Much like physics, there are basic laws that govern James Bond films. Some are small and simple: at some point, tuxedos must be worn, women must be seduced and vodka martinis must be ordered shaken, not stirred.
Then there are some very big laws that dictate theme and tone that ensure a Bond movie will always be recognizable as a Bond movie.
What is interesting is to see how each generation of filmmakers and actors work either with or against these laws. The best movies toy with the series’ conventions and expectations, pushing the franchise into new directions while pausing to pay deference to the familiar beats of the past.
This is why “Skyfall” ranks near the very top as one of the best Bond movies ever made. This marks the secret agent’s 50th cinematic year and 24th (depending on how you count) appearance on the big screen, which means we’ve got a whole lot of history to deal with.
I consider myself a bit of a Bond nut and while I’m happy to spend hours discussing how George Lazenby was actually a really good Bond or offer up estimates of the price of Jaws’ orthodontist bills, I’ll simply use my bona fides to say I am loving the current franchise reboot with Daniel Craig as Bond.
The very best films in the franchise hit what I like to call the “James Bond Sweet Spot.” At its worst, the Bond series is either two drab and dour (sorry Timothy Dalton) or way, way too campy. (This is where I would mention “Moonraker,” but as a Bond fan I can’t bring myself to admit that movie ever actually happened.)
The best Bond movie is generally agreed to be “Goldfinger” and that is mostly because it was the first to land precisely in the middle of these two extremes.
Craig’s first turn as Bond, “Casino Royale” was bold because it wiped the slate clean and gave us, for the first time, Bond as a rookie agent out on his inaugural mission. It also gave us a Bond that was more physical (and closer to Ian Fleming’s literary take on the character), which upped the franchises’ pulse rate to that of modern action flicks.
I guarantee you Roger Moore was out of breath just from watching the first hour of “Casino Royale.”
But there wasn’t much of the trademark “fun” of the Bond franchise. The movie just missed that sweet spot and played out as simply an exceptionally made action movie.
Craig’s next Bond adventure “Quantum of Solace” was kind of a mess thanks mostly to being rushed into production with a skeleton of a script thanks to the writer’s strike, so I won’t hold that one against him.
Now with “Skyfall” the sweet spot is back; the movie unspools as a thrilling action flick packed with witty little touches that Bond fans will recognize as big, fat valentines to the franchise’s past.
Plenty of the old standbys are as good as ever. We have heart-stopping action sequences in exotic locales, sexy/deadly ladies (Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe), and Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as Bond’s hardnosed boss, M.
There are some fantastic new additions as well, including Ralph Fiennes as MI6 bureaucrat Gareth Mallory and Ben Whishaw as Bond’s nerdy gadget supplier, Q.
And then there’s Javier Bardem who absolutely crushes the villain role of Silva. Bardem gets that the best Bond baddies are the perfect blend of menace and hamminess, and the fact that his revenge-bent, cyberterrorist lives on his own abandoned island is just the cherry on top.
But the best addition just might be director Sam Mendes, a guy better known for prestige pics like “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” than full-bore action movies.
Of course, he did direct the supremely awesome gangster flick “Road to Perdition” (where he met Craig, incidentally) so it was clear he had it in him.
Mendes knows how to tell a story and gives “Skyfall” just enough weight (along with plenty of musings about an old-fashioned hero in the Internet age) in between all of his winks and nods to the audience.
This is precisely what a Bond movie should be and leaves me excited to see what the super spy has in store for the next 50 years.
“Skyfall” is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking