God help whatever poor soul is given the task to follow up Sam Mendes‘s work on Skyfall. Mendes has brought the James Bond franchise to a level beyond what we would hope and expect from a fifty-year-old series. Most characters couldn’t endure that lengthy amount of time, but Mendes and the brass behind the franchise have made a bold reason to believe that Bond is far from dead.
Even looking past Roger Deakins‘ rich cinematography, Thomas Newman‘s intense but subtle score (which I’m listening to/fawning over as I write these words), and the magnificent locations milked for all their beauty, there’s still plenty more to love about Skyfall. Mendes has brought his voice to the franchise while also preserving Bond’s greatest traits, making the film one hell of a character-driven action movie.
But just how did he do it?
Bond Loses His Mojo Then Quickly Regains It
Quantum of Solace left Bond in a rough place. Director Marc Forster tried to do what Mendes corrected this time: make the character a human being. To Forster that meant a lot of moping and grinning. He wasn’t the same character people fell in love with from Casino Royale. In Skyfall, that charm is back. Even after all his most incredible acts of heroism, Mendes and star Daniel Craig keep Bond as a flawed, vulnerable man, not a superhero. Which leads me to my next point…
It’s Personal This Time
This isn’t an action movie about global domination, a Lex Luthor-esque land scheme, or a not-so-clever baddie pun-named Mr. Greene because he commits some evil environmental mayhem. The stakes come from a very personal place. Silva (Javier Bardem) goes after what Bond cares about the most. We can’t go further than that without spoiling, but having Silva attack Bond on a personal level makes the stakes feel more intimate, more intense and more involving.
Bardem Makes Blonde Look Good
When it comes to Silva, Bardem relishes every scene. Mendes described it as “lip-smacking,” a subtle and more impressive form of scenery-chewing. Despite his goofy get ups, his flamboyancy, and weird sense of humor, Bradem never slips into scoffing down scenery. There’s not a second where Bardem isn’t insanely entertaining, but it all comes from a grounded, convincing, and emotionally damaged place.
Plus, as a kicker, Javier Bardem even throws grenades in this movie with a sense of style.
Sam Mendes Knows How to Blow Stuff Up
We knew Sam Mendes could shoot a few intense gun fights based on Road to Perdition, but who knew he had all this in him? Never has Bond ever looked so suave wielding a gun. Of course, it certainly helps that Mendes keeps placing him in more challenging and distinct settings. There’s a old fashioned siege finale, a motorcycle chase, a silhouette-styled fight scene, an extended foot chase, and more. Mendes never repeats himself.
50 Years Later, There Are Still Surprises
There’s always been something trite about the Bond franchise. The successful ones have usually been comfort food: you get what you’ve paid for, not a whole lot more. There’s so many overplayed conventions of this franchise, but Sam Mendes wisely tosses them out the window. Don’t rip your hair out just yet, super fans…
Old and New Mixed Together Makes a Potent Cocktail
Even though Mendes decides to scrap the cheap tricks of the franchise, that doesn’t mean there’s not a sense of gleeful nostalgia in the movie. You can tell Mendes has an affection for the sexier side of the Bond from the Connery days, where everything felt so damn cool. The references work but never get in the way of telling this Bond story.
The New Guys
One of the best callbacks is the return of Q, portrayed by Ben Whishaw. The charisma of the spy and the inventor’s famed rapport has been successfully brought back to life with Whishhaw adding a required sense of breath and humor after all the set pieces we get. You end up looking forward to Q’s place in future installments, and the same goes for Ralph Fiennes and fellow new additions.
All of this comes together to make something seriously entertaining to look out for.
Skyfall drops November 9th. You can check out our review round-up here.