Monday, February 25, 2013

Movie Review - Skyfall

My dad introduced me to James Bond movies when I was pretty young. We watched Goldfinger when it came on television - and keep in mind, this was before you could record a show, because it was before everybody had a VCR, so we had to watch all the commercials. While I was a little young to really understand why my dad chuckled a little at the name Pussy Galore, or what Sean Connery was doing with her in the barn, I was still old enough to think it was awesome when that stocky Samoan dude got his hat stuck in the bars and Bond lit him up like Christmas. From that point on, I was hooked, and had to go back and watch all the ones I had missed (although I still haven't ever seen the one with George Lazenby).

So I was a tad skeptical when Daniel Craig took over from Pierce Brosnan and took James Bond in a completely new direction. He was still a bad-ass, still a gun-toting super-spy who could knock your face clean off, still able to score at will with any hot woman within a ten-mile radius, but he was so much more serious. He tended to get tortured and beat up. His girlfriends died. He was moody and angry and not anywhere near as cocky as he had been. It was a new direction for James Bond, and despite the fact that the Pierce Brosnan movies were almost uniformly horrible (and Halle Berry is the second worst Bond girl in history, with Denise Richards taking the top spot), I was still reserving judgment.

But Daniel Craig pulled it off, and he did it in spades. The new Casino Royale was one of my personal favorite Bond movies. Bond was tortured. He fell in love. He lost at cards. He was poisoned, and required a girl to rescue him. Casino Royale was still action-packed and exciting, but it was also dark and gritty. Daniel Craig made James Bond believably bad-ass. He wasn't a superhero any more. He was an extraordinary man, but he was still a man. I loved every minute.

But if you're a Bond fan, you don't need me to tell you that Daniel Craig is the best James Bond since Sean Connery, or that the Bond movies have been elevated beyond their campy roots to be gritty pieces of entertainment. I'm here to tell you about Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, and why it's possibly the best Bond movie ever made.

One interesting thing about Skyfall is that where earlier iterations of Bond have the world's greatest spy saving the world, the stakes are nowhere near that high this time. In Skyfall, Bond isn't saving the world at all. He's saving Judi Dench, or as we like to call her now, M. That's it. A pissed-off ex-spy (played disturbingly well by Javier Bardem, that creepy bastard with the bad hair and the pneumatic bullet machine) has a massive vendetta against M, and he's got the tools to tear her to shreds. Which he does.

This is a modern Bond movie for a modern audience. There are no moon rockets or tricked-up household appliances that double as jet-powered roller skates. The villain wreaks maddening havoc with a roomful of servers and some broadband internet access. He reveals the identity of undercover spies by uploading YouTube videos.

And James Bond is even less physically magnificent than he has been before. His hands shake when he holds a pistol. He almost falls to his death because a shoulder wound makes his grip weak. He takes an ass-kicking on a regular basis. And as if that wasn't enough, he's a psychological mess and a borderline alcoholic. In other words, he's human.

In fact, in Skyfall, we find out more about James Bond than we have ever seen. We find out about the childhood trauma that made him take a job most normal men would never consider. We find out the names of his parents. We see the house where he grew up. The lengths Skyfall takes to allow us to identify with James Bond are exceptional, especially for a James Bond movie.

But even while Skyfall continues to rewrite James Bond as a believable human being, it also hearkens back to its roots. You'll see that legendary Aston Martin, the one with the ejector seat and machine-gun headlights. We'll meet Miss Moneypenny, who has been missing far too long. And unless I miss my guess, the next Bond movie is going to have some of those awesome Bond gadgets we've come to love - though I still don't think they'll be as stupid as the goofy crap Roger Moore used to have handy.

With any luck, the Bond franchise will also continue with the breathtaking visuals supplied by Skyfall. Bond has seen some exotic locales, but Skyfall really takes the cake. From a floating casino in Macau to an abandoned island city, skyscrapers in Shanghai and the desolate moors of Scotland, the places visited in Skyfall are almost as full of character as the actors themselves (though considering how much depth is given to the main characters in this movie, there was a lot of competition). And beyond just the geography, the film-making is extraordinary. The use of light and camera angle and reflection is breathtaking.

The story is the most important part of a Bond movie, though, and this is where Skyfall really shines. Where the Pierce Brosnan films were meandering and confusing, Skyfall is tightly scripted and tense the entire way through. The pacing is exceptional. The twists are believable. And most of all, when you finish the movie, you won't be inclined to wonder what the hell happened (as opposed to Die Another Day - when I left the theater after that one, all I knew was that for some inexplicable reason, Pierce Brosnan had been boning Halle Berry).

With any luck, Skyfall heralds the return of some of the more classic elements of James Bond - especially the cool gadgets - without descending into the campy feel so many of the other Bond movies delivered. I certainly hope this wasn't Daniel Craig's last Bond movie, because he's easily a contender for my favorite Bond ever, but even if they all suck after this one, at least we can always looks back at this shining star of the James Bond franchise.


Digiconda said...

Matt -

You've provided an exceptional description! I've made attempts to explain why Daniel Craig is, so far, the best bond ever having met with varying levels of success. I give honors to Sean Connery as the beginning of Bond on the big screen, but Craig at least meets and likely exceeds Connery. (An aside: the best two modern bond girls are Eva and Olga!)

- Vince

Unknown said...

If you are a Bond fan I hope you watch Archer.

Matt Drake said...

I have seen every episode of Archer. I introduced my family to it, and now my son and wife have the Archer sound board on their phone, so that they can, at inappropriate times, either play this bit for my daughter:

"Is that why you're being such a bitch?"

Or play this one for me:

"Danger zone!"

And the default when food is left out:

"Because that's how you get ants."

Sly Fox said...

Mate, watch the George Lazenby pic! It's still my favourite. Diana Rigg, forsooth!

Karolus Africanus said...

Great post, Matt, though I guess Casino Royale still edges Skyfall for me. But maybe that's just because it was the first of the new, grittier Bonds, and that was such a shock.

Pete said...

I didn't like it, Matt. I think that Casino Royale is the gold standard that spy flicks, and especially Bond flicks, are to be measured by. The only movie I think is better in the genre is Dr. No.

This one went a little too far in trying to stifle Bond, make him too human, too old, too tired and washed up.

They also destroyed the continuity by talking about how the cold war is over, then ending the film with the ubiquitous "Office" with Moneypenny. Really botched that, because the next film, chronologically, is here:

With Casino Royale being the first, then Quantum of Solace about seven later (which makes no sense because the in-film chronology is one after another) and Skyfall isn't actually based on a Fleming novel or story.

Then, it was too long, and the last third of the film was really drawn out, not matching up with the rest of the film in tempo. Plus, the final scene in the church really made me scratch my head..gun on the ground, guy wasn't dead, and M didn't pick it up and gun him down? Really? Wank.

Not a bad movie, but not nearly as good as the others, primarily due to the last 45 minutes.

Anyhow, been a while since I bugged you Matt, and I sure hope life is treating you well. Miss ya, man!