In the interest of full disclosure, I am a self-diagnosed secret agent fanatic. Basically, if your initials are J.B. (looking at you, Bourne, Bond, Bauer, and company), I am your girl. So, going into the latest installment in the 50-year-old James Bond franchise, I knew I was going to have a good time. The only questions were how good of a time, and how this time would be had. Skyfall is not a fun spy romp a la Mission Impossible, nor is it some sort of neo-noir whodunit concoction in the vein of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Rather, it dishes out another entry of a traditional series that, to some, went stale a while back, with a flavor at once familiar and all its own.
If you somehow haven’t seen the first two films in the latest iteration of Bond, the titular man is played by Daniel Craig, all jaw and steely-sharp blue eyes. Though his casting initially stirred up controversy among 007 purists (“He isn’t suave enough! He’s brooding and angsty! He’s too blond!”), it’s since been accepted critically and popularly that Craig wears the suit well, and brings a more modern sensibility to the role. His Bond is darker, and perhaps more unhinged and post-9/11, but he is still the martini-drinking, lady-killing, and Aston-Martin-driving cultural figure we know and love. In the previous two films, Bond was, among many things, betrayed by his one true love, tortured graphically, and put on probation by his boss, M (played by the thrilling Dame Judy Dench).
Skyfall opens with the requisite chase sequence. Bond trails a typically menacing individual through a vaguely Near-Eastern Mediterranean setting, while in turn being followed by a (gorgeous) gunwoman from MI6, who has been put in place by M to ensure that the mission is successful. The job is to retrieve a stolen drive containing the identities of all NATO secret agents (uh oh) that M apparently created without the knowledge or permission of her NATO peers. Clearly, this is a very big deal, so when Bond and the unsavory fellow are duking it out on the roof of a moving train on a bridge over a massive gorge, and it seems that Bond won’t be able to stop him in time, M orders the sniper to shoot the enemy, ignoring her pleas that the shot isn’t clean, and that Bond will probably be shot instead.
The sniper does hit Bond, who plummets hundreds of feet into the water below, the bad guy gets away with the file, and M is indicted by the Prime Minister and forced to write Bond’s obituary. This is all in the first ten minutes. Do you see why I love this stuff?
But when Bond hits the water, I had to do a double take. As a secret agent aficionado, I knew I was looking at an exact replica of the first scene of The Bourne Identity. Same angle, same silhouette, same situation. And the eerie resemblance didn’t end there. Bond goes into hiding for a while in some exotic locale— just like Bourne and Marie, who live in Goa at the beginning of The Bourne Supremacy. He returns, spurred by allegiance to M (in Bourne’s case, Pamela Landy). There are even a few classic Bourne-like moments, where the camera pans away from Bond for a moment, and when it returns, he’s disappeared. I know that Bourne revolutionized the genre. But never before had I noticed just how much this Bond had been borrowing from his amnesiac American cousin.
To make things even stranger, I realized Skyfall distinctly recalls another wildly influential film of the past decade. There were a few scenes where I had the odd feeling I was watching The Dark Knight with a British, cowl-less Batman. One sequence was so ridiculously similar that I almost laughed. Bond goes to Shanghai, the same city Batman traveled to in the 2008 film, and the screen glows with the same blue light as the same sweeping cityscapes lure viewers erotically into Bond’s secret mission. Even the score echoes Hans Zimmer’s pulsating strings and deep percussive beats.
It’s hard to pinpoint where this mimicry stems from. It would be easy to blame the cinematographer or the composer, and it’s harder for me to single out the director. Sam Mendes took the helm of the Bond franchise for this film after being personally approached by Craig himself, and his influence is apparent in the muted coloring and fantastic screen pictures. But I’m wary of saying that Mendes was the source of the bizarre Bourne-Batman fusion on display simply because that really just doesn’t seem like him. Rather, it seems like the studio (MGM), in nervously trying to avoid the financial ruin that delayed the production of Skyfall, stuck to the predictably successful. I can’t blame them for trying to imitate other hits, but it did interfere a little with my viewing experience.
This isn’t a perfect Bond movie, but it comes close. Despite all its foibles, I loved watching Skyfall and I’ll probably watch it again and again. Let’s face it: Daniel Craig is sexy, spies are hot, and the action is slick. Skyfall really is good, great even, and deserves the accolades it is currently receiving. Especially enjoyable were scenes with the new Q (this time a young techie), and the indelible villain Silva, played with virtuosity by the ever-reliable Javier Bardem. If you thought he was only good with a cattle gun, think again. Armed with a strange homoerotic bite and a dangerous obsession with M and Bond, he seeks revenge with a flair. Using old characters and props dexterously, the story weaves a tight yet thrilling narrative that never skips a beat or feels slow. I was definitely shouting in my head (and sometimes a little out loud) during the fiery ending. After all, it was a fun flick, if a bit too derivative. If you are like me a connoisseur of all things clandestine, you might simply find yourself wishing you knew a little less top secret information about the film, and could simply sit back and enjoy the ride without being jarred by all of its tiny bumps.