Directed by: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw, Javier Bardem
Running Time: 2 hrs 23 mins
Release Date: November 9, 2012
PLOT: James Bond (Craig) must protect MI6 boss “M” (Dench) from a rogue agent (Bardem) with a personal vendetta.
WHO’S IT FOR? This movie goes way beyond the appeal of just Bond fans. If you like great movies, experience the extraordinary cinematic wonder of Skyfall. Don’t miss it, and don’t wait for it.
EXPECTATIONS: Previous Bond movie Quantum of Solace was a humbling sequel for anyone who thought that Casino Royale in 2006 was going to permanently change things for the famous character. Was American Beauty director Sam Mendes going to be able to raise this character? What new tricks could a new Bond movie have, 23 movies later?
Daniel Craig as James Bond: If his previous movies as Bond hadn’t already confirmed it, Craig has the perfect balance to embody this character, able to take on all of this character’s distinct traits that previous actors had only been able to focus on individually. He has a distinct presence, different not just from previous Bonds but from other action stars in general. Craig also has the right swagger to the role, able to sell a model’s strut when needed, but without becoming cheesy, and is not above the proper comic relief. The actor is even the perfect size for the role, without being too short or too tall in that his ability to kick ass could go one way or the other. Most importantly, Craig is able to add some emotional meat to the role, justifying the script’s risk in focusing on his character’s reinvention (and not a villain, or a plot) for a solid thirty minutes. Along with such an excellent script, one that believes in the power of this character, Craig is a natural at showing us why James Bond, of all action heroes, is the most timeless.
Judi Dench as “M”: Giving Dench more to work with than she is usually asked for, Skyfall makes itself highly about this character’s importance, instead of just a tool for tension (as in The World Is Not Enough) or being an MI6 talking head. With her portrayal of “M” down pat after years of being in the role, it is a delight to see her put to such effective use, the “Bond girl” who turns Skyfall into a Freudian playground.
Ben Whishaw as “Q”: Slightly smug, Whishaw is a good fit for this more realistic version of a contemporary gadget wizard. A symbol of the shifting change of technological power, he’s an unimposing egghead whose only weapon is a single computer to cause a huge difference. Especially with good dialogue and their clash of egos, Whishaw’s interactions with Craig are always very amusing. Though the concept of introducing old action heroes to technology is a theme waning in specialness to action movies, Whishaw makes such a change exciting.
Javier Bardem as Silva: A Bond nemesis with the gentle freakiness of Norman Bates, Silva is yet another example from Bardem of the incredible actor’s control over his bombastic power. During his unique entrance (an intentionally difficult yet memorable shot that echoes Bond’s own introduction in the film), Bardem weaves a wild monologue about rats eating rats to be a haunting, finite revelation of an impassioned mad man whose very real demons contribute to Skyfall’s wonderful tension. From there, Bardem is contagiously delighted to play a flamboyant bizarro Bond, and as the movie reveals more of his dark significance, he becomes a monster for nightmares, an exciting Bond villain to actually be feared. Like his Oscar-winning turn in No Country for Old Men, Bardem restores brutality to James Bond’s violence, making this another psycho who transcends silly appearances.
TALKING: In a Bond movie in which Tennyson is quoted during a climactic moment, the rest of the dialogue in Skyfall is sharp, if not a tiny bit too self-conscious of trying to distance itself from previous moments in the franchise (such as the dig on the explosive pen in Goldeneye). Lacking the zingers that make the character and his surroundings fantastical, Skyfall’s dialogue helps the movie present great awareness to the permanent shift of the spy game, like when Fiennes says, “We can not work in the shadows anymore, there are no more shadows” (echoed beautifully later in Shanghai).
SIGHTS: Cinematographer Roger Deakins provides the movie with its most gripping spectacle, his camerawork more thrilling to the senses than entire action sequences in previous Bond movies. With wholly magnificent sequences that make sharp use out of natural light (a burning house sequence, a fight in nighttime Shanghai) or utilize precise framing (Bardem’s entrance), Skyfall has beautifully stylized cinematography that never rings with pretentiousness; this is camerawork that labors uniquely to present its dynamic environments, with the presentation of story coming first. (Deakins single-handedly disavows the jarring canted angles in something like The Avengers, which Dark Knight DP Wally Pfister recently dissed). With a vision unlike any Bond movie before it, Deakins realizes scenes of both action and non-action to their full visual capacity, rounding the impressive experience of Skyfall as one with a jackpot of exquisite visual passages.
SOUNDS: Adele’s theme song in Skyfall is not too strong of a franchise highlight (unlike practically everything else in this movie), but it is strong enough to stand as a decent song that the popular singer songwriter can associate herself with. It functions better as an Adele song than anything particularly special in a Bond theme, its lyrics about a unique Bond tale generic with general pop clichés such as images of skies falling and/or crumbling. Though the score does have a mind of its own, not heavily relying on the Bond motifs laid in previous films, Skyfall does refer back to the classic guitar theme in crucial nostalgic moments (such as when the Goldfinger car is reintroduced).
BEST SCENE: That Shanghai sequence. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.
ENDING: Lest there be any mistake that this is a Bond movie, and not just a drama with great action sequences, there’s the indication of a new Moneypenny, the famous sociable coat rack, the promise of new missions, and the celebration that James Bond will be back, even at 50 years old, something that was often reserved for the end of the credits during earlier films.
QUESTIONS: Was Albert Finney’s character in Scotland at all meant to be a reference to Connery? Isn’t it a little odd to call the house “Skyfall” considering they died in a rock climbing accident, or is such dark irony intentional? And with that, given the idea that there is no mention of how his parents died in this film, is it possible that this newer version of Bond is going to provide a different reason for his parent’s deaths? What are the chances that Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are pissed that Craig is getting the scripts where the writing is more focused on quality than zingers? I bet Christopher Nolan is kind of wishing he didn’t have to use fantastical gadgets now, huh?
REWATCHABILITY: Yes, yes, yes.
On the year of Bond’s 50th anniversary, here is Skyfall — a celebration of the character’s full potential, this immortal member of mainstream fiction, in a glorious piece of entertainment that only has our respect for the “classics” keeping it from immediately being designated the secret agent’s most spectacular movie yet.
Skyfall is a James Bond movie as pure as Monty Norman’s original theme, yet as dramatic as great theater. It is a movie that proves the charismatic strength of both its main character and its actor, with a concrete script that is confident enough to rely on the powers of its cast, and passionate enough to pursue thematic territory challenging to such an ingrained character. And to spite any snarking worry that director Sam Mendes would treat this movie simply like one of his dramas, Skyfall is still an action film that continues to roar as it ventures inward, its high stakes provided by an emotional story of Shakespearean proportions.
With Bond joking in the film that his hobby is “resurrection,” Skyfall overcomes the pressure of using plot elements tried and true to the franchise by giving them emotional importance. This isn’t a Bond movie that rises to larger and larger action sequences, but one that gets more intimate, with its clash between hero and villain having extremely personal motivations. This movie has rogue agents, the kidnapping of “M,” the “return” of Bond, and yet, it is unlike any Bond movie before it. And after so many films to the franchise, it is a wonder such a plot idea has not been used before, but a strong testament that there is always opportunity for creative rejuvenation for this long-lasting character.
Fitting tightly into the concepts of realistic fantasy posited by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy but succeeding with more finesse, Skyfall is a beautiful melding of what has kept Bond in business — wit, strength, and a mind for tradition whilst adapting to new challenges. With the character now realized as the very real hero he is to his audience, James Bond has never been more alive.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10