By Gary P Jackson
I don’t generally do movie reviews, but these trying times being as they are, and all of us needing a bit of a break, and being somewhat of a Bond aficionado, I thought a review of the latest film, Skyfall is in order. Ardent fans of the the Bond series of films may consider the headline blasphemy, but I assure you that it’s not.
I’ve enjoyed all of the Bond films, and all of those who have played Bond. Even George Lazenby! It took a bit for me to warm up to Timothy Dalton, but viewing his two films now are a delight.
Many, for obvious reasons only except Sean Connery as the “real” James Bond. He was the first onscreen Bond in what has become the longest running movie series in history. And while he cast the mold for the movie version of Bond, he wasn’t who Ian Fleming envisioned as playing Bond. Fleming actually wanted David Niven to play Bond, and eventually he would, in the 1967 Bond send-up, Casino Royale which had little to do with the book of the same name, outside of the main characters and only the loosest of ties to the original Fleming book, the first in the series.
Fleming, who was a spymaster during WWII [and reportedly helped set up what would become the American CIA] saw himself as a suave and sophisticated man, and Bond his alter ego. Niven fit that role, but more on Fleming’s Bond later.
Personally, I was first in the Roger Moore is the only James Bond camp, as I was a huge fan of The Saint which was in syndication in America. That and I was only three years old when Dr No, the first Bond film, was released. I hadn’t been won over by Connery when Moore took the part over. Moore would take Connery’s more blunt and brutal Bond, and add the sophistication Fleming had wanted, as well as that British charm that he had perfected playing The Saint.
If there is any fault to be found in either Connery or Moore, it’s they made one Bond film too many. For Moore it was View to a Kill, not a bad film, but not up to par with the rest. Then there is the dreadful “unofficial film Connery made Never Say Never Again. Other than giving Kim Basinger a starting point, it was a film that didn’t need to be made, and probably shouldn’t have been. Nothing more than a cheesy rip off of Thunderball with rather poor performances from everyone, including Connery, who was just too old, and fitted with a hairpiece that rivaled Donald Trump’s actual hair in it’s ridiculousness. It seems Connery may have made this more as a spit in the eye to the Bond franchise, than a tribute.
I’ve mentioned Timothy Dalton, and he carried on in Roger Moore’s tradition, mixing sophistication with humor, but with a decidedly tougher edge. In hindsight, had he made one or two more Bond epics, that would have been just fine.
Pierce Brosnan, took Bond up a few notches, adding more sophistication, and the great ability to deliver the wise crack, on cue. Of course, much like Sir Roger Moore was playing Simon Templar, while at the same he was playing Bond, there was a whole lot of Remington Steele in Brosnan’s James Bond. And that’s not a bad thing. Brosnan was actually slated to do the films Timothy Dalton would do, but NBC wasn’t about to let their star go do movies. Of course, as soon as Bronson was forced to decline, NBC would abruptly cancel Remington Steele. Such is Hollywood.
I’ve said all that, to say this. While Fleming may have seen the film version of Bond as a sophisticated “gentleman spy,” the reality is, the James Bond that came from Fleming’s typewriter was much more brutal, and much more sadistic than anyone who ended up playing him on film would portray 007, until Craig.
I think Fleming would like the casting of Daniel Craig as Bond, and the story line of Skyfall very much.
I’ll be honest, I hate “prequels” with a passion. The notion of taking well established characters, and going back in time, rarely works well. Though Craig’s version of Casino Royale turned out well, and finally did the book justice, it took some time for me to get used to it all.
For those that wonder why Royal, the first book, wasn’t the first movie. It’s rather simple, Charles K Feldman, who would go on to spoof Bond in the movie of the same name, owned the rights, and due to all sorts of issues, Cubby Broccoli and company elected to go with Dr No as the story to introduce their vision of James Bond to the world.
Daniel Craig has grown on me. Casino Royal was first rate. The next film, Quantum of Solace was very much a continuation of Royale and a decent film. It sought to clear up the unresolved issues from Royale as well as take the audience on another adventure. It wasn’t the best Bond film, by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the villain, Dominic Greene, so well played by Mathieu Amalric, was a global warming scam artist, with an ulterior motive, in the mold of the likes of Al Gore, Maurice Strong, Barack Obama, and their cabal of bankers from Goldman Sachs. It’s just a shame the real global warming scam artists can’t meet with justice, like the pretend ones did. But I digress.
This brings us finally to Skyfall. Daniel Craig has always been the more brutal, cold, and sadistic James Bond that Ian Fleming committed to paper. In this movie, he finally becomes the sophisticated Bond as well.
We are taken from the first two films where Bond has just become an agent with 00 status, granting him his license to kill, to a time where he’s an older, more seasoned veteran. His relationship with M both stronger and yet more strained. It’s not the snappy repartee Connery and Moore’s Bond enjoyed with Bernard Lee’s M, but it’s more familiar.
