To say that the James Bond franchise hasn’t influenced me or my writing would be a lie of monumental proportions. Like most people born in the last 50 years, Bond has been a staple of my entertainment for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t just the iconic image of the super spy that inspired me. It was the relationship between his frivolous, womanizing characterization in contrast with the single minded dedication of his true character. It was also the way that the concept of Bond evolved with each new actor to take the role. Unlike other movie franchises that get stuck in a particular time period, Bond relates to new audiences by reimagining the character to fit the times.
Daniel Craig’s run as Bond has met, if not exceeded, previous Bond’s in its ability to stay current. Terrorists and corporations replaced Russians and world destroying villains. Brutal violence replaced elegant gadgets. Most profound was the nature of the change in the main characters. Bond became less of a playboy lounge lizard and more of a pure assassin. M became less of a random old man in a leather office to a tough fiery woman who was just as ruthless, in her own way, as Bond was. The new series was well suited for the 21st century.
Having said all that, Skyfall drops the ball in terms of evolution. The first three acts are an impressive interpretation of the classic formula. It has intrigue, exotic locations, beautiful women and a good combination of both chase and combat choreography. It also manages to include the development (or decline) of the major characters and their relationship with each other. The rising complexity of the film fit in nicely with the underlying message about the continued need for espionage services. Judi Dench stole the show as M and is clearly the best head of MI6 in the history of the franchise (I can’t even remember who the other guys were who played M in the past). If the film ended with the close of act three, Skyfall could stand confidently as a classic Bond film.
Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t done. The last act was a self-indulgent, overly nostalgic attack on the franchise. It was like watching an episode the A-Team meets Dr. Phil on a field trip to Scotland. It had all the trappings of a multi-million dollar reboot or sequel set up that was tacked on at the last minute to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bond. And the last three minutes were the worst. It was painful to watch the director try to erase all the progress and evolution of the Bond character by dragging him back into the trappings of the 1970’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next film reintroduced the cliché of having sharks with laser beams on their heads trying to kill Bond as the master villain explains his entire evil plan.
Craig and Dench have done very well with Bond. The fact that the franchise is so intent on looking backward instead of forward is the downfall of an otherwise very good film.