I finally got around to seeing Skyfall today. It only took me three years.
Look, I’m notoriously bad about not watching movies when they’re new. I’ve managed to mostly keep up with comic book movies as they come out, but a large part of that is because it’s impossible to avoid spoilers for me. I managed to avoid the ending of Skyfall for THREE YEARS, and yes, I was VERY surprised to see Judi Dench die. Dench was the only thing about the reboot I didn’t question how it related to the originals; we were told Casino Royale was a hard reboot, and I bought it. Judi Dench playing M wasn’t THAT big a deal. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role.
You see, I grew up watching these movies. TBS showed them all the time. I loved Sean Connery as Bond. When I finally saw Timothy Dalton’s darker, more serious Bond, I was blown away that you could change the character up. And Goldeneye coming out as a triumphant revival of a thought dead franchise is one of the more memorable film events from my teenage years. James Bond has always been spy fiction at it’s best for me. And when Casino Royale “rebooted” the franchise, I was on board. Casino Royale is a great film, and a solid proto-James Bond movie.
But unfortunately, proto-James Bond never became James Bond. He’s someone completely different; more thug than spy, murdering and blundering his way across the globe, shooting first unless the script says so. So when I finally saw Skyfall, I was hopeful. It starts off and feels more like a James Bond movie of old. The spy feel is back. We need a spy to save the day. We need James Bond.
But the problem with Skyfall (along with Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale) is that it would rather be cute. We were told Casino Royale was a hard reboot, but in Skyfall we see a ton of quips and nods to movies that shouldn’t exist within that continuity. Things like Bond producing a tricked out Aston Martin or Q quipping about exploding pens are funny, but they really take me out of the movie just as it’s getting good. Moments like Bond getting the Walther PPK feel like they’re supposed to be the moment we see him get his trademark gun for the first time in the new continuity, but then he loses it and the finale is James Bond, M and a guy who clearly was written to be Sean Connery running around a farm with shotguns.
(Yes, that old man had to be written as Sean Connery. I absolutely subscribe to the ‘James Bond is just a code name’ theory, a long running fan speculation that posits all the Bond movies happened in continuity, but the different actors played different agents who were given the code name James Bond, and you should too, it’s fantastic.)
This isn’t an indictment on Daniel Craig, by the way. I’m a fan. Craig’s great, and he should be a spectacular James Bond. But I feel like he’s been handed the most uneven Bond scripts to date, stories that slap James Bond’s name on them after they write a few Bourne-inspired fight and chase sequences. The movies look great, but they’re not SPY movies anymore. Hell, I’d complain about playing James Bond too if every movie had me running 30 miles at full speed before jumping through a wall. Craig’s a great actor, and should be a great Bond, but as my friend Josh pointed out he’s too serious. The scripts have a tone that whips back and forth between light and heavy, and Craig’s Bond barrels through them like he’s not in on the joke.
I do like how Skyfall sets up the franchise, though. And I’m hoping Spectre is heading in the direction of a Bond that’s classically written with a modern twist. A modern spy movie. What a novel concept. A movie in which we don’t spend hours with characters debating why we need spies and we just get on to the damn plot. A movie where James Bond doesn’t murder everyone he comes across and blunder his way on to the next plot device that conveniently leads him where he needs to go.
There’s a really great franchise here somewhere. I’m hoping we’ll see something come out of it, even if Daniel Craig is on his way out. The cast is strong, the fanbase is there. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally get back to what James Bond should be: really well written spy flicks with a sense of adventure and a tongue in cheek humor.