Skyfall is a very different Bond flick though. There are some great stunts, of course. In fact, the beginning of the movie contains some of the best James Bond hi-jinx ever. What’s great is these are live action stunts, done by real people, without CGI and other tricks that just ruin a film.
What sets this film apart though is the dialogue. There are great action scenes, but the movie relies heavily on the actual plot to entertain, rather than car chases, and gadgets. This Bond is remarkably gadget free, and much more believable, as is the villain Silva, who is hellbent on destroying M, and so deliciously played by Oscar winner Javier Bardem, who played the psycho killer Anton Chigurh, in No Country for Old Men.
The film is visually stunning, and a feast for the eyes. Speaking of feasts, those Bond girls are more beautiful than ever, but while playing a pivotal role, aren’t seen for long. This film is a little darker, and we spend more time with M and her troubles, as well as exploring some of the politics between MI6 and the politicians who look to oversee it. It’s something we’ve really never seen before, and totally appropriate with this tale.
I don’t want to spoil a second of the movie for anyone, which is why I’m trying to purposely not give the plot away, but no review would be complete without some comments about it.
All of the acting is first rate. This is Judi Dench’s finest hour as M. Under attack she and Bond are out in the field and she performs brilliantly. It’s a side of her the audience will enjoy. Of course Dame Judi Dench is an accomplished actor, having done both hilarious comedy, as well as serious drama. She uses her craft to the maximum here.
During the movie we are introduced to some familiar characters as well. We meet Q the quartermaster and Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary. I’m not sure Fleming would appreciate Q, as written here and played by Ben Whishaw. Nothing wrong with his performance, and it’s certainly consistent with our times, but completely away from the character of Major Boothroyd, created by Fleming, and first introduced to movie goers in Dr No.
Bond aficionados know the character Q [Major Boothryd] was a tribute to Geoffrey Boothroyd, a gun expert who once wrote Fleming complaining that Bond carried the wrong sort of weapon, a .25 caliber Beretta and recommended Bond carry the much more practical Walther PPK. Fleming listed to that sage advice, and history was made. Fleming and Boothroyd would become friends, with Fleming giving Boothroyd high praise as he introduces the character in the book, and in real life. Boothroyd, who was employed by ammunition manufacturer Imperial Chemical Industries, would go one to become a well recognized author and authority on weapons, and appeared in a film about the weapons of James Bond. As the films rely more on code names, we only hear Q’s given name once more in the series, when Russian Major Anya Amasova, Agent XXX, played by Barabara Bach, exchanges pleasantries with Q, as the ocean going Lotus is delivered to Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Craig and Whishaw try to resurrect the delightful back and forth that Desmond Llewelyn gave fans for years. It falls a tad short, and feels forced. Maybe it will improve in the next Bond film, yes, there will definitely be more Bond films, or maybe the writers will try something else between the two. This just doesn’t work.
Fleming would definitely approve of Miss Moneypenny though. She is beautiful and classy, though how she got there, as M’s secretary, is not all that believable. In fact it’s not really believable at all. But at least establishes a background between her and Bond moving forward, though it doesn’t come close to the story line explored and developed throughout the series.
Craig’s Bond references Moneypenny in Casino Royal sorta, in the scene where Bond and Vesper Lynde meet in the dining car, but that too, seemed like the writers were just trying too hard.
For Bond fans, Lois Maxwell will always be the quintessential Moneypenny, though later Samantha Bond would bring that same delightful play between her and James Bond, during the Pierce Brosnan era. Oddly enough, though many of us could never imagine anyone else as the original Moneypenny, someone else was indeed the first choice among the producers, who favored Eunice Gayson, the stunning brunette who would go on to play Bond’s love interest Sylvia Trench in both Dr No [who can ever forget the scenes in the casino] as well as From Russia with Love. There was a definite chemistry there, one of a far more sexual nature, than the one between Bond and Maxwell’s Moneypenny. It’s fun to wonder “what if.”
In Skyfall we learn that Miss Moneypenny does indeed have a first name and is played by the beautiful Naomie Harris.
One can’t finish without mentioning the excellent performance by Ralph Fiennes as bureaucratic pain in the arse Gareth Mallory who you’ll love to hate, …. at first ….
Overall, this is a great movie and a must see for Bond fans, and anyone else who enjoys a well done story. Is it the best Bond film ever? Hard to say, as they are all rather special. It may be the best presented Bond film ever. It’s certainly very well done.
Is Daniel Craig the best Bond? He’s certainly the truest to Fleming’s vision, as written, that’s for sure. I like Craig’s Bond, because I like that Craig can be his own man playing Bond, but give a nod to the more playful way both Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan portrayed 007, without overdoing it.
Everyone who has played Bond in the series has done him justice. There really are no bad Bonds. In the end, who cares who’s the best. Enjoy the way Daniel Craig saves the world from her enemies. I suspect he will only get better as we go along.
Go see Skyfall this weekend. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered.