When it all falls down
In late 2010, MGM filed for bankruptcy. The studio had been in sharp financial decline over the last half decade or so and racked itself up an IOU of about $4 billion. With people at the studio not really knowing who was running things anymore and no money to fund the next Bond film or the $275 mil they promised to Peter Jackson for The Hobbit, both movies which, ironically, would've been the ones to help get the company back on its feet again, the eighty some odd year old legendary company threw its hands up and pulled its pants down, telling Uncle Sam it had been naughty with its allowance and assumed the spanking position.
When the legal dust had settled and Uncle Sam's hand print on MGM's ass had faded, the company was reignited, only this time to include the partnering and piggy banks of other big studios in order to fulfill their production schedule roster (in Skyfall's case, Columbia Pictures) and get them back in the black again.
This financial and legal cluster-funk created a time chasm of four years between the releases of Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. Not a heck of a long time really, but the longest period of time between Bond films starring the same actor in the series' history.
Fans of the series were inconsolable. Would Bond 23 be released by another studio? Would the back catalogue be sold off to cover MGM's debts? Was this the death of James Bond, not on the screen in a hail of gunfire or a moment of sacrifice as he deserved to go, but outside the fourth wall, in the marble pillared, mahogany studded courtrooms of the American judicial system?
Obviously, you're reading this review and no, James Bond did not die. He lives to fight another day (or Die Another Day, if you're feeling nostalgic for Pierce Brosnan).
And thank God for it, for while it's been said time and again since Casino Royale, Skyfall is well and truly a re-imagining of the Bond series as serious action drama, truly a Bond film for people who hate Bond films.
It's not so much a re-imagining though that fans of the tongue in cheek 'classic Bond' era will be made to feel as if their feelings weren't considered. There's still the over the top maniacal baddie, tickled to giggle fits with his own outrageous villainy. And yes, he still talks too much when he should be shooting Bond dead, allowing the super spy the efficient time to make his escape and piss in the villain's Cheerios yet again. It also contains the obligatory love scene, for re-imagined or not, a Bond film just wouldn't be a Bond film if he wasn't engaged in some serious PDA or TLC with a sexy, cool seductress with more curves than the letter B (because B only has two curves, and she has at least four and, well never mind). And, of course, there's action, lots and lots and lots of action.
Bond starts off in much the same way the last two Bond films have, right in the midst of a huge action set piece. As if the battle had been going on for some time and somewhere in the middle of it, someone decided to turn the camera on. In Skyfall, much of the action takes place on a train, barrelling for an unknown destination, and incorporates construction machinery, helicopters and a rooftop fistfight. The scene is long and intense and exciting, the kind of scene most movies make you wait the better part of an hour to get to. It ends with a second MI6 (the secret service company Bond works for) operative, standing on a cliff above the train, sniper rifle in hand, being told by M (an MI6 head honcho and series long mother figure to Bond) to take the shot at the bad guy, even though she might hit Bond instead. She takes the shot. Agent down. Adele welcomes us to Skyfall.
Those last couple sentences weren't a spoiler by the way, as the shooting of Bond part is in the trailer, but it is a good indicator that this movie starts off in a huge way, spiking blood pressures and raising heart rates at even a more accelerated pace than that greasy, chemical covered popcorn between your legs. And to go along with the best Bond opening of any of the films I've seen (I haven't seen them all), we have the best theme song sung by the best female artist of her time, over one of the best title sequences I've ever seen in any movie. I almost felt a pang of sadness watching the titles unfold before me like a blossoming flower, as I came to the realization that this could be as good as Skyfall gets. The rest of the movie couldn't possibly keep this level of momentum and excitement so high. It could very well be all downhill from here (I would use a sad face emoticon here, if I was an emoticoner. I am not).
I won't go too far into the plot from here except to say that someone is revealing the secret identities of MI6 agents and targeting M for assassination and Bond must stop them.
As with Harry Potter and his merry band of magical mates, Bond movies work best when the desperation is at its highest. And Bond, while for the most part maintaining his cool throughout, gets pretty desperate in Skyfall. Another twist I was pleasantly surprised to find was the focus put on Bond's psychological state of mind and some unresolved childhood issues that are brought bubbling to the surface. This is where Skyfall really departs from the formula norm. I mean who would even want to see psychoanalytical time spent on the Sean Connery or Roger Moore versions? But in 2012, everything from split personality to the common cold seems to be caused by a repressed memory, psychology is the flavour of the day and James Bond is a modern man. I think that, at least partly, can be attributed to the film's director.
Sam Mendes is a master of hard, in your face, often bleak family drama. American Beauty, Revolutionary Road and Road to Perdition are all prime examples of his talent with dysfunctional relationships. He's an amazing filmmaker, but an odd choice for a project with such slam band snazzy suit martini swilling extravagance as a Bond movie. But the Broccoli family, who have helmed the production of the Bond series since the first film, have always had an eye (and an ear) for what unlikely sources can bring to the cocktail mix (celebrated children's book author Roald Dahl wrote the script for You Only Live Twice back in 1967). For my money, Mendes was a Godsend to this franchise. The movie looks amazing from beginning to end, the quiet scenes are handled with the same amount of skill as the loud ones, there are some truly amazing set pieces and the whole thing is grounded with a sense of realism, even at its most outrageous moments, that this series hasn't had before (but came closest with Quantum).
Skyfall is the 23rd James Bond film. For a series that started high, dipped very low, and now is on the upswing again, excitement has never been so high for the possibilities this newer, grittier Bond is presenting for the very popular and beloved character. Where Casino Royle reinvigorated the franchise, and Quantum of Solace upped the grit and leaned off what made Bond Bond, maybe trying a little too hard to be the Bourne Bond, Skyfall takes the best of both and adds its own feeling of freshness, while remaining true to who the character is, and was. It gives us the best story, the best action, a great villain (Javier Bardem is amazing, continuing his tradition of playing bad guys with hilarious hairdo's), and reminds us why Daniel Craig will go down in the decades to come as the definitive take on the man whose name you know, whose number you know. It's not a perfect film, but it's pretty damn close and is one of the best movies I've seen this year.
Now where the hell is that Austin Powers 4 we were promised?