James Bond franchise spy British
This controversial film is something that people seem to either love or hate. I have encountered people who think that it's not a Bond film, while I, with my limited experience with Bond films, feel that it's a Bondier film than any ever made. Certainly, it has a new feel, and it definitely stands out, because there's something different about this one. There's something special and unique.
Since I don't know where to start, I might as well begin at the beginning. It sets the tone with a unique cinematography which persists throughout the film, showcases a dramatic and creative action chase, and ten cuts to the chase (lame pun intended) to one of most iconic moments for any Bond film, which is the song.
The song really sets the tone. "Skyfall" sounds really straightforward right? I guess so. After all, it shares the same title as the film. Yet, it's haunting, mesmerizing, and sad. There's a hint of dread there. The surreal title sequence is, likewise, equally haunting. The moment the music starts, something stirs (now that intentional pun wasn't lame), and the familiar images of Bond shooting enemy spies and of pretty women flashes by. Those things are mandatory. What interested me, however, were the other things, these strange, unconnected mirages that had something to do with the film kept on popping up. One of them was obvious from the get-go: depictions of bond getting shot. Yet, there were also pictures of target practice boards, graveyards, old shacks, skulls composed of these elements, and - most curiously - deer silhouettes. What did all this mean?
Whatever it was, everything had a ghostly feel to it, and it was one of the few Bond songs that I actually found memorable. A part of that was Adele's piercingly sullen voice. Another part of it was that it was a good song, and I could listen to it on the radio (as I indeed did). It also won an Oscar, which might not say much to some people, but it certainly provides evidence for the quality of the song if it was voted song of the year among fellow film artists.
With that tone set, this turned out to be a very dramatic Bond movie. To take the side against those who say that it wasn't a Bond film, I bring up the counterpoint that it still struck many of the same chords, just in different ways. It still had that sense of glam that no other espionage film will ever rightfully have, except this time around the glam went to a moody drama and a tale of loss and being lost. James Bond finds himself in a dark place throughout the film. His soul is troubled. There's actually some substance to his character.
In spite of this, there's still some heart and some humor. This isn't a Christopher Nolan film we're talking about here. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is a better take at a "realistic" adaptation of a popular franchise than The Dark Knight was four years before, because it doesn't entirely get caught up in that. However, it seems that for the authors, this time around they want the emotions of the main character to be real. They wanted to inject some humanity into him, while still being loyal to the pillars of what makes James the man he is.
Therefore, they clear off some of their ditzy smiles and admit that, realistically, James Bond would not make an ideal agent. The only reason why he's in his line of service is due to the unyielding faith of Judy Dench's M. After returning from getting shot at the beginning of the film, he's scarred, both physically and emotionally. He has to go through training again. It's really plain from the audience's point of view that he's not really up to the job. He can't aim. He can't meet the athletic standards. He has his limits, and in many ways he in incompetent.
Here's the kicker. His chauvinistic personality is acknowledged in-film as a weakness. This was never truly acknowledged before. The storytellers still glamorize these things, since Bond films need glam, but there's a hint of irony in it all. They acknowledge that these things don't make him cool because they're ideal, but because they're personality flaws that make him an iconic anti-hero. So while the glorification is still there, it is at least a glorification under the right light. The storytellers understand what kind of hero he is. The same can't really be said for other icons such as Batman, who is still hailed as a relatable character who represents ideal heroism, which is really far from the truth. As such, because of the soul-searching that Bond must g through with this film, I relate to this guy more, as far as semi-dark anti-heroes go.
The cool thing is that he has his limits, but he doesn't overcome them with Mary Sue talent. His gadgets only get so fancy, and his plans are only so intricate. He's constantly in a corner, and it really does feel like he's in trouble. Once, when chasing a particular bad guy, it's evident just how hard he has to work in order to pull off some of his stunts. Many of his attempts to get information are also foiled. The writers had to try hard to justify Bond's existence in this film, and it was a sub-theme that characters such as M had to deal with.
Skip ahead a little, and the film takes a twist. It seemed to be about one thing, but it was really about another. We finally get to see the villain for this film, and to my surprise, it was not the ultimate villain implied in the previous two films. So go figure: this isn't really a continuation of the story establishes thus far and more of a side adventure, although I have to say that there was a really good reason for that. I'll explain that at the end of this review.
