Movies: Skyfall’ is Quite a Birthday Gift For Bond

1. Action / Opening Setpiece

Skyfall's pre-title chase, as Bond frantically tries to retrieve a stolen hard drive containing the identities of all of MI6's secret agents, is a real corker. If Skyfall has a significant flaw it might well be that this proves a difficult setpiece to follow. My favorite bit finds Bond dropping into a moving train car he's just demolished with a backhoe. He adjusts his cuffs; why look sloppy when lives are on the line? The scene ends with a very tense "M" (Oscar winner Judi Dench) ordering a kill shot which doesn't go as planned. Bond plummets from the top of a moving train with excruciatingly steep verticality to the water far below and into…

2. Theme Song

…the soundscape of Adele's booming vocals and its accompanying animated title sequence, a theme-song staple. Skyfall is quite literal about its title visually, with daggers or swords falling with Bond into the bottom of the ocean landing like crucifixes to form a makeshift cemetery filled with blood and gunshot wounds. The meaning of the visuals will eventually become clear but that would involve spoilers, which you're not getting here. It's worth noting that Adele's theme song is much better in context than in the vacuum of an mp3.

3. International Villainy

The stolen hard drive traces back, eventually, to the complicated plans but simplistic end goal of Bond's newest villain "Silva" (Javier Bardem) who is obviously targeting "M" and wants to really see her suffer. In the film's most riveting scene, Bond and Silva are face to face, with Bond at a considerable disadvantage in bondage, while Silva taunts Bond and details his M fixation. "Mommy was very very bad," Javier Bardem explains with a hilariously childlike grudge. He's spooky, riveting and eventually moving in the role.
It's worth noting that this sequence, the most explicitly homoerotic scene from any Bond film, might well read as homophobically perverse were it not for…

Bond-homoerotic

4 …007 Himself

I urge you not to spoil the sequence for friends who haven't yet seen it but Bond's retort to Silva's sexual tease is about the most succinct example yet of how essential Daniel Craig's expert performance has been to the modernization of the series. He's arguably the best thing that happened to the franchise since Sean Connery watched Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) emerging from the ocean, wet and beautiful, in Dr. No (1962) laying the foundations for it all. It's surely no accident that the franchise confidently announced just as much by putting Bond himself in Honey Ryder's position in Casino Royale in that infamous baby blue speedo.
Not for nothing did Daniel Craig first come to critical notice in two very provocative roles as Derek Jacobi's rough trade boyfriend in Love is the Devil (1998) and the randy lover of a senior citizen in The Mother (2003). His polysexual screen persona has blown a hole right in fixed sexuality of the Bond series, making Bond himself somehow less predatory, less sexist and as eroticized as any of his conquests, i.e. the…

5…Bond Girls

Perhaps with Daniel Craig in the mix the notoriously heterosexual Bond series hasn't felt the need to indulge as much in its one undeniable previous camp pleasure, the ritual drag-queen naming of Bond Girls (Pussy Galore, Plenty O'Toole, Strawberry Fields, Octopussy, etc.) which is not to say that the Bond Girls have suffered; Eve (Naomie Harris) and Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) both have beautifully handled moments within good scenes that give them plenty to do besides getting Bond off. But the most satisfying subtle detail of Skyfall's screenplay may well be the narrative positioning of "M" as a sort of symbolic Bond Girl. Dench is more central than she's ever been with her "sentimental favorite" James Bond as her devoted protector. They're not fucking but you'd be hard pressed to deny that he loves her.

Bond-m

This is all a long way of saying that though there are 23 Bond films there is also only 1 Bond film, each a remix or variation on themes… making the best efforts indispensable (given Bond's stature in popular culture) and the worst skippable. Best and Worst are usually determined by the style with which the key ingredients are handled and Skyfall has that to spare.

If there's a problem with Skyfall it's with its sobriety in both senses of the word. Bond drinks a couple of times and there's an amusing blink and you'll miss it twist on Bond's usual ordering martini sequence, but most of the film's humor is exceedingly subtle like this. Skyfall errs, as so many modern franchises do post Chris Nolan's Batman, on the side of intense self-importance as if to crack a smile would be to invite dismissal as "mere popcorn entertainment." What's wrong with slightly inebriated popcorn entertainment?

One final note: Craig's ongoing superb rendition of 007 was not quite enough to save Quantum of Solace from itself. So the filmmakers wisely pull out all the stops here. If Skyfall lacks the element of surprise and revitalizing electricity of Casino Royale it leans hard on Craig's gifts and assembles the most remarkable group of talented craftsmen than a Bond film has ever known: the legendary cinematography Roger Deakins makes this the most beautiful of all Bond films and superbly visualizes its constant references to espionage as a life in the shadows; Sam Mendes (American Beauty) may well be the most acclaimed director ever handed a Bond film and his technical team from editors to sound engineers do fine work; the actors too are an incredible mix… if Oscar winner Javier Bardem doesn't quite steal the film it's only because Skyfall has assembled the most lauded acting troupe that 007 has ever seen. You can't entirely steal a picture when rising stars Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw, Oscar nominees Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney, and Oscar winner Judi Dench all stand in your way.

