Skyfall (2012)

Directed By:  Sam Mendes

Written by:  Neal Purvis, Robert, Wade, John Logan

Starring:

James Bond:  Daniel Craig

M: Judi Dench

Q: Ben Whishaw

Gareth Mallory:  Ralph Fiennes

Eve: Naomi Harris

Silva: Javier Bardem

Severine: Berenice Marlohe

Co-Starring:

Walther PPK as Walther PPK

Aston Martin DB5 as Itself

Gone are the witty one-liners, the cartoonish supporting characters and the physically impossible stunts done anyway while the movie makers slyly wink at the audience.  Gone too are the cartoonish villains and—as Austin Powers would put it–the easily escapable predicaments that give Bond the opportunity to be tied to a beautiful, intrepid, yet oddly whiney and fearful woman.  Conspicuously missing too are the clever, Q-supplied gadgets that save the day, an absence actually announced in the dialogue.

In their place are defeat, doubt, a James Bond shaken, stirred, shot, beaten, nearly run down by a subway train—twice—all but washed up, yet sent on one final (?) mission by M who is also washed up, in more ways than one…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m old enough to have actually seen Dr. No (1962)—the first Bond film–in a theater back in the days when admission was less than a dollar, and so was popcorn.  Since then, I’ve see then all, and all of the Bonds.  While I’ll always have a soft spot for Sean Connery, and admiration for Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig has well assumed the mantle—now and for the foreseeable future.  His Bond is a patriot, yet a hard-edged killer.  He looks good in a tuxedo and plays all the appropriate social graces, yet it’s clear that lurking just beneath the surface is a man always a little uncomfortable with such effete play, a man waiting for the chance to act with speed and ruthlessness, for England, but more for himself.

For fans of Bond’s legendary dalliances, Craig plays the part, but not with a leering self-assurance.  His assignations are more primal, almost channeled anger, even a means of escape from himself and what he does.  Strangely enough, in a time when screen nudity has become almost boring, this film is far more suggestive than revealing, which modern—particularly young—audiences may discover is much more satisfying.

In very real ways, this movie is a bridge between the old and the new—right back to the old, or at least the elements of character, action and movie making that have made the Bond franchise arguably the longest lasting and most profitable of all time.  In an age of simpering metrosexuals, men who are afraid of guns, men who have a thousand reasons why it can’t be done and none why it can, men who want to stick their nose in everyone else’s business, men who can’t do, can’t create, can’t imagine, and can only denigrate those who can, perhaps—just perhaps—Americans need James Bond more than ever.

In True Grit, John Wayne uttered one of the great movie lines of all times: “By gawd, she reminds me of me!”  One of the reasons the Bond films have thrived while all of the other feeble attempts at spy-heroes have enjoyed, at best, limited success, is Bond’s unashamed maleness.  He’s an alpha male, doing what only the most intelligent, cunning and physically capable alpha males do.  He kills the bad guy—who is very, very bad indeed; gets the girls—lots of them; flaunts authority to get the job done—and is forgiven for it later; runs, jumps, pilots aircraft, shoots every firearm in sight with deadly accuracy, skydives—without a parachute; you name it, he does it, and every guy in every theater is thinking: “by gawd, he reminds me of me!”

Craig does all that, while adding an element one might think would destroy the franchise: self-doubt.  For an ostensibly British agent, this seems an odd move, but it’s an essentially American quality, a quality desperately needed in the age of Obama where failure, all too often, is touted as success, and where refusing to take responsibility for one’s actions is seen as admirable.  Despite failure and self-doubt, Bond picks himself up, overcomes all obstacles, and succeeds, in the process becoming even more capable and self-assured.  In the end, all is well in the Bond universe.  Familiar and necessary characters—all with new faces—are back in the firmament, future films are guaranteed, and the audience leaves the theater smiling and looking forward to the next film, whatever it might be.  Considering this movie marks 50 years of Bond films, that’s a remarkable achievement.

The plot?  Add in the elements I’ve mentioned to the usual Bond plot and you can figure it out.  Javier Bardem plays the villain with appropriately deranged glee and relies on contemporary technology to work his evil, world threatening designs.  Without magical technology that pops up at unexpected moments to save Bond’s bacon, Director Sam Mendes must rely on more traditional methods, including stunning locations, sets, cinematography and in a word: realism.  It not only makes the film more gritty and plausible, but ultimate more effective.

Naomi Harris plays a fellow British agent who becomes less—and a very essential and iconic more—than she seems…you’ll see.  Ralph Fiennes plays what appears to be just another dull bureaucrat who also becomes…you’ll see.  Berenice Marlohe plays a stereotypical Bond woman: beautiful, young, long, lean, dark and all too soon, dead.  Bond remains hard on women.

The DB5 plays an important role, even giving Bond that little extra push necessary to make a final break with what seems an uncomfortable, limiting past that is actually the title—you’ll see—but the Walther PPK…

Yes, I know it’s the iconic Bond handgun.  Yes, I know it looks sleek and sexy.  Yes, I know it makes sense, considering the plot…you’ll see.  But James Bond is a man who uses what works.  Why would he carry a handgun with a wretched trigger pull, tiny, hard to see sights, limited accuracy, minimal magazine capacity—he works alone in places where .380 ammunition isn’t readily available in the local corner gun shop at all hours of the day and night—and speaking of the .380…good grief, it’s a minimally effective cartridge.  Does MI6 want Bond dead?  There are a wide variety of handguns currently available in 9mm that outstrip the PPK in every respect, and that look appropriately sexy too.  The Walther P99 favored by Pierce Brosnan is a prime example.  Oh well.  Mrs. Manor notices such details, but to a lesser degree than do I, and I suspect this is an issue of little or no importance to most Bond audiences.

The movie is surely worth your time.  Even those who have never seen a Bond film will find this movie entertaining, and will miss nothing.  And for those who, like me, were first introduced to “Bond; James Bond” in 1962, it’s good to know Bond is back.  In 1962, there was a little James Bond in every American male.  God grant he returns—to every American male.  We need him now more than ever.

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