solace however was another step back. With the lamest villain in any of the movies, a virtually nonexistent Bond girl, and loosely connected action scene after loosely connected action scene, it felt more like a generic Bond ripoff than an actual Bond adventure. Skyfall once again changes things. Released hot on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Sean Connery’s first outing as 007 in Dr. No, Skyfall genuinely tries to reconnect the audience to the golden days of 007 movies.
The film itself feels a lot like From Russia with Love. It’s definitely a darker Bond film, much like that one. In the opening of both films we find our hero in incredible danger with seemingly no way out of his circumstance other than laying down for an eternal cold sleep. I must say, of all the Bond films, 007 really gets put through the wringer in this one. Without spoiling anything, I’ve never seen him take such punishment.
However, this movie isn’t a celebration of Bond’s violent side like Quantum of Solace. The moments where the action escalates feel real. In one moment when Bond is pursuing an enemy agent towards the film’s opening he gets hit by a stray bullet. In any other Bond film, bullets would have whizzed by Bond, unconscious of their real target, hitting whatever piece of flimsy metal was between Bond and his assailant. Bond feels more like a real man again, much like he did in Casino Royale. When he gets hurt, you feel it as much as he does.
The film’s villain, Raoul Silva (played very well by Javier Bardem), is certainly one of the more memorable Bond villains. It’s obvious that Mendes and co. were trying to make a new archenemy for Bond with Silva (that role is still better filled by Ernst Stavro Blofield in my opinion). Silva feels a lot like The Joker from Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, many parallels can be drawn between the two films, but I’ll leave those alone for now. Wouldn’t want to spoil anything.
Bardem’s portrayal of Silva gives the character an almost surreal feel. He seems to be constantly smiling as Bond chases him across the world. He laughs and makes jokes while he perpetrates great evils. He is certainly up there on the best Bond villains, but he is not the greatest. in no way is this a mark against Bardem or the film. I’m simply saying there might never be another Ernst Stavro Blofeld, as hard as the franchise makers might try to create one.
The film also brings forth two amazing women to fill another Bond film staple, the Bond girl. The first we’re introduced to is a field agent named Eve, played by Naomi Harris. She’s a tough and capable agent, but still a little green around the edges. She makes a good sidekick for Bond through the film, and a scene in a casino in Macau shines as one of her best moments in the film.
The second is the amazingly beautiful Berenice Marlohe as the mysterious Severine. Her role in the film is surprisingly small, but every time she’s on the screen the celluloid lights up. She gives perhaps one of the most convincing performances in the film, aside of course from Bond himself. in the same casino where Harris’ Eve has her finest moments in the film, Marlohe comes in and instantly steals the scene, as well as Bond’s attention. Her best moment on screen comes when she simply takes a drag off a cigarette when Bond brings up Silva in conversation. Marlohe’s performance is so subtly beautiful that she, in my mind, cemented her reputation as one of the franchise’s most intriguing women.
I do have one bone to pick with this new wave of Bond films. That is that the women seem to be being written out of the films. In Quantum of Solace, Olga Kurylenko’s character seems distant. You never really see too much of her and Bond’s relationship with her is purely professional (which did make sense in the film, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it). Eva Green as THE Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale was, in my opinion, the last truly great Bond girl. I’d just like to see a return to a Bond woman that was strong, beautiful, and every bit Bond’s intellectual equal.
Dame Judi Dench’s seventh and final portrayal of M is handled with all the loving care in the world. It was a pleasure to watch such a fine actress explore a typically dry role, on top of her interactions with Craig which added a warmth not usually found in Bond movies (or books for that matter). She really shines as the (strange as it sounds) Bond girl in this film, which brings dignity to Dench’s final portrayal of the classic character. It will be hard to think of M as anyone but her.
This film represents a huge shift in the Bond chronology. It’s a full blown return to classic James Bond, and a “good riddance” send off to the lame action hero mentality that plagued Quantum.. I can’t say too much on this topic without, once again, spoiling the film. However, if you are a longtime Bond fan such as myself, you’ll probably find yourself smiling more than once throughout the film as you see a familiar vehicle, or hear a familiar name, or see that infamous padded door and coat rack. This film marks a return to form for Bond, literally within the film as well as within the context of the franchise. Upon the film’s conclusion I couldn’t help but wonder what Bond 24, whatever it may be called, will be like.
Overall, supported by a fantastic cast, a wonderful script, excellent cinematography, and enough Bond nostalgia to please fans of any kind, Skyfall is a triumph for the franchise and a damn fine addition to the longest running film series ever.