Skyfall

"Some men are coming to kill us. We're gonna kill them first."

Thanks to MGM's financial troubles, it has been four years since 007 last graced the silver screen. Four years since the underwhelming Quantum of Solace. That is a long time. I did start to worry at one point that Daniel Craig's tenure as the world's most stylish spy would fall victim to the same problems that cut short Timothy Dalton's.

Thankfully, MGM managed to climb its way out of trouble, allowing director Sam Mendes, who had stuck with the project throughout the studio's extended troubles, to finally start production on the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall. Mendes has since said that enforced hiatus was a blessing in disguise as it enabled him and the writers to work longer on polishing the script. It also meant that the film would come out in time for the franchise's golden anniversary.

Last time James Bond celebrated a big birthday we were subjected to the messy horror that was Die Another Day. But I am happy to report that history won't be repeating itself this year. Skyfall is excellent. To use an old cliché, it is everything you could want from a Bond film and more. All that time working on the script really paid off. No lazy rehash of Goldfinger or You Only Live Twice for this film.

Instead, the plot is a refreshing personal one that see's MI6 under attack from a vengeful former agent turned cyber terrorist. Along the way we get delve a little deeper into Bond's own traumatic past and explore his relationship with M. Because that is really what this film is all about. Not some eccentric madman with a plot for global domination. When you get right down to it, Skyfall is really the story of a mother and her (surrogate) sons. M finds these damaged young people, moulds them into agents, and then cast them aside without a second thought if it suits the greater good. Now one has come home to burn her house down, and her only hope is another she discarded for the sake of the mission.

Daniel Craig gives another brilliant performance as Bond, once again allowing us to see the man behind the myth. Craig has given us a vulnerable Bond before, but we've never seen 007 as physically damaged as he is in this film. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace portrayed Bond as a rookie. In Skyfall he is the veteran, an experienced agent whose best years may now be behind him. Injured and out of shape following a disastrous mission in Turkey, 007 is not the superspy he once was. Daredevil stunts that were once effortless are now a strain.


Craig's previous films lacked truly great villains, but Skyfall doesn't have that problem. Skyfall has Javier Bardem. More importantly, Skyfall has Javier Bardem in a truly terrifying blond wig. As No Country For Old Men proved, Bardem + frightening hairpiece = classic screen villain. Bardem is the film's trump card and Mendens wisely decides not to play him too early. It is nearly an hour before he makes his entrance (and it is a good one). There is a hint of Heath Ledger's Joker in Bond's latest adversary. Silva is flamboyant but never over the top. Camp, but still lethal. It is joy of a role and one Bardem is clearly having a lot of fun with.

One area where the film falters is with the roles of some of its female characters. Naomi Harris and Bérénice Marlohe are not best served by the script and fall into the typical Bond Girl roles of ally and lover. I would go into more detail, but that would take us into spoiler territory which I'm trying to avoid. The reason for why they are both so underused is simply because, unlike previous Bond films, neither of them is the film's leading lady. They might be the ones on the posters, but the role of Bond girl in Skyfall goes to none other than Judi Dench. This is Dench's seventh Bond film and she has never been better. As with the previous two films, her tense relationship with Craig's Bond brings out the best in both actors.

Proving the doubters wrong, Sam Mendes shows that he is just as adept at handling action as he is drama. The action scenes in QOS were so frantic it was hard to keep up with what was going on. With this film, Mendes goes for a refreshingly old school approach. No handheld shaky cam or super fast editing. The opening chase, which takes us through the streets and markets of Istanbul before ending on the roof of a speeding train, has the same Boy's Own adventure feel to it that the Indiana Jones films used to excel at. Along with Bardem, the film's other show-stealer is cinematographer Roger Deakins. Skyfall is one of the most visually stunning Bond films I have ever seen. One of the film's memorable scenes sees Bond take on an assassin on the top floor of a Singapore skyscraper drenched in shadows and neon.

Fittingly, as this is the year of the Jubilee and the London Olympics as well as Bond's 50th, this is the most British film in the series. Bond is seen standing on the roof of Whitehall, overlooking the capital like a watchful guardian. Our very own Dark Knight, but with a more stylish tailor (Tom Ford I believe). MI6 is relocated from its famous riverside palace to some Churchill-style war bunkers. Later Bond chases Silva through the busy London Underground, while the final showdown takes place amongst misty mountains of the Scottish highlanders. Considering how international the franchise normally is, seeing Bond on home turf is always a thrill.

Notes and Quotes

--Although I am starting to tire of hearing it, Adele's title song is still one of the best Bond songs in 20 years, and goes well with Daniel Kleinman's macabre main title sequence.

--American audiences will no doubt get a kick out of seeing Wolf Blitzer in a Bond movie, while Brits will enjoy seeing Huw Edwards.

--Mendes has managed to assemble the best cast ever for a Bond film. Along with those already mentioned we get Ben Whishaw as the new Q, Ralph Fiennes, Helen McCrory and Albert Finney. Sean Connery was almost approached to play Finney's role but Mendes decided against it.

--Since this is 007's 50th, the film throws in several little nods to the series' past, but avoids overwhelming the audience with nostalgia the same way Die Another Day did.

Raoul Silva: "She sent you after me, knowing you're not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad."

Q: "I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field."
James Bond: "Then what do you need me for?"
Q: "Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled."

Bond is back and better than ever. Four out of four Adele songs I can't get out of my head.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

11 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

Great review, Mark!

