My favorite Bond used to be Roger Moore, but I got better.
See, he was all I knew growing up in the ’80s. The first James Bond movie I remember seeing was For Your Eyes Only, which gave me an instant crush on Sheena Easton and a love of espionage thrillers, with a little goof thrown in. Not as ridiculous as Moonraker, but hardly the strongest of the Bond franchise. I have a bit of a soft spot for Live and Let Die, but most of the Moore films are pretty forgettable, except for the villains- Yaphet Kotto, Christopher Walken. Richard Kiel.
I read all the Ian Fleming novels and ran to Curry’s Home Video, our big video store, to rent all the Bond films. Love Connery, even Never Say Never Again, which showed he kicked Moore’s ass even when he was joking about his age by going to a spa retreat. I still think Goldfinger is the best of the Bond franchise, Craig included. And I like the Craig films a lot. From Russia with Love is probably second, I appreciate the roughness of Dr. No, Thunderball upped the game and You Only Live Twice gave us the hollowed out volcano lair full of ninja warriors that defines the supervillain archetype. Diamonds Are Forever was a good time to check out. I like some of it, but by that point we sat around waiting for the snappy one-liners, and that’s never a good thing.
I liked Dalton and Brosnan, though both their runs ended silly, with Licence to Kill and Die Another Day crapping on the good they did with The Living Daylights and Goldeneye, respectively. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has found new love, and it is good compared to the silly Moore films, but it’s not very memorable to me. Casino Royale was the best reboot of modern times- better than Batman Begins, in my book- and Quantum of Solace may not have been a great follow-up, but I enjoyed it.
Skyfall is a fitting denouement to Craig’s Bond. That’s assuming that Idris Elba is truly taking over the double-0 moniker, something I welcome fully. It was hilarious when fans choked with rage over a blond blue-eyed Bond, I can’t wait for the response to a black one. I mean, he’s not an American, so get over it. Bond is a British operative, and by this point we have to accept that he is not the same man in all the films, despite Skyfall’s one misstep- making James Bond the character’s real name, and not one he uses for missions.
Other than that- and a little flirtation with the excellent high tech espionage from The Bourne Ultimatum- they stay very true to what makes Bond Bond- a gritty, fatalistic sense of expendability, as a spy and operative who is supposed to be beyond top secret. He is a throwaway weapon, and they make that clear in the excellent opening scene where he is partnered with sexy sniper Eve (Naomie Harris). The heart of the film is an attack on MI6 from multiple fronts, politics and terrorism. I liked grounding it in reality, especially after the recent scandals and dust-ups the superpowers have had with their intelligence divisions. Director Sam Mendes keeps the tension high, and the action scenes are easy to follow and still quite thrilling, whether it is hand to hand combat, gun battles, ambushes and car chases, military helicopters, trains and bulldozers and yes, komodo dragons. The exotic locales are Shanghai, the Middle East, Macau and the gorgeously bleak Scottish north.
Bond has become less a Lothario, and some have made complaint. There is the lethal Severine, played by French actress Berenice Marlohe, and a nameless beauty in Bond’s Mediterranean hideaway, but for me the sexual tension between him and Eve during one scene was enough to fuel the whole film. The film teases that we will be seeing more of her, and I hope we will. The Bond fan in me loved the final battle. We get a throwback that fits perfectly. Javier Bardem plays a Bond villain some will mock, but no one will forget. He is incredible, fierce and disturbing, as cunning as Heath Ledger’s Joker and just as memorable. I’ve heard nervous laughter about his homoerotic scene with Bond as his captive, and I had to laugh. Anyone forget Auric Goldfinger aiming a laser at Sean Connery’s lap-haggis?
I don’t think Skyfall needs defending. I admire that the target is Britain, and not “the world.” He’s a spy, not Superman. I liked seeing the internals of MI6, I loved Eve, and that everyone who works for the agency is effective… if not as effective as 007. Bond does not meet his female match, but Eve is not a damsel. M (Judi Dench) is a desk jockey. Bond is a killing machine, and they make it clear that he has the psychological problems that any trained killer experiences. It’s still a movie, but I like that our image of a hero now allows for a wounded warrior concept, that killing, even for good, takes a toll. And it’s not a job you want to sign up for. It’s one that finds you, because it’s something you can do and not lose it.
But enough heavy talk. This isn’t a silly Bond movie. It has some laughs and winks, but it is as gritty as the other Craig films and perhaps ends the trilogy, right where it should. This is a must-see for Bond fans of any era, and an excellent 50 year anniversary topper for the franchise. Some of my Twitter friends were disappointed, but I’m not sure what they were expecting. I was thrilled, I cheered several times, to my wife’s chagrin, and seeing it in IMAX was worth every penny, and every minute of waiting in line.
The film is confident enough to serve Bond a martini and have him say “perfect,” when it is shaken and not stirred. Have you ever seen a martini stirred? Having him say “shaken not stirred” is irrelevant, but the movie is not. Perhaps it has learned a bit from The Dark Knight and the Bourne films, but I think that makes it stronger. It didn’t top either of those films, but they’ve proven that the Bond films can remain relevant and true to their heart.