The James Bond film series is the second highest grossing movie franchise behind Harry potter. With its newest installment, the position of highest grossing film appears to be in its crosshairs. The latest Bond film, “Skyfall,” has been praised by critics, with some hailing it “the best Bond ever”. Such a statement is quite an accomplishment since no installment outside of those featuring Sean Connery has received such praise. But miraculously “Skyfall” resurrects Sean Connery’s audience gripping James Bond, which was once thought to be impossible.
After 50 years, in which the movies have often descended to abject self-parody, Bond is a hero who should, by rights, have long ago shuffled off to the retirement home.
Instead, as Mail film critic Christopher Tookey wrote in later editions of Saturday’s paper, the new 007 adventure, “Skyfall,” is ‘one of the finest of all time’.
Intelligent, bursting with thrilling action set-pieces and filled with top-drawer turns by some of Britain’s finest acting talents — Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney — in Tookey’s words, this is a film that assures the future of the Bond franchise ‘for years to come’.
The film hits cinemas a week on Friday and its opening sequence is dynamite.
Now the critics have my attention. I have been on the fence since Sean Connery bowed out decades ago. In fact, I have not seen a James Bond movie since “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice” that I can honestly say rose to the level of the classic spy movie Ian Fleming perfected. So when I hear a critic emphasizing the opening sequence, pointing out that it explodes, which is what dynamite does, I am encouraged because Ian Fleming’s James Bond featuring Sean Connery gripped its audience from its opening scene until its equally attention-grabbing, closing foray.
Amongst the characterizations made by early critics, Christopher Tookey suggests that the miniature movie before the credits has become a signature device for the franchise, whether Bond is leaping out of a plane without a parachute or hunting down enemy agents on a ski run. But “Skyfall” surpasses them all: this time, 007 is killed.
The edge-of-the-seat tension as Daniel Craig’s Bond is resurrected mirrors the extraordinary way that the character has been reinvented over and over, to meet the changing threats of international war-mongering, crime and terror.
Bond was born out of author Ian Fleming’s anger over Hitler’s war against humanity: the massacres by the SS, the indiscriminate bombing of the Luftwaffe.
Fleming, who had been a spymaster during World War II, knew the desperate measures that were necessary in extreme circumstances. Within a few years of armistice, he had invented 007 to act out his ideals: an agent with a license to do anything and everything necessary to protect the West against evil; an agent with a license to kill.
The highly anticipated 23rd installment of the popular action franchise following the escapades of Britain’s most celebrated movie spy will premiere November 9 in the U.S.
Starring Daniel Craig in his third outing as 007, the film’s director is Oscar winner Sam Mendes.
The Independent’s Geoffrey McNab said: “If not a full blown triumph, this is certainly one of the best Bonds in recent memory.”
The Times’s Kate Muir called it “a great British bulldog of a movie”.
“From the moment the orchestral sound of Adele belts out, sending a nostalgic shiver down the audience’s collective spine, we know this will be a triumphant return to classic Bond,” she wrote.
McNab added in his review: “Mendes has gone back to basics: chases, stunts, fights.
“At the same time, he has subtly re-invented the franchise, throwing in far greater depth of characterization than we’re accustomed to in a series of films that are often proudly superficial.”
The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye gave the film five out of five, calling the film “a fantastic combination of 007 meets Bourne meets Spooks meets Home Alone”.
Robbie Collin praised director Mendes in The Telegraph: “[He] is unafraid to let the quieter dramatic moments breathe…and ace cinematographer Roger Deakins makes the wildly ambitious action sequences the most beautiful in Bond’s 50-year career.”
“Skyfall” sees Dame Judi Dench reprise her role as MI6 director M, while Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris join the franchise as Bond’s co-workers.
Critics also praised Javier Bardem’s performance as villain Silva, with McNab saying “he combines pathos, grotesquerie and a Hannibal Lecter-like viciousness”.
Caroline Jowett added in The Express: “He is not a villain in pursuit of world domination like Ernst Blofeld, and he is slightly upstaged by his own hair but he never fails to surprise.
