Monday, March 11, 2013

Welcome Back Mr. Bond

I've never been a fan of James Bond really, but Casino Royale changed that for me. Ever since Daniel Craig put on the tux, 007 has been more interesting, more compelling, and just better in general. While the follow-up to Casino Royale was horribly disappointing, Bond's return in Skyfall comes back with such a bang, it may well be one of the best Bond movies ever.

One of the most compelling aspects of Skyfall was the side of James Bond that has to this point never been seen before. In the past, Bond may occasionally meet with a nefarious villain or world-scale conflict, but he remains suave, debonair, and usually cocky to the end. Not so now. 007 has suffered a hit, and it's a major one. For the first time ever, Bond doesn't seem invincible-- he seems human. Bond has been shaken and stirred by four life-changing words; "take the bloody shot."

"Agent down."

Bond spends the next few months pretending to be dead and allowing everyone to believe that he is. What is so interesting is how this emotionally affects him. When he returns, he doesn't shoot straight and he can't pass his psychological or physical exam, but he has a dangerous look in his eye. Something in him truly has died, and something else has awakened. While we don't learn much about Bond's past, we learn enough to understand just a little, why he became James Bond. While Skyfall has its elements of global ramifications pending Bond's success or failure, Skyfall is on most levels, personal.

M, always masterfully portrayed by Dame Judi Dench, is often forced to make difficult judgement calls that sacrifice a few for the good of many. It was such a judgement call that left James Bond for dead, but he isn't the first to suffer from one of M's judgement calls. And a less loyal victim has returned to make M, and many MI6 agents around the world, suffer for her choices. Global ramifications: agents around the world are being exposed and executed. Personal vendetta: it was M's judgement call that turned a loyal agent into a sadistic lunatic who doesn't care how many lives it takes, he will have his revenge on M.

The mastermind villain here is Silva, diabolically played by Javier Bardem (a man who has a knack for playing psychopathic evildoers with preposterous hair-- see No Country for Old Men). Of all the characters that have been introduced into the new Bond franchise, from M to Q to Miss Moneypenny, Silva can be adequately praised as being a villain for the Bond ages. What I mean is, Bond villains have ranged from being criminal masterminds over global plots, to the downright comic bookish ones. Really, the most consistent characters throughout the many adaptations of Bond have been the women, but that's another issue altogether. The point is, the character of Silva feels very much like he could have been the star of a comic book movie adaptation (think the Joker) with his maniacal and titanic plots, but he's also frighteningly believable. Once the pet of M16, Silva was sacrificed for the greater good, and he has never forgotten it. Not that this makes him sympathetic by any means, merely realistic. His purpose isn't to take over the world, or to watch it burn, he wants M to watch her agents burn. His purpose is personal, vengeful, and believable.

Skyfall presents a realistic-enough scenario with believable ramifications, which is part of what makes it unique and strong to itself. What I mean is this: let's say that somehow a list of internationally assigned agents was leaked and put on YouTube. Is there really any doubt that the consequences would be any different than those portrayed onscreen? Unlikely. While at first glance the temptation is to write off the executed agents as casualties of war who knew the risks, the true implications are far deeper. In the Bond world at least, M16 is one of the greatest opponents of evil in the world, therefore the loss of agents across the globe not only means tragic loss of life, it undercuts MI6's ability to keep the forces of evil at bay.

Another aspect of Skyfall  that made the movie unique to itself, is how the story implies the cost of being an agent for good. While previous Bond film Goldeneye had some similarities to the base plot of Skyfall  in its portrayal of the emotional and psychological implications of being a surviving "casualty", Skyfall  really takes it to a new level. First, even James Bond himself is not untouchable; he is every bit as expendable as any other agent, and every bit as vulnerable. Not even 007 can hear the words "take the bloody shot", feel the bullet rip through his body, and not be affected. At no point does Skyfall try to indicate that Bond's reluctance to be trusting again is a sign of weakness, or that a better agent might have done differently. M might pass herself off as being cold and uncaring, but her regrets are evident.

Some critics have complained that Skyfall lacked a thick enough plot to be worthy of 007. Others have hailed it as one of the finest Bond movies yet. I would fall on the latter side of this argument. While it's true that Skyfall's main plot vehicle does not seem globally relevant, the implications are larger than they are presented as. And furthermore the personal revenge agenda adds an element of tension the absence of which would have rendered the entire film boring.Personal preferences on content aside (because I just have no stomach for Bond's womanizing ways), in terms of depth I rank Skyfall among the highest of the 007 movies.

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