We would have been happy with Casino Royale; we really, really would. Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond was such a revelation – such an infusion of modern cool into 007’s timeless sensibilities – that he could have spent the remainder of his tenure doodling on a napkin and we still would have deemed him a success. So we accepted the flawed nature of Quantum of Solace without raising much fuss; enjoying its eccentricities and letting its middling status slide with the assumption that Craig’s ride would be more of the same. Little did we know that the best was yet to come: the inestimable Skyfall, which not only affirmed the character’s relevance for the 21st Century, but set a new standard for all future entries in the series. Best Bond ever? Goldfinger may edge it by the thinnest of margins, but even then, I’m inclined to give it a little space on the podium. Hit the jump for the review.
The secret lies in its deft combination of the old and the new: the way it acknowledges 50 years of previous Bond films without simply repeating what came before. We still have Q, for example, and he still seems slightly perturbed by Bond’s arrogance. But Ben Whishaw’s buttoned-down wunderkind feels more at home hacking into Facebook than building supercars like Desmond Llewelyn did so wonderfully for so long.
The villain, too, reflects our brave new world while nodding to the old. Javier Bardhem’s former M16 agent has it in for M (Judi Dench) and the rest of his old chums, but rather than destroying the world in retribution, he’s content to post what he knows about them on the Internet and let the world destroy itself. Bond becomes an unanticipated wild card after a colleague accidentally shoots him and leaves him for dead. MI6 may tumble down, but 007 is still on the job… even if he looks like he spent the last two months sleeping in a sewage drain.
Director Sam Mendes approaches the project with the ideal attitude, full of love and respect for the old Bond, but daring enough to put his own stamp on the character. Even more tellingly, he treats Skyfall like the conclusion to a trilogy, turning the Craig era into a reboot as much as a continuation. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, Bond roams far and wide here, only to arrive back where he started and know the place for the first time. All the expected tropes take on revelatory depths here that might have always existed had we but looked at them with Mendes’ eyes. Can anyone deny the implied homoerotic charge between a captured Bond and his various gloating nemeses… suddenly made explicit by Bardhem’s fey madman? Haven’t we yearned to believe in all those exotic super-fortresses, brought to life here in chillingly plausible terms? And after having to somehow choose between the scores of extraordinary Bond girls over the years, who but Dench could finally stand at the top of the heap?
Skyfall delivers these revelations in a glorious action-filled package, crammed with the exotic locales and innovative stunts we’ve come to expect from the franchise. But as with everything else, they never sink to the perfunctory. We see it all the way we did our very first Bond film, whether it be Dr. No, Quantum of Solace or anything in between. Skyfall captures that revelatory essence, that thrill of discovering something new and different that we’d never witnessed before. It then shakes (not stirs, if you’ll forgive the pun) all those elements up, and hands them back to our jaded older selves in a way that reminds us why we fell in love with this franchise in the first place. I’m pissed beyond words that the Academy left its tenth Best Picture nomination blank this year rather than sliding 007 into it. Then again, that assumes he ever needed the Oscars to prove his cinematic relevance. The omission is their shortcoming, not his. Skyfall serves notice that 50 years is only the beginning… and that this old war horse of a franchise may bury us all before it’s said and done.
The Blu-ray is a must-buy of course, though Bond fans who purchased the recent boxed set (with the convenient slot for this entry) may be slightly frustrated by its surface deviations from the other discs. That said, it packs a fair amount of pang into a comparatively small buck, with a single, very insightful documentary and a pair of terrific audio commentaries (one from Mendes and the other featuring two producers and the production designer.) There isn’t much else – just the trailer and a four-minute clip covering the premiere – but there really doesn’t need to be. Sound and picture quality are extraordinary, as one would expect from a release of this magnitude. Sure, it doesn’t quite match the rest of the pack, but then again, that was kind of the point all along.