[Review] - Skyfall

Courtesy of MGM
Skyfall is a success in every way that Die Another Day was a failure. Where the latter took a blunt, nod-and-wink approach to celebrating Bond and his history, Skyfall take the more subtle road. There are references to the past, but except for once, the impression is not that the film as looked out at the audience and given them a nudge. Perhaps the best quality of the film, and the best way the producers could celebrate the franchise, is by making a film that makes a very strong case for being the best Bond thus far.

By proving that, unlike other long running series, like Star Trek, Bond doesn't need to constantly reinvent itself. That unlike the Bourne series, which seems to have went pear-shaped after four films, Bond remains relevant, and impressive after half a century. By making a film that is the best of Bond, that embraces what is iconic, and shirking off the laughable and the ridiculous. And that sometimes, the old ways are the best ways.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which serve Queen and country.

Where to begin? Is this is the best James Bond film yet? I don't know. Most would say From Russia With Love holds that spot, and I don't know if Skyfall has dethroned it. Time, and repeated viewings, will tell. What I am confident in saying is that Skyfall is easily in the top five. It is a masterfully executed, wonderfully written, superbly acted film that would have been a great success even if 007 were not in the title.

Craig and the writers have said the reason Quantum of Solace didn't work was a combination of being rushed, and the writer's strike. They needed to get the film out, and didn't have as much time to work on it as they had Casino Royale. So, if Skyfall is a lesson in anything, it is about giving the writers time to write a movie worth making. The script here is terrific. The story is simple, the set pieces streamlined. The tone is solid and consistent. For the first time, Craig's Bond uses humour, displaying the sort of wit we expect, while at the same time remaining a broken shell of a man.Most importantly, the series has found a way to use all the standard Bond tropes, but in a way that never invites Austin powers level mockery. Shame about the dodgy lizards, though.

We need look no further then the villain, Silva, then proof of this. This is the return of the traditional Bond villain. A grand scheme, an isolated lair, a doomed woman, and a moment of exposition. Yet none of it feels over the top. The traditional plan explanation scene comes in the middle, as does our introduction of the baddie, but there is no stroking of white cats, or plotting world domination. Javier Bardem is genuinely chilling, and while he plays it over the top, it is well within the obviously mad character. Though, it should be said, the lasting effect that Heath Ledger's Joker has had on the world of film is no more evident then here. Silva is the Bond universe's Joker, and never more obvious then in the fantastic chase scene between he and Bond through London's Underground (side note: Bond has done what I feel every London commuter has wanted to do at some point, which is slide down the middleybit of the escalators in the tube. I do, anyway).

Sam Mendes and his cinematographer and DP need to be giving whole buckets full of credit, because this movie looks and feels gorgeous. From the opening scene, the off angle, out of focus replacement for the barrel sequence (which needs to return to the front of the films now fellows), played to the first two notes of the theme, it was a visual feast. By far, my favourite scene was the neon overload of Shanghai, as Bond and Silva's assassin fight it out in close quarters, filmed entirely in relief. Unlike other Bonds, there wasn't an overload of edits, the camera remaining steady throughout, which was a relief, and a nice change from the now more common way of filming, which is with as many cuts and coverage as possible. Nothing makes a chase seem more real, or a fight seem less staged, then actually watching it play out, and not moving in tight, and cutting all the time.
I'll say this for the title song: it didn't suck. Of course, being the theme song to a Bond film is a thankless task. They are easily the worst thing about each of the films, grounded so deeply in the time the film is made, they age like a potato in the damp. And while I have never heard word-one of anything Adele has produced otherwise, her lament is moody and sets the tone for the film's introspective moments. And while the title themes of the Craig films have attempted to make the songs less susceptible to the degradation of time, I suspect that by the time this comes out on DVD, I'll simply be skipping over it, as I do with the rest.

Can we pause here, for a moment, and discuss the car. The Aston Martin DB5 is one of film's great cars. Like Bullitt's '68 Mustang, or Back to the Future's DeLorean, it is instantly recognisable, and the ambassador for the entire franchise. And it is so very pretty to look at. While the DB5 has turned up throughout the series, seeing it reappear, with all the usual refinements, to the twangs of the original recordings of the Bond theme made my spine tingle. And provides the film with what I feel is the true "Hell yeah" moment of the film, as Bond and M take count of their munitions (lacking), only for the car to come to the rescue. Though may the producers be damned for destroying it. I understand that each Bond film must include a certain amount of "car"nage, but did the DB5 really have to suffer?

What helps sell the film is a top notch cast. Craig, for the first time, actually seems like Bond. Add to that a great introduction to Ralph Finnes as Mallory, someone who can both work with and work against Bond in the future, and a smaller, but memorable role for Albert Finney. And I have to applaud the writers for crafting, and the director for casting, the new Q. Bond needs Q, and while there needs to be a rivalry between them, as both men being the best at what they do, Q needs to be someone Bond can count on, and whom Bond can turn to when he is in trouble. And I feel this new Q is born of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. A sort of hipster tecno-whiz in over his head. And, I was glad to see them find a larger use for him in the film, rather then the one scene wonders Desmond Llewellyn was often reduced to. More Q, I say.
Which brings us to M. Judi Dench, in the course of her seven film tenure (matching Roger Moore in terms of appearances), redefined the role. Her appearance in Goldeneye was little more the a cameo, a publicity stunt to bring some buzz to a franchise that had languished in litigation hell for more then half a decade. But with each reappearance, she brought her obvious skill and talent to the role, and the writers, realising what they had, played to that strength. All credit to Wade and Purvis, having written the series since the World Is Not Enough, the first film to make M an integral part of the plot, not just as exposition and continued that with each film, increasing the amount of screen time and personal connection she has with Bond, especially Craig's Bond. M came into the field, had a personal stake in each mission, no more so then here. While I appreciate the return of the padded door, and the Edwardian office, my hope is that John Logan continues to use M in an integrated way, and not waste the fine talent they have procured by making him just another obstacle Bond has to overcome.

So, now the pieces are in place. Universal Exports has returned, Moneypenny is out front and friskier then ever, there is a clever snarker heading up Q division, and Bond's soul has somewhat equalised. I feel, in a way I never did with Casino Royale and Quantum, that this was a proper Bond film. It didn't feel like it was trying to be something else, or trying to be different, because being the same was bad for some reason. This film proves that the Bond formula isn't a bad one, just prone to bad writing. Get over that, have a strong story to work with, and the pieces all work wonders. It makes me excited for Bond 24 in a way I never was for Skyfall.

Now so long as they don't muck it up.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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