With news breaking that Sam Mendes will not return for the next edition of the James Bond franchise and the recent release of Skyfall on DVD and Blu-ray, FMR’s Greg Davis looks at Mendes’ contribution to the 50 year-old franchise with just one film.
Director: Sam Mendes (2013)
When bringing in an award-winning director who focuses on visuals and who hasn’t had much experience with action or genre film, throwing said director into the middle of an established franchise that took flight a half-century ago may seem like a bit of a gamble. Well, undoubtedly, the gamble paid off when Sam Mendes was hired to direct the most recent James Bond picture, “Skyfall.” Not only was the film successful, but it could be said that Mendes has reinvented the Bond film in a way that is comparable to the way that Alfonso Cuaron reinvented the Harry Potter series with his installation, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuaron turned the series into a much darker and less childish story resulting in a major tonal shift for the following films to come. This was a huge breakthrough for the Potter franchise being that the first two Potters before Azakban were possibly the weakest in comparison to the other six films. Cuaron revolutionized the phenomenon of Harry Potter. We can only hope that Mendes has done the same for future Bond installments.
Mendes reinventing Bond does not mean a change in overall structure, however. The film opens with a standard, hard-to-believe, crazy, and impressively choreographed chase sequence featuring Daniel Craig in his third appearance as Bond. However, with Skyfall being Mendes’ first major action film, it wasn’t surprising to notice a couple of lapses in editing during this opening chase sequence. Even the action-experienced Christopher Nolan has had some noticeable lapses in editing in his films (most notably in The Dark Knight, thanks to a video made by film critic Jim Emerson). Regardless, like Nolan’s action sequences, this scene is exciting, thrilling, and what we have come to expect of Bond. In many ways, it is a scene that defines the persona of James Bond: A suave, smart, and sexy intelligence agent who will take any risk for the good of the world.
Keeping with structural similarity through Bond history, following the aforementioned chase sequence comes the expected visually expressive credit sequence which pairs beautifully with the newest Bond song written and sung by Adele. An emphasis is placed on a nearly fatal gunshot wound that hits Bond in the final moments preceding the credit sequence with the bullet coming from the gun of Bond’s partner, (Naomie Harris) leaving MI6 with the impression that they had lost their top agent. Of course, as an audience we know the film would be a little too short if this were true. But, the wound does hinder Bond from being a top shot with a gun for the rest of the film, a motif that lingers until he must be precise with his weaponry in the end.
In this episode of 007, the 23rd installment in the franchise, character background and depth are a very welcome addition to an already strong script. Following Bond’s supposed death, MI6 comes under attack. Bond must return from the grave to track down and eliminate the threat. It just so happens that the threat is someone returning from MI6’s past. This man, Silva (Javier Bardem in a brilliant return to the villain role, though Anton Sugar from “No Country for Old Men” beats Silva in my opinion), a former MI6 agent, makes it his mission to kill his former employer, M (Dame Judi Dench). In addition to taking a peak into M’s past through Silva, “Skyfall” features some back story of Bond’s childhood. “Skyfall” is the name of the house in which Bond grew up in Scotland. The landscape surrounding the secluded home is beautiful and haunting, where clouds mask the tops of mountains while Bond looks on remembering his time growing up. A man still resides in the home where Bond grew up by the name of Kincade (Albert Finney), a long-time friend of the Bonds. With insight into two of the staple characters of the series, “Skyfall” receives a boost to propel it above previous Daniel Craig and even Pierce Brosnan Bond films.
Even with a surprisingly strong script, the more impressive aspect of the film may be the visuals. As stated before, Sam Mendes is a visually-oriented director, and with 10-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins working beside him, it’s no surprise that visuals did not take a back seat to story. There is a breathtaking fight scene set on a high floor of a Shanghai skyscraper that is impossible to take your eyes off. Additionally, in the final battle between Bond and Silva which takes place on the grounds of the old Bond property, fire helps create a haunting, yet beautiful aura illuminating evil across the face of the already menacing Silva. Mendes and Deakins use the attractive set locations in all of the different countries and take advantage to the fullest. If anything, this Bond saga should be remembered for its attention to visual detail.
Sam Mendes has clearly established himself as a director who can adapt. He accepted the challenge of taking a franchise that is now 23 movies deep with an already established direction and structure and still found a way to make it his own. It’s quite an accomplishment. He brought back some fun to the franchise rather than keeping it straight serious from beginning to end. There were some big character changes thrown in at the end that will hopefully stick for the oncoming films including a new M in the form of Ralph Fiennes and the reintroduction of Ms. Moneypenny (M’s secretary). Mendes was recently quoted saying he felt that Bond films were more about the suspense than the action. He credits Alfred Hitchcock with the first Bond movie, North By Northwest, which, of course, isn’t really a Bond film. Hitchcock’s influence is on display in “Skyfall,” helping Mendes turn what could have been just another Bond film into so much more.