Skyfall (2012) Review
James Bond is an old hero for an older generation. His no-nonsense approach to stopping forces determined to overthrow the world usually revolved around a three-step plan of high-tech gadgets, witty retorts, and beautiful women at his side. As the years went on, Bond slowly became a parody of himself. His sly remarks, unquenchable sexual appetite, and reliance on the latest shiny toy/car/exploding pen seemed painfully out of place in our changing society. We evolved into a different world, more jaded and more cynical than generations before, and where over-the-top antics and scene-chewing villains were once considered high entertainment, they became self-loathing parody from a bygone era.
Once Daniel Craig entered the scene with his modern version of Bond, he brought with it a cold and detached demeanor that seemed tailor made for a modern audience. His quips were kept to a minimum, and his reliance on funny trinkets and fast cars was second to his willingness to get in fights -- to get close to his enemies and seal their fates with his own hands. Craig’s Bond wasn’t afraid to get dirty, get bloody, and get hurt if it meant protecting Queen and Country.
However, this polarized audiences. Many enjoyed his take on the character, bringing a ruthless and calculating dimension to the aging genre. Others felt Craig was too detached from the Bond they knew and loved and felt he was a drab clone of so many other modern action characters. Both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were still missing the elements that made Bond so memorable. Where were the grandiose villains? Where was the charming Bond from long ago? Where were Q and Miss Moneypenny?
Skyfall manages to do the impossible. It continues the darker and grittier path the newer Bond films have established while at the same time bridging the gap and borrowing elements from the classic Bond films everyone remembers. In many ways, this feels just as thematically close to Casino Royale as it does to Goldfinger.
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Skyfall takes places six years after Quantum of Solace and does not continue the storyline involving the Quantum Organization from the previous two films. Bond is a little more grizzled and a little wiser than before. After an accident in the opening scene, he is left the worse for wear, broken and struggling to regain his former double-O status. This film is one of the most personal looks inside Bond's mind and is a fascinating character study on what happens to a man whose entire life of violence and alcohol begins to catch up with him.
Along with Bond’s inner turmoil, Bond’s boss and head of MI6, M (Judi Dench) also faces an intimate and personal threat from the past named Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Bardem’s portrayal of a former MI6 agent driven mad with rage and a need for revenge is one of the movie’s most noticeable performances. Similar to his portrayal as the lethal assassin from No Country for Old Men, Bardem plays a villain whose hunger to destroy M and MI6 overshadows all else. This isn’t a person who wants to take over the world or steal money. He is so driven by revenge, he is willing to destroy all in his way. Silva is portrayed as gleefully manic, chuckling to himself and smiling menacingly as he shoots unarmed women and explodes government agents without a second thought. He may have a grandiose plan, but the steps he takes and the body count he leaves behind to get there goes beyond even the most famous Bond villains from the past. He feels more like The Joker from The Dark Knight but is a welcome and fitting addition to Bond’s rogue gallery.
The other supporting characters through the characters of M, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve (Naomie Harris) are excellent additions to the Bond universe and help to show that MI6 runs with more than just Bond saving the day. Despite Q being younger and more of an Internet hacker than gadget guy, the quips the two exchanges remind one of the old antics of Desmond Llewelyn and Sean Connery. Harris does an excellent job as a field agent trying to prove her worth not only to M but to Bond, wanting to be on the same footing and share the same status he does. Harris brings forth a playfulness and determination that shows an equal amount of respect and envy for Bond.
Skyfall’s Bond girl, Severine (Berenice Marlohe) actually gets little screen time compared to girls from Bond’s past. However, her presence is one of the heaviest moments in the film, and her glamorous appearance combined with her sinister intentions makes her role a memorable one.
The two heads of MI6, M and Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) go beyond their roles as figureheads existing only to give orders to Bond and company and now play vital roles in ensuring MI6 stays active after a series of setbacks makes the British government question the worthiness of an organization that seems too old fashioned for its own good.
Fiennes’ Mallory could have easily been the authority that opposes Bond the entire way but instead comes off as someone who understands Bond as much as he detests his methods. He knows that Bond, or rather this new Bond, is the person they need to combat the growing threats but still believes in the tried-and-true methods of the old days.
Dench plays the mother figure as someone who realizes the world is changing too fast for the old methods and just one agent to stop by himself. It’s a sad and melancholy performance akin to a ticking clock -- someone all to aware that her time is slowly coming to an end.
One of the biggest improvements from previous entries is the locations -- most notably, the sense of scale each location presents. The Bond series has been famous for featuring exotic locations and large-scale action scenes with each movie bringing a new underwater base or undersea battle in an attempt to upstage the previous one. Skyfall outdoes them all with a variety of visually stunning locations from a Hong Kong skyscraper that looks like a neon-drenched monolith stolen from Tron to a floating casino in Macau. Each location has sweeping, wide angle shots that make each area seem similar to the old hidden fortresses of older flicks rather than the drab and dour old apartments and office complexes from the previous two films. The action sequences are also in top form and easier to follow that the previous installment. From a brutal battle between a sniper to a final showdown in a dark mansion, the action still retains the level of raw brutality and tension that Craig’s Bond has brought to the big screen.
For the 50th anniversary of one of the most popular fictional secret agents, Skyfall is a fitting tribute to Bonds from the past while blazing a new future for the franchise. There are some dramatic changes to the series, but by the end, everything feels the way it should be, and long-time Bond fans will finally feel comfortable with where the series is headed. If you never got behind Craig’s interpretation of Bond, Skyfall will do plenty to win you over.
If you’re a more open-minded fan, or just an fan of well-made spy flicks in general, Skyfall will more than satisfy with references to past Bond films (that should absolutely remain spoiler free) and a revealing look at Bond’s backstory (that may or may not solve the age-old question of whether all the past Bond’s were the same character or not). This is a Bond film that tries to blend the best ingredients from old and new and, like a cocktail concoction dreamed up by Bond himself, looks great, tastes appealing, and leaves a lingering aftertaste long after the drink is finished.
* This was viewed on standard 35 mm format.