Skyfall‘s Primal Shift

As expected, Skyfall is stomping at the box-office with a likely $85 to $88 million by Sunday night. I’ve seen it twice because of Roger Deakins‘ exhilarating cinematography, for the teasing perversity in Javier Bardem‘s Silva, for the way director Sam Mendes delivers in a carefully honed and upmarket fashion, like it’s all being shot for Vanity Fair, and because Skyfall avoids and in fact seems to despise many of the stylistic flourishes and indulgences that have come to represent the Bond franchise over the last 50 years.

And yet it delivers with high finesse. While being a dark and solemn thing at heart. The opening credit sequence, a dreamscape of death if I ever saw one, is but one taste.

As David Denby puts it in his New Yorker review, Skyfall has been fashioned “in the recent mode of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, [and] is a gloomy, dark action thriller, and almost completely without the cynical playfulness that drew us to the series in the first place.” Exactly! Yes! Thank you!

Denby, in short, is lamenting the passing of that bottled and bonded 20th Century attitude, or perhaps the passing of the 20th Century, and once again seems to be pushing an ongoing argument against the inevitable, even though what he’s observed in recent reviews — a certain cultural diminishment, innumerable crude tendencies, a downwash — is arguably happening. Denby has essentially been saying in his reviews what Tony Soprano told Jennifer Melfi in the very first episode of the first Sopranos season, way back in ’99: “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, I know. But lately I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”

And yet I enjoyed this Denby riff about the first and possibly best Bond of all: “Connery was shrewd and piratical — he let us in on the fun of being wicked. An ironist, he knew that the role was absurd but that the desire for fantasy wasn’t. He was the gentleman-rogue hero — aristocratic in disdain, yet classless — of every man’s dream of himself, and women could enjoy him as the adroit cad who arrives at night, delivers the goods, and leaves in the morning. Connery took his time. His drawling pauses as he calculated his advantage were a prime comic device, the manner of a brute swathed in sophistication, so sure of success that he never needed to rush.

Roger Moore, of course, was more Brut than brute. He gave off the aura of a luxury product in an airline magazine — an expensive leather case, perhaps, rubbed rather too often with oil. He was neither shaken nor stirred; he was smooth, unmarked by experience in any way. George Lazenby and the gracious Timothy Dalton never really took control of the role, but Pierce Brosnan, with his big, handsome head atop a slender body, could be flinty. He had an interesting mean streak and the habits of cold indifference. He was lithe and quick, yet not really a menace, like the big-bodied Connery or the steel-springed Craig.

“The earlier Bonds were superlative lovers of food, spirits, and women. As box-office has become truly internationalized, however, the producers may have feared that a too knowing Bond might not please everyone. Such a connoisseur could turn off moviegoers who object to the notion of being outclassed. The Bond franchise will continue, though I doubt we shall ever again hear Bond say, as Connery did in Goldfinger, that a certain brandy was a ‘thirty-year-old fins indifferently blended, sir, with an overdose of bons bois.’ I don’t know what bons bois is, but I enjoyed the astringent flavor of Connery’s judgment.”

24 thoughts on “Skyfall‘s Primal Shift

  1. MarkJ on said:

    Anybody that thinks Brosnan turned in a better interpretation of Bond than Dalton is completely bananas.

  2. I didn’t find the film gloomy at all. In fact, I thought the way the ending worked out, it basically and intentionally reset the series to the Connery version.

  3. Connery’s portrayal of Bond in Dr. No and From Russia with Love remain the definitive interpretation. By Goldfinger it was clear he did not care anymore and the movies started to go down that “wink-wink” path, even lampooning themselves at times. Lazenby was serviceable in the role, albeit somewhat out of his element. Roger Moore embraced the humor with open arms, removing all manner of subtlety from his performance. The irony that Connery brought to the role was replaced with an almost mocking sensibility. Audiences loved it at the time, but the Moore films are generally regarded as comedies today. Dalton grounded the franchise in reality, injecting an earnestness into the role. People think of Dalton’s portrayal as dark, but he was really just honest, and for whatever reason, audiences wanted a more escapist attitude from Bond at the time. Brosnan’s performance was bizarrely inconsistent. He returned to the lighter objectivism employed by Moore, but he was also the most cold-blooded of the bunch, killing whimsically at a far higher rate than any other Bond. The result is schizophrenic. He isn’t playing a character so much as he is playing a concept. Craig is a bit closer to Dalton, but not as suave. He plays the brute better than he plays the spy. With Skyfall, he is finally starting to channel the ironic delivery of Connery, but he doesn’t get the balance quite right. Regardless, his is the 3rd best interpretation of the role, after Dalton in The Living Daylights and Connery in the first two films.

  4. All I know is, I never liked Bond movies before Craig. I tried many times to watch the old ones when basic cable cranks out a marathon on Memorial Day or whatever, and saw a couple of the Brosnans in the theater, but always found them hokey and arch and dull. That’s just me, I’m the outlier, everyone loves Bond enough to keep him a perpetual icon for 50 years. But Casino Royal was the first one I really enjoyed, and Skyfall is arguably a masterpiece. I don’t want smirking cynicism in a character that’s essentially a state-sponsored assassin, I want the icy, weary brutality that Daniel Craig’s been doing. I’m finally on the 007 bandwagon.

    2012 will be remembered as one of the all time great movie years. The opening action sequence and title sequence of Skyfall are among the most entertaining consecutive 25 minutes I can remember seeing.

