For almost a month, starting in mid-October and almost two weeks into November, we here at Through the Shattered Lens have watched and shared our reviews and thoughts on the 25 James Bond films (22 official EON productions with 3 non-official ones) which preceded this week’s release of the latest James Bond entry with Skyfall. We’ve shared which were our personal favorites of the series. Some preferred the Connery-era of the Bond franchise while some were in the Moore-era. What we here have all come to realize is just how timeless this franchise has become despite it having celebrated it’s 50th anniversary just last month.
The James Bond film franchise has gone beyond what Ian Fleming had imagined when he first came up with a literary character that would become a global pop icon and remain one of cinemas most successful franchises in history. There have been low points in the franchise (usually when the actor whohas been performing the role has outlived their stay) but then there have been some great highs. In the end, there’s always been one constant and that’s the character of James Bond — British secret agent 007 with a license to kill.
A franchise which began with on Sean Connery in the title role has now seen a return to prominence with the role now in the care of British actor Daniel Craig. The Craig-era began with the critically-acclaimed Casino Royalewhich also became popular with the mass audience. The sequel to this reboot would set the franchise back a step or two, but still became the second highest grossing Bond film in the franchise. We now come to the third Bond film in the Craig-era with 2012’s Skyfall and the question of whether the James Bond franchise can still remain relevant in this age of hyper-kinetic and ultra-violent action films remain to be answered.
Skyfall begins with Bond already in the middle of a mission to recover a computer hard-drive which stores the names of hundreds of NATO agents deep undercover within the many terrorist organizations around the world. Things are not going well for Bond and his fellow MI6 agents. He finds many of them already dead or dying and it’s up to him and another agent named Eve (played by Naomie Harris) to chase after the mercenary who has taken off with the hard-drive.
One thing we’ve come to expect with the more recent James Bond films (especially the Daniel Craig ones) are the action sequences which make up the opening section of the film. Even before we get to the recognizable Bond opening credit sequence this opening of the film using a very thrilling and elaborate action sequence tend to set the tone for the rest of the film. Skyfall was no different as Bond chases the mercenary Patrice through the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar right up to a one-on-one fight on top of a moving train. Through an unfortunate stroke of luck and a command decision by “M” back in MI6 headquarters in London we segue ito the always popular opening credits sequence with Bond having been shot by accident and left for dead.
The plot of Skyfall was somewhat similar to Goldeneye which saw Pierce Brosnan introduced as the new James Bond. James Bond finds himself racing against time and a former MI6 agent who feels betrayed not just by the country and organization he loyally served but by “M” herself. Raoul Silva (played with a sociopathic flair and panache by Javier Bardem) knows the in’s and out’s of MI6 and this allows him to penetrate both their physical and cyber defenses which puts the entire national security of Great Britain and the Commonwealth in extreme peril. It also puts “M” on the proverbial political hot seat as civilian oversight committees look to find a scapegoat for dead MI6 agents and Silva’s continuing assault on Britain’s intelligence apparatus.
To say anymore about the plot of Skyfall would ruin the biggest joy about this film. Mendes would’ve been one of the last people I saw being picked to direct a James Bond film, but he proves himself more than just capable, but also brings his own character-driven narrative sensibilities to raise the bar for future James Bond film. His handling of the quieter moments during the film shows that particular skill of his that has made him an Academy Award-winning filmmaker. It was on the action scenes that Mendes’ skill as a filmmaker would remain in doubt, but with the help of second unit director Alexander Witt, Skyfall manages to create action scenes that weren’t created for the sake of putting action on the screen but to move the story forward.
In the past, James Bond films rarely moved into introspection on it’s main character’s personal and professional motivations. This began to change when Daniel Craig was picked to help reboot the franchise. The first two films with Craig as Bond showed a much grittier and emotionally complex 007 than in years past. We also got a Bond who was still new to the role of being a 00-agent so we saw the character grow into the role. With Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace we got a Bond who moved from newly minted secret agent then to an agent going off the reservation and following his emotions to finish a mission (both official and personal). The one thing those two films didn’t do was give us a Bond that was fully capable and confident in his abilities to get the job done through the biggest odds. But before we finally get that Bond in Skyfall we see him go through personal doubts about whether he still has the skill to be 007 in a world that sees him and his kind of espionage a relic of the Cold War. By the time the film finishes to a close we find ourselves seeing this new modern, complex Bond finally meeting the old-school traditional Bond who delighted our parents and grandparents in the past.
There’s so much more to be said about this film which brings to the table the best of 50 years this franchise has been on the silver screen. The film pays homage to it’s cinematic history, but not so much that the film becomes a “Can you spot a past Bond reference” exercise. Each and every reference seemed to flow naturally into every scene it showed up in and some even got a nice ovation and reaction (classic Aston Martin DB for example). We even got to see the film poke a bit of cheeky fun at some of the franchises more over-the-top plot devices and all of it in good fun.
Then even with a strong story, great performances from the film’s principal cast members there’s still the question that always get asked whenever a new Bond film hits the screen. That question being how were the latest new Bond Girls.
While Naomie Harris’ Eve was a nice partner to Craig’s Bond their chemistry just didn’t flare up like most of the classic pairings in the franchise. That honor goes to Bond’s short, brief time with the character Severine (played by the ridiculously beautiful Bérénice Lim Marlohe). The scenes the two share in the Macau gambling house was one of the highlights of the film with Marlohe conveying both the femme fatale and damsel in distress in the same scene with the most subtle of acting touches. There’s a good chance that whenever “best of…” lists about Bond girls get made each and every year Marlohe as Severine would be on the top of most lists.
It took two films and six years of exploring, deconstructing and analyzing the character of James Bond through the performance of Daniel Craig. Through that time we’ve gotten to see a new side to James Bond without dismissing and forgetting about the character’s suave and deadly efficiency of past Bond films. While I still lean towards Sean Connery as the gold standard of all James Bond performances after seeing Craig as Bond for the third time in Skyfall the gap has shrunk considerably and I wouldn’t argue if some have Craig matching and/or surpassing Connery in the role. It’s a title that would be well-earned and with how the film ends a chance to see how Craig moves forward as Bond not just in the updated modern sense but the traditional that has made the character one of the most iconic figures in cinema history.
A last note, we get a return to old-school James Bond songs with Adele performing the film’s song which actually has the film’s title in it. The song also harkens back to the days of Shirley Bassey and If I had a choice in the matter I would just let Adele sing all future Bond songs for as long as she wants to.
Thus end Through the Shattered Lens’ retrospective on the James Bond franchise both past and present. It’s been a great ride and all thanks to the drive and organization of co-founder Lisa Marie Bowman who styles herself as the site’s resident Bond Girl.