James Bond has become such an institution of cinema that we tend to forget that for the most part most of the films aren’t all that good. There are the standouts of the series, like Goldfinger or Casino Royale, but for the most part Bond films are good at one thing: repeating a formula. Throw in a villain who wants to take over the world or do something evil, a MacGuffin that allows him to do so, a handful of exotic locations, a number of attractive women and blanket it in action pieces and you have the requisite parts of every Bond film.
Goldfinger established the essentials decades ago and every film in the franchise since has taken these parts and taken them to one of the most lucrative franchises in Hollywood history that doesn’t involve pornography. Now comes the latest chapter, Skyfall, and the further exploration of Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like an original adventure as it’s more of a collection of the better parts of better action films and spy thrillers from the past decade.
This time around Bond is after a list of deep cover agents from NATO allied countries embedded in terrorist organizations. After he tries to get it back in the pre-credits action sequence, and fails miserably alongside his partner (Naomi Harris), Bond is left for dead as the list falls into the hands of a terrorist (Javier Bardem) with motivations that hit closer to home than most Bond villains in the past. From there it becomes a cat and mouse game between the two: Silva with his seemingly unlimited technical acumen and resources against Bond with his new Q (Ben Whishaw) and a bureaucrat (Ralph Fiennes) overseeing M (Judi Dench) and MI6.
If the plot sounds somewhat familiar is because that was part of the plot to the original Mission: Impossible film. Silva is a Joker type villain (The Dark Knight variety) who seemingly has a convenient way to one up everyone at every possible angle. And as you break down the film, which is a well put together action thriller, the parts of other films keep popping up. Sam Mendes has put together a film that’s a nice collection of parts from other films that have been modified to fit the Bond formula but there isn’t much original to this film.
It’s a shame because Daniel Craig is such an interesting bond and it’s an interesting character arc for Bond himself. We’re finding more and more about him as the latest version of the character is delved into; this isn’t Bond as the usual sort of playboy secret agent. He’s a damaged man recruited and trained in part because of the damage done to his psyche because of a Bruce Wayne style childhood. This is a man with nothing to live for, no family and not many friends, willing to risk his life regularly even as his body betrays over the years because there’s nothing emotionally connecting him to anything but job, crown and country. There’s fragility to the character that’s extraordinary; Craig’s Bond isn’t the glamorous 007 of years past.
He’s a borderline sociopath willing to do what it takes to get the job done, regardless of the physical cost, and this damaged aspect to his psyche is something that hasn’t been explored before. So far in three films of a new Bond we’ve been given essentially an origin story told in three parts. And it’s in Skyfall that we find this circle to bring Bond to where he needs to be comes complete.
Casino Royale was about Bond finding out that part of his soul that he thought he could have would never be. Quantum of Solace was him letting go of the connection he once had with Vesper Lynd, that final part of his emotional well-being gone. Now in Skyfall it’s his tragic past that’s being eliminated along with a major character to bring us to Bond the agent. He’s now ready to be the Bond of cinematic past with a much more developed story. He’s not just a secret agent who’s suave and sophisticated with no real hint of a back story; now there’s an arc to how he becomes the Bond that Sean Connery would embody.
This is Bond that’s ready to be on missions because he’s been through the process that makes him bold and cold. It’s such an interesting character arc that you’d think finding something better than a handful of story points and a villain culled from a comic book film. Skyfall isn’t a great Bond film, far from it, but it’s better than most of them.
There’s about a dozen featurettes on the Blu-Ray but most of them are fairly quick and innocuous. It seems like a lot of content but there isn’t a lot of depth. A couple of the producers lend a commentary track as well.
MGM presents Skyfall . Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan based off the literary character “James Bond” created by Ian Fleming. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney. Running time: 143 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released: February 12, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, John Logan, just seen it, Sam Mendes, Skyfall