What a long, strange journey it’s been. And having now watched every Bond movie in the last month, I can truly say that this is the Bond we have been waiting for.
I don’t like it as much as Casino Royale or Goldfinger, but it’s up there. There are a lot of great homages to earlier Bond films without winking at the audience. And it gives us a good story and a great performance by all of the actors involved.
Daniel Craig returns as Bond, and finds himself in Turkey tracking down a sophisticated computer hard drive containing almost all of the names of undercover agents throughout Europe stolen by a mercenary named Patrice. He is assisted by a rookie field agent named Eve, and during the fracas and a fistfight on top of a train, M orders Eve to take a sniper shot to take down Patrice. She instead misses, hits Bond in the shoulder, who plunges into the water below. He is classified as “Missing, Presumed Dead” by MI-6 and actually thinks about disappearing.
Enter Gareth Mallory (played by the always imposing Ralph Fiennes), the Head of the Commission on Intelligence and Security. After the apparent death of Bond, he wants M’s head, and tells her he’s going to orchestrate her resignation through a series of open hearings. But on the way back from this meeting, the MI-6 building is bombed. Bond is forced out of playing dead/resurrection to come back and solve the mystery of who is targeting them and why, and how it relates to the computer lost in Turkey.
This inevitably leads them to villain Raoul Silva, amazingly portrayed by Javier Bardem with bleach-blonde hair, a former MI-6 agent who had been captured and tortured by the Chinese and now with a vendetta against MI-6, M, and all of Britain for hanging him out to dry. Bond eventually is able to save M by taking her to his Skyfall estate, the Bond family lands in Scotland, overseen by an amazing Albert Finney, who almost steals the movie.
What’s especially great in this film is the evolving relationship between Bond and M. While Judi Dench has often played M as almost a matriarchal mentor for Bond, the relationship between her and Silva borders on Oedipal and matricidal. To cement this even further, Silva even refers to M as “Mommy,” making this even more disturbing. Judi Dench also delivers possibly the most important monologue in the entire film, setting up exactly what this new world of Bond is all about:
Today I’ve repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. . . Well I suppose I see a different world than you do. And the truth is, what I see frightens me. I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they’re not nations, they’re individuals. And look around you: who do you fear? Do you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now, it’s more opaque. It’s in the shadows, and that is where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, as yourselves: how safe do you feel? It’s no small thing to say, but my late husband was a great lover of poetry, and some of it sunk in, despite my best intentions. And here today I remember this, I think, from Tennyson:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
This script is smart, it’s quippy, but not overly punny or snarky. They tried to hit that sweet spot that Casino Royale did and, in the words of secret agent Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much.” The reparte between Bond and the new Q, who looks like he’s about 17, a fact which Bond throws in his face before Q tells him he can cause more damage with his laptop in his pajamas before he has his first cup of tea than Bond can in a day. It’s fun. Similarly, the word association Bond does with the psychologist (seen in the trailer) is quite telling.
Psychologist: I’m going to say a word, and I want you to say the first word that comes into your head. Country?
James Bond: England.
James Bond: Shot.
James Bond: Provocateur.
James Bond: Employment.
[pause, no answer]
James Bond: Done.
Aside from the script, the fingerprints of director Sam Mendes are all over this film. Like his previous work in Road to Perdition or American Beauty, he lets his actors perform and captures them incredibly well on the celluloid. It’s also dark, and at times a little plodding. With Mendes, you take the good with the bad. But he’s also able to deliver on some fun action pieces– a motorcycle chase that puts Never Say Never Again to shame. Oh, and trains, and subways. And a showdown at Bond’s Skyfall estate. There’s plenty of action in here for even the most braindead Expendables fan and plenty of thinky spy drama for those of us who don’t drool in our popcorn.
I had even higher hopes for this film that it would be the best Bond ever. Almost, not quite. It is a strong redemption and resurrection from Quantum of Solace, but it’s not quite Goldfinger. Keeping with our 30 Days of Bond rating system, I’m giving this 3 1/2 martinis and a strong recommendation to go check it out, whether you’re a casual Bond fan or someone who has watched 25 Bond movies in the last month like some of us.