– Summary –
Director : Sam Mendes
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Berenice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Wishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McRory.
Approx Running Time : 143 Minutes
Synopsis: Bond pursues a rogue agent from MI6 who is hell bent on seeking revenge on M.
What we think : Is Skyfall the best Bond film ever? No, not quite. But it’s still a terrific film. A darker edge to the relationship between M and Bond, forged from a botched mission to recover stolen intel, gives Skyfall its dramatic propulsion, and while it sags a tad in the middle, the ripping opener and the devastating final act – all which set Bond up for the future – are dynamite. For all its flaws, Skyfall is terrific entertainment, and a solid entry into the Bond canon.
I’ve read in other reviews that Skyfall plays a little like the James Bond variant of The Dark Knight – Skyfall touches on themes of death and betrayal, often too obviously so, while character arcs begun in Casino Royale’s reboot are resolved for good here. I’d hesitate to compare Skyfall to Chris Nolan’s comic-film masterpiece, but were I pushed for an adequate comparative level, I’d say Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall make up a trio of films you’d umbrella-describe them as “James Bond Begins”. By the end of Skyfall, all the requisite Bond cliches are in place, setting up the franchise to where it began all those years ago with Doctor No. Bond himself even tips his hat to the recycled ideas of the Bond franchise with lip-service to “the circle of life” at one point, although at the time unknowing as to just how cyclical this rebooted series really is. In Skyfall, the demons are exorcised, the pieces are moved into position for the future, and you get the sense that Daniel Craig has well and truly etched his name into many folks minds as the best Bond of them all – Connery be damned.
The film begins with Bond (Daniel Craig) and a female MI6 agent (Naomie Harris) pursuing a mercenary (Ola Rapace) to recover a disc containing the identities of every NATO agent working around the world – Bond is shot and given up for dead by M (Judi Dench), who herself is under fire from the Establishment for allowing this highly valuable theft to occur in the first place. Bond, however, is not dead, and returns to England when a mysterious mastermind detonates a gas line within MI6 headquarters, sending a message to M that he’s one of their own. As he connects the dots, Bond learns that the man behind it all is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent and now rogue militant, with grand plans of revenge on M. Apparently, M betrayed Silva in a past mission, and left him for dead – a fact which M does not dispute – and something which Bond himself has all to recently found to be a trending topic of discussion in his life. Silva’s plan doesn’t stop at being captured by Bond; rather, he’s counting on it to bring to a head the simmering resentment he’s harbored towards M and the British establishment for years, leading to a final showdown with M, Bond and Silva that is as personal as it gets.
Where Casino Royale kicked things off and set up Craig’s Bond as something of a brutish, roguish, “blunt instrument”, and Quantum of Solace delivered a steely-eyed, bruising basher of a Bond, the final arc of this trilogy of constructivism is a wounded-soldier Bond – Bond is hurting, both emotionally and psychically, yet he endures through it all for his duty to his country. Skyfall brings to a close the Judi Dench era of M (this is her final appearance in a Bond film, so take from that what you will, spoiler junkies!) and does so in a way that’s both tragic and apropos to the dark tones this film ventures into. The script, by Neale Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, is terrific, generally well constructed and most definitely handling the delicate whiffs of Bond in ways that seem both new and familiar. The story takes Bond into territory never really trod: his relationship with M, which in this outing finally gives Judi Dench a chance to get her teeth into some meaty performance work. Bond’s affection for M, which at one point early in Casino Royale seems to be a barely contained distrust, has developed here into a vague, often super-subtle mother/son dynamic (although perhaps I’m reading too much into it) and the way the film’s dark denouement plays out, one sees exactly why the producers opted for this “out with a bang” ending for Dench with the franchise.
Skyfall has a great central villain, in Javier Barden’s Silva, a blonde, effeminate (openly gay?) enemy who seems to always be one step ahead, even when behind bars. Bardem plays the role for all its worth, never stepping into “No Mr Bond , I expect you to DIEEEE!” pantomime yet remaining gleefully silly and ruthlessly violent when required – Silva is terrifying for his efficiency and ruthlessness, and given he’s also a former MI6 agent, makes him a suitable adversary for Bond to combat. Mind you, much the same could be said of Sean Bean’s Trevelyn character in GoldenEye, so in a way, Silva’s not exactly a new idea after all. Barden handles the Bad Guy mantle with aplomb, even “frisking” Bond at one point as if to unnerve out favorite secret agent and put him off his game. It doesn’t work. This is Bond, after all.
