“Skyfall” In Classic Original James Bond Form Grips Audience From Opening Scene To Closing Foray
One might think after 50 years, the Bond franchise would have descended into a sad self-parody and monotonous imitation attempting to capture the magic of old. And it almost did until Daniel Craig stepped into the role. It’s interesting because Bond as a hero should have long ago shuffled off to the retirement home. But it didn’t. It somehow survived the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s until now what we have is a James Bond film series, which has become the second highest grossing movie franchise behind Harry potter. With its newest installment, “Skyfall,” the position of highest grossing film appears to be in its crosshairs. The latest Bond film may have eclipsed itself. In other words, it’s a gigantic hit, with more critics than not attesting to this opinion. At first, my opinion was that it might be “the best Bond ever.” But after watching “Skyfall” and then reviewing the original Bond movies I have astonished myself with a surprising conclusion. “Skyfall,” in capturing the classic, original, James Bond form, grips its audience from opening scene to its closing foray; but in addition, I found it fresh, relevant, and perhaps a bit more realistic than Connery’s James Bond. As critics one by one hail the film as “the best Bond ever,” I’m at least ready to admit their point is well made. Such a statement is quite an accomplishment since no installment outside of those featuring Sean Connery has come close such praise.
Mail film critic Christopher Tookey wrote 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.”
With numerous reviews all saying basically the same thing, I felt it would make no sense trying to compete with such a large store house for people to choose from.
Therefore, I thought a better task to spend my time on would be to answer the questions, why and how had “Skyfall” accomplished what no other Bond film has since Connery exited the franchise.
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.
Among 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.
So immediately, a quick answer to the first part of the question, which ask why “Skyfall” had accomplished or rather surpassed other Bond films, my answer would be simply it’s plot; quite spectacular. The answer as to how the movie had accomplished what no other Bond film had is a bit more complex, thus, I’d rather take it from the beginning and provide a backdrop to adequately present my argument.
“Skyfall” is the twenty-third James Bond film in the franchise series that started in 1962 with the release of “Dr. No.” The film was directed by Samuel Alexander Mendes, who received an Oscar and Golden Globe in his directorial debut, “American Beauty” in 1999. Daniel Craig is cast as James Bond, and believe me, in this movie, the 44-year-old puts on a performance reminiscent of the polished portrayal Sean Connery was best known for. With Mendes in the director’s chair, and Craig in the lead role, audiences are going to be in for a treat of a lifetime as there hasn’t been a James Bond movie produced like this one since Connery exclusively held the role.
Now it’s my understanding that Mendes and Craig worked together in the 2002 film, “Road to Perdition;” Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel adapted for the big screen by David Self. The film was both, well received by critics and a box office success, grossing over $180,000 worldwide.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect about “Skyfall” was Craig’s unexpected breathtaking performance as moviegoers familiar with his portrayal in “Casino Royal” and “Quantum of Solace” could not have been prepared for. A comparison of “Skyfall” with the others is like literally comparing night and day. That’s because Craig’s first two films as 007 were fairly dark.
“Casino Royale” introduced Bond as Fleming had originally written him; a ‘blunt instrument’ as M described him, a dangerous maverick who fell in love and was betrayed by the very woman for whom he was prepared to leave MI6. “Quantum of Solace” was a story about the immediate consequence of this betrayal, and was therefore essentially a revenge thriller. But in this film it appears audiences are introduced to a Bond character uniquely different but just as seamless as Connery typically delivered.
Daniel Craig has reinvented the British secret agent, giving the character his own powerful interpretation.
Recently, Craig has admitted that when he was first cast he deliberately moved away from the camper aspects of past Bond incarnations. British media has quoted him as saying; “I felt it was too soon; I didn’t want to repeat something that had gone on before. I couldn’t just step into someone’s shoes; I would fall on my face really very quickly. I didn’t think,’ he adds, ‘that I deserved to do it.”
Craig’s humility has perhaps served him well as he has allowed other to provide the accolades. And the praises continue to mount as most critics credit Craig for the movie’s resurgence of excellence.
Nonetheless, Craig deserves all the attention. Not only is he looking quite Bond like from the way he wears the character’s traditional tuxedo and bow tie to reportedly doing many of his own stunts. His ambition alone is fairly noteworthy. According to Associated Press, “the result is the best-reviewed Bond film yet, one that’s already made a whopping $287 million in its first 10 days of international release. “Skyfall” is the culmination of The Daniel Craig Years, a chapter in Bond history that’s proving a resounding success.”
Another interesting distinction between Craig, Pierce Brosnon, and Roger Moore is that most of the actors that followed Connery seemed to muddy up the screen with forced humor, Craig, however, deliverers some of the most authentically natural funny lines that fit seamlessly into the script. It was a sheer work of art by both the writers who wrote the lines and Craig for his effortless execution.
