The newest James Bond movie finally has an official title: Skyfall.
Well, at least it isn’t something like Modicum Of Abatement. Bond titles tend to fall into one of three categories: fatalistic poetics (You Only Live Twice, Die Another Day, A View To A Kill) codenames (Thunderball, Goldeneye, Moonraker), or villain names (Dr. No, Goldfinger, The Man With The Golden Gun). I will tentatively place Skyfall into the second category. (Despite the fact that Bond himself is the lone thing to appear in all 23 films, only The Spy Who Loved Me refers directly to agent 007. Strange.)
My immediate association with Chicken Little aside, Skyfall seems a sound enough choice. It is Ian Fleming-esque without the opaqueness of Quantum Of Solace or the banality of Die Another Day. Positioning two near-antonyms next to each other subtly sets the stage for an epic clash of hero and villain. The “K” is just close enough to the two “l’s” to evoke the word “kill.” (Lethality is always a welcome motif for 007, whose original logo of a number 7 melding into a gun-barrel set the tone.) Title now in place, will the latest in the Bond series be able to continue in the creative groove of recent successes Quantum Of Solace and in particular Casino Royale?
The team assembled by producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli is a good start. Sam Mendes will direct, and the impressive cast includes Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney in addition to returning stars Daniel Craig and Judi Dench. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, scribes behind quip clunkers like “Christmas comes but once a year,” are somehow still employed as the screenwriters, but welcome counterweights John Logan (Gladiator) and Patrick Marber (Notes On A Scandal) put my mind at ease to an extent.
Unlike Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, which essentially told one long connecting story, the new Bond will start afresh with a new, independent plotline. This is something of a return to the older template, where each Bond movie was its own self-contained adventure. The recent Bond films gave the character a long-overdue makeover, nudging the character back to his literary origins as a man on the edge. The 23rd installment of the durable series will presumably continue that particular trajectory, at the very least.
Skyfall will ultimately boil down to the man playing agent 007, and thus far Daniel Craig’s interpretation has rivaled the two best Bonds. Sean Connery’s original performance hinged on his unusual combination of catlike grace and brute masculinity. He’d punch you in the face with the lithe elegance of a ballet dancer, yet somehow still come across the manliest guy around. His was a Bond of “bruising finesse” – a truck driver who’s gone to finishing school. Roger Moore, a highly underrated 007, personified Bond in the sense that most people know him: impossibly charming, always cool, always entirely in control. There is a bit of patrician obligation in Moore’s Bond, an upper-class duty to combat evil, instead of a deeply-felt moral imperative.
Craig’s 007, despite his immaculate suits and posh accent, is the working class Bond. Martinis don’t interest him much. Baccarat? Forget it. He’d rather play poker. There is a whiff of workaday Northern England resentment in his Bond, a bitterness at where his life has taken him. In my mind, his tuxedos should be smudged with coal dust and his shoes should have steel toes. When he throws a punch, it is charged by the rancor of a difficult life. It will be interesting to see where Craig takes this vinegary temperament in his third go-round as Bond, particularly absent the guidance of continuing plotlines from Casino and Quantum.
Mendes, director of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, knows how to manipulate complicated fictional personages. On the surface, he is an inspired choice as director, but I do wonder how well he will handle the action sequences. To date, handing the franchise over to character-oriented directors has given us mixed results (take the efforts of Michael Apted, Lee Tamahori and Marc Forster).The best Bond films (Casino Royale, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me) had a technically-oriented director who gave just enough attention to character to keep us emotionally involved. Nevertheless, any series that has so many installments that it would be a bust score in blackjack probably welcomes new perspectives and approaches. Martini glasses crossed that Mendes’s character-driven style and Craig’s on-edge Bond meld for a worthy 50th-anniversary 007 adventure.
Skyfall is slated for release November 9, 2012 in the U.S.