The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
By Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5
“THAT WHICH WE ARE, WE ARE”
I’ve been critical of the last two Bond films. It’s not that they were bad–at least one of the two was relatively well-done and well-meaning–but that they didn’t feel like Bond films to me. They tried too hard to transform the Bond we’ve known and loved for 50 years into something akin to a Jason Bourne doppelganger. Don’t get me wrong, Jason Bourne is a great character, and the third Bourne film is damned near pop perfection. But Bourne is not Bond–they’re different characters, and ought to be. Yet Casino Royale, and even more so, Quantum of Solace, seemed enamored with the Jason Bourne series, and wanted to mimic it in order to reinvigorate the James Bond franchise. To an extent, it worked. Many people loved Daniel Craig’s leaner Bond–cut free from all the absurd gadgets and supporting characters and witty repartee. All the camp was gone, which was fine by me, but along with the camp, so went most of the fun. He didn’t even give a damn whether or not his martini was shaken or stirred–that’s not a Bond I recognize. I just didn’t think it felt right, even though I like Craig as an actor. It wasn’t him, it was the films they gave him to inhabit. In an effort to make the franchise more gritty and “real,” they got rid of just about everything I liked about Bond.
I’ll concede that if I’m allowed to complain about Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace by calling them diet Jason Bourne, then it is entirely possible that someone could complain about Skyfall by labeling it diet Dark Knight: Javier Bardem’s villain is undeniably influenced by Heath Ledger’s Joker, and a huge part of The Dark Knight‘s plot is lifted wholesale and inserted into Skyfall. The surprising thing though is that rather than feeling like a copy of The Dark Knight, for me, Skyfall just points to the heretofore unexplored similarity between Bond and Batman: both are just men–orphans–trying to be good, to do good, in a world gone bad, and in the wake of the tragic deaths of their parents. At their cheesiest, both have ridiculous gadgets–whether batarangs or exploding pens–but at their best they’re just men who, even when not at their peak physical condition, can overcome their weaknesses through the drive to do what is right, for love of country, love of humanity, and a fidelity to some inner sense of justice.
The best Bond films are often anchored by great villains, and though Skyfall would be a good film regardless, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is probably the best and creepiest Bond villain we’ve seen in a long while. I predict he’ll be up there with Blofeld and Goldfinger in the upper echelon of the Bond villain pantheon. Silva may not be as menacing as Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, though he sports as unsettling a wig, but as far as film villains go, he gets closer to the terrifyingly creepy heights of Chigurh and the Joker than any Bond villain may have ever been. Silva’s introductory scene where he gives a disturbing and homoerotic speech about he and Bond as two surviving rats that either have to eat each other or everyone else felt as iconic as some of those infinitely quotable Joker speeches in The Dark Knight.
In spite of all the Batman comparisons, and possibly because of them, the Bond Daniel Craig plays here is finally the “Bond, James Bond” I know and love. It is also Bond at its most meta, Bond deconstructing Bond: dismantling and simultaneously re-establishing various elements of the Bond mythos. It balances the character’s darkness and lightness beautifully, and finally manages to bring in the supporting cast of characters in a way that feels current, but also stays true to Bond cosmology. For example, Ben Whishaw’s Q is a perfect reinvention of the character that takes the man of Q Branch from an old man tinkerer to a young guy you’d expect to see behind an Apple Store Genius Bar. And that’s not the only great supporting character to make a comeback.
Judi Dench is back as M, of course–she’s phenomenal as ever–and there’s this great moment about halfway through the film where she’s brought before a tribunal. During her testimony she reads an excerpt from a poem by Tennyson:
“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
The poem works well in the scene for many reasons that I won’t go into, but also I imagined it speaking in a larger sense to this Bond film as a whole. “That which we are, we are,” the poem says, and I felt, sitting there in the darkness, staring at the silver screen, that finally, once again, that which Bond is, Bond is, or what he ought to be, he finally is once more. Or to bastardize a line from The Dark Knight: “This is the Bond we deserve, whether or not it’s the one we need right now.” This is a timeless Bond. And I predict Skyfall will long be considered the best Bond since Goldfinger. It may even be, blasphemy of blasphemies, the best Bond of all time.
Skyfall is a film directed by Sam Mendes, written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, based on characters created by Ian Fleming. It stars Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, and Ben Whishaw. Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Eon Productions
Design by Jillian Mercado
Film Still from Skyfall, Photography Courtesy of Eon Productions