The film also sets up Dench’s replacement as M, in a character called Mallory, who is initially skeptical of the MI6 branch’s ability – or suitability – to do the job needed. Ralph Fiennes has a perplexing lack of authority in the role, which was surprising considering how awesome an actor he is, although by films’ end you get the sense that he was only foxing the entire time. Naomie Harris, as one of Bond’s MI6 agent compatriots, has come a long way since the “bad acne” makeup of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, and is solid enough as Eve, yet another cog in the Bond franchise reboot that is yet to fully flesh out. Ben Wishaw, playing the newer, younger Q for the first time in a Craigbond flick, is generally excellent, although I do wish he’d traded better witty barbs with Bond from the outset. Wishaw seems to be up for the role with snarky relish, a role which appears to have been given greater prominence in the franchise than what was afforded to the late Desmond Llewellyn (and John Cleese, who was even better). Wishaw also appeared alongside Daniel Craig in the British film Layer Cake – do check it out, it’s a pretty sweet film.
Most people have been rattling their sabres about Roger Deakin’s terrific cinematography when they discuss Skyfall, and heavily breathing about potential Oscar winning work in the same sentence. I’d say that’s a fairly accurate statement, because Deakins’ use of lighting, shadow and color in Skyfall is nothing short of sensational. It’s easily the most beautiful Bond film ever shot, which is no small feat considering the vast array of wonderful DP’s who have worked on the franchise over the years. Stuart Baird, together with Kate Baird (sorry, I’m not sure what, if any, relationship they have) edits the film with a genuine action flavoring – Stuart Baird is a renowned action film editor and director, so he brings considerable talent to telling this grim and gritty Bond flick. The opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission, delivering white-hot excitement and jaw-dropping derring-do. A little like the opening of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall had a lot to live up to, and it does it with style.
While the action is nothing to complain about, and the story itself filled with intrigue and mystery, things do sag a little in the middle act. Bond’s tracking of the mercenary, Patrice, to Shanghai, and then a stopover in Macau, seem to slow the film’s compelling pacing down considerably, and while I guess it’s trying to develop Bond’s wounded-warrior motif, and introduce the tragic Severine (a terrific Berenice Lim Marlohe), the end result nearly stops the breakneck speed of the movie. The moments with Mallory are mystefyingly ineffective for the most part, Severine could have been a far better character than she was written, and the film takes on a wandering minstrel tone for all the lovely establishing shots of each locale we get. One of the things that began to bother me, especially in this middle section, was just how long and lavish the wide-shots of the various filming locations are, when nothing at all is happening. Can’t understand why Mendes would do this, actually.
Daniel Craig seems to suit the character of Bond even more now than he did in both his previous outings. Craig’s steely determination to win at all costs, to achieve the seemingly impossible, is palpable, and even when he’s not saying or even really doing anything, his face and eyes say a lot more than any dialogue could impart. His chemistry with Judi Dench is wonderful, working off each other really well while maintaining that undercurrent of tension being boss and employee. Berenice Marlohe is criminally underused as one of the sexiest Bond girls in a while (sorry, Olga Kurylenko), while the wonderful Albert Finney makes a solid effort as the caretaker of the Scottish estate to which Bond takes M for the final confrontation with Silva. Finney’s role is as close to a real-life human character this film has, and he provides more laughs in his short role at the end than most of the quips throughout the film. Always good to see you, Mr Finney.
Skyfall’s critical success lies in its presentation of the relationship between Bond and M, and while I understand the limited development one is able to afford a former secondary character in the Bond franchise, here I think it’s the best it’s ever been. Dench and Craig deliver the goods, they really do. Director Sam Mendes handles the large-scale action with equal tenacity as he does the more character-driven pieces, although at times his sense of pacing does run a little patchy through the middle. Kudos to him, too, for introducing the central villain with one single, long unedited take: in a Bond film, that’s something new and exciting. Some critics have described Skyfall as the best Bond in years, if not ever; I’m loathe to make such a broad statement in light of my thoughts on Casino Royale, but it’s easy to say that Skyfall is one hell of a decent film – Bond or not – that deserves watching. As mentioned, it feels like the three Craig films so far have been setting us up for the future – and by the end of this film, all the familiar characters are in place for the next installment – which leaves me really excited about where this franchise might go. Skyfall is a solid, exciting and well made film, and even with some of its flaws, remains one of the more dynamic and emotionally powerful Bond films made thus far.