Skyfall Movie ReviewNovember 13, 2012
Skyfall is a near-perfect mix of old and new.
James Bond is one of films’ most recognizable characters, but at the same time he has been notorious throughout cinema history for his excessive one-dimensionality. We generally envision the widely-known MI6 agent as being a cold-hearted, womanizing lush. That is until Casino Royale came along in 2006. This reboot starring Daniel Craig introduced us to a much more human take on the classic character. Beyond that, Casino Royale is now regarded as perhaps the greatest James Bond film ever made. 2008’s Quantum of Solace was a direct sequel to Casino Royale– the first in Bond history. But it left audiences disappointed; it was famously shot with an unfinished script due to the writers’ strike, and even Daniel Craig has voiced his disapproval of the finished product. Skyfall signaled a beacon of hope when a talented cast was attached to the project. Has American Beauty director Sam Mendes given us the quality Bond sequel we’ve wanted?
At the opening of Skyfall, a man steals a computer hard drive containing the names – and explicit details surrounding them – of nearly every undercover NATO agent embedded in terrorist organizations around the world. MI6 agents Eve (Naomie Harris) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) are sent in to investigate. However, the mission goes awry. As Bond and a terrorist fight atop a moving train, Eve is commanded by M (Judi Dench) to take a far-away shot that Eve explicitly warns is not clean. She accidentally shoots James in the shoulder, causing him to fall to his presumed death. Soon afterward, a cyberterrorist named Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) launches an attack on the MI6 headquarters that leaves multiple agents dead, the British Secret Service vulnerable and agency leader M (Judi Dench) worried as to how she should handle the situation. Luckily, James Bond miraculously returns after recovering from his severe injuries, but it’s obvious he’s lost a step. The gunshot wound in his shoulder has affected his aim, and other things such as alcoholism, age, and a newfound sense of resentment towards M factor into his increased weariness as a human being. Nonetheless, he realizes the gravity of the situation at hand and resolves to eliminate what may be one of the greatest threats MI6 has ever faced.
If Casino Royale is the equivalent of Batman Begins for the Bond franchise, then Skyfall is The Dark Knight – a perfect coincidence since director Sam Mendes cited The Dark Knight as his main influence in making this film. Six years ago, Casino Royale presented us with a tougher, colder, and most importantly more relateable take on the previously depthless character, which helped it become one of the greatest films in the franchise. It was a necessary reboot akin to Christopher Nolan’s excellent reinterpretation of Batman. Skyfall is much like The Dark Knight in that it expertly plays off its predecessor’s success by taking the successfully-rebooted Bond into much darker territory. The result is an action film that is equal parts dark, intelligent, sexy, intense, exciting, and moving, all culminating into the most entertaining action film of the year.
Understand here that I’m not counting superhero films like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (Editor’s note: Why not? Bond is essentially a Batman-esque superhero himself). In terms of simple action and adventure, Skyfall is the best this year has had to offer (though I have yet to see Looper). One of the key reasons why Skyfall works so well is that like Casino Royale, it discards the past clichés of the Bond franchise and presents the character in a much more realistic context. However, I have to give writers John Logan along with Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade credit for balancing the hyper-realism of Skyfall with plenty of clever references to the past films. This is fitting considering that Skyfall has arrived just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Skyfall expertly celebrates the series’ past, while also declaring that it is not slowing down anytime soon.
This is without a doubt one of the darkest and most emotional Bond tales ever told. The theme of resurrection – one that The Dark Knight Rises actually played off in similar ways – is omnipresent in the story from the very first scene in which James Bond falls (literally) from grace. Soon after Bond’s return, the script cleverly showcases how the MI6 life has taken its toll on our hero. He fails every test on his re-evaluation, a fact which M keeps hidden as she is obviously sentimental and still believes in him. At the same time, M is being told that she will need to voluntarily step down from her position, and thus feels a bit of a common, ahem, bond with 007. Skyfall does a great job of exploring 007’s past, while also showcasing the fact that he’s far from invincible- yet willing to do whatever is necessary to protect those he cares for.
When I heard that John Logan was one of the writers of Skyfall, I became extremely excited. Logan was also the screenwriter for what is now one of my favorite animated films of all-time – Rango (notable since it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature back in February). His use of witty dialogue, symbolism and intricate character development carries over to Skyfall, because the latest Bond film certainly benefits from both. Characters are especially essential in this film because they help to make Skyfall a very interesting story, with Judi Dench’s M being a key standout. She has secrets that she holds back from Bond in this film which leads Bond to question his relationship with her, but even so the two also have many entertaining and personal scenes together in this film, signifying a kind of mother-son connection. What I also found to be very interesting is that the villain of Skyfall has personal ties – many symbolic – to both Bond and M, and this helps to make him one of the most memorable Bond villains. Of course, Raoul Silva is iconic because of Javier Bardem’s performance, but he’s also exceptionally written.