Anyway, the villain. I have to say, Bond villains rarely make an impression on me. They are almost always boring, stock characters with little personality, and they're kind of cheesy. However, this particular character, Silva, is played by the glorious Javier Bardem. I predicted a possibility of him getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor but not winning when I first saw the movie. Turns out that the prediction was wrong, but then, I can understand why it wouldn't get nominated for anything particularly exclusive It's not the ultimate acting achievement to bring gravitas to a role, and a lot of actors can do that. Christopher Lee will never get nominated for playing Saruman, and Javier will never get nominated for playing this legitimately cool bad guy, because in terms of sheer acting prowess it's nothing to sneeze at, but in terms of how entertaining and cool the character was...that's another deal.
Without giving away much about the villain, I will say that he does use some illogical Gambit Roulette Fortunately, it's not too out-there, and the whole time he does seem menacing and difficult to compete with, given his form of terrorism and his level of competency. His reasons for being villainous are intensely personal, and he relates strongly with James Bond. There's a slight invisible connection between them, a sense where they truly get each other. It's a little creepy. The villain certainly causes James, if only slightly, to take a small look inward. The business between Bond and the villain is actually onto semi-personal. The personal issue the villain has is actually with another character, and darn, it's really fascinating. There's something scary about a man with such a grimly serious agenda and a firm reason for having it. I can believe that this man wanted what he was working for, and the chemistry between him and the character he was personally involved with really felt real and intense. Throw James Bond into the mix, and it's much more harrowing to see him actually involving himself in the affairs of real humans.
With all this explosive character chemistry going on, Bond really has to take things up a notch. In so many ways, he's no match for the villain, who's too smart, too powerful, and too determined for him. How do you make a character like Bond seem remotely relevant in a film like this, when for once he just might get outshown by the villain? Bond's childhood is brought up. We get to delve into his past. The title of the story turns out to have a very personal meaning.
As we know, James is an orphan. This film plays with that. It doesn't mess with what's been established, as far as I can tell. It doesn't have flashbacks. Still, the idea of Bond having to deal with that, to some extent, brings so much about this film together and really ups the ante as far as the scope goes. When he's pushed to his limits, he has to fight on his home turf, all alone. He doesn't have the aid of fellow field agents - only his closest friends. When he and the villain have almost nothing to lose, save for the things that they live for, both turn out to be incredibly resourceful and daring. Bond makes use of some incredible ingenuity and is willing to sacrifice a lot.
During the climax, there's some dramatic lighting, and some really cool shots that made this a rather pleasing film to see in the theatre and that really set it apart from any other spy film I have ever seen. It was indisputably Bond in its execution, and very much a good drama. So much about this felt big and larger than life, which is what big-screen movies need to be. I also love that the film often times took advantage of the big screen and had several great wide shots, especially when it needed it the most, when Bond was dealing with the Bardem's villain and it was necessary to see them on the set for the full impact of their standoffs to take effect. When they both finally give it their all, they come to a reckoning - something that I always invite in a Bond film and something that is impossible to do with any regularity.
So let's get to the fact as to why this is still a Bond film. The main theme is still used - thank God. Sometimes humorously, sometimes lovingly. There's a moment were there are strong references to the old Bond films. There are nods to retro aspects of the franchise, while ushering in the new. I'm reminded of the remarkable phenomenon known as "James Bond casting", where a remake or continuity reboot doesn't necessarily mean that all of the characters have to be replaced with different actors, or that the music and other iconic elements have to change. This film knows its tropes and knows its place in culture (I really wish that Zack Snyder felt the same, as well as other American directors,but apparently not). There's still the Bond girl, as well as "Bond and a babe in a boat", though this time it's treated with slightly more tragic air, as a result of his instability. There's still the classic "shaken, not stirred" Martini, but it's delivered with a surprisingly indirect ease. It takes many cliches and plays them straight, except with as much drama and Bond-glam as possible, since a Bond is the one place where cliches can work.
In short, this film burns everything that we knew about James Bond to the ground only to build it all back up again. At the end, it reminded me of J.J. Abram's Star Trek, where it fell on the note of a content love for everything that it has been and everything that it will be. Ben Whishaw became the new Q, who until recently I could have sworn he was Benedict Cumberbatch. So much of the recurring cast associated with Bond films that has been absent in this remake finally came on screen, and the full ensemble got together to have their moment to shine. This was not meant to be a continuation of Bond's conflict in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but it certainly set the stage for Bond to be Bondier in the upcoming films, so I certainly look forward to the future of the Bond franchise. Skyfall did more to reboot James Bond than Casino Royale did.