WhenI first stepped into the theater to see Skyfall, the latest James Bond extravaganza that released in the US on Friday, November 9, 2012, I got worried.
A quick glance revealed I was surrounded by senior citizens. If my math was right, many of them likely watched Dr. No when it first hit the big screen in 1962. Maybe that’s because I went to the matinee. I’m guessing so because some critics have called Skyfall one of the top five Bond movies ever. As a Bond afficianado, I must agree.
It’s definitely one of the best movies in the franchise as Daniel Craig continues to stake his claim to being one of the best Bonds ever. But the stellar Skyfall will appeal to die-hard and fresh fans alike.
From the usual high-action opening sequence (all I’ll tell you is that I’m pretty sure it includes the largest use of construction equipment while on a moving vehicle in Bond history) you get the sense that the safeties are off in this Bond episode, number twenty-three in the official series. And you’re right. Anything can and will happen. I found it made for a slightly unerving, yet refreshingly unpredictable movie-going experience.
The traditional soaring theme song, already made famous by Adele (and getting Oscar chatter) along with the accompanying iconic imagery reminded me of Golden Eye in its homage to Bond opening traditions. Its emphasis on deeper images of life, death, and resurrection had me thinking the film just might cross generations and break out of the action genre a bit into more substantive issues. And it did just that — without taking itself too seriously.
Skyfall pays tribute to all the usual Bond traditions — exotic locales, beautiful women, elaborate villainous hideouts and schemes, and even a cool car that blows stuff up. But it forges new ground in character development for the series as it explores the roots of Bond’s affection for “M” as a surrogate parent-figure and of her own attachment to him, as well.
After all, what mother would enjoy giving the order to kill a pseudo-son? One of the funnier scenes has M tersely asking Bond where he’s been while she’s been under attack. His laconic reply? “Enjoying death.” All you guys will be pleased to know that’s as close as Bond ever gets to an “I love you” in this one.
Dame Judi Dench shines in her central role as Bond’s indomitable boss “M.” This time around, she is the object of mysterious attacks that threaten to bring down the British intelligence system and force her into early retirement. As an extra twist, the incomparable Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient) makes his entry into the series as Mallory, a politician with his own secretive intelligence background who has just been given oversight over MI6. Not to ignore the younger tech-savvy millenials, a fresh Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and a trendy-but-geeky “Q” (Ben Whishaw) arrive with an eye on the future of the Bond franchise. Both are welcome additions.
It’s all about getting back to the basics in this one as Q’s exchange with Bond shows after supplying 007 with the most basic of gear: “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.” “A brave new world, ” Bond replies. Indeed. Dame Dench even gave me shivers when she read Tennyson — and not just because I was an English major. It made for gripping drama about our need to stand in the face of terror “and not to yield.”
Don’t get me wrong, Skyfall has its harrowing escapes, blazing fireballs, and the usual death-defying physical feats, but as one blast from Bond’s past puts it, “Sometimes the old ways are the best.” The story even takes a surprise turn to revisit Bond’s family roots in the Wild West of Scotland that might remind some of Craig’s turn in Cowboys and Aliens. The trip back home for Bond ultimately reveals more about the current nature of the loner agent’s true family.
And the best part is that Skyfall succeeds with any gratuitous — well, without gratuitous anything. Nothing seems overdone in this one. As a father and a conservative man of faith, I was expecting to find more scantily-clad women, profanity, and violence than I would have liked. Not to say there isn’t any, but it’s kept to a few kissing scenes, implied off-camera activity, a handful of words tossed here and there, and no blod-and-guts-stomach-turning kind of violence. One new sexual wrinkle has the male villian (Javier Bardem) flirting with Bond.
A bonus is that Skyfall won’t leave you feeling like you need to take a shower or go to confessional afterwards. And it’s surprisingly tender when it needs to be — was that a tear in Bond’s eye?
One caution: the final sequence may be a little too emotionally intense for younger teens as it involves the suggestion of suicide. Parents should see it first before watching with children 13 and under and then decide.
Skyfall has more than its share of surprises but an alert viewer should pick up on the hints. Remember I warned you — the safeties are off. Let’s just say I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Ralph Fiennes in coming Bond films. I for one am fine with that.
Go ahead. Let the sky fall. You’ll be glad you did.