When we are formally introduced to Silva, there is one long, continuous shot in which he monologues about conflicting rats, evoking classic villainy. He’s also sadistic, creepy, and psychopathic like a good Bond villain should be; however, to reflect the revolutionary ideas that Skyfall presents for the Bond franchise, Silva also has believable motives. It’s refreshing that his plans personally involve the protagonists. Rest assured, Silva is an excellent villain that will likely go down as one of the best in the franchise, and will likely draw many comparisons to Heath Ledger’s Joker. While I don’t expect an Academy Award nomination for his work, he is undeniably fantastic in this role. I must confess that I haven’t yet seen No Country For Old Men, but Skyfall made me only that much more excited to watch it due to his masterful work here. Bardem’s delivery as a vengeful, creepy,sadistic villain with an oddly gentlemanly demeanor will be burned into your brain. Otherwise, he acts oddly creepy in multiple ways, emphasizing his character’s psychopathic nature. A murderous cyberterrorist with distinctively bright blonde hair, sexual ambiguity, and dark secrets about MI6 and M surely makes for an unforgettable antagonist.
Being the third film in which Daniel Craig has played James Bond, we have come to expect a compelling performance from the seasoned actor. This remains true for Skyfall, and it could be argued that this is his best Bond performance thus far. You feel sympathetic for Bond when he’s being told he’s washed up and unfit for duty. Yet he still believably plays the part of the playboy assassin – you get the feeling that his outward demeanor, his swagger, is a bit of a defense mechanism. After watching Casino Royale, you understand his detachment from women beyond sexual encounters. As I have said, one of the main reasons why Raoul Silva works so well is because of Javier Bardem’s exemplary performance. It goes without saying that Judi Dench is great as M, and she’s given much more to work with this time around. Naomie Harris, on the other hand, is shortchanged for screentime as Eve, a spy working alongside James Bond, but is great fun to watch. She’s tough and attractive in a similar way to Paula Patton’s character in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and the dialogue between both her and Bond is both interesting and funny due to the sexual tension between the two characters. She couldn’t quite be called a Bond girl, however, and though she is accompanied by another female ally for Bond, neither are given enough screen time to be well-remembered. Lastly, it’s notable that Ralph Fiennes – yes, Voldemort himself – is a new addition to the cast. His past evil roles lead the audience to be uncertain about his allegiances throughout the film, and so he is well-cast. I certainly hope he returns for the last two films that Daniel Craig has signed on for.
Skyfall is simply a technical wonder – the action film of any director’s dreams. Although I would love to see what Christopher Nolan would do with James Bond (Nolan has stated his interest), I was perfectly satisfied with how well Sam Mendes directed Skyfall. In the same way that Joss Whedon was a natural fit for The Avengers, Sam Mendes treated the film with the respect of a diehard fan. He adds very subtle touches that will please any longtime Bond fan. Secondly, he and cinematographer Roger Deakins framed some of the best action scenes I have seen all year. The only way I can describe the style of action in Skyfall is a more artistic interpretation of the Bourne series. While the grittiness and intensity are still present, I can recall there being little to no shaky cam used. Instead, Sam Mendes resorts to fewer edits, slow camera movements, fantastic camera angles; in some cases the camera doesn’t move at all. I loved every minute of the action scenes – they’re filmed to perfection, and are equally intense, comprehensible and profoundly exciting. If there are to be Oscar nominations for Skyfall, my personal choices would be Sam Mendes for direction and Roger Deakins for the camera work. Truly, the cinematography in this film is as artistic as a modern action film can get. If you have seen The Shawshank Redemption, True Grit, or basically any other Sam Mendes or Coen Brothers film, you have a sense of how beautiful Skyfall looks. Skyfall is pristinely framed, lit and shot, and so if it does not receive any Oscar nominations for its visuals, I am never watching the ceremonies ever again.
The sound design is much more realistic and thunderous than in any other Bond films in the past fifty years. Thomas Newman is one of my favorite modern composers simply for his work on WALL-E, and I am satisfied with his score for Skyfall as well. He truly does the franchise justice with the music since it infuses modern musical styles with traditional Bond themes. Plus, Newman’s arrangement of the James Bond theme is all kinds of awesome. What really surprised me was that the theme song Adele wrote this film – the eponymous Skyfall – is perfect. Combined with the gorgeously-realized credits , it successfully establishes the film’s tone. What really struck me about it was that when I went home and listened to it again on my iPod, it held even greater meaning- it’s definitely worth a second listen.
Like the recently released Halo 4, Skyfall represents the dawn and ending of an era. It is a near-perfect mix of old and new. I can guarantee that it will be tough for old school fans of James Bond to not embrace Skyfall. A marvelous showcase of bold direction, great acting, technical mastery, intricate storytelling and spectacular action scenes, newcomers and diehards alike will find much to love in Sam Mendes’ take on the classic hero.