As expected, Skyfall is stomping at the box-office with a likely $85 to $88 million by Sunday night. I’ve seen it twice because of Roger Deakins‘ exhilarating cinematography, for the teasing perversity in Javier Bardem‘s Silva, for the way director Sam Mendes delivers in a carefully honed and upmarket fashion, like it’s all being shot for Vanity Fair, and because Skyfall avoids and in fact seems to despise many of the stylistic flourishes and indulgences that have come to represent the Bond franchise over the last 50 years.
And yet it delivers with high finesse. While being a dark and solemn thing at heart. The opening credit sequence, a dreamscape of death if I ever saw one, is but one taste.
As David Denby puts it in his New Yorker review, Skyfall has been fashioned “in the recent mode of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, [and] is a gloomy, dark action thriller, and almost completely without the cynical playfulness that drew us to the series in the first place.” Exactly! Yes! Thank you!
Denby, in short, is lamenting the passing of that bottled and bonded 20th Century attitude, or perhaps the passing of the 20th Century, and once again seems to be pushing an ongoing argument against the inevitable, even though what he’s observed in recent reviews — a certain cultural diminishment, innumerable crude tendencies, a downwash — is arguably happening. Denby has essentially been saying in his reviews what Tony Soprano told Jennifer Melfi in the very first episode of the first Sopranos season, way back in ’99: “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, I know. But lately I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”
And yet I enjoyed this Denby riff about the first and possibly best Bond of all: “Connery was shrewd and piratical — he let us in on the fun of being wicked. An ironist, he knew that the role was absurd but that the desire for fantasy wasn’t. He was the gentleman-rogue hero — aristocratic in disdain, yet classless — of every man’s dream of himself, and women could enjoy him as the adroit cad who arrives at night, delivers the goods, and leaves in the morning. Connery took his time. His drawling pauses as he calculated his advantage were a prime comic device, the manner of a brute swathed in sophistication, so sure of success that he never needed to rush.
“Roger Moore, of course, was more Brut than brute. He gave off the aura of a luxury product in an airline magazine — an expensive leather case, perhaps, rubbed rather too often with oil. He was neither shaken nor stirred; he was smooth, unmarked by experience in any way. George Lazenby and the gracious Timothy Dalton never really took control of the role, but Pierce Brosnan, with his big, handsome head atop a slender body, could be flinty. He had an interesting mean streak and the habits of cold indifference. He was lithe and quick, yet not really a menace, like the big-bodied Connery or the steel-springed Craig.
“The earlier Bonds were superlative lovers of food, spirits, and women. As box-office has become truly internationalized, however, the producers may have feared that a too knowing Bond might not please everyone. Such a connoisseur could turn off moviegoers who object to the notion of being outclassed. The Bond franchise will continue, though I doubt we shall ever again hear Bond say, as Connery did in Goldfinger, that a certain brandy was a ‘thirty-year-old fins indifferently blended, sir, with an overdose of bons bois.’ I don’t know what bons bois is, but I enjoyed the astringent flavor of Connery’s judgment.”