Not the Best Bond, But Pretty Darn Close
A Film Review of Skyfall
By: Lawrence Napoli
Daniel Craig is certainly on the short list of actors worthy of playing 007. He is easily the most physically fit and frequently shirtless of any actor that played James Bond before, but there are some eccentricities that he brings to the character that I still do not particularly care for. First, the “Blue Steel” stoic look that Daniel Craig completely owns happens to put Derek Zoolander to shame. I understand that Craig’s Bond is meant as a constant bad*ss, but he really does come off like he’s “posing” in every scene and it downgrades the character’s humanity. Second, is that Craig isn’t very much of a ladies’ man on screen as his ability to generate chemistry with any of his female costars has a tendency to fizzle. Every woman he’s been blessed to be cast with is extremely gorgeous, but his most intimate relationship shouldn’t be with Dame Judi Dench as M. Third, is that Daniel needs to attend “The Tom Cruise school of Running Like You Mean It!” because the way he “runs” seems like an extremely stylized mimicry of running. It’s also far too hoppy and you all know what I mean once you see it.
“Blue Steel” in full effect.
Skyfall, however, is a film that sees Daniel Craig do much more with the James Bond character than he has during his incumbency with the franchise. Although we’ve all seen this before in previous Bond films, James is again being portrayed as an antiquated tool for maintaining global law and order via black ops. Thus, Craig portrays more weakness and vulnerability than he was ever accustomed to before and although he’s still no “Mr. Sensitivity,” there is a moment where he sheds tears and it is quite poignant, moving and the most humane portrayal of the character since George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Daniel is still solid with the less frequent verbal barbs and always hits his mark for action. He still can’t convince me with women, but his evolved relationship with M allows for him to discard the aura of Mr. Roboto.
More art yields better performance.
This entry in the 007 films was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan whose combined experience on Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace demonstrates maturity in producing a meaningful and somewhat relevant manifestation of the current James Bond. We are still living in a world with dangerous terrorists, but Skyfall makes no secret about “cyber-terrorism” being the newest, most dangerous and most prominent threat to stability. This is the main engine behind the portrayal of MI6 and its employees as “behind the times.” I wonder if this perspective on terrorism in the 21st Century is somewhat of a backhanded compliment to the American approach in handling it. Throughout every conflict in the Middle East, the Pentagon has been consistent about needing more human assets on the ground infiltrating terror networks to provide the best intelligence, but British sentiments acknowledge terror threats as more than AK-47’s in the sand. Skyfall is all about the youth movement from the handlers that deal with agents to the quartermasters that outfit and strategize approach. The irony is that in order to survive this shift, James Bond must reconnect with his heartrending past in an attempt to level the playing field. When you cap all this with an exceptional Bond villain in Javier Bardem’s Silva, Skyfall is easily the best Daniel Craig James Bond story thus far.
How many terrorists will you find in this scene?
Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins made Skyfall an exquisite visual cacophony of technology, light, angles cityscapes and landscapes. In short, this film is easily the most beautifully shot work of art we’ve ever seen in a James Bond film. Certainly, this film is still about the action (which is top notch, by the way), but I feel camera placement, movement and its interaction with some of the most beautifully configured set designs in this franchise’s history gives Skyfall notable advantages. Thankfully, the audience will not be jostled by the frantic, handheld camera work we’ve all become accustomed to thanks to the Bourne franchise. This film shows that great action can still be captured with more traditional techniques and increased synergy among the various production departments of a film production. Exotic locations are typical of James Bond films, but they’ve never before looked so good.
Cityscapes. ‘Nuff said!
You already know what I feel about Daniel Craig’s performance, but what about the rest of the cast? Judi Dench as M is once again flawless in giving this character more significance than any previous portrayal. M is no mere task master, but also very maternal (despite her best efforts) and her chemistry with Daniel Craig is impossible to ignore. Ralph Fiennes is a welcome newcomer to the franchise and although the former Lord Voldemort is not exactly featured, he is certainly set up for a thriving future by this film’s end. The last thing I remember Naomie Harris in was 28 Days Later and she is still lovely as ever, but brings some much needed playful sex appeal which is severely lacking in Skyfall. Ben Wishaw as the new Q produces a fine performance and reminds me of a British version of Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory if one strips away all manner of personality while retaining the ego and elitism. On top of it all Albert Finney is in this film and it’s an instant win for this cinematic adventurer whenever Daddy Warbucks comes out of the woodwork.
Make no mistake; as much as this film is about a revitalized performance by Daniel Craig as James Bond, the other 50% is met by an excellent Bond villain in Silva, masterfully played by Javier Bardem. The man’s heroic roles don’t hold a candle to his villains (his limited role as the menace in No Country for Old Men was practically the only reason it won best picture). I absolutely love Silva’s personal eccentricity which I will describe as not exactly being “straight up,” and certainly “with a twist.” Interpret that as you may, but no spoilers. Silva is creepy, he is charismatic and he even has an understandable motivation for his evil dealings that isn’t rooted in psychosis or delusions of taking over the world. He is one of the best Bond baddies because he adheres to the first rule of villainy by making it personal (in a roundabout way) against Bond himself. Bardem steals EVERY scene with his maniacally fun dialogue and brilliant delivery. My only regret is that the story limits his fear inducing factor by making him too captivating. The audience may not fear Silva, but they’ll never get enough of him.
Is this too close for comfort Mr. Bond, James Bond?
This is not the best James Bond film of all time. Suggesting such a thing is far too silly and a byproduct of “new film awe” that we all experience when we leave the theatre having seen a genuinely good film. At the same time, I never would have thought that a Daniel Craig Bond film would ever crack my top 5, but it officially holds strong in fifth place with Octopussy (4), The Spy Who Loved Me (3), Goldfinger (2) and GoldenEye (1) standing in front of it. Skyfall is an excellent piece of filmmaking as both art and entertainment and is more than worth a general admission, but I wouldn’t necessarily shell out for IMAX tickets unless you are an extreme Bond fanatic. I see this film as redemption for Daniel Craig, but with all this effort to make him look “old,” “human” and “out of date,” I wonder if the search for “the next Bond” isn’t already under way.