  5. I’m a lifelong Bond fan except through the dark days of the Brosnan tenure. I was expecting big things from Skyfall based on all the hype, but I was mildly letdown.

    The film looks amazing. Hiring Deakins was a genius move, and I doubt any Bond film has ever looked so good.

    Javier was great.
    Craig was great.

    My two main issues were the pacing and the set pieces.

    The pacing seemed very un-Bondian. I guess that may have been the point, and it’s possibly why Wells enjoyed it so much, but it didn’t work for me.

    I think Bond movies need to keep up a certain level of tension throughout with a continual ratcheting up, and Skyfall failed at doing that.

    Secondly, the set pieces weren’t inventive enough. As soon as the movie opened with a sequence of Bond fighting a guy on top of a train I was a bit flabbergasted. Really, this was all they could come up with? I guess it was an homage to previous Bond train fights (Octopussy?).

    I hate to say it, but Mission Impossible 4 really trumped Bond in demonstrating the sort of set pieces a modern Bond movie could have in them.

    I might see this again on the big screen just to enjoy the cinematography, but as of right now:

    Casino Royale > Skyfall > Quantum

  6. I don’t get the recent love for Dalton as Bond. The dude had zero on-screen charisma – even as a kid I could see that. What the hell has he ever been in besides Bond anyway of note? While Dalton’s casting I’m sure was an attempt to go away from Moore’s extreme campy portrayal, I thought the guy was a total bore in the role…

  7. I always thought MI4 really wanted to be a Bond film – you had the opening action scene followed by a lush credits sequence, exotic globe travelling with Russia, Dubai, India, Cruise wearing a tux and hanging out at a billionaire villain’s party, a gadget laden car, dorky Q sidekick etc.

  8. Blah movie that really missed the mark with one of the most important parts of any Bond movie: The Bond girls. Marlohe is okay I guess but Harris is fugly and nowhere near the Bond girl standard. They should let Michael Bay cast the Bond girls. Acting talent doesn’t matter much for them anyway.

  9. I love Timothy Dalton as an actor. It’s a shame that he didn’t get the chance to play Bond until the ’80s were nearly over. I think he could have ruled that decade as Bond. I dig For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me, but every other Roger Moore Bond of that era was pretty forgettable, except for that Duran Duran theme song in A View to a Kill.

    Something about Dalton always seemed a little cold and remote — like he was a killer, rather than a womanizer at heart. The mission came first. This is exactly the kind of interpretation that Bond needed. The sad truth is that Roger Moore was always more charming, personable, and funny in interviews than he ever was as Bond (blame the scripts). At his worst, he made Bond seem like a total cad who enjoyed the perks of his job more than the job itself.

    Dalton was all about the mission.

  10. “Skyfall avoids and in fact seems to despise many of the stylistic flourishes and indulgences that have come to represent the Bond franchise over the last 50 years.”

    It really isn’t. You could say that about Quantum of Solace, one of the least beloved Bond films. Skyfall is thrilling precisely because it embraces many of the Bond flourishes absent from the previous two Craig entries.

  11. It will be hard to escape the trappings of the genre and the tendency of the Academy to ignore action movies, but if Roger Deakins doesn’t get nominated (if not win) for his STUNNING, EXHILARATING cinematography in the all-together brilliant Skyfall, then there’s something wrong with something. That something will be considered broken and unfixable.

    It’s not gonna happen (again, genre has a way of trapping various efforts no matter how deserving) but I’d LOVE IT if Skyfall got a Best Picture nomination, as well as The Dark Knight Rises. It’s not every year where two of the planets most treasured pop characters (Batman & Bond) get the MASTERPIECE TREATMENT. Hiring Mendes was a stroke of genius, and Mendes bringing THE DEAK to the party was a sublime choice.

    My only complaint with Skyfall was that it took too long to show Bardem on screen.

  12. The infuence of TV writing on blockbuster cinema has entered a dangerous phase. Witness the abundance of scribes who are pro at hitting plot points with precision, tarting up tales with pseudo-profundity that’s largely recycled from better, already successful and therefore market-proven properties.

    Its about managing high-yield brands by steering straight and borrowing from other pre-tested cultural products.

  13. Craig is always good but Skyfall is not, IMO, the brilliant film described by others. Photographed beautifully, yes, but showing us M bleeding predicted her end, too soo, too. Also – is this okay with spoilers? —- When Silva actor-school performance-pleaded with her to shoot them both in the head with one bullet – since she knew she was heading there already – why didn’t she pull the trigger, having already apologized for deaths she attributed to herself? Eve Moneypenny throwaway. Like the actress but not the action. Ralph Fiennes’ performance was uneven but might be attributed to the script.

  14. and I, too, wish Timothy Dalton had more chances as Bond although I really, really like Craig. Even though there were the traditional multi-geographic locations, somehow this felt like a much smaller world. I didn’t get the feeling we were leaving local sets other than the opening and the brief shots of Shanghai and Macao. and just one other comment – Skyfall and getting a look at the graves of Bond’s parents feels very Harry Potter.

  15. Every Sam Mendes movie has some great cinematography and imagery, but is embarrassingly stupid.

    Those traits might have actually made him a good fit for the Bond movies, which were always more about spectacle than insight, yet Skyfall is just an absurd bore. Terribly paced; action scenes that are at best unengaging, and often so inane they’re demoralizing.

    Cretinous and utterly trivial.

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