James Bond Rises in “Skyfall”

James Bond: Everyone needs a hobby…
Raoul Silva: So what’s yours?
James Bond: Resurrection.

What makes Skyfall the Best Bond movies since…well, since Casino Royale six years ago?  It is the Daniel Craig Bond Movie for People Who Don’t Like Daniel Craig Bond Movies.

When Casino Royale came out in 2006, it was my son and I sitting in the theater with an empty chair between us.   My wife, a die-hard Sean Connery fan, flatly refused to have anything to do with it.  She and my daughter wanted no part of a blonde Bond.  “And he’s ugly,” my daughter added.  My wife agreed.  She thought Craig looked like somebody Connery, the real James Bond would beat up.

Quantum of Solace comes along two years later and one again the women in the house turn up their noses at my offer to join us at the movie theater.  Upon reflection, I wish I had passed on that one myself.   It would have been a fine action picture on its own merits, but it was definitely a lesser Bond entry and was hobbled by being rushed into production trying to beat a writer’s strike (and it shows).

Four years later and Bond is back for Skyfall and once again, my son and I are there for the opening weekend and to my shock, so if my wife.  She says the trailers wore down her resistance.  “It looked good,” she says.

It is good.  There’s more shooting, running, chasing, crashing, jumping, fighting crammed in the first ten minutes than some “action” flicks have in two hours.  But this being 007, things do have to slow down to take a breath and set up the story.  The plot revolves around a stolen hard drive with the names of all of MI-6‘s covert agents, a cyber-terrorist who promises to expose five of them every week and his personal vendetta against M (Judi Dench) for reasons once revealed are a good reason to nurse a grudge.

Blonde, lethal, and flamboyant, Javier Bardem’s Silva can go toe-to-toe against Bond at his best and though cleared for duty after being shot and going missing for months, Bond is far from the top of his game.  What makes Bond not simply appealing but enduring is while he fights better, bangs more beautiful women, and rocks a tuxedo better than any other character ever dreamed up in any other medium, he isn’t a superhero and he doesn’t have a healing factor.   He bleeds, he can be killed, and he can get too old for the job.

Any similarities between these three is purely not coincidental.

The two threads that wind throughout Skyfall is the dire consequences when a spy stays in the cold too long.    Some of the best scenes are the quiet ones between M and Bond where Dench and Craig muse about their strange (and strained) relationship.   M: “You know the rules of the game. You’ve been playing it long enough. We both have.” Bond: “Maybe too long.” M: “Speak for yourself.”

When Bond isn’t calling M a “bitch” in response to a word association question, he’s going to extremes to save her from Silva.   Another agent who went rogue when M gave him up in a prison exchange to be locked up and tortured,  Silva is a monster, but M made him one and he’s determined to destroy his personal Dr. Frankenstein.

Silva and Bond share mutually unresolved mommy issues with M and a complicated love/hate relationship.   Never mind what the story is supposed to be about.  That’s what Skyfall is really about.   M is no so much  The Bond Girl as she is The Bond Woman.   Dench does an outstanding job playing a woman who has to make horrible decisions that have left her filled with regret yet stronger for doing a dirty job exceptionally well.   While  the buzz is Skyfall might be the Bond picture to snag a Best Picture nomination,  Dench deserves serious consideration for at least Best Supporting Actress.

It’s a dirty job and M is up to her neck in it.

There were doubts that Sam Mendes could handle a kinetic action flick as well as domestic dramas like American Beauty but he fills the bill more than adequately.   Mendes allows himself space to build the conflict between Bond, Silva and M until he picks up the pace to the next set piece.   It’s a dazzling bit of direction and the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan pulls off the neat trick of looking back into unrevealed parts of Bond’s past complete with pointed nodding and winking at instantly recognizable holler backs at earlier films over the last 50 years.

By the end of  Skyfall,  Mendes and Craig have positioned the franchise for a bright future.  Regardless of who the next director is, Craig is committed to utilizing 007’s license to kill for  two more movies and as the credits announce “James Bond will return,” instead of dreading the prospect,  it’s something to look forward to.    We should be thankful Jason Bourne came along to wipe away the lingering bad taste of Die Another Day and the kick in the ass prompted producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to retire Pierce Brosnan and recruit the lean and mean Craig.    Liam Neeson’s Brian Mills has a special set of skills, but the Taken movies are about an inch deep in characterization.   It’s still James Bond who leaves us shaken and stirred.   To put it another way,  nobody does it better.