Skyfall

While slightly uneven in its tone – occasionally swinging wildly from winking at the audience and very uncomfortable, dark scenes – there is no doubt that Skyfall has something for all Bond fans. It serves as a bridge between the Casino Royale‘s reinvention of James Bond, Daniel Craig’s first portrayal of the character, and elements of older Bond continuity.

The movie James Bond’s continuity has been often muddled, particularly considering the character’s age (Skyfall coincides with the series’ 50th anniversary). Casino Royale, however, clearly established James as a fairly young agent, just receiving his 00 status. While this latest entry in the series definitely falls in with that, the overarching villain of the previous films, the Quantum, seems to have been dropped entirely, for example. Similarly, this marks the end of Judy Dench’s run as Bond’s boss M, which began in 1995’s GoldenEye, curiously returning to an earlier status quo of a male M, and his flirtatious assistant Ms. Moneypenny, as well as the first appearance of a Q (source of Bond’s gadgets) in the new continuity.

What a way for Judy Dench to leave the franchise, however! Her relationship with James in this twenty-third entry in the Bond franchise makes her, without a doubt, the female lead of the movie. While the relationship is without a doubt maternal rather than, as is far more commonly the case, sexual, James is saving a woman he respects and has deep-seated loyalty for, rather than a beauty, who’s relationship with him cannot hope to survive to the next movie (with the notable exception of Tracy Bond, his short-lived wife, who was promptly gunned down in the opening sequence of the very next movie).

It is also somewhat difficult, once again, to not compare to the recently completed reboot of Batman films, particularly Javier Bardem’s performance being so reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker. While specific elements of the character are certainly not being copied, the general note both strike is that of uncomfortableness. Both take psychotic glee in the consummation of their plans, make long-winded speeches explaining their warped logic, and seem to be a step ahead of the hero. Bardem has certainly created here a Bond villain that will be remembered, which was somewhat lacking in the past few movies, with the previous villains being far more real-world based.

This may be the time to mention the fact that the villain’s plan has come more back in line with classical Bond movie fair – not world domination, per se, but certainly more diabolical than winning a poker game. Consequently, it makes sense for the villain to be more cartoonish. On the flip side, of course, we have more lavish and stylish set pieces, such as a particularly memorable – and somewhat visually mind-bending – sequence on a skyscraper; and let’s not forget giant lizards. The movie also contains plenty of winks at the Bond-savvy audience members – a shaken vodka martini, a broken up introduction, Walther PPK, Aston Martin – all the classic elements are there.

There is no lack of newly introduced elements, however, such as a Batman-like origin story, complete with James’ very own old caretaker and mansion! There is more revealed about his backstory in this film than in any other, going into childhood history.

The level of advertisements in the film has received some concern online. Along with certain other elements that occasionally stretch believability quite drastically, this is hardly new for the franchise. The various advertisements are quite obvious, and while it may be annoying to those privy to what is happening, most audience members are not very likely to notice it.

Ultimately, this is unlikely to be many people’s favorite Bond movie, but it succeeds quite well on its own merits, while not overshooting in ambition. Director Sam Mendes brings considerable visual flair to the movie, but it is inevitably led primarily by the material rather than the directorial choice. Daniel Craig is strong in the role, as usual, his swagger and confidence in the role being undeniable. This isn’t necessarily the one Bond movie to see for somebody who has no interest, or the one big blockbuster event to attend, but those whose attention was captured in the slightest by any of the unavoidable trailers or advertisements will probably not be disappointed.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 film)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me go on front street about this – I am a David Fincher fan. I was floored by Seven when I first saw it. 2007’s Zodiac appealed to my precise sensibilities in a detective thriller. Even last year’s Social Network appealed to me, with the Trent Reznor soundtrack, and Sorkin’s unique, fast-paced dialogue. So essentially, I was biased to like this from the start. When I first saw the kinetic trailer, set to the amazing cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, I could not have been more excited. I watched the trailer over, and over again just so I could enjoy something that was built so confidently.

I can’t really say the same about the film, on the whole. It is ultimately too much of a time commitment to re-watch with the same intensity. Which isn’t to say that the movie lacks intensity, far from it. The story, the characters, provide moments of extreme excitement. The titular Girl is Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara, whose portrayal of the highly damaged, volatile, and by her own admission, insane punk. Her counterpart, Mikael Blomkvist, portrayed in this version by Daniel Craig, is much more subdued, controlled, merely hinting at something below the surface. The two get involved in a tale of intrigue, uncovering a massive trail of ghastly murders.

The homicide investigation takes over the middle of the movie, but is book-ended by the characters’ personal problems. This is probably to be expected in a film that is predestined to have sequels – the attempts to spend more time just getting to know the characters is certainly justified. Lisbeth’s background is inevitably more dramatic – her story of rape and glorious, brutal revenge works perfectly to set up her character.

All this is done in an extremely stylish way, the direction is masterful. David Fincher shows, once again, that he is a true filmmaker. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not the best movie of the year, or the most exciting. It is simply always a pleasure to see such a confidently made stylish film in action.