Splashes from the brass horn section. A solitary barrel silhouette tracks left across the screen following our sharp dressed hero against a white backdrop. When suddenly (!) a broadside gunshot rings out as the screen wipes to red all while our barrel view staggers off the bottom of the screen.
Everyone knows what this is. It’s classic, iconic, and visually represents one of the longest lasting and successful franchises in the history of cinema. 25 movies across 50 years is no joke.
Yet, in cruel irony, a joke is exactly what the franchise had become. The last couple Brosnan-as-Bond films were crappy at best. The franchise needed new blood, and with the arrival of Daniel Craig, blood is exactly what it got. 2006′s Casino Royale should be enshrined as one of Hollywood’s best reboots. It was serious, passionate, trimmed back, and exactly what a modern (dare I say post 9/11) Bond film needed to be. 2008′s Quantum of Solace wavered a bit under the weight of expectation, and heavy reliance on tying up all threads left after CR. I still contend, that when watched back to back, CR and QoS together make one great (and lengthy) film.
Almost to a fault the previous two Craig films cut all the extraneous fluff from the bond universe. Q, Gadgets, and unrealistic chauvinism were but a few of the Bond staples that needed to be cut. The Bond franchise was required to distance itself so far from pre-established themes as a way to acknowledge how lost it had become over the years. We were given the Bond we needed, and it was great.
This brings us to Skyfall. I have no issue telling all who will listen that Skyfall is an incredible movie, and I would place it in the top 3 Bond movies of all time without hesitation. The reason I say this so matter of fact, as well as early in my review, is that I am going to continue ahead with some character, plot, and universe analysis. The remainder of this review will contain minor SPOILERS! Do yourself a favor, go buy Skyfall (read Brad’s review, if you haven’t already) and come back to read the rest of my article if you want it to all be a surprise. Otherwise, you’ve been warned.
With a decade removed from Brosnan, and Craig firmly established – I feel that time has allowed Bond to re-align a bit with established canon. As demonstrated with Skyfall, I am not the only one to have that thought. This movie is filled with nods and references to many eras of Bond cinema. It’s not quite meta, and never breaks the 4th wall – but there are a number of occasions I feel like a wink to the audience is all but physically given. Here’s an example, and again potential SPOILERS will be found ahead:
Upon meeting Q for the first time (glad he’s back!), Bond receives his first gadgets – but is clearly underwhelmed.
007: A radio and a gun. Not exactly Christmas, is it?
Q: Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.
The film is filled with bits like this, and it’s not just filler moments that acknowledge this extensive history. Even the antagonist is a clear nod to fan favorite Bond-villain Jaws. If I may also take a moment to comment on how great Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) is. While he many not reach the same level of terrifying as found in his Anton Chigurh role, he is still clearly a great villain. Charismatic, unhinged, and a bit of insanity all mix into a very compelling cocktail.
Without giving everything away, the plot is thematically formed around this idea that old meets new. Characters are frequently contrasting the old with the new. This is sometimes done figuratively, with regards to the role that Bond, M, and MI6 fill in a modern setting. Can the “old dog” Bond learn new tricks? Has M lost control of her division in part to her old fashioned approach? Is the tech-heavy skill set Q brings to the table a more effective way of combating modern crime and corruption? Other times it’s done literally, like the car Bond chooses for the latter half of the film and it’s place in the build to the climax when the past collides with the present.
Every cast and crew member is well aware of this line being straddled and it shows in all facets of the production. The director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) is clearly saying that in order for Bond to successfully continue to move itself into the future of cinema and remain relevant, it cannot ignore it’s complex history. The franchise is now sitting at a point where it’s the perfect balance of classic Bond moments that made earliest films so much fun, and intense raw action which made the later two so incredibly exciting. Mendes has brought Ian Fleming’s vision full circle and Skyfall is an impressive testament to the love and care the writer, director (and even cinematographer) give his universe.
With how brilliant this film is, I am excited by what the future will bring, and I will never forget that the 50th anniversary of James Bond was marked by one of its best movies.
You can’t ask for a more fitting tribute than that.