Skyfall (2012)

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50 years of Bond? 

I can’t say that James Bond has been part of the fabric of my life, but I’ve enjoyed all 23 Bond movies to a decent degree or better, save Moonraker.  That count excludes Never Say Never Again, which was not an official Bond release.

Until recently, the Bond movies had been a bit of pure escapism, complete with sexy women, comic book madmen, cool gadgets, globetrotting location scenes, imaginative action sequences, and a never-in-serious-jeopardy British agent.

I know some don’t like Daniel Craig as 007.  Past actors have portrayed Bond within a fairly narrow deviation from the benchmark set by Ian Fleming and Sean Connery, but beginning with Craig’s first portrayal in Casino Royale (2006), my expectations regarding Bond were forced to change.

Bond smoked like Peter Lorre, drank like Humphrey Bogart, ate like Sydney Greenstreet, used up girls like Errol Flynn.. then went to a steam bath and came out looking like Clark Cable.”  - Harry Reasoner

And to that end, Skyfall completes a questionable transition.  It begins with Adele’s restrained title song, carries through under overcast skies and somber landscapes, interweaves plot points of aging to its characters and mission, and, ultimately, leads to a sense of loss as films draws to a close.  Past Bonds have worked within an environment of optimism.  The world is a great place to enjoy, and when bad guys show up, good prevails. 

Things are not as cheery now.  Is the greater depth provided to the character worth a transition to sterility?  Is fierce loyalty a sufficient heroic strength that makes the warmth of deeper human relationships unnecessary?  Must a 007 remain emotionally detached from a continuing love interest to do what he needs to do?

As he says to Eve, “Field work isn’t for everybody.”

Gone are the cool gadgets, the world travel has been trimmed, the sexy women are reduced to two (one, really), and the humor is felt rather than uttered.  Even the Bond “How will he escape?” mousetraps are infrequent and pedestrian.

And yet, I like the movie.

A better way of viewing this movie, if not all three of Daniel Craig’s films, is as an alternate storyline within the James Bond “universe.”  Things are different today, as Skyfall reminds us.  Villains have changed.  Their means of wreaking havoc have changed.  The characters remain, but their time, place and abilities have changed. 

Skyfall keeps a nutty villain, but much more emphasis is placed on the characters themselves, which is a good thing.  Smart people and computers are enough of a threat in 2012, and although Turkey, China, and Macau are briefly visited, there’s no better place to learn about Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny and MI6 than within London itself.  And there’s ample old buildings to make the cinematography worthwhile.

Having lost his life love in Quantum of Solace, Skyfall introduces and then removes his remaining emotional link to the world around him.  I’d like to see Daniel Craig one more round, rebooting his character to reopen a worldview beyond the grim.  He brings a physical strength and believability to the role that his predecessors, save Connery, have lacked.  MI6 and the surrounding characters are now set for the next 10-15 years of the Bond franchise, but... like all his predecessors, the question remains whether Craig is due for a reboot as well.

4 of 5 STARS



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