It seems impossible that 50 years have passed since Sean Connery starred as Ian Fleming’s famous fictional agent James Bond in “Dr. No.” During the ensuing half-century, 007 has entertained moviegoers with his heroic adventures in 22 more films in which six different actors had the opportunity to utter those famous words — “Bond, James Bond,” — and order martinis “shaken not stirred.”
Although I think I’ve seen every Bond movie, I still think Connery was the best 007, but Daniel Craig is a close second, and he returns as the indestructible agent in “Skyfall,” the 23rd film in the series. Although I would not classify this film as vintage Bond, it does boast lots of action, some terrific chase scenes, a chilling villain, a great surprise, and one real shocker.
As the film opens, we find Bond and his assistant, Eve (Naomie Harris), in Turkey on a mission to find a list containing the names of all NATO agents who are also members of terrorist organizations. But by the time Bond arrives on the scene, the guy who had the list is breathing his last, and the list is gone.
One of the film’s great chase scenes follows as Bond and Eve pursue the man they think has the list. Without revealing too much, let’s just say that through a series of incredible events, Bond ends up being wounded and presumed dead.
Meanwhile back in London, Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench), is feeling the pressure from her superiors to retire. While she is on her way back to the office after a meeting, an explosion occurs that wipes out MI6 headquarters and forces M to relocate to an emergency site underground.
When Bond, who has decided to use his “death” as a way to retire, hears of the explosion, he goes back to London to help M find out who is responsible for the hit on MI6. The harried M accepts Bond’s offer to return to service despite having some doubts about whether or not his agent skills are as sharp as they should be.
Through another series of events too complex to delineate here, Bond’s search finally leads him to a real badass named Silva (Javier Bardem), an embittered former MI6 agent with a personal vendetta against M. At one point in his career, Silva had been captured and tortured by the Chinese, and he holds M solely responsible for this. After a horrifying scene that underscores Silva’s sadistic nature, Bond manages to capture him and take him back to England, where his imprisonment bears an interesting resemblance to Hannibal Lecter’s incarceration in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Like Lecter, Silva is a brilliant madman, and his inevitable escape sets up a final confrontation at Bond’s childhood home Skyfall, where 007 has taken M to keep her safe. And the climax of the film offers viewers a virtual war between Silva and Bond in addition to a completely unpredictable stunner.
“Skyfall” marks Craig’s third consecutive portrayal of 007, and I think it is safe to say that the role will now be his for as long as he wants it. He imbues the super agent with a stoical demeanor befitting a character who takes his job quite seriously. This Bond doesn’t smile much because he’s all business, but Craig also conveys beautifully his character’s inner strength and resolve. And he has a great chemistry with Dench, whose expanded role as M in this film finally gives her a chance to shine in the role that has been much too abbreviated in previous films of the series.
In the film’s production notes producer Barbara Broccoli explained why the filmmakers decided to enlarge the role of M in this movie.
“We wanted to really mine the relationship between Bond and M, because it is the most significant relationship he has in his life. M is the only person who represents authority to him. You have two extraordinary actors, and we just thought — let’s go all the way. It’s worked extremely well. It’s a very emotional story.”
Also in the production notes, Craig noted why the relationship between Bond and M is so important.
“Their relationship is based on mutual respect. They both know that every time the chips are down, one of them will have to make a sacrifice. It’s difficult to have a touchy-feely relationship with someone under those circumstances. But at the same time, Bond’s always had in the back of his mind that there’s a bit more. It’s something he never shows, but the connection is there, and I get a kick out of that as an actor, to play a life you can’t show.”
While “Skyfall” may offer Craig job security in the part of Bond, it also firmly establishes Bardem as an actor capable of creating superb villains. Anyone who saw his Oscar-winning performance as the terrifying Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” will not be surprised at how equally frightening Silva is in this film. Bardem has the ability to give his villains an icy composure that makes them eerily uncomfortable to watch. In the production notes Bardem explained why he was attracted to the role and offered some interesting insight into Silva.
“When I read the script, I was immediately drawn to the story and the character’s possibilities. To work with (director) Sam Mendes and to be a part of his incredible cast and crew, I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like this. (Silva is) an angel of death — a very clean-shaven person who happens to be rotten on the inside. He has a very personal objective – he’s not trying to destroy the world. And he is on a straight line to that objective: he is a man seeking revenge. It’s about being focused on the one person he wants to eliminate.
“It’s always about who’s the person behind the character. It would be very difficult for me to play a role that I just saw as some kind of symbol. In this case, there is a man suffering, a man full of pain and frustration, who simply wants to fix the situation. Within that journey, there was room to be funny or aggressive, but I could perfectly understand who he was, and that helped me to portray him.”
Unlike the earlier Bond films that contained some of those great gadgets, this one relies more on chase scenes and the obligatory pyrotechnics to sustain interest. That’s what I meant earlier when I said the film is not vintage Bond, but it certainly has plenty of exciting action punctuated nicely by some well-place humor, and it also pays homage to the first Bond films with the appearance of something all 007 fans will love seeing again.
Another thing that “Skyfall” (It gets a solid eight.) does is leave little doubt that we will see more of Craig as 007 in the future, and that’s good news for all of us who have followed the super agent’s exploits during the past 50 years.
At one point in the film Bond tells M, “007 reporting for duty.” I’ll be ready again whenever he is.