I'm honestly rather surprised by how excellent Skyfall turned out to be. I'd heard good things, but the concept of a well-written Bond film with nuanced characterisation hadn't even occurred to me. The phrase "best Bond ever" comes to mind, although it's probably unfair to compare a lightweight post-war spy movie with a big-budget thriller made in 2012. Either way, this was a smarter, more modern Bond that still gelled perfectly with the legacy of the series as a whole. Rather than going for the "any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic" gadgetry of the Pierce Brosnan era, the cyber-terrorism plot of Skyfall forced Bond back into his original role as a blunt instrument. And yes, Skyfall is a movie that manages to use the term "cyber-terrorism" in a non-embarrassing fashion. Who even knew that was possible?
In many ways, Daniel Craig is the closest we've got to Ian Fleming's Bond since the 1960s. Fleming's Bond was ruthless and very much a product of the Second World War, and I'm fascinated by the way he's changed and evolved over the decades. Sean Connery is the most canonically similar, primarily because his movies were made more or less during the same time-period as the novels. Roger Moore was the silly, lightweight Bond, George Lazenby never really got a chance, and Timothy Dalton was darker and more introspective. Then came Pierce Brosnan, a slick '90s charmer who specialised in industrial espionage and dressed like a businessman. It seems weird to say that Skyfall has given us the "best" characterisation of Bond since the character is so malleable and often superficial, but while watching Skyfall I couldn't help but feel that this was a film that had really thought about who Bond would be in the world we live in today.
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you've probably noticed that my #1 goal in life is to ruin everyone's fun by complaining about poor female representation in movies. Well, James Bond is the one instance where you'll ever hear me express a desire to restrict the role of female characters. More specifically, I don't want a Bond Girl to come within ten miles of making 007 "fall in love". The Bond franchise is notorious for its treatment of women as disposable sex-objects, but Casino Royale's solution to this problem never really sat right with me. As a semi-reboot of the series, Casino Royale began with a softer Bond, allowing him to develop deeper feelings for Vesper Lynd than earlier Bonds had for their love-interests. But although Vesper was considerably more three-dimensional than most previous Bond Girls, I could never really get onboard with her and Bond's relationship. Rather than making Bond more interesting by showing that he's emotionally vulnerable, Casino Royale just reminded me of all the annoying movies I'd seen (I'm looking at you, Christopher Nolan Batman franchise) where female characters are only there to be killed off so the male lead can feel some feelings
I doubt that Bond would ever say to a male agent: "Being out in the field; it's not for everyone," because even in the 21st century he still secretly thinks that women need protecting more than men do, and he's generally just more emotionally open to women. But at the same time, he knew that Eve would be better off as a desk agent in the long run because although she's adventurous and tough and capable, she isn't a fucked-up murderer like Bond. Ten years ago, Eve's transition from badass field agent to Miss Moneypenny would have come across as a sexist tale of Bond safely putting a woman back in the office and out of harm's way, but in Skyfall this was her choice. Eve Moneypenny is awesome, but Daniel Craig's Bond is a stone-cold bastard, and he knows it. The reason why Skyfall succeeded where Casino Royale failed is because rather than going out of its way to be "gritty", Skyfall shows the balance between the danger and importance of Bond's job, and how much enjoys it. Daniel Craig's Bond, like the original Ian Fleming character, is an alcoholic womaniser who will cheerfully headbutt you in the face, laugh, and then murder a room full of people for queen and country. And the writers of Skyfall managed to put that character in an incredibly high-stakes situation and allow him some believably humanising emotional leeway in the form of his relationship with M.
Part 2: The new Bond Girls.
Part 3: The Costumes.