Oct 7, 2012

Six reasons 'SKYFALL' may be the best James Bond film in years

   I'm a James Bond fanatic. I make no secret of this fact, but feel I should throw it out there to show you where I'm coming from. I've read the books, played the games, and have seen each film a dozen times. Why, just this week I threw down a tidy sum to buy the complete series for a third time, and am currently devouring each title in glorious HD.

   All of this, of course, is in preparation for Daniel Craig's third outing as Bond, SKYFALL, which hits the US November 9th.

   Now, anytime a new adventure of my favorite gentleman spy gears up to hit the screen, I am more than optimistic that it will blow my socks off. Sometimes I have been right in my positive outlook, and other times I was met with a film that , while it pleased my inner Bond fan, didn't really take the fifty year old series to the dazzling new heights I had hoped for.
   SKYFALL, though, is already looking to be an epic milestone in the history of the series. Don't believe me? Well, check out this trailer and tell me it doesn't look amazing:

   I am trying to temper my excitement in case it fails to meet my hopes for another highpoint for 007, but it's hard not to think we might be looking at one of the best James Bond films in years. Especially when you consider the following:

1. Sam Mendes is one of the best directors to ever tackle the series.

   When news broke that the director behind AMERICAN BEAUTY and ROAD TO PERDITION would be at the helm for the next Bond film, my heart did cartwheels. The Bond series is known for many things - cars, gadgets, exotic locales, beautiful women- but it's not really known for it's directors.

   Sure, Bond fans have a soft spot for people like Terence Young and Guy Hamilton, but most general audiences never know or care who's in the chair for the series. Sam Mendes, on the other hand, is more of a household name - having won the Best Director Oscar for AMERICAN BEAUTY.
   The characters in Mendes' films always feel very real, and that bodes well for his foray into the world of Bond. In a series that has often fallen into cartoon territory, his innate sense for making characters grounded in reality can only be a plus.

   On top of that, he's already gotten one of the best performances out of Daniel Craig in ROAD TO PERDITION, and he brings with him a new composer to the series. Which brings me to...

2. Thomas Newman is doing the score.

   If there is one name associated with the music of James Bond, it's John Barry. Barry composed scores for eleven Bond films in total, setting the tone for how the world of 007 should sound - brassy with an undercurrent of intrigue. He also came up with the theme tune that pops into your head every time you think of Fleming's superspy (no matter what Monty Norman says). Sure, other composers have had their crack at the series, but most of them followed Barry's lead.

   After Eric Serra's unique score for GOLDENEYE failed to impress the producers (although I loved it), they turned to David Arnold to hold the wand, and he has held it now for five films. Although his score for TOMORROW NEVER DIES was a superb throwback to the days of old, prompting both EON and Barry himself to declare Arnold the heir apparent, I feel like he has been a little lazy with the the last few films. It's definitely time for a changing of the guard, and Thomas Newman should be able to fill Arnold's shoes wonderfully.

   Newman has chops, what with ten Academy Award nominations (with no wins, unfortunately) and five Grammy wins under his belt. He has worked with Sam Mendes before (his AMERICAN BEAUTY score was sublime) as well as scoring films like SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE, WALL-E , FINDING NEMO, and SCENT OF A WOMAN. One of my personal favorites of his is the haunting score to FRIED GREEN TOMATOES.

   Music has always been a big part of the James Bond series, and it's time for someone new to breathe new life into the scores. If I can't have Michael Giacchino, then I am more than happy with Newman. His considerable talent may be just the new blood the series has been looking for,

   Speaking of new blood...

3. Ralph Fiennes may be the new M.

   Ever since Ralph Fiennes was announced as being in SKYFALL, rumors have run rampant about the exact nature of his character. At first, everyone was talking about how he may be the new Blofeld, but as more came out about the film, we learned that he would be on the other side of the law. His character is described simply as a government agent, and trailers show him working hand in hand with Judi Dench's M. 

   We know that a big part of the plot involves secrets from M's past, and that something she did has put the whole agency in danger. In the word's of Silva - "Mommy's been very bad". So, is it possible that Ralph Fiennes is going to be her replacement?

   It would make sense. Dench has had the role since GOLDENEYE, and she was the only major player to continue on past the reboot. It feels right that she may be forced to hand the baton over to someone new - someone to take on the M position for the future entries in the rebooted Bond world. If this is the case, it will be very interesting, as we've never seen the transition before. 

   And, they could do a lot worse than Fiennes. He has the same proper air of authority that Bernard Lee had when he held the role for all those years. He has the chops to be both the rule of order that backs up 007, as well as being someone that Bond pushes against when he feels that M is off base. There's also the added element of Bond's loyalty to Dench's M, and how he might have to adjust to a changing of the guard. Kind of how he was back when Dench first took over the position. 

4. Javier Bardem as Silva.

   My major complaint with QUANTUM OF SOLACE was that the villain wasn't all that menacing, really. It seems that producers felt the same way, and they are trying to rectify that situation with the casting of Javier Bardem as the mysterious Silva. Bardem can definitely be menacing - just look at his turn in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

   Bond villains are a rare breed. They are bad guys, sure, but they are never just petty thugs. They are classy individuals who strut around with confidence. The best ones are also terrifyingly dismissive of human life, and I think that Bardem has the talent to pull all this off.

    The big complaint so far is his hair. Sure, it looks a bit like Stuart Smalley, but he had the world's stupidest haircut in NO COUNTRY, and it only seemed to make him scarier. I'm sure that by the time we all see it, we will forget about his hair, and just be rooting for Bond to put an end to his evil - whatever that may be.

5. Freedom from the last two films' story arc.

   With the first two Craig outings, the series did something it had never really done before - a multifilm story arc. How crazy was it to see Mr. White in the trunk of Bond's car at the beginning of QUANTUM, seemingly hours after the confrontation at the end of CASINO ROYALE?

   While I thought it was cool that the films led directly into each other, it is kind of nice to know that SKYFALL is free to do it's own thing. Vesper has been avenged, and Bond has learned some of the valuable lessons that made him the agent we all fell in love with in the old series.  This film can have a beginning, a middle, and an end - a complete adventure all in one package.

6. Q is back!

   Some of my favorite moments in the original series were the scenes with Desmond Llewellyn as Q, MI6's gadget man. They were always funny, and the relationship between Q and Bond grew into something wonderful over the years. When Llewellyn died, John Cleese took over the role for DIE ANOTHER DAY, and that was the last we saw of the venerable quartermaster.

   Now, Q is back - albeit in a much younger form.

   Whereas the first two Craig films downplayed his reliance on gadgets, SKYFALL seems to want a return to some of that technical wizardry. Ben Whishaw has been cast as Q, and he looks to be a Q for the modern age. It makes sense that Q would be younger now, considering how fast technology moves these days. It would also appear from the trailers that Bond is a bit resistant to this newest member of the team. Here's hoping that Q's gadgets will pull his ass out of the fire enough that 007 come around.

As more comes out about SKYFALL, I can only hope my optimism is rewarded. Bond has been off of screens for far too long, and I look forward to seeing him in action again. Novemebr 9th can't get here soon enough.

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