Friday, November 9, 2012

Nobody Does It Better...Still

Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby, you're the best

- Carly Simon, "Nobody Does It Better" (Elektra, 1977)

*Minor spoilers ahead

With my heart still racing from the adrenaline rush of the midnight showing of Skyfall, I conclude my Bond Series with Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" from The Spy Who Loved Me. As readers may recall from my discussion of "The Goldfinger Effect," TSWLM was Roger Moore's third outing as Bond and essentially his Goldfinger. To recap:

[The Spy Who Loved Me] single-handedly revived the sagging Bond series in the mid-1970s. Lavishly produced and featuring a Roger Moore who had grown comfortable in the role, The Spy Who Loved Me was the best Bond film since Goldfinger...Returning to the elements that had contributed to Goldfinger's success, producer Albert R. Broccoli gave production designer Ken Adam a free hand...Like Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me introduced a sense of worldwide alarm...Broccoli had carefully updated hi saga of 007, and the huge success of The Spy Who Loved Me guaranteed the series's longevity.[1]

Carly Simon's ballad turned out to be quite fitting for Moore's revitalization. The song experienced enormous success (#2 in the U.S. at the time), received an Academy Award nomination for "Best Song," and has held considerable appeal over the years (#67 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Songs," sharing it with the list's only other Bond classic "Goldfinger" at #53). Radiohead's Thom Yorke once described the tune as "the sexiest song ever written" (so sexy, apparently, that they felt obliged to cover it brilliantly). Thus, her song deserves to be side-by-side with the biggest movie opening in UK box office history.

But the question remains: does Skyfall rank as Daniel Craig's Goldfinger or TSWLM? Quite confidently, I can answer with a definitive 'yes'. Director Sam Mendes has given audiences one of the best films in the now 50-year old series. Craig's three films have acted as a kind of The Dark Knight trilogy for Bond. Reviewers have drawn such comparisons and Mendes actually cited Christopher Nolan's (himself a huge Bond fan) Batman trilogy--particularly The Dark Knight--as a major influence on his approach to Skyfall. The Craig films have been an experimentation and a successful one at that. The producers attempted to ground Bond in reality and flesh him out more fully as a character, emotionally and psychologically. Skyfall portrays a slightly older, more experienced Bond who becomes emotionally and physically compromised by the outcome of a mission in Turkey.[2] Part of his uneasiness comes from his sentimental relationship with the quasi-motherly M, which has developed over the past couple films. As one reviewer puts it, "Skyfall is partly about Bond coming to terms with being Bond and what it means to be a person whose job it is to protect the rest of us." In the finale, we are given a brief glimpse into Bond's childhood and the grief associated with the loss of his parents at a young age (an experience he somewhat relives at his family estate Skyfall in a Straw Dogs-like scene). Just as Bond found redemption from Vesper's complicated betrayal and death at the end of Quantum of Solace, he emerges fully-grown at the end of Skyfall with the loss of the only other important woman in his life. The ending seems to indicate that the psychological probing has come to close, with Bond finally on sure footing. 

However, the film does more than potentially conclude an interesting character development.[3] It brings the entire series full circle. Various references and allusions are made to past films, including the Licence to Kill palm reader, the Goldfinger ejector seat, the GoldenEye exploding pen, and the Dr. No issuing of the Walther PPK. The James Bond Theme is used strategically throughout the film, which was lacking in Craig's first two. For example, while the gunbarrel sequence is placed at the end (similar to Quantum of Solace), the brief orchestral blast of the Bond theme in the opening shot nearly makes up for it.[4] Also, when Bond reveals his Aston Martin DB5, the Bond theme follows perfectly. More importantly, however, staple characters and elements return to the series. Q is a most welcome return. As mentioned before, this younger version reverses the roles of past films with Bond portraying the older, slightly crabby uncle to Q's hip nephew. Bond is officially introduced to Eve Moneypenny, the new secretary and former field agent who accompanied (and accidentally sniped) Bond in the opening Turkey assignment. The character Mallory brings back the traditional masculinity and hierarchical respect to M's briefings along with the classic environment associated with it (e.g. the hatstand, the leather door, the flirting with Miss Moneypenny). In other words, the traditional Bond has received a 21st-century makeover and is ready for action. The series can now begin to make stand-alone films within the context created by Craig's first three. The film provides a fresh start for 007; a turning point even. I mentioned before that this film could cement Craig as Bond and set the tone for the series' future. It positively has. As The Huffington Post humorously writes, "Skyfall takes everything we liked about Casino Royale -- the grittier and more realistic Bond -- and combines it with everything we missed about the older Bond movies, namely: humor, nostalgia, and a complete absence of scenes in which Daniel Craig has his scrotum smashed." And with screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) returning for two more films, we can hope for more of this fantastic and much needed blend. 

The artistic success that is Skyfall is important for one simple reason: it shows the world once more that nobody does it better than Bond. 

1. Steven Jay Rubin, The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (New York: Contemporary Books, 1995), 389-390.

2. The training and reassessment of Bond's abilities reminded me of Bond's stay at Shrublands health clinic in the novel Thunderball (most accurately portrayed in the film remake Never Say Never Again).

3. I say "potentially" because it is quite possible that future films may delve more into Bond's psyche.

4. Sam Mendes originally intended to place the gunbarrel at the beginning.

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