Skyfall Review By Adam
The question with Skyfall — the 23rd official entry in Ian Fleming’s spy franchise — is not simply is it any good? (of which the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’) but rather, is this the best film in the franchise’s fifty year history? For myself, the answer is a yes, but this may not be the case for everyone. See, James Bond is many things to many people. Though it often quickens the pulse, Skyfall is no cinematic energy drink. Gone are the empty calories of invisible cars and crocodile-shaped submarines. Instead, Skyfall falls into the mould of recent blockbusters and gives us meaty themes and a dour tone. While its seriousness is a definitive, modern feature, Skyfall never forgets to include the elements that made Bond so popular in the first place: stunning locations, a slimy villain, gorgeous women, hair-raising stunts and a masculine protagonist. This balancing act between the old and the new is what elevates Skyfall to the front of the pack. Not only is it a great modern blockbuster, it’s a great James Bond film.
Contrary to expectation, Skyfall’s plot is not a continuation of the one-two punch of Daniel Craig’s previous entries (the superior Casino Royale and its direct sequel, the flashy, yet underwhelming, Quantum of Solace). Throwing the established plot threads to the wayside, Skyfall opens with an almighty bang. In one of the franchise’s most dynamic action sequences, we see James Bond (Daniel Craig) at his most tenacious. Tearing through the streets of Istanbul, Bond utilises four different modes of transport in an exhaustive chase to recover a disk that contains all the identities of NATO’s undercover agents. After failing to obtain the disk and becoming aware of expendability, Bond opts for a low-key existence. But when a crazed madman (Javier Bardiem) starts targeting MI6 and its leader, M (Judi Dench), a shaky Bond decides to re-enter the game – but can he overcome the physical and emotional injuries he has accrued over time?
Right off the bat: I’m not the biggest James Bond fan. I completely understand the escapist appeal of Ian Fleming’s creation, but Bond wasn’t my boyhood indulgence. I would far rather watch a violent sci-fi film (The Terminator, Predator, Aliens and Robocop) than a womanising Brit with a magnetic watch. I’d tag along with my friends to see every new entry, but few of them set my world on fire (except, perhaps, 1995’s Goldeneye). It wasn’t until Daniel Craig donned the tuxedo in 2006’s Casino Royale that Bond really entered my geek radar. I was a fan of Craig’s work and I wanted to see Bond reinvented for a more serious cinematic age and, like most, I was thrilled with the end result. Skyfall has a similar cinematic draw for me: I’m more interested in seeing what director Sam Mendes can achieve in a blockbuster framework than the ongoing struggles of agent 007. But Skyfall’s biggest success is its ability to emotionally rise above its technical superiority. Not only was I impressed with Skyfall’s superlative production values (which I expected), but it also pulled me in with its vivid character work and increasingly personal stakes – there is true substance with Skyfall’s substantial style.
Sam Mendes is the classiest director (and only Oscar winner) to be attached to this franchise in its fifty-year history. Everyone expected him to elicit great performances from the cast (which he does), but character work will only get you so far in today’s action-oriented blockbuster landscape. The question on most people’s minds is: can he direct action? Road to Perdition was more interested in style over genre thrills and Jarhead contained a whole subplot about the absence of action. Wisely, Mendes decides to settle the argument early by opening Skyfall with a mind-blowing action sequence. Utilising state-of-the-art special effects technology, stunning locations and good old fashioned stunt work. Mendes raises our pulse from the outset. And despite setting the watermark early, Mendes (and crew) manage to keep the tension high throughout. Some may complain that Skyfall is too preoccupied with drama for a Bond film, but Mendes wants us to be invested in these characters before we see them sweat. Those complaining about the absence of action must have seen a different film than the one I did; Skyfall features at least six high octane action sequences, each one crisply shot and wholly decipherable. Mendes finds room to add his stylistic flourishes but he never lets his style overrun the action. This balance is no more apparent than in a silhouetted fight scene in Shanghai — it is a work of cinematic art, yet Mendes makes us feel the impact of every vicious blow.
Helping Mendes achieve this level of artistic excellence is a team of brilliant technicians. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) makes Skyfall the best-looking Bond film, period. This series is renowned for its stunning location photography (of which Skyfall has an abundance), but it’s the way Deakins vividly captures the quieter, more introspective moments that makes Skyfall a visual marvel. Deakins has the luxury of having an inherently cinematic lead (Ol’ blue eyes), but rarely has a production captured the essence of its lead’s emotional and physical state so convincingly — under Deakin’s eye, Craig smoothly transitions from haggard to vulnerable to drop dead sexy. Fuelling the visuals are Robert Wade, Neal Purvis and John Logan’s solid, functional screenwriting. While the script plays service to Bond’s most populist elements (sexy women and shaken martinis), Skyfall isn’t just another episodic adventure for Mr Bond. The screenwriters also add to the Bond mythology — not only is the film deeply satisfying, it has the balls to be progressive. Composer Thomas Newman is patient with his score; he bombards us with a dynamic music but he knows that Bond theme is one of the most iconic in all of cinema and he waits for just the right moments to hit the music cues we expect, and when he does: Skyfall soars.
With Skyfall Daniel Craig cements his status as the best actor to take on the mantle of Bond. Nostalgia may keep Sean Connery at the top of lists but Craig’s emotional investment and raw physicality (he is fucking ripped in this) run circles around Connery’s charismatic work. Craig manages to straddle the duplicity of James Bond expertly — we believe that this man is simultaneously heroic and a cold-blooded killer (Craig could win a scowling Olympics). When required, Craig can also turn on Bond’s megawatt sexual chemistry – so much so, that when he disrobes and enters a shower (unannounced) it doesn’t feel rapey, it feels badass. Craig owns this role and I’m glad Skyfall has been so well received –it means we will get another two entries in Craig’s tenure.
The support cast of Skyfall is Oscar-heavy. In a brave move that is fitting of the film’s dramatic intent, the 77 year-old Judi Dench is ostensibly Skyfall’s main ‘Bond Girl’. Dench is an acting institution and Mendes gets great emotive work from her as Bond’s handler ‘M’. Though this is her seventh 007 outing, she has never been so present. Her scenes with Craig crackle with suppressed emotion and (much like Craig) she effortlessly conveys a beating heart underneath her iron exterior. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whisaw and Rory Kinnear are all great, quintessentially British additions to the 007 stable and, despite limited screen time, both Naomie Harris and Bérénice Lim Marlohe acquit themselves well as strong-willed women caught in Bond’s web.
Javier Bardem is a powerhouse actor and his terrifying portrayal of the villainous ‘Silva’ is a high point of the recent bond films. A potent cocktail of confidence, flamboyance and menace, Silva is a worthy foil for the world’s most famous spy. In the tradition of Heath Ledger’s anarchist Joker, Bardem imbues the role with a ruthless single-mindedness that is truly unnerving — he is a man who cannot be bargained with. Silva sits comfortably next to Bardem’s Oscar-winning creation, No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh, as one of the best villains of the last ten years.
Skyfall gets my highest recommendation — not as a guy, not as a Bond fan, but as a cinemagoer. This is a truly elegant piece of work that will please all but the most ADHD-afflicted viewers. If you like Mr Bond’s previous entries then this is a no-brainer. But even if you have stayed resilient to his charms I think this one will win you over. Skyfall does what all of the best franchise entries do: it makes you want to see the next one immediately. Consider me (physically) shaken and (emotionally) stirred.