"Skyfall" celebrates 50 years of the James Bond franchise with less of a bang than a kind of Freudian overhaul.
The Daniel Craig Bond films, though, were supposed to be a reboot of the franchise, to take it back to the basics of the Ian Fleming novels the character and stories were originally inspired by. Skyfall is the darkest of them yet and Daniel Craig has fully come to terms with his portrayal of a more flawed hero with a past.
Over the course of a full half-century, though, the audience has come to expect certain things when they sit in the theater. These are Bond films, after all, and not stand alone stories we can watch with an open mind.
This film image released by Sony Pictures shows Daniel Craig, left, as James Bond and Judi Dench as MI6 head M, in a scene from the film “Skyfall.”
"Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don't really go in for that anymore," quipped the film's new Q, the quartermaster (Ben Wishaw). Wishaw's Q is straightforward and without much humor, at least not the silly humor audiences had come to expect from the old Q, Desmond Llewelyn, who played Q in 17 films beginning with "From Russia With Love" in 1963, and ending with his death soon after 1999's "The World Is Not Enough."
Gone, truly, are the gadgets. The only things Bond gets to play with is his trusty Walther PPK pistol, but featuring a grip that will respond to his palm only, and a tracking radio.
Director Sam Mendes had already perfected deliberately paced character studies with the release of his first feature film, 1999's "American Beauty," for which he won an Oscar for best director and the film won best picture. His later films continued in this vein but added more violence and grit with the releases of "Road to Perdition," in 2002, and "Jarhead," in 2005.
With Bond, though, Mendes had to learn a whole new game. Bond expectations had to be met while also ripping open the character to redefine what those expectations will be.
The film opens with a chase on dirt bikes through a Middle Eastern bazaar which is largely captured through the use of handheld cameras much like 2004's "The Bourne Supremacy." The chase ends up on the roof of a train where Bond is shot twice, the second time by his partner, Eve (Naomi Harris, or the new Miss Moneypenny), and is presumed dead after falling and disappearing into the water below.
Cue the Bond theme song, this time penned by Adele, who at only 24 years old has a sensual, smoky voice cut out for a woman much older and wiser. The montage behind the song, and the shooting of Bond just beforehand, hint at the cannibalism inherent in the film.
Not literal cannibalism, of course, but the film traces the horrors of Bond's orphan childhood to his being expendable so as to protect something supposedly bigger than the sum of its parts.
"We are the two rats left. We can either eat each other ... huh? Or eat everyone else," says Javier Bardem's villain, Silva, in one of the most memorable introductions in recent film memory.
Bardem returns from his role as a quiet, unsettling villain with outrageous hair in 2007's "No Country for Old Men" to play a hysterically flamboyant, unsettling villain with outrageous hair here.
Silva is a technical genius with a sense of play but bent on vengeance for the same type of slight that shot Bond off that train in the beginning of the film. The "rat-eat-rat" theme introduced by Silva, though, makes a later scene where he is imprisoned in a glass cell with prisoner coveralls on in the middle of a large room eerily similar to the imprisonment of Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs."
Homage and allusions, though, are never sure things. Sometimes they stand to alter the tone subtly and, if that's the case, work masterfully here to get to better understand the powerful finale of the film.
Changes aren't just afoot for Bond the character, but also Bond the franchise. The Q change is just the first in a seemingly complete overhaul of characters and intentions going forward.
Don't miss this darker Bond, because something here says this will be an entirely new, more serious franchise that will excite but also provoke for years to come.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews will appear periodically in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)