Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond, Skyfall, kicks off with a terrific pre-credit action sequence that culminates in a ferocious hand to hand battle on top of a speeding train (is there any other kind) and ends with our hero being taken for dead–I won’t spill the salient details, except to say that the circumstances lead Mr. Bond to feeling a little embittered—and–spoiler alert–reduced to drinking a bottle of Heineken in a wretched room (rest assured, Bond fans, he does not enter a swanky establishment to order one). This opening sequence, paired with a memorable title song from Adelle, and you have one of the best beginnings in the Bond canon.
And so my hopes were high…until Skyfall plunges us into what seems like an unholy blend of John LeCarre and Chekhov grafted onto a traditional Bond film: government secrets have been leaked, undercover agents are in peril, there is the possibility of a mole, M (Judi Dench) is in danger-both professionally and personally, as more than one character have M (as in “Mother”) issues—and when Bond reappears, he’s feeling more than a little betrayed, world-weary and shaken (not stirred) to his core. If you’ve seen any Bond film ,you know there isn’t your conventional nameless traitor to blame, but a charismatic archvillain (Javier Bardem, former renegade agent with a big grudge against M) capable of employing what seems like thousands of well-armed, nameless flunkies whose sole purpose seems to be getting killed (gunfire, explosions, continental drift).
The movie, helmed by Sam Mendes, is still fairly entertaining. The action is well-staged, particularly the aforementioned opening, a chase through the tunnels, and a climax that involves derring-do not only from Bond, but a game Judi Dench and a grizzled Albert Finney (almost unrecognizable but for that distinct Finney timbre). Ralph Fiennes is a welcome addition as a stern but sympathetic bureaucrat, Javier Bardem is enjoyably over the top as Bond’s nemesis, and the Bond ladies (one naughty, one nice)are able, if relatively limited in their contributions.
As far as Mr. Craig and the current state of the Bond series, the jury is still out (at least as far as I’m concerned). Craig is a pretty capable actor, but his Bond is dour, doleful and would not be altogether out of place in a spy movie, say, on the order of a LeCarre or a Graham Greene venture. In these last couple of 007 outings however, Craig ‘s Bond seems devoid of charisma; there’s little panache to his one-liners and no pleasure when he gets to doing the little things that Bond does best (that does not involve killing). Lately Bond has been in a funk admittedly: his gal has been killed and his skills have been called into question, but he –and the series seem to be stuck in a holding pattern. The current Bond films want to have it both ways: they want to add a certain intellectual and emotional complexity to the series, while maintaining the intensely unrealistic (though still exciting) action scenes. The problem is now there’s a pronounced sluggishness between the set pieces, and when given more time to think, one can think about everything…namely, how many times does Bond get to have the villain in his sights before he finally gets killed. The end provides a glimmer of hope that it will be back to real business for Bond in the foreseeable future – someone get this man a martini!