This article is part movie review, part reminiscence. Let’s get the movie review over with first. If you’ve ever loved any James Bond film for any reason, you will love Skyfall. It’s probably the best Bond movie since the Sean Connery days. I saw it last weekend in IMAX format, and it took my breath away.
The opening sequence is probably the most exciting pre-credits sequence of any Bond film. I absolutely love the pre-credits sequences, which can vary highly in quality from the films themselves; Goldfinger, for instance, is generally regarded as the best Bond film but has one of the weakest pre-credits sequences; not that many people like Tomorrow Never Dies, but I’d rank it in the top three pre-credits openers in the series. Skyfall’s is absolutely amazing. Two minutes into the film you’re on the edge of your seat.
Skyfall is also Daniel Craig’s best performance as Bond. He brings a sort of humanity to the role which we haven’t seen in very many of the films. For probably the first time in the whole series Bond’s relationships with other people are the centerpiece of the plot. That’s a tough thing to pull off in a series that’s built on action sequences, supervillians, gadgets and hot women, but director Sam Mendes pulls it off. It certainly helps that Javier Bardem is being almost universally hailed as the best Bond villain ever—an assessment with which I agree. The supporting cast is terrific too, especially the new Q. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, but you will be shocked at first, then incredulous, but by the end of the film you’ll absolutely love what they’ve done with the role of Q.
What I see in Skyfall is a serious attempt to turn a Bond film into a real movie that can stand on its own independent of the whole James Bond mystique. Yes, all the tropes are there, even the Aston-Martin—which got applause from the audience the moment it appears on-screen—but Mendes and his crew really put some creative elbow-grease into the movie, trying to make it resonate as an enthralling drama instead of just a popcorn-selling crowd-pleaser. Skyfall actually has some things to say about the world we live in, our security in modern society and how best to safeguard it. This is a big accomplishment for a James Bond movie.
I grew up with James Bond. The first Bond film I ever saw was Moonraker, which isn’t really that great a movie in the scheme of Bond films, but when I was seven, all the lasers and “space stuff” made all the difference. As I got older and my tastes changed, Bond was still there, always changing in subtle ways and staying the same in others. Roger Moore was Bond when I was a kid, but when I became a teenager Timothy Dalton took over the role, and did a damn good job in my view—highly underrated. I was in high school when Dalton’s last film, License to Kill, came out. There was a disturbing dearth of Bond films over the next few years, and it wasn’t until I was in law school that the series was rebooted with Pierce Brosnan’s first outing in Goldeneye. It was worth the wait.
What really cemented my relationship with James Bond, though, was not so much the movies, but the books. The summer when I was twelve I was stung on the leg by a black widow spider. With my swollen leg I couldn’t get around much, so I lay on the couch in the living room reading books almost all day for at least a week. There I read every one of the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Goldfinger and Doctor No were my favorites; I disliked Casino Royale and Diamonds are Forever; I thought You Only Live Twice was an appalling cheat. But, I definitely got to know the character of Bond and also got inside the mind of his creator, Ian Fleming, which was almost more interesting. On paper James Bond is a pretty flat, two-dimensional fellow. But there are fascinating glimmers in his character of what I think must have been very real regrets and anxieties of Ian Fleming the man. Bond’s relationship with women, for instance, seems to echo a real-life distance, a sort of longing for connection that perhaps Fleming never had. It is said Fleming’s favorite place on earth was his vacation house on Jamaica, which he called Goldeneye (later the source of the movie title). In James Bond’s rootless existence, living out of suitcases and hotel rooms and shabby flats in London, I see Fleming’s own longing to belong to a single place. It’s an interesting journey through those books, especially if you’ve been brought up on the films.
Like most of the rest of the Western world I was very skeptical when I heard Daniel Craig was to replace Pierce Brosnan in the role after the dreadful Die Another Day. But Casino Royale (the movie) made a believer out of me. I really didn’t like Quantum of Solace, but Craig’s stamp on the role is now complete with his top-notch performance in Skyfall. Anyone who still has doubts about his suitability for the role—and there are some—should definitely see the new picture.
The best thing about Skyfall, though, is its sense of continuity with the James Bond phenomenon. You, the audience, are reassured that Bond is still relevant, he can change with the times and yet still give you all the things you want and expect from the movies that have been a part of our cultural landscape for 50 years now. Daniel Craig won’t be the last actor to play Bond, and he won’t be the best; no one can really touch Sean Connery. But whoever plays 007 next will have something else to draw on, as well as a legacy to live up to.