Even if you could, you'd still have Daniel Craig and Daniel Craig's Speedo to contend with.






Bond-speedo

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

Comments

  1. Brian says

    I’m currently living in a city about 4 hours N.E. of Rio de Janiero, in Brazil. SKYFALL opened here LAST WEEK (who says Latin America is “developing”….). The theatres here are also AMAZING…huge vivid screens, amazing sound, all of which made SKYFALL one of the hottest, most beautiful incredible experiences. Hands-down favorite Bond Film. And D.C. – TO DIE FOR…..

  2. Jim says

    Just saw Skyfall yesterday, starring my fantasy boyfriend Daniel Craig. Fun movie with a big nod to the old Bond of the 60’s.

  3. Dastius Krazitauc says

    Nice review. I saw it last night. The “five elements” you described all still work for me, except the Bond Girl. They are so predictable now, I just find them tedious. When he started his long conversation with her at the bar, I figured that was a good time to go to the bathroom. They were still talking when I got back, so I picked a good time to go.

    I don’t understand characterizing that one scene as homophobic. It didn’t seem that way to me. If the villain had been a woman, doing those same things, would it have been any kind of phobic? Sexuality is a major part of Bond films.

  4. Bob says

    Didn’t want to read to much before seeing it. “Casino Royale” was spoiled for me by the casting of a weak actress as Bond’s foil (probably for budget cheapskate reasons)– there was nothing on the screen to make you think she fascinated him, so that part of the picture fell flat for me.
    Did they get this one right?

  5. ichabod says

    I found the Bond/Silva scene not in the least homophobic –nor did the NYC audience I saw it with who applauded at the punch line. (And, no, this was certainly not a predominantly Gay audience).

    We live in a new world…

  6. Paul says

    Ugly,
    That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? Craig is not good looking in the traditional sense and would not be considered gorgeous but he is a handsome man who is VERY sexy. You’re crazy! I’ll take Craig anytime!!!
    Everything considered I strongly feel he has been the best Bond so far.

  7. Lymis says

    My husband and I agreed that the best way to describe Craig as Bond is that he’s a gorgeous man who isn’t remotely pretty. He’s rivetingly attractive. His eyes are stunning, and you can barely take your eyes off his face in any scene – but the rewards are real when you do – and at the same time, he’s not pretty, he’s not lushly built, he’s not overtly sexy in his manner. Perfect as Bond for the 21st century.

    I agree that that scene could have been homophobic if it had been handled any other way. And it wasn’t at all.

  8. jason says

    Daniel Craig is manly handsome, not pretty-boy handsome. His features are sturdy and imposing, not soft and yielding. Would I do him? In a New York minute, my darlings, in a New York minute….

  9. johnny says

    D.Craig is not pretty.

    And a lot of us out here don’t want or need pretty. He’s incredibly rugged and sexy and I’ll take that ANY DAY over handsome.

    Besides, handsome guys usually are narcissists on some level and it messes up their heads. Believe me, I’ve had my share of those. Blech.

    Can’t wait to see this, Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery, IMO, and may be even better.

  10. Dastius Krazitauc says

    “he’s not lushly built,”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this, but I think his body is great. That shot of him standing on the sailboat as it approached Silva’s island, I was like “what island”, because all I could see was his perfect square shouldered, slim waisted form. And when he was just wearing the towel as he was shaving, I’d say that butt was lush.

  11. Zlick says

    Daniel Craig is hot – but his craggy looks are not being helped by the inevitable aging process. It’s telling that Skyfall made so much of his aging. But odd that the only other Daniel Craig Bond films were his first missions as a Double Oh. (Quantum of Solace picks up immediately after Casino Royale). So in Skyfall, he’s seen as too old to continue as an MI6 agent (and even fails the qualifying tests to be reinstated). Seems we’ve missed everything in between.

    This, combined with the ending which nodded to a certain circle of Bondishness being complete, makes me think we’ve seen the last of Daniel Craig as Bond. (And reportedly he wants out of his 5 film contract). That’s too bad. I agree he’s the best since Sean Connery.

  12. Rex Mundi says

    @Zlick: I didn’t few his failing the qualifying tests as being a comment on his age. It seemed to be more about his living a life of leisure while being presumed dead, not to mention the bullet fragments in his shoulder.

  13. kyle Michel Sullivan says

    Craig is the best Bond ever. And “Skyfall” is the best Bond film. Period. End of story.

  14. Kenneth says

    While “much was made of his age,” it was soundly repudiated at every turn, I believe we haven’t seen the last of Daniel Craig’s Bond. Even as someone who tends to like “pretty boys,” I think Daniel Craig is hands down the sexiest Bond yet, so I certainly hope I’m proven correct.

  15. says

    I just came onto your post and found it quite interesting. I am also associated with gifts ideas, birthday gifts, purses and handbags, and love to enjoy the stuff on the same as its rarely found on internet. Thanks again for writing such a good post.