Skyfall leaves you wondering whether this incarnation of the Bond character has anywhere left to go
It is extremely rare for a movie within a franchise series to receive the kind of consistent critical acclaim “Skyfall” has recently achieved. Such a resounding voice of approval by so many has doubtlessly set a record by the sheer volume of critiques accumulated. I mean one after the other, receive nothing less than descriptions of grandeur and excellence. Among the cluster of accolades, the following descriptions represents an overwhelming majority: “Destined to Be a Classic,” “one of the best 007 films to date,” “perhaps the best in the series’ 50-year history,” and Roger Ebert writes; “Skyfall triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever.” Others critics tell us it’s: “a great, long-lasting jolt of pleasure,” “a blend of thrills and sabotage and deep-dish emotionalism,” “smashing entertainment,” “reminds us how deeply pleasurable an action thriller can be,” “beautifully made film will certainly be embraced as one of the best Bonds,” “truly special,” “With a powerful jolt, 007 feels relevant again,” “This is Bond like you’ve never seen him,” “Skyfall can take its place alongside “From Russia with Love,” “Goldfinger,” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” as the best Bond can offer,” “Skyfall is one of the best Bonds in the 50-year history of moviedom’s most successful franchise.” “Bond’s latest… a remarkable high watermark for the series,” and perhaps my favorite claims; “Skyfall leaves you wondering whether this incarnation of the character has anywhere left to go.”
The list of praises are too numerous to even consider listing all of them here. Nevertheless, Dana Stevens who writes for “Slate” seems to have captured the essence of “Skyfall” in one sentence stating; “Skyfall leaves you wondering whether this incarnation of the character has anywhere left to go.” Stevens’ statement says it all, which leads me to follow it up with a request to the movies producers; stop, don’t produce another James Bond movie, because if you do not make any more Bond movies you will have closed out the franchise with a final production in which has clearly eclipsed them all. Even early box office receipts definitively indicate that “Skyfall” is headed for best Bond debut ever.
It can’t be said in any other way except; the latest Bond film may have eclipsed its entire catalogue of all 23 Bond movies while simultaneously making the case to end the series on top of its game.
I’m not ashamed to say that 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 filmhas 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.
By D. Chandler