The time has come on 007(x3) Weeks of 007 for “Skyfall,” the last entry of the rewatch and the second-to-last entry overall. Tonight, I see “Spectre” and the plan is to post that review Thursday (if all goes well).
Actually, “Skyfall” is the perfect movie to end the rewatch on because it is, beyond a doubt, one of the best Bond movies. The truly interesting thing though is that it is one of the best Bond movies because it is such a throwback to the classic Connery films.
Consider this – people love the first Craig Bond film, “Casino Royale” because it is about destroying the Bond mythos, it is about taking apart everything that people know and love about the character. It builds some of it back slowly, but it is really about Bond before he’s Bond. Now here we are with the third film and people love it because it is entirely built around reestablishing that same mythos that was destroyed. Sam Mendes has characters say it at least twice, “sometimes the old ways are best.” It isn’t just a reference to fighting in the film itself, it’s a reference to the old Bond movies and establishing that classic mold.
It also helps shine a lot on just why “Quantum of Solace” is so disappointingly filmed. Fine, I get that you can’t always have Roger Deakins shoot your movie, but it’s not just the shots that Deakins and Mendes give us, it’s larger and goes to the composition of scenes as a whole and the way the pieces are edited together and what makes for a classically good movie as opposed to a flash-in-the-pan ridiculous style.
Bond fighting with the assassin in China here in “Skyfall” is one of the greatest fight sequences the franchise has put together and just watch it – the fisticuffs portion is one shot and even though the characters are silhouetted, you know exactly what’s happening. You can still have style without fast cuts. You can establish tension and drama without fast cuts. Plus, avoiding hyperactive editing allows the viewer to know what’s going on. “Quantum of Solace” just misfires so badly in terms of the actual filming/editing.
But, I’m not going to dwell on that (any more than I just did), because “Skyfall” works as more than just an antidote to “Quantum.” As with other Bonds, especially latter day Bonds, “Skyfall” tosses a bunch of references about other films in the series (Q makes an exploding pen wisecrack, referencing “GoldenEye”), but there’s more of the Connery era to it than anything else, that hard-nosed Bond and the simplicity of the gadgets and story. Particularly genius is Bond’s witty repartee with Moneypenny at headquarters (or their makeshift headquarters), even if we don’t know that Eve’s last name is Moneypenny. Once you do know that and you watch the scene, it’s just that much better.
And what about the reestablishment of Q branch as a thing in the franchise? This is the first time we’ve gotten a Quartermaster since “Die Another Day,” and where there we were offered an invisible car, here we get a gun and a “Goldfinger”-like radio transmitter. Yup, Goldfinger.” Again. I have lost track of the number of times that the franchise has referenced “Goldfinger,” but they do it again here.
One of the other brilliant callbacks is another “GoldenEye” one, but it’s subtle. If you recall when M was establishing her bona fides with Bond in that film she talks about having the “balls” to send a man out to die. Here, she essentially orders the death of more than one agent. She tells Bond to go after the NOC list rather than stopping an agent from bleeding to death and then has Moneypenny take a shot which could kill 007. Oh, she’ll order a man’s death without thinking about it. “Take the bloody shot.”
I’m going to miss Judi Dench in “Spectre.” This new movie is the first time in 20 years she’s not in a Bond movie. 20 years. I have to wonder how she feels about that and desperately wish I had the opportunity to ask her.
Her character over those 20 years changed dramatically. There she was in “GoldenEye” as “The Evil Queen of Numbers,” the new person who wasn’t down with the old ways of spycraft. Now, here she is in “Skyfall” where she’s a member of the old guard, with old school techniques. Ralph Fiennes’ character makes that leap from a numbers guy to an agent guy just over the course of “Skyfall,” but that seems more like a necessity of heading back to the Connery era – you can’t have an M who doesn’t believe in field agents in a Connery style film.
And how good is Javier Bardem here in “Skyfall?” Wow. Not to harp more on the stupendous work of Deakins and Mendes, but go back and watch the first Bardem scene. Again, it’s a single shot as the elevator comes down and he walks towards Bond telling that insane story about the rats (and if you can’t hear him do the rat nibble sound you really do need to watch it again). He doesn’t come into focus even until the story is nearly done. It is just masterful storytelling and Bardem relishes the opportunity to play it up. I can’t say I like his overall plan, even the movie doesn’t (it drops the NOC list pretty quickly), but he’s great and a true throwback to a Blofeld or a Dr. No or a Auric Goldfinger or an Emile Largo.
I guess my point here is this – no matter how far away we get from the Connery era and those classic Bond films, that will always be the franchise. I spent several weeks early on in this rewatch delving into the tropes of the Bond films and when exactly they were established. Here we are now, 50 years later, and “Skyfall” works because it shows us that those same tropes are still relevant in our world today.
You can makeover Bond as much as you want. You can call him “a new Bond for a new era” repeatedly. You can explain just how different the world is and how he’s the guy to handle these new threats. It’s all just lip service. The Connery movies established our hero, his look, his style, and what we expect from his movies. You can make them bigger, you can make them smaller, you can make the gadgets fancier. But, people are always going to be happiest when you just tell us a good tale in the classic Bond style. Fifty years later there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, and it’s best when you don’t try.
There you have it. Why is “Skyfall” great, because it’s just as timeless as our hero. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with “Spectre.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment