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Skyfall (2012)

November 13, 2012

 

written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade

produced by: Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli

directed by: Sam Mendes

rating: PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality language and smoking)

runtime: 143 min. 

U.S. release date: November 9, 2012

 

50: the number of years James Bond has been on the big-screen, 23: the number of Bond films that have been made and 3: the number of times Daniel Craig has portrayed Bond, making him the 6th actor to play 007. It’s kind of hard not to do the math when examining the longest running franchise in film history. “Skyfall” is the latest entry and some are already saying “the greatest Bond film ever”, but rating Bond films is so subjective, which leaves me room to admit that this is one of the more personal entries in the iconic canon and quite possibly the best looking one at that. The last two movies, the immensely successful “Casino Royale” and the critically panned “Quantum of Solace” were considered a reboot of the character, then “Skyfall” gives us a movie that examines who and what Bond while bringing us closer to what we’ve come to expect from a Bond film.

The opening of “Skyfall” focuses in on James Bond (Daniel Craig) in the thick of an operation in Istanbul that has gone sour, leaving another agent dead and the murderer (Ola Rapace, husband of Noomi) on the run, in possession of a hard drive that has information on the whereabouts of several undercover agents. Bond’s pursuit of the assailant is closely monitored by head of MI6, M (Judi Dench) and her Chief of Staff, Tanner (Rory Kinnear), back at headquarters. A motorcycle rooftop chase leads to a foot race atop a moving train, resulting in Bond getting shot twice, once by the enemy and then again by another operative (Naomi Harris), who is advised to “take the shot”.

 

 

It’s a shot that sends Bond to his supposed death in a scene that transitions into the trademark Bond title sequence, set to an orchestrated tune sung by English singer-songwriter Adele. It’s an unimpressive song and the first to be sung by a female since Madonna and also the first to be  named after the film’s title.

Of course we know Bond isn’t dead, but that doesn’t stop M from writing his obituary while he’s off playing Marion Ravenswood drinking games in Eastern Europe somewhere. When he catches  wind that MI6 has been attacked by a terrorist, a wounded Bond returns from the dead and follows a trail that leads to a flamboyant villain named Silva (Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”), by way of Shanghai and Macao. He’s not a megalomaniac out to take over the world, but rather a twisted man who has a personal vendetta pointed at M for a past wrongdoing.

To get to the demented criminal, Bond beds Severine (Berenice Marlohe), a woman unfortunately caught in the middle of it all due to her ties to Silva. It leads to an elaborately planned cat and mouse game through the London Underground, that forces Bond to protect M, whose career is being scrutinized by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Intelligence and Security Chairman. Bond isolates himself and M in a mysterious location in the Scottish Highlands, stripped down to raw resources and instinctive ingenuity, in an attempt at a final showdown with the demented Silva.

For a spy film, “Skyfall” definitely delivers, but it may not meet the expectations some Bond fans have. It doesn’t have a load of gadgets, there aren’t a bevy of babes to be bagged and there’s no explosive action climax. That’s totally fine with me. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty” and “Away We Go”) reunites with “Road to Perdition” actor Craig to provide one of the most character-driven Bond films that I can recall. Almost every interaction Bond has with a prominent character here serves as an examination of who he is, his place in this world (as well as this current reboot) and what he must do. Mendes is fortunate to work with such a rich screenplay by John Logan (“Hugo”) and longtime Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, which perfectly balances a classic Bond feel with new ground the series hasn’t covered yet. It’s probably one of the first times I’ve been impressed with the writing while watching a Bond film.

The writers are also slowly rebuilding the Bond mythos with this film. The last two movies kicked it off, by basically delivering one long story, and now “Skyfall” starts to add fresh faces to some familiar characters. I’m not going to spoil it all for you, because it’s quite clever how each character falls into place, but I will say the introduction of the new Q (Ben Whishaw, “Cloud Atlas”), comparably young next to Bond, is a delight. His tech-savvy is well-needed and grounded, never overboard or boring. His distaste for cheesy gadgets is a funny wink to past Bond films. Although there is some heavy material here, the effort to restore some humor into the franchise gives Bond a chance to loosen up a bit.