Even though this is a movie and not a TV show, I would like to nominate Bardem + frightening hairpiece = classic screen villain for one of Billie's Rules of Television.

Mark Greig said...

I'll second that nomination.

Juliette said...

'Mommy was very bad' is my favourite line - it's all int he delivery...

HUGE MASSIVE HUMUNGOUS SPOILER ALERT........




OK, here are my confused Thoughts on the women in this film. One the one hand - love them. Whatsherface has a terrible and humanising back-story, Eve is great and there aren't enough superlatives in th English language for Judi Dench.

BUT...

There are three main female roles (and a lot more men). By the end of the film, 2 of them are dead and the 3rd has taken a desk job as a man's secretary because she 'isn't suited to field work' (the constant implication she shot Bond because she's a bad shot - when she clearly said she didn't have a clean shot - starts out funny and then gets annoying). M is a man again, Q is still a man, Rory Kinnear (who I love in a weird way) is a man. Bond is a man. Moneypenny types. So, somehow after all that, we're back in the 60s...

If the next film features a kick-ass female field agent who doesn't die and isn't evil (and, ideally, doesn't sleep with Bond, but we can't have everything, and they did try that in Quantum of Solace) then all may be forgiven. If not... where are all the (living, kick-ass) women?!

CrazyCris said...

Amen Juliette! I completely agree with your thoughts on the women in the film! I was going "arrrrrrgh!" at the end of it all! :o(

Glad you enjoyed the movie Mark. Sadly I was BORED by the first half! Just couldn't get into the film. It wasn't until Bardem's appearance that my interest was piqued. I found most of it to be very predictable (I pegged Fiennes's destined role the moment he's introduced), and I intensely disliked the new Q!

The best thing about it was definitely Judi Dench and her relationship with Bond.

Was also interesting discovering the meaning behind the title Skyfall.

Otherwise... meh!

Kathy said...

I'll vote for the "Bardem + frightening hairpiece = classic screen villain" rule. I couldn't look when he tore out his jaw. *shudder*

Loved this movie. I don't honestly know if I like this better than Casino Royale or not. They're about on par (if I'm being honest, "From Russia with Love" is still my favorite.) But, #2 is either Casino Royale or Skyfall. And I don't know which one would take that position!

This is a must-buy for me!

Kat

Anonymous said...

I liked Skyfall but it certainly did not live up to its hype.

SPOILERS following...

I think everybody knew that Fiennes character would be more significant later on and I think it is a great cast for the new M. But I did not expect M (Judi Dench) to die. Although I wasn´t a big fan of Judi Dench as M, I like that they made her last Bond basically about her.

Bardem was a great villain and he had a great presence and chemistry with Judi Dench and Daniel Craig.

I don´t know yet about the new Q but Moneypenny´s story was just too cliché and I totally agree with every word of Juliette´s post.

Liked the references to the old Bond movies, the cinematography and the opening credits but hated the CGI.

For me something was missing in this film (maybe a real story for the Bond girl), somehow I had the impression that it was for the most part an action and not a spy movie. It did not have the right mixture.

And I´m not sure what to make of the fact that James Bond is Bond´s real name. I thought it was some kind of name that comes with the job. What about Moneypenny? Is that her real name too? I´m confused... :(

Juliette said...

I thought the same about the Bond name, Anonymous - I was confused! I thought they'd leave it ambivalent at 'AB' but no...

I did like the film overall, apart from the gender issues. But it is a shame that Bond still hasn't quite cracked how to deal with women (and I don't want to get rid of the girls. I spend plenty of time perving over male vampires - but they have character and story as well as being objectified...)

Mark Greig said...

The idea that James Bond is a codename has never been anything more than a popular fan theory, and one that doesn't really hold up (Why would Roger Moore lay flowers on the grave of George Lazenby's wife?).

Billie Doux said...

Finally saw this one last night, and it really is excellent. I agree with what Juliette posted about the female roles in it, but I thought the fact that it was Judi Dench's movie made up for it. I'm a fan of Ralph Fiennes and I didn't see where they were going with him, although I was sure he was going to be important. (I thought he was going to turn out to be a villain.) Javier Bardem was totally creepy. And I liked that there was a real story that related to Bond and M as people instead of just action adventure Bond-ness.

Terrific review, Mark.

Anonymous said...

Amazing review for an amazing movie. I loved this one so much, and I think it's 'cause "Not some eccentric madman with a plot for global domination. When you get right down to it, Skyfall is really' the story of a mother and her (surrogate) sons.". I think that's what the franchise needed. And following that, Spectre looks like will be more focused on espionage and less relationships (can't wait to read your review on that one ^^).

"Bardem + frightening hairpiece = classic screen villain" FTW.

On the gender topic, I'm gonna copy Billie because she putted it perfectly "I agree with what Juliette posted about the female roles in it, but I thought the fact that it was Judi Dench's movie made up for it."

PS: I know I'm late to this, but I have being going through some of the movie reviews.

Josh said...

Daniel Craig is an overrated Bond. His younger nastier Bond is emblematic of a post 9/11 world where The US and UK are the same way. Craig gets strong scripts and I think it is hard to argue that if Pierce Brosnan was given even decent material he would have been a much funnier, playful and intelligent Bond. Instead he was given terrible plots and uneven costars. On another note, it must be mentioned that Daniel Craig's physique reeks of steroid use. Craig is over 45 and like so many Hollywood actors there are numerous articles about his extreme workouts. Anyone see pictures of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine (who is the same age) and not think the same thing?