It is rare that we look at a contemporary release, although there have been a few exceptions. In all cases these have tied back into our traditional Classic Film Genre in some way. Today’s talk is no different.
Skyfall (2012) is the latest entry into the mythical and almost half century old legacy of James Bond on the big screen. This is Daniel Craig’s third entry as the enigmatic English spy, following his earlier spectacular debut in Casino Royale and breathtaking sophomore slump in Quantum of Solace.
This entry is a marked improvement of the earlier Solace, but a still a far cry from the heights reached (and further excellence alluded to) in Casino Royale. There are a few nods to the Bond we all know- such as that famous introductory line of “Bond. James Bond.” There are also a few familiar faces and at least one return (and yes, we are avoiding spoilers as best we can). welcome character return.
But Skyfall devolves quickly into just another actioner of the current day. A notch above the competition mind you, but a standard action film nonetheless. The plot is relatively pointless and serves only to tie together the spectacular chase and action sequences. We have too much “M” in this one, and as much as Judi Dench has added to the series in the last many pictures, it is a Bond picture, not a “M” one.
What we’ve always loved and enjoyed about the Bond series was either the gritty hardness of it (the Connery years) or the campy humor of the Roger Moore years. With a few exceptions, since Moore left the Bond legacy has been on a downward spiral at worst, or treading water at best. Timothy Dalton’s dour and serious approach fizzled quickly after a strong start (at least from my perspective) in The Living Daylights. Pierce Brosnan muddled through until Die Another Day, which makes Moore’s 1985 swan song A View to a Kill look like Citizen Kane. The ice palace and invisible car alone made this die hard fan want attend BA meetings. (BA is for Bond Anonymous, for the uninitiated.)
So what is wrong with our favorite secret agent?
The driving concern here is twofold. First is the current state of the film industry. Action sells, plot and drama do not. Action sells even better if you started as a comic book creation. Skyfall had a monstrous opening and Craig’s contract has been extended a few more pictures. But like all the other pictures of the action genre of late, it will be forgotten in short order. Bond releases- once upon a time- were events. The posters for You Only Live Twice, for example, heralded “SEAN CONNERY IS JAMES BOND.” Not “as James Bond,” but “is.” No one since has come close to meriting that honor.
Of a secondary note are the storylines behind the pictures. Long ago EON Productions ran out of original Ian Fleming titles to use. It has been longer still since an original Fleming plot has been used substantially onscreen. The notable exception was, as alluded to earlier, is Craig’s debut in Casino Royale, which is perhaps the best Bond picture since Connery. And only a decades old rights dispute made this one available. Sadly, no other lost gems exist.
In the producer’s defense, they can’t help that Ian passed on without an unlimited volume of novels to pull from. But there have been other Bond writers who have followed in Fleming’s stead. John Gardner wrote several Bonds in the 1980s- light and not overly awful- and even Jeffery Deaver of The Bone Collector has penned a recent entry. For that matter how about Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun? I haven’t read it in quite awhile, but memory serves it was fairly strong. Let’s get some plot back into this game.
All the negativity aside, Skyfall isn’t a bad picture. In fact, I rather liked it. But I liked it not because it was James Bond, but rather because it was a rather engaging actioner. It tries, like it must in today’s environment, to compete with the latest Spiderman or Twilight entry. But by definition that devalues James Bond.
One of the big pluses for the picture, outside of the tremendous production value (goodness it does LOOK phenomenal), is the failure to feature anything truly significant in the realm of those gadget items which got so ridiculous in other Bond pictures- think later Roger Moore pictures here and dare I say Die Another Day. There is a great cameo (for lack of a better word) of the Aston Martin from Goldfinger, along with a few great comments. The best is from “M,” who, as Bond fondles the gearshift, says “Go ahead, eject me!” Just as was done almost 40 years prior. Hints of the past, but alas, only hints.
As the end credits began to roll on Skyfall it left a sense of melancholy. Perhaps next time we will get something like Casino Royale, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only, or (gasp!) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The last is my own personal favorite. Something more sinister than someone out to kill “M.” Something that harkens both to the Bond we have known and loved but also leads us forward into new frontiers.
Recommended? Yes. Must see for Bondphiles? Yes, of course. Series defining? No.