John Ostrander: The Bond Evolution
James Bond, as a movie franchise, has been around for fifty years and the franchise celebrates in magnificent fashion with the latest installment, Skyfall. For me, it’s definitely the best thus far of the Daniel Craig Bond movies and it may be my choice for the best of all the Bond movies. I know that “best” is, as often as not, a personal, subjective opinion rather than an objective choice. People can cite certain criteria as the basis of their opinions but who determines the criteria? For example, there are those who regard and will always regard Sean Connery as the best Bond and anything else is heresy.
Let’s look at Skyfall in context of the past fifty years of Bond films. On my list of the best Bond films are From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond, Casino Royale. As much as I really enjoyed the latter, Skyfall is superior.
To start off, we have an A list director in Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (for whom Craig played in Road to Perdition, made from Max Allan Collins’s graphic novel). Together with cinematographer Roger Deakin, there are some stunning visuals in the film. This is the best-looking Bond movie ever.
The action set pieces, including the opening, are breathtaking, as are the opening credits by Daniel Kleinman, who also did several other Bond films including Casino Royale. The visuals in the opening credits actually play into the story and what has just happened onscreen with a hallucinatory effect.
A Bond film also heavily depends on its villain and with Javier Bardem’s Silva we have one of the greats. You can detect a touch of Heath Ledger’s Joker in him but not blazingly so. He smiles, he laughs, he’s brilliant, he’s predatory and he lusts for Bond’s body. Bardem knows how to both underplay the character and take him over the top. Considering that the character doesn’t even appear for the first hour or so into the film, the impact is indelible.
A Bond story doesn’t always have to make sense; it often provides the framework for the derring-do and the action but this one actually digs a bit into both the character of Bond and of his boss, M, played by the stunning Judi Dench. She is so tough and no nonsense that she could have been a white, British Amanda Waller. The most important relationship in the film is between M and Bond and ultimately it’s very touching, very human. The story doesn’t just keep everything very status quo; the situation and the characters are challenged and there is change.
The movie lets Bond fail early on, lets him get seedy, lets him fall off the mark in his skills so that he has to work to reclaim them. It addresses the question of whether or not Bond and M are dinosaurs, are they truly needed in this age of computer wizardry. (Yes, they are.) It also addresses the fact that Craig, and Bond, are getting older. In the Roger Moore era, it was glossed over as they gave Moore turtlenecks to hide his wattle. Here, Bond looks older, more worn, and it is suggested to him that he has lost a step or two and maybe its time for him to retire.
The movie pays service to the Bond films of the past without being strictly tied to its continuity. It doesn’t reboot the franchise so much as evolves it. During much of the Moore era, the franchise just got silly and even later incarnations didn’t change things much. Then the Bourne movies came out and the status quo changed. Bond had to change as well and that started with Casino Royale but has found its culmination here. At the same time, the Bond franchise doesn’t shy away from its past; there is a suggestion that between the last film, Quantum of Solace, and now many of the previous Bond adventures may have taken place, specifically Goldfinger. It redefines Bond and his world so that they work for today.
Skyfall digs deeper, attempts more, looks better, and challenges both the characters and us, more so than any other Bond film. Yes, I’m including From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. That’s why I’m saying it is the best Bond film ever. And don’t we want it that way? The best is not the past; it’s now and, hopefully, in the future. When people ask me what is the best story I’ve written, I always say, “The next one.” I hope to go to my grave thinking that. Gives us something to work for and to look forward to. Me? I can’t wait. Bring on the next Bond!
MONDAY: Mindy Newell