Most movie series suffer from diminishing returns, with sequels dying slow painful deaths rather than going out with a spectacular finale. They rehash tired concepts, rely on gimmicks rather than good writing, drain the concepts pool completely and frankly, “thrash the dead horse” endlessly. Prometheus showed us that the Alien/Predator series should have died five movies ago. The latest Indiana Jones and Star Wars film proved that great ideas that haven’t been touched in decades shouldn’t have been touched at all, especially by the same writers and directors who first created them, because they failed to bring fresh ideas and replace them with silly plot lines that are in serious danger of ruining the earlier, excellent movies. But when it comes to Bond, James Bond, the 007 formula works in complete contradiction to the diminishing returns theory. Skyfall is one of the best constructed, acted, directed, photographed, written, etc. etc. movies this year. I haven’t been this excited by a movie since Inception.
Let me put the record straight. I’m a Bond fan. I’m more of a Bond fan than I’m a fan of any other art form. I discovered the genre late one night as a kid with my mum, dad and brothers when we watched Live and Let Die, and then I was hooked. All the other kids in the school yard had been talking about Bond movies for a while, but I didn’t get what the appeal was until I saw one for myself. I remember attending my first Bond cinema experience with mum and my brothers with Octopussy. I remember watching The Living Daylights with my then girlfriend on a ‘first date’ several years later. I read all the Ian Fleming novels between late high school and university, and settled on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service being my favourite Bond novel. All of this greatly affected my writing, but that is another story.
So what is my favourite Bond movie? Well it kept changing. First was Live and Let Die, because I enthralled in my early teenage days with the combination of weird magic, spy gadgets and exotic locations. Of course I was also captivated by how sexy and mysterious the women were, being a boy of impressionable age—and I wanted to live the Bond lifestyle, but who wouldn’t? Then I saw The Living Daylights and encountered a Bond film that was ‘smarter’ than anything that had come before and a Bond in Dalton who is most like the character Fleming created. Then came Goldeneye and that was the perfect Bond movie for me. Then Casino Royale turned up and suddenly Bond was clever, had depth, and appeared in a movie that told a fantastic, captivating story that is the most faithful to the books yet. Daniel Craig immediately became the best actor ever to portray Bond. Sorry Sean Connery fans, while the Scot is excellent, Craig leaves Connery for dead.
The point I’m getting at is that my favourite Bond movie kept changing, because the series kept getting better. It’s a franchise that doesn’t have a shelf life, at least not after 50 years (almost 70 years if you count the novels) and Skyfall has reached such amazing heights of film perfection, I wonder where the Bond team can go next.
Watch any Bond movie, it is easy to see how much love there is for the series by everyone who has ever been involved in it, from the producers to actors, directors, film crews, and so forth. They really do invest the time and effort, and passion, to “get it right!” Looking over the Bond history of the last decade, the producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have made some bold but very intelligent decisions on where to take the series. When The Bourne Identity was released it became obvious how silly films like Die Another Day had become, with space lasers slicing open glaciers, parasailing tidal waves, diamonds embedded in facial scaring, and high voltage villain suits. So the series was rebooted, with a new actor in the role of Bond (Daniel Craig) showing us 007’s origins and a story line that explains why he can’t commit to relationships, and done with a more realistic grounding than the twenty films before it. Then Christopher Nolan gave us Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and proved that blockbuster action films can be made with intelligent stories and in-depth character arcs. And so the circle is complete, because while Bond has influenced so much of popular culture, it knows when it needs to be influenced.
Skyfall is a combination of character study taking us to Bond’s childhood and the loss of his parents defining further why he can be such a cold killer that is required of him as a Double-O agent, and yet it is a high adrenalin, high action movie. The villain Raoul Silva is one of the best ever, made believable by the outstanding Javier Bardem. Silva is also refreshing in that he is a “villain with a plan” who can adapt to Bond’s foils, focused to getting what he wants and matching Bond in inventiveness. But all the actors are excellent, including Craig, Judi Dench in her seventh and most profound role as Bond’s boss, M, and even the women Naomi Harris and Berenice Marlohe have well-written parts that allow them to really express their characters. The writing is crisp and pacey, yet involved in the moment when the moment needs time to play out, such as in defining conversations between Bond and other lead characters. Like a score of classical music, Skyfall has the fast and the slow, the highs and the lows, the action and the character arcs all in the right places. Incidentally, the soundtrack is excellent too, and the opening title sequence is haunting like a nightmare and Freudian in its exploration of Bond’s psyche.
I won’t go much into the story, except to say Bond almost dies and then goes into hiding, not sure if he wants to and not really ready to return to active duty, but when M is compromised and British spies starting getting murdered across the globe, he feels compelled to return to MI6. Unlike most Bond films, the majority of action occurs in the United Kingdom, but this doesn’t diminish from the film, because England is transformed into an exotic location. The ending returns Bond to where he began, although I won’t explain what I mean here for the sake of readers who are yet to see the film.
My only regret, the mysterious organisation Quantum which was set up so well for more movies in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace is absent. Hopefully they’ll appear in the next Bond film (Bond 25), which I’m hoping will be directed by Christopher Nolan (watch his films closely and see just how influenced he has been by the Bond films and it will be obvious he is the next director the franchise needs).
Skyfall, do yourself a favour and see it, because it is most definitely worth your time. It is already the 30th most successful film ever in terms of financial returns, and will probably reach the 20th spot by the time its cinema run is concluded (Update: as of 26 Dec 2012, we have learned that the film has hit the number 15 spot). This is a film for the history books.
Producers: Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
M16: The Home of James Bond, 007