One cannot deny the lasting power of the James Bond franchise, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012. It started with “Dr. No” in 1962 as Sean Connery took on the initial starring role, and now with “Skyfall” and Daniel Craig as 007, there are elements of a rebirth.
The Bond movies have undergone several face-lifts over the years with Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Craig presenting their interpretations of the superstar British secret agent. The movies themselves have taken on different tones, from the flippancy and corny one-liners of the early versions to the more serious later films that have been tighter adaptations of the Ian Fleming novels.
With “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace” and now “Skyfall,” the James Bond as played by Craig is a more serious character — the wisecracks are at a minimum — who also is less flirtatious, more vulnerable physically and emotionally, but still an efficient operative with a “license to kill.”
Being that “Skyfall” is marking the 50th anniversary of the Bond series, one of the main themes is the exploration of whether Bond and his employer, MI6, are out of date in a world where deadly enemies do not come from armies but from cells that are able to blend in with the citizenry, i.e. living and functioning in the shadows.
Director Sam Mendes, not known for action movies, opens “Skyfall” with an incredible chase scene that commences on streets, rooftops and atop a train. Bond, in pursuit of a man who has stolen a hard drive that contains a list of operatives throughout the world who are embedded in terrorist groups, is backed up by Eve (Naomie Harris), a younger, newer agent. In constant communication with M (Judi Dench), Eve is pressured to take a sniper shot even though her target is not clear. She does and hits Bond by mistake. He plummets off the bridge into water and is presumed dead.
But this is Bond. He manages to survive and is exploiting his “death” for some peaceful R&R on an island.
Meanwhile, as if losing one of her top agents is not bad enough, M is dealing with “concerned” political leaders and the fact that someone has hacked into her computer. Plus, someone is now releasing the names of the embedded agents, putting them in immediate peril. Then, to really twist the knife, an explosion rips an upper floor of MI6 headquarters, killing more people.
News of this draws Bond back to England, but he clearly has lost an edge. M, being pressed into an early, dignified retirement, insists Bond is ready for duty.
Thus we have the standard Bond procedure of literally walking into the jaws of danger in an effort to meet his mortal enemy so there can be the usual gentlemanly posturing before things turn deadly. This time, at least for a while, Bond has a backup in tow with Eve.
Also as usual, there is a buffer between Bond and his adversary in the person of a beautiful woman, in this case Severine (Berenice Marlohe). And, like many of the women who are in this role in the Bond movies, her life expectancy likely will be shortened.
Finally we meet the villain, and it seems inevitable that Javier Bardem, whose chilling portrayal of a professional killer in “No Country for Old Men” earned him an Oscar, would pop up as a bad guy in a Bond thriller. In “Skyfall” he is Silva, and his initial appearance is a long uncut shot of him strolling toward Bond with the audience getting Bond’s POV. Bardem’s Silva mesmerizes in this scene. He is clearly a frightening guy but you cannot take your eyes off him.
The Bond features always showcase a brilliant madman who is surrounded by either a fortress or a seemingly infinite payroll of staff (see the SPOILER ALERT comments below), and he never cares how many people are killed to achieve his goal. If Skyfall has a weakness it is that they have given a superb villain a rather meek motive for his carnage — revenge.
The previously mentioned theme of Bond and company being outdated is played out in the final confrontation. An old friend of Bond appears — to audience applause — and in the final standoff, Bond must make do with old tricks to vanquish the more heavily armed and manned Silva team.
When it is all resolved, for now, the set up is there for a reborn Bond franchise. A new M (Ralph Fiennes) is taking over. Eve becomes a character resurrected from the past. And the new Q (Ben Whishaw) assumes the modern persona of the techno genius.
This is the new Bond. He may surprise once in a while with a humorous quip and continue to show lack of protocol and respect for his superiors, but the days of 007 saying “he got the point” after spearing some foe are over. Thankfully, in this era of DVDs and computers, we can revisit those good old times.
Silva’s nasty operation is based on one motive, to extract revenge on M. Once a top-notch MI6 agent, he believes M abandoned him on a mission, leaving him to suffer. OK. One of the issues I was tackling was how he financed his operation. He had computers, a casino operation, a helicopter, tons of weaponry and a payroll that had to number in the hundreds. Then it hit me. With his computer hacking ability he likely was siphoning funds from various rich entities. I mean, he had to be paying exorbitant prices for his gunmen. They had to be mercenaries. It is doubtful he would be able to draft people to put their lives on the line in loyalty to a guy wanting to get back on his boss.
The “old friend” mentioned above was the appearance of the Aston-Martin, the gadgetry-loaded car whose various bells and whistles were showcased in “Goldfinger” in 1964. According to message board postings, when Bond brings out the Aston-Martin, people in the audience clapped. Later, one of the most abhorrent acts of Silva is his ordering the men in the helicopter to shoot the car to pieces. Even Bond, after seeing his old car shot to smithereens gets that look in his eyes: YOU ARE ONE DEAD MAN, SILVA.
It will be interesting to see if Ralph Fiennes does return as the new M in the next Bond feature, and if Naomie Harris resumes her role as the new Moneypenny. And it will be fun to see what kind of relationship Bond has with these people. The original M, played by the late Bernard Lee, always seemed to treat Bond as a teacher would a brilliant but inconsistent and sometimes foolish student. Judy Dench’s M had a love-hate relationship with Bond. She would get frustrated and curt with him but in the end had to trust him. The new Moneypenny obviously is not the spinster-like administrative assistant to M played by Lois Maxwell, who died in 2007 at the age of 80. Harris as Moneypenny has already shown she can see past his flirting and innuendos. She well be a good match for him.
Fathom Events will be presenting a restored version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Nov. 15, featuring Gregory Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance as Atticus Finch.
And for Quentin Tarantino fans, in advance of his new movie “Django Unchained,” Fathom Events will be returning to the big screen “Resevoir Dogs” on Dec. 4 and “Pulp Fiction” on Dec. 6. See www.fathomevents.com for times and locations.