Skyfall and Goldfinger: A Study in the Evolution of Plot in James Bond Movies

Skyfall

2012, Sam Mendes, United States/United Kingdom

Goldfinger

1964, Guy Hamilton, United Kingdom

Discussions of the James Bond films often begin and end with comparisons of the actors who played the title character.  What is often lost in the endless discussion of Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore vs. Pierce Brosnan vs. Daniel Craig is that the movies themselves have evolved substantially since the early outings in the 1960’s.

Sean Connery’s turn as Bond is considered by most to be the signature portrayal of the character.  Most fans of Bond would consider the pinnacle of his run as Bond to be 1964’s Goldfinger.  While the film is still fun to watch, it hasn’t aged well in some respects, especially when compared to this fall’s release of Skyfall, with Daniel Craig as Bond.

Spoilers to Follow

Assuming anyone who’s interested in this post has seen Goldfinger, Bond is set on the titular villain’s trail early in the film to see what he’s up to.  The film hits the audience over the head with how dangerous Goldfinger is after he kills a female employee by covering her in gold paint (we all know the film’s explanation of skin suffocation is complete BS, so let’s just assume that the paint is poisoned too).  Still, he doesn’t seem too bright, and Bond, with the exception of one famous scene where he’s about to be sliced open with a laser, doesn’t really break a sweat defeating him.  All Bond has to do is sleep with the woman Goldfinger trusts to carry out a crucial aspect of his scheme to break into Fort Knox in order to turn her against him, for example.  (Bond successfully bed a woman named Pussy Galore?  Real challenge there!)  While the movie is fun to watch, there is absolutely no tension with the one notable exception.

Skyfall is much different.  The movie opens with a complex chase scene, and Bond is shot twice by the end of it.  By the time he gets back to MI-6 HQ, he is completely out of form, yet he has to stop a villain that is literally two steps ahead of him at every turn.  Unlike Goldfinger, there isn’t one or two scenes of tension with an otherwise unstoppable hero fighting a daft villain, but the audience really is kept wondering if Bond can really prevail this time around.  The ending, also far removed from Goldfinger, solidifies that the new James Bond isn’t as endlessly powerful as the old, and overall it provides a much richer viewing experience.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe