Dashing with Daniel
When they chose Daniel Craig as the new James Bond they forgot how Ian Fleming conceived the character. Craig isn’t really “dashing” unless you just mean by that somebody who dashes. He’s simply tougher, more ramped up, more macho. While Fleming described Bond as “cruelly handsome,” Craig only gets the cruel part. He’s a pug-faced man. He has physical dash, his proportions are good, his muscles are impressive. But who ever said anything about 007’s muscles? He was meant to outwit and outsmart his devilish enemies. He was a high liver, a constant womaniser and a connoisseur of fine wine, liquor, and all things sensual and beautiful. The laconic Daniel Craig Bond hasn’t time to bed a woman, sniff a good wine, mix a martini, or savour a moment. (He does stop to adjust a cuff, after jumping into a speeding train, a quick nod to the traditional debonair Bond.) Craig and this new Bond avatar were chosen to fit the Bond franchise into a new, more pumped up, generic kind of action movie. Craig acts with his biceps and his pectorals. That and the grim twist of his mouth and his uncanny blue eyes. The music reminds us every so often that this is a Bond movie. The series has become homogenised, even as it’s kept up with the competition.
But this Bond still gets in some nice, dry lines, and in many respects, the plotline, the gadgets, the chases and escapes, the encounters with babes, Skyfall is big and fun and fast and dazzling, and the new director, Sam Mendez, doesn’t get in the way at all, and Ralph Fiennes is a promising new addition to HQ. There are some splendid set pieces, notably the Shanghai-Macao casino one, Silva’s lair, and the memorably stark and grim Bond family castle in Scotland where the final showdown transpires. But there’s nothing here in the action as fun and exciting as Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, or any of the Bourne movies except for the new dud without Damon. But those movies lacked the James Bond trappings that fans love.
Overkill has become the rule of the day. Thus before the opening credits, when commercial audiences are already exhausted from watching six or eight action blockbuster trailers, it throws a full-on chase scene at us, somewhere in Turkey, supposedly, but who really cares? We don’t even know who the bad guy is. But Bond chases him, on motorcycles, improbably across tile rooftops. Don’t try that at home. Don’t even try it in the studio. And then there’s a pursuit on the tops of train cars, like (most recently) Hit & Run. And finally there’s an underwater sequence. And it’s all followed at central HQ, like the Bourne movies’ Langley, only it’s London, and Judi Dench.
Skyfall doesn’t need to try quite so hard. If today’s actioners were more sparing with their action sequences and spent more time on memorable characters and dialogue, they’d be more distinctive and more memorable. But the new Bond nonetheless has at least some good characters (with fine actors to play them) and a well-devised plot-line.
We know we’re in good hands with Judi Dench as “M”, Bond’s boss. But when she tells a ravishing operative called Eve (Naomie Harris, a nice addition to the cast) to “take the bloody shot,” it’s not at all sure Bond is any longer in good hands with M. Thus the opening plotline: Bond is dead, or missing, and M is disgraced for a prize cockup. The failure of this mission moreover has jeopardised all of MI6. Someone very nasty has got hold of a list of all the agency’s undercover people all over the world. The plot, perhaps appropriately for a text with at least four authors, restarts itself repeatedly: but that works. When Bond reappears and is retested and goes out into the field with Eve again, making his way through the flashy gambling casino and a sad, beautiful prisoner there (Bérénice Marlohe) to a bombed-out looking island city and the arch villain Silva (Javier Bardem), it leads to a triumphant capture. We know we’ve got a good villain in Bardem, if we don’t remember the one he played in No Country for Old Men too vividly, and disregard the tired device of making an evil character effeminate.
Back to London, for an excellent many-layered sequence in which Bond pursues Silva while M is elsewhere being harangued by a cabinet minister and at a third location Q (Ben Whishaw) directs Bond through a chase in a crowded Tube. Q is the “quartermaster” who’s really a computer genius. He stands in for all of Langley, a nice simplification: it’s tidier and gets in the way of the action less.
Then, never mind how or why, the final reboot comes when Bond (to franchise fans’ cheers) jumps into his specially equippped Astin Martin DB5 and drives to that grim castle in Scotland from which the movie gets its name. It’s like staging a shootout and blowup at Wuthering Heights. The Astin Martin is at least one iconic fine thing the new Bond still appreciates.
Could this have lost 25 minutes? Sure it could. But if people pay for iMax, maybe they like getting 143 minutes in the deal.
Skyfall released in France and the UK Oct. 26, in the US Nov. 9, 2012.
P.s. Walter Chaw is of course right when he begins his review of this movie by saying, “James Bond films are the literalization of a very particular Conservative fantasy in which a suave, quippy, emotionally-arrested sociopath battles Cold War foes, beds beautiful women without consequence, always has the latest technology, and engages in the endless murder of foreigners. Just suggesting a “license to kill” reveals a certain level of arrogance. . .” And he may be right that several recent Bond films have staged an effective confrontation with these attitudes that Skyfall fails in not staging. But I was too exhausted to go that deep. I do remember, though how wittily Michel Hazanavicius with his star Jean Dujardin lampoons the attitudes in his OSS 117 series.
DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES
WRITER: NEAL PURVIS, ROBERT WADE, JOHN LOGAN
STARS: DANIEL CRAIG, JUDI DENCH, JAVIER BARDEM, RALPH FIENNES, BEN WHISHAW, NAOMIE HARRIS, RORY KINNEAR, BERNICE MARLOHNE, ALVERT FINNEY, HELEN MCCRORY
RUNTIME: 143 MINS APPROX