I have a curious relationship with the Bond movies. Having come of age around the tail end of the Roger Moore era when Timothy Dalton took over the role, I've struggled to engage with any entries in the series since 1989's Licence To Kill.
The Bond films represent many of my favourite things about cinema: large scale action; slick derring-do; international espionage and cool gadgets. But for the longest time, the films have just seemed like an assemblage of identifiable clichés, with nothing resembling personality or wit.
All of Pierce Brosnan's efforts were terminally boring (save for a couple of action scenes in Goldeneye) and while I appreciated what they were attempting to do with the character for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, I thought Timothy Dalton did a much better job of humanising Bond while maintaining a bad-ass edge in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill.
I guess we are all at the mercy of the films we grew up on, but I would be lying if I said I had enjoyed any Bond film significantly in the last twenty years. Until Skyfall that is. Which is pretty darn awesome. Here are five reasons why I think it came together so well:
1. The Director
Longtime Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (daughter of franchise originator Albert aka 'Cubby') have often displayed a relatively open mind when it comes to selecting directors for the franchise, never more so than with Quantum of Solace, for which they hired Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland director Marc Forster. Although QoS made a mint, you'd struggle to find anyone who thought it was any good. Thankfully, that did not put them off hiring another arthouse-leaning director for Skyfall, for which American Beauty and Revolutionary Road director Sam Mendes was employed.
Mendes brings a sense of weight to the dramatic scenes in Skyfall, which often feel token in Bond films. All the Daniel Craig entries have attempted to inject some self-aware pathos into the character, but Skyfall is the first time the resulting scenes actually work. I am gonna credit Mendes with the fact that I actually felt something for the character of Bond this time around, womanising bastard that he is.
2. The Bad Guy
When I first heard about Javier Bardem's casting, I found myself disappointed that such an amazing actor would participate in such a staid franchise. I shouldn't have been such a snob. For one thing, Bardem was in Eat Pray Love and that constitutes rock bottom on its own, but principally I failed to recognise just how much he would class up the 007 joint.
In all his press for Skyfall, Bardem has displayed a infectious reverence for the Bond series, and he appears to have channelled that affection into his performance. There's more than a hint of No Country For Old Men's Anton Chigurh in Skyfall's Raoul Silva, and Bardem is clearly relishing the chance to particpiate in such an iconic series. Silvia remains chilling throughout, but little hints of glee can't help but shine through.
3. The Trains
There's a lot of pressure on any Bond film's pre-title action sequence to be amazing, and Skyfall's counts among the series' absolute best. Mainly because it mostly takes place on a train. Ever since Sean Connery's Bond took on Robert Shaw's Red Grant in a cramped train compartment in 1963's From Russia With Love, Bond action scenes involving trains have held a special significance. Skyfall's opening sequence is the best of the bunch - by the time our hero is using an earth mover to grasp onto a drifting train carriage, I was ready to embrace Skyfall wholeheartedly, and the movie was only five minutes in.
The film further endeared itself by setting a thrilling chase within the London Underground - an enticing location for an action scene if ever there was one. Silva's actions during this chase may make little sense in retrospect, but hot damn if it wasn't satisfying to see Bond sliding down between two of the Tube's recognisably-long escalators.
4. The Locations
Bond's a British spy, but he never seems to spend much time in the UK - Skyfall corrects that with London playing a central role throughout the film, and the finalé taking place at Bond's titular family estate in Scotland.
Beyond this dramatically satisfying homecoming of sorts, Skyfall gets much milage out of the real-life location that stands in for the villain's lair.
5. The Style
Heinous amounts of product-placement notwithstanding (would MI6 agents really relax with a Heinekin straight after their headquarters are blown up?), the look of Skyfallimpressed me greatly. There's an early fight scene high in a Shanghai skyscraper that is bathed in dark blue LED lights - it looks freaking rad, and counts as one of the most stylish action set-pieces in Bond history.
The approach to the Macau casino and the aforementioned villain's lair also both contribute greatly to the film's unique look. Bond films are generally pretty slick affairs, style-wise, but Skyfall is the first time in ages that style has actually felt progressive. It's very cool.
I've long considered the Mission: Impossible films to be the current standard-bearers for espionage action thrillers, but Skyfall has re-injected the Bond franchise with a healthy amount of relevancy and superlative amounts of awesomeness. For the first time in ages, the Bond films are actually living up to their standing in pop culture.
One thing that doesn't hold up to a lot of scrutiny thought is the villain's plot. It's quite possibly the most convoluted, coincidence-reliant plot ever dreamt up by a Bond baddie. Which is really saying something. Still, the movie overall rules, and such concerns only come to light once the credits have rolled.
For the record, my five favourite Bond movies are: 1. Licence To Kill; 2. The Spy Who Loved Me; 3. The Living Daylights; 4. For Your Eyes Only: 5. Goldfinger.
Amped for Skyfall? Favourite Bond movie? Favourite Bond? Comment below!