Another unique aspect Craig brought to the character was the since that he’s one of us. He’s not that distant, aloof kind of character that the average Joe would have no chance of emulating or becoming. It’s one of the distinct elements that separate his portrayal from Connery’s, and yet he still reminded you of classic Bond.
Think about it, those that remember back to the old Connery movies; when you left the theater you’d emulate Bond’s gestures, the way he struggled and fought, like on the boat in the final scenes of “Thunderball.” You’d leave the theater twisting your face to imitate the Bond character. With Craig, you don’t feel like you have to distort your face or grimace; you felt like you had the character just by thinking about various scenes or simply standing or walking a certain way, momentarily you were Bond.
Colleagues, like Mendes, talk of Craig’s total commitment to the filmmaking process. “He wants to be the engine room, he wants to be the motivating factor, he wants to be the person trying the hardest… and I think it cost him a lot. He never complains about it, but you can see the toll it’s taking on him.”
Interestingly, the movie’s director claims when Craig wasn’t filming he was training or practicing his fight scene, rehearsing a stunt or on the motorbike repetitiously preparing and perfecting each scene. “I’ve never had to do a movie,” Mendes said, “where so much is resting on the shoulders of just one person.”
More often than not, Javier Bardem remembers arriving on set at 7 a.m., “and Daniel would be coming out of the gym. He really commits himself to every demand that a character like this asks for,” Bardem says. “It would be very easy to say, ‘Bye-bye, I need to rest, I’m going home, let someone else do it.”
There’s quite an interesting story surrounding the announcement that Craig was chosen to take over the Bond role in 2005. Almost immediately fans were up in aims. He was too blond, too thespian, and a website soon emerged called craignotbond.com, took pleasure in creating pictures to make him resemble Vladimir Putin.
Then there was the uncomfortable press conference where he appeared in a Royal Marines speedboat, wearing a Brioni suit, but the effect was ruined by his orange life jacket and the fact that he looked white with sea sickness. Nevertheless, Craig was able to dismiss it all. He put his head down, and earnestly drove himself to make the best film possible.
Though Casino Royale proved to be a critical and box office success, personally, I was not the least bit impressed. In fact, if it were left up to me, I would have been part of the chorus, the day he was first chosen to play Bond, screaming, bad idea. I’m admittedly prejudice as I have a profound fondness for Connery. I never believed any other actor could measure up to his performances. I was stuck with my stubborn parochial assessment and refused to see the forest for the trees.
Nevertheless, all the reviews written about Craig back then seem to have described precisely what I am observing now.
Mendes said, there’s a fire inside him; I see that now. The director likened Craig to Sean Connery; I’m saying the same thing now.
Mendes points out a fascinating aspect in his comparison with Connery, saying, “It’s no coincidence that they are both from a very different class background and upbringing from Bond as written by Fleming. There’s something in the weird dissonance between who they are and who they’re playing that makes it extraordinary to watch.”
One story worth mentioning involves Craig’s Bond audition. Traditionally, new candidates for the role had to perform a scene taken right out of the second Bond movie “From Russia with Love.” The British secret agent 007 enters a hotel room, takes off his suit jacket, throws his gun down, and then heads for the balcony. Intuitively, he’s aware that he’s not the only one in the room, so he pulls open the sliding doors where a young lady is in bed waiting for him. If you remember the movie, she’s his contact. Bond must locate the code to the Spektor machine, but of course not without first seducing her.
Producers focused on the way he took off his jacket, threw down his gun, it had to be natural and seamless. It’s a scene that incorporates all the elements of Bond. Craig’s performance played a major part to him getting the role. It’s what “Convinced” the director “that he could not only be Bond, but be terrific.”
Overall, “Skyfall” is set in a more realistic world, particularly situated in London where MI6’s activities are answerable to government and where the threat of terrorism has firmly displaced Cold War fears as the dominant concern; quite convincing and practical.
Adding to the film’s success was Craig’s idea to have producers cast Javier Bardem as the villain Raoul Silva. The 43-year-old star was not only effective; he was superb in tying together the movie’s plot to its title. While I would love to fill in some details, it’s more important for me not to give too much away considering that there is a good chance someone reading this review might not have seen the movie.
All in all, Craig 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 director 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.
The sensational Istanbul-set prologue is soon bettered by an 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). Nevertheless, Daniel Craig’s portrayal, of the steely, selfish, battered, scarred hero of the books, a white knight with a Beretta pistol and a Martini for his sword and shield glues the whole thing together, and is almost single-handedly responsible for the laudable accolades this film has already received.
By D. Chandler