Originally published in the Smith College Sophian
Nov. 11, 2012
Is there anyone cooler than James Bond? He’s a superhero in a skinny tie. The consistent thread of Bond’s character is his ability to remain calm, kill the villain and get the girl—all while sipping a martini, if one happens to be at hand.
Rarely, if ever, has a character been able to stick around as long as 007. The film franchise, which began in 1962 with Dr. No, is currently commemorating its 50th year. The latest installment, Skyfall, is both an interpretation for the modern era and a celebration of Bond’s impressive legacy.
Skyfall, latest Bond portrayer Daniel Craig’s third outing, begins in Turkey. An unknown villain has stolen the hard drive containing information on all MI6 agents currently embedded in terrorist organizations around the globe. Revealing their identities would compromise their missions and blow their covers. A good Bond film has to strike the right balance between action and plot, and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) succeeds in doing so, starting Skyfall with a masterfully choreographed motorcycle chase through Istanbul. Accompanying Bond on his pursuit of the stolen hard drive is fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris). While Bond and the thief tussle on top of a moving train, Eve accidently shoots Bond, and he falls to his presumable death.
At this point the opening credits begin. The 007 opening sequences and the theme songs that complement them are evocative of the series as a whole. They are sultry, enchanting pieces. Skyfall’s opening, over which can be heard Adele’s seductive vocals, is a kaleidoscope of Daniel Craig cutouts, guns, girls, blood, graves and fire. The message is clear: Bond does not get out of this one unscathed.
Indeed, Craig is really the only Bond actor of the series to get bashed and beaten. As put-together as he is on the surface, this latest incarnation has suffered from all the windows he’s smashed through and the bullets he’s taken, not to mention his emotional state. Skyfall also hints that all those perfectly shaken martinis might not have been the best medicine for a man with a license to kill.
Bond’s aging body and mind become the film’s central conceit. Mendes and Craig depict the character as an agent past his prime. Eve even refers to him as an “old dog,” and Craig himself looks the part, a Rottweiler who’s seen one too many fights. His body is hard and compact but scarred, and his jowls jut below squinting, distrustful eyes. This isn’t to say that Craig is not a near-perfect physical specimen. Indeed, neither Eve nor the film’s other Bond Girl (because really, why stop at just one?) Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) can seem to find anything to complain about.
Neither, it seems, can Silva (Javier Bardem), the film’s central villain. In a decidedly modern twist, Silva appears to be taken with Bond as well. In their first meeting, Silva pets his nemesis in a sexually threatening manner, then suggests, “There’s a first time for everything.” Bond coolly responds, “What makes you think this is my first time?”
The comeback is more mocking than flirtatious, but it certainly puts a bit of a wrinkle in the classic womanizing character. It also quite nicely shows the series’ evolution from its beginnings 50 years ago (though by no means is Skyfall a progressive work).
Bardem, of course, is wonderfully adept at playing villains with truly heinous hair. His terrifying turn in No Country for Old Men proved that the actor knows how to incite fear with a simple look, and Silva, though not as unnerving as No Country’s Anton Chigurh, is likewise delightfully creepy and off-balance.
Skyfall provides a fitting conclusion to Craig’s Bond trilogy. It also takes full advantage of all the 007 lore that has accumulated around the 23 official films. The original Astin Martin makes an appearance, and exploding pens and ejector seats are mentioned affectionately. The audience also learns more about Bond’s back-story, as well as the origin of at least one other major character from the older movies. Though Craig is at this time signed on for two more films, it’s tough to say where the character can go from here, not to mention the actor himself, who is in his mid-forties. The audience seems willingly to find out, however. As of this weekend, Skyfall is the highest grossing Bond film of all time.