Friday, November 4, 2011

Bond 23 is SKYFALL

I have no interest whatsoever in the "regurgitating the day's movie news, slightly reworded" biz that approximately a thousand blogs are now up to (two or three of them even well-written and worth reading!) – I'm quite satisfied with my zero post count regarding The Dark Knight Rises, and have every intention of maintaining it until July 2012 – but James Bond is different. James Bond is special and defies all the rules (especially if you're watching Licence to Kill, Die Another Day, or Quantum of Solace, aka the unofficial "Bond goes rogue" trilogy).

So I simply can't not comment on the confirmation of a plethora of (largely already known) news about the 23rd James Bond picture: As we've known for a while now, the movie is called Skyfall. It's directed by Sam Mendes of American Beauty and Road to Perdition fame and written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade of the last four Bond films and John Logan of Gladiator, The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Rango, and Scorsese's upcoming Hugo. The producers are, as usual, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. The editor is Stuart Baird of everything from 1978's Superman to Casino Royale (but not, thankfully, Quantum of Solace). The director of photography is living legend Roger Deakins, regular collaborator of Mendes and the Coen brothers on movies such as Road to Perdition, True Grit, and No Country for Old Men. (And also, unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village.)

As for the cast, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Rory Kinnear are back as Bond, M, and Bill Tanner. Javier Bardem is our villain (which I guess makes this a No Country reunion between him and Deakins). The Bond girls are Naomie Harris (who, contrary to prior rumor, it seems is not playing Moneypenny) and French newcomer Bérénice Marlohe in her first English-language role as the enigmatic Sévérine. Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, and, most interestingly of all, recent Lord Voldemort Ralph Fiennes are co-starring in currently mysterious supporting roles.

First off, as for the title itself, I can get used to it. It has a certain Thunderball / Moonraker sleekness to it. I've heard some people say it sounds almost more like a James Bond video game title than a true Fleming title, but, on the other hand, this series does have a movie called Octopussy, so. I'd also say it works better than Quantum of Solace. In terms of syllables, it's the shortest Bond movie title we've ever had, which actually seems like a relief after recent clunkers like Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

But, moving on to the more immediate and pressing details: Awesome! Lots of great people in the crew. Sam Mendes, John Logan, and Roger Deakins have a collective four Best Picture winners on their resumes, and Mendes has of course worked with Craig before in Road to Perdition. But I think the one I might be most relieved of all about is Baird returning to edit: I loved the smooth, classy, and above all utterly coherent way that Casino Royale flowed together, and the producers swinging back around to that film's editor speaks to them acknowledging the shortcomings of Quantum of Solace.

As for the newcoming cast, I don't think you'll hear anyone utter a peep of complaint about Bardem's presence. I mean, he did create one of the most iconic villains in cinema history in Anton Chigurh. But, even without knowing one thing about his Skyfall character, I think it's safe to say the two characters will have little to nothing in common. Not that Bond villains can't be stoic and creepily expressionless, but that's really more a henchman vibe. But if you've seen, say, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, you know damn well that Bardem can be suave and European as shit, and imagining him in a tuxedo calling Bond "Mr. Bond" already has me giddy.

As for the two new women, I have to admit that part of me is bummed the rumors of Moneypenny's return seem to have been greatly exaggerated (unless of course they cast someone else entirely). I mean, it's not like Moneypenny is some crazy embellishment of the film franchise like the gradual introduction of sci-fi gadgets: She's straight from Fleming's books. Still, Naomie Harris should be interesting as a field agent, and I'm all for the casting of complete and utter unknowns like Marhole. Easily my favorite Bond girl of the Brosnan era was Izabella Scorupco, who I know from pretty much jack shit outside of GoldenEye, so I say bring on the unknowns!

I also like that, assuming one or both will romance Bond, they're both grown-ass women in their 30s. I like Gemma Arterton (especially in The Disappearance of Alice Creed), but she was just too damn young in Quantum of Solace. It gave me a case of the Roger Moore cocked eyebrow.

I'm also excited to see Fiennes in there, because the guy is undeniably a great fucking actor, but I do kind of hope he isn't a villain. He can do it, of course. In his sleep. But it's just that he has, in the last decade alone, been on villain duty in everything from Red Dragon to In Bruges to Clash of the Titans, not to mention playing the archenemy of all wizardkind in the last five Harry Potter films. He'd be great, but he'd also be predictable and safe. Now, Fiennes as a good guy? I'd be all over that.

As for the story, according to the official press release, "In SKYFALL, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost."

Funny thing is that if you look at the sixteen pre-Judi Dench Bond films, M never once played an active, prominent role in the plot. Sometimes he barely appeared in one scene (and in For Your Eyes Only, zero scenes). Dench wasn't too prominent either in GoldenEye or Tomorrow Never Dies, but her screentime spiked dramatically in The World Is Not Enough and has stayed there since. I'm almost positive that the last four films have had more collective M screentime than the first eighteen put together. And Skyfall looks to be continuing the trend if not upping things yet again.

I know I'm not the first Bond nerd to posit the big question of whether or not Skyfall is going to leap into the bold unknown and kill off M. It would be shocking, no doubt. Other espionage fiction has killed off the people above the agent protagonist – 24 offed the CTU top brass enough that it became a cliché – but for Bond it would be unprecedented. Barbara Broccoli described the film as "emotional," and Dench is almost 80 and can't keep at this forever, so who knows?

Anyway, there isn't much more to talk about, but this movie clawing its way out of development hell has gotten me in a 007 mood. Stay tuned, because I'm pretty sure more Bond-related reviews and essays will be going up between today and next November when Skyfall finally hits theaters. So, until then, I leave the producers of Skyfall with this: Open the film with the gun barrel sequence. Don't be assholes.

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