Action, 143 Minutes, 2012
This is Daniel Craig’s [IMDB] third outing as a grittier, rougher-edged version of Ian Fleming’s tuxedoed MI6 agent with a license to kill. Bond (like other persistently popular characters such as Batman or Superman) has successfully maintained relevance across several generations. The character does this by merging modern sensibilities with dependable, iconic traits. This film marks the fiftieth anniversary of Bond in film.
Is it good enough to anchor this landmark? In short, despite a few missteps, I think “yes”.
Although it opens with a nicely bombastic action sequence the first half of the movie is slow – glacially slow. A hard drive with the identities of every NATO undercover agent has been stolen and confidence in MI6 is at an all-time low. Apparently the current administration considers the organization old-fashioned and unable to deal with the challenges of modern intelligence gathering.
This “old versus new” theme is repeated several times in several different ways. The most glaring example is the new Q who is exceedingly young and more hacker than gadgeteer (although he doesn’t come off particularly well overall). Another recurring theme that’s rather inelegantly presented is that the job is more important than lives. Bond is faced, multiple times, with the choice of allowing others to die or continue his mission and he invariably chooses the mission. While I like Craig’s darker, more cynical Bond this point was so ham-fistedly made, and made multiple times, that I felt it detracted from the character.
All of my complaints evaporated during the second half and the nearly perfect third act. Silva, our villain is finally revealed and the pace picks up dramatically. Played exquisitely by Javier Bardem [IMDB] he is brilliant, deranged and easily the equal of any prior Bond villain. Like all the best villains he absolutely steals any scene he’s in and his motivations, once revealed, are simple and understandable. The hard drive, you see, was only a distraction. M, and her past actions, are the real target. To keep her safe Bond runs to his now abandoned ancestral estate.
This is a heart of the movie. We learn something of Bond’s childhood and dig into his relationship with M. There are wonderful callbacks to the earlier films that culminate with the reintroduction of a classic character. Most importantly there’s a focused effort to distill the character of Bond down past the charm and gadgets to his foundation. The true core of the character – his sheer stubbornness and resourcefulness – are brought into stark relief. This is the essence of Bond, raw and exposed.
In many ways this film, building on and surpassing Craig’s previous two, completes the reinvention of Bond for this generation. With this film I feel that all of the important pieces of the classic Bond films are, finally, firmly in place. I’m very excited to see where he goes from here.