Friday, February 15, 2013

Skyfall, the Evolution of James Bond

When the latest James Bond movie came to the theaters, I read several reviews saying it was the "best Bond movie ever."  Now that was hard for me to imagine.  Way back when in the land of teased hair and frosted white lipstick (i.e. the mid-1960s) as a teen, I stumbled into a movie called "Dr. No" at my neighborhood theater.

I was fascinated with the premise, plot, location, and most of all SEAN CONNERY!  I fell irrevocably in love with that Scot and saw all his movies after that.  Of course seeing "Dr. No" these days is taking a trip back to that time period.  The clothes are laughable, not to mention the women's hairdos and the attitudes toward women.  It's like an outtake from the movie "Hairspray", without the great choreography, or a less cut-throat version of "Mad Men," with cheesy stunt fighting.

When I first saw "Dr. No" and found out a man named Ian Fleming had written a series of novels about James Bond, I hit the bookstore.  By the time the Beatles dedicated their song "Paperback Writer" to Ian Fleming I had read most of the Bond books.

I saw every one of the subsequent Bond movies.  When my favorite book On Her Majesty's Secret Service was made with someone named George Lazenby as 007, I was crushed.  Who was he anyway?  Somebody's nephew?  Where did he go after making the movie?

I suffered through the Roger Moore years with their inherent silliness.  What kind of villain was "Jaws"?  He was so ridiculous he was laughable. I breathed easier when Timothy Dalton showed up as Bond.  He, like Connery as Bond, was urbane, and sensually lethal.  You knew this guy was licensed to kill before he ever pulled the first trigger.  He and Connery most mirrored the James Bond in the books.

Pierce Brosnan was okay as Bond, but I kept picturing him as "Remington Steele" the character he played on a popular television show.  He just wasn't innately lethal - it did not play that way.

And then we come to Daniel Craig.  When I first saw him in stills, I thought he looked more like a KGB agent rather than James Bond.  When I saw his first Bond film, I realized he is the total package, even if he is a blond. 

So now we come to Skyfall, an original script like Craig's last outing as Bond, which I saw earlier this week.  It has all the earmarks of vintage Bond films, exotic locales, beautiful women, a seemingly invincible villain, and a flawlessly lethal James Bond, who kills with impunity and without thought to the consequences.

It also has a familiar plot device - Bond is assumed to be dead after the beginning sequence.  There are at least two other Bond movies in which 007 supposedly dies. 

Skyfall has incredible action sequences worthy of a "Die Hard" movie.  In this one MI-6, British Intelligence, is the target of the villain, and "M" herself, ably played by Judy Dench.  That's an oxymoron if ever I heard one.  When is Ms. Dench EVER less than superb in her film rolls?  (Please do not miss her in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.")

James, this time, is recovering from near fatal wounds.  He is less than perfect on his return to duty.  He battles the villain.  MI-6 battles the government reps who think covert services are outdated, expensive, and no longer needed.  The government officials get an up close and personal lesson as to why M's section is still a vital part of MI-6 and 007 in particular.

As the final showdown looms between James and the villain, he loses a valued treasure, and one of the main characters.  But he keeps going and prevails in the best Bond tradition.

Along the way, he proves his bravery by putting a huge scorpion on his hand and downing a drink before the scorpion can sting him.  He also spends time in an elaborate Macao casino where Komodo dragons dine on the unwary.  Fortunately for James, his opponent is unwary and becomes the dragon's dinner.

There are enough of the traditional trappings - the twangy guitar original theme music, a new Miss Moneypenny, and a new "Q", to make Skyfall a Bond film in the grand manner of the franchise.

What is new is a contemporary intensity in the story, with bigger and more impressive action sequences.  Also the villain commits acts of cyber-terrorism that endanger embedded intelligence operatives.

Craig's Bond is excellent. 

Also notable in the cast is Albert Finney as the gamekeeper at Bond's family home in Scotland. 

Ralph Fiennes plays a government minister that gets his own lesson in the need for the covert section of MI-6. 

As the new "Q", Ben Whishaw of the BBC series "The Hour", is wonderful.  The late Desmond Llewelyn was followed by John Cleese in the role.  This new "Q" (which stands for quartermaster) is a young cyber genius who has done away with exploding pens, cigarettes with poison darts inside, and other such hokey gadgets in the 21st century.  As he says, he can do more damage sitting at home in his pajamas than 007 can in the field.

Finally, there is less emphasis on the "Kiss-Kiss" and more on the serious nature of the "Bang-Bang" in the contemporary Bond films.  Craig's Bond is not adverse to beautiful women, but his priority is his work.  For you younger folks out there, Connery, in his heyday as 007, was called Mr. Kiss-Kiss - Bang-Bang in certain parts of the world.

Taking all that into consideration and the fact that I enjoyed Skyfall so much, I must agree that this film is the greatest Bond film to date. 

It's fast, colorful, fun in places, occasionally nostalgic, and frequently hard-hitting.

See it - it's well worth your time. 

And if you hear some mature lady giggling like a teen-ager when the twangy guitar starts, forgive her.  She can't help it.

Oh Sean, it's a shame we've got to get old...

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