 

 

The most memorable and impressive elements found in “Skyfall” are surprisingly (for a Bond film) the images we see on the screen. That’s due to the beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins (“No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit”), who also lensed Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road” and “Jarhead”. He makes the most of dark locations by manipulating shadows and light and his masterful use of color is breathtaking at times. From the neon lights of Shanghai to the golden glow of Macau and on to the rich earthy tones of Scotland, it’ll be a crime if Deakins isn’t awarded for his work here.

Mendes also employs another frequent collaborator in production designer Dennis Gassner, allowing Mendes to shoot Craig’s A-frame stance in some cool locales. While it may not be the most globe-trotting of all the Bonds, spending most its time in Europe, it doesn’t matter when it all looks this gorgeous. It’s easy to tell how he and Mendes are influenced by Christopher Nolan’s films, specifically “Inception” and the last two Batman films. That makes sense, considering Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy felt like Bond films.

For a director known mostly compelling drama, Mendes is no slouch in staging thrilling action that’s easy-to-follow. Thankfully, there’s no shaky-cam antics at play here. Everything is smoothly choreographed while maintaining character in a succinctly edited (thanks to veteran Stuart Baird) manner. Nothing feels contrived or forced here, each sequence comes naturally and is captivating to look at. Although Mendes employs CGI here, he knows that the strength of Bond action is in the risky stunt work.

Clearly, Wilson and Broccoli have employed some of the finest filmmakers working today to celebrate 50 years, but the acting here is unforgettable too. Craig in particular is given much more to do here than his previous outings. He’s a wounded pit bull forced to question his relevance in a world where threats can be implemented from a laptop on an island in the Pacific as Silva does. This reflection also comes in the form of a revealing psychiatric evaluation and physical exam designed to determine if 007 is still fit for active duty. But of course he is, right? He’s also reminded of his identity from the younger colleagues around him and in the revelations his own mysterious past brings, which also finds the welcome presence of Albert Finney.

 

 

Of course, the best Bond films are determined by their villains. Are they threatening or formidable enough of an antagonist for Bond? Bardem, who creeped us out as Anton Chigurh, delivers a seductive, theatrical performance as the blonde-haired Silva that superbly balances menace with a dash of quirky operatic tones to the character’s persona. He’s both unsettling and humorous, allowing each time Bardem is on-screen to be quite a treat.

One of the few apparent downsides to “Skyfall” though is the lack of a real Bond girl. As Eve, the other operative, Harris is a fine addition but eventually plays moreso to the already established fanbase. Severine is used more as a tool for Silva and a device for Bond, which is a big chance compared to the women of “Solace” and the emotional anchor that Vesper Lynd was in “Casino”. That leaves the septuagenarian Dench to anchor the film with a strong female presence. She can do this in her sleep. Having played the character of M for 18 years now, it’s only appropriate that she gets her meatiest portrayal in this film. She’s always been the reluctant maternal figure of MI6, called “Mum” by her agents, with each film exposing another layer to her character. But with M as a target here, Dench is at her most vulnerable and her most indignant.

I’ll also admit to missing composer David Arnold, who’s supplied the scores to the Bond films since 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies”. The soundtrack provided by Academy Award Nominee Thomas Newman (yet another Mendes partner) does the job, but it never really stands out. It certainly doesn’t stand out upon first viewing. It doesn’t have the variety and immersive qualities that Arnold brought.

“Skyfall” gives a palpable and welcome humanity to 007, the likes of which we haven’t seen since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. It does so by embracing the classic feel of the past (Aston Martin DB5 in tow) and reflecting on the present, as it sets everything in place for an exciting future. I eagerly anticipate revisiting “Skyfall” again (I may even like it more) as much as I now look forward to where Craig and company go with more Bond adventures. This time, the “James Bond will return” promise at the end, brought a smile to my face.

 

RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Windi permalink
    November 18, 2012 10:05 am

    Being unabashedly a huge Adele fan, I absolutely adored the title song and the opening credits were amazing! I’ll agree the movie was visually stunning. Was it the best bond movie? That’s subjective, but I very much enjoyed the direction this movie took us. I think Craig my be second favorite Bond….. If he keeps this up, he may become my favorite.

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