“That he can make us laugh at the same time only makes him more menacing.”
As one of the few US critics at the preview on Friday, The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy called the film a “serious and spectacular show”.
“Dramatically gripping while still brandishing a droll undercurrent of humor, this beautifully made film will certainly be embraced as one of the best Bonds by loyal fans worldwide and leaves you wanting the next one to turn up sooner than four years from now.”
However The Guardian’s Xan Brooks was not as impressed as other critics. Giving it three stars out of a five, he praised the “whiz-bang first half” but said the film “falls prey to a common failing of many 50th birthday bashes: it allows sentimentality to cloud its judgment and loosen its tongue.”
Their comments makes one wonder, were they all viewing the same film.
It is quite clear to me that the Bond films seemed to fail to amuse audiences upon Connery’s exit. But a closer review reveals that Fleming’s later books also lacked the kind of dynamic excitement contained in his earlier works.
Perhaps, this diminishment was a consequence of the dwindling Cold War tension which may have affected the intense passion Fleming initially brought to his writings.
The fact is, Bond films started to lose their way, and so did Bond himself.
Hence, even before his exit, Connery’s Bond grew puffy and spoilt and wore ludicrous wigs.
His replacement, George Lazenby, an Australian model who took on the role for only one film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a monumental flop.
Lazenby had been best known for his performance in a chocolate commercial — his acting did not improve with practice.
By the time Roger Moore took over the role in the early Seventies, Bond was about as cold and ruthless as a chat-show host.
Even Sir Roger wouldn’t pretend his acting abilities were outstanding. His critics pointed out that of his two eyebrows, only the right one had any talent. It was clear, Moore was no Connery.
Timothy Dalton, who followed Moore, certainly could act. He was a Shakespearean and a stage veteran of everything from Wuthering Heights to Noel Coward. But in his two outings as Bond, audiences simply couldn’t believe in the character.
Pierce Brosnan played Bond with Hollywood teeth and lacquered hair. There was still money to be made from the franchise — Brosnan’s Goldeneye grossed $350 million — but by then, Bond had become a parody.
So the producers needed to return to the books to rediscover Fleming’s Bond, not the pale, vain imitations of the films.
There’s a wonderful moment in Moonraker that encapsulates Fleming’s often nihilistic take on the world. Bond, driving to an appointment with evil in his Bentley, looks up and sees a motor-oil advert written in neon on the twilight London skyline. It read, ‘Summer Shell is here,’ but a building obscures part of the message. All Bond can see are the words ‘hell is here’.
Fleming’s Bond is full of moments like that: gripping, chilling, inspiring, frightening.
He had witnessed a sea of evil and, taking arms, opposed it: not the cartoon villainy of the later Bond films, but unremitting evil. The kind that threatens civilization, in the shape of cancerous Al Qaeda cells, plotting to bomb planes and discos, and sending children on suicide missions to the gates of army barracks.
After 50 years, the world has turned full circle: we face a global peril again.
And Bond has come full circle, too — in Daniel Craig’s portrayal, he is the steely, selfish, battered, scarred hero of the books, a white knight with a Beretta pistol and a Martini for his sword and shield.
This is the hardened soldier Fleming intended Bond to be. There’s a reassuring moment in “Skyfall:” Bond leaps to his feet amid tangled wreckage, in a perfectly tailored dinner jacket, and adjusts his cufflinks as he strides towards the camera. That’s how an Englishman saves the world — and, in scary times like these, we can be glad James Bond is still around.
The sensational Istanbul-set prologue is soon bettered by a early sojourn to Shanghai, in which Bond pursues an assassin through a glass skyscraper lit up like a neon Aurora Borealis. This is “Skyfall’s” popcorn-dropping moment, and an uneven third act that harks back to the Bond films of old (the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 makes an appearance) never quite coheres.
“We don’t go in for exploding pens any more,” quips young Q (Ben Whishaw). Nor do audiences, which is why I suspect “Skyfall” will be an enormous hit.
Contributor D. Chandler