Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (screenplay), Ian Fleming (books)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Release date: November 9th, 2012
Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 143 minutes
Best part: Roger Deakins’ cinematography.
Worst part: The underused Bond girls.
Celebrating 50 years of saluting Queen and country on the silver screen, the James Bond film series has capped off its anniversary in style. Continuing the rebooted timeline with the previous Daniel Craig led Bond films, Skyfall stands tall as a delicate yet authentic mix of old and new. In love with the ideology of the Bond series and Ian Fleming’s original material, the 23rd instalment may be looked back on as one of the greatest films in Bond history and one of the most enthralling action-dramas in recent memory. Skyfall is a smart, stylish and well-acted piece of true escapist entertainment.
Skyfall kicks off in beautiful fashion. After a chase through Istanbul streets leads to the loss of a valuable MI-6 hard drive and 007’s apparent death, M (Judi Dench) and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) must take responsibility for MI-6’s regrettable actions. Bond (Daniel Craig), coming back from a well deserved holiday, is a ghost of his former self. Known to shoot first and sleep around later, his physicality and mental stability have been thrown off target. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the British secret service, as M’s past comes back to haunt both her and the agency. The damaged yet protective Bond must now find the source of this harrowing terrorist threat, revealed in the form of former MI-6 agent turned intuitive computer hacker Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Between Shanghai, Macau and Scotland, MI-6 must stop Silva before his next horrifying act, while finding the psychological meanings behind Bond’s prickly demeanour.
Coming off of the thrilling Casino Royale and the sorely underrated Quantum of Solace (although clearly the weakest of the three), Skyfall provides a greater insight into one of cinema’s greatest series’. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) is the only Academy Award winning director to ever helm a Bond film. His signature gritty style and melancholic outlook on humanity is ever present in Skyfall, creating an interweaving look at the dark side of Bond’s existence. At one point, Ralph Fiennes’ Character Gareth Mallory asks Bond the simple question “Why not stay dead?”. From that point on Bond succinctly sets out to prove himself, portraying a cynical yet still effective anti-hero character. With everything the common film-goer knows about the Bond series, Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan develop a new perspective on the evolution of this ageing franchise. Bond’s existential outlook on technology, terrorism, corruption and human connection is the key to his successes. But to what extent is his professional side a positive? Craig proves to be the best 007 to date. His rugged features, cold tone and instant charisma deliver a necessarily harsh spy with a touch of heart. Dench continues her ever present fine form, delivering a strong performance as the out of time leader of MI-6. Credit also goes to Javier Bardem for his slimy turn as the homoerotic villain with a taste for revenge, continuing his run of villainous characters after No Country for Old Men and Collateral. A creepy mix of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Hannibal Lecter and the Joker, his frightening presence creates a sympathetic yet vicious Bond villain. The girls, though effective in shaking and stirring Bond’s psyche, are sorely underused.
Harris provides a dash of wit in a charming yet thankless role, while newcomer Berenice Marlohe simply stands around and looks pretty as a plot device. With the re-introduction of analyst and gadget-specialist Q, Ben Whishaw delivers a whimsical portrayal of one of Bond’s closest allies. The film is an eclectic mix of modernity and tradition. The Bond series strained with the silly yet occasionally enjoyable Moore, Dalton and Brosnan eras. Skyfall de-constructs the tongue-in-cheek elements of the previous Bond films such as the girls, guns, gadgets and globe-trotting. “What did you expect? an exploding pen?” Q says to Bond, as the witty banter throughout looks back at the notorious elements of an influential yet cyclical series. Constant references to other Bond films coupled with the Bourne series’ style of gritty-realism, Skyfall is a fitting entry into the already visceral and socially conscious Craig-Bond saga. The tragic aspects of Bond’s separation from a blood-stained yet seemingly enviable reality are similar to Mendes’ Road to Perdition and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. Similarly to Bruce Wayne’s story of loss and redemption, Bond’s life as a troubled agent is expanded through his chilling and contemplative resurrection. The story deals with death and re-birth, symbolised imaginatively with a gothic and fluidly designed opening animated credit sequence. Bond and M are equally defining characters this time around, illustrating that both tradition and honour can have a relevant and unique impact in an advanced age of espionage. The mother/son relationship is defined to a greater extent, as their co-dependence gives them the motivation to complete this difficult assignment.
“Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.” (James Bond (Daniel Craig), Skyfall).
The film serves to be a Rorschach painting for the audience, leaving everyone to create a new interpretation of cinema’s greatest spy. Continually changing the continuity of this franchise, the Craig-Bond era has created an earthy and vibrant re-iteration of a once declining series. Skyfall significantly benefits from Roger Deakins’ cinematography. A regular cinematographer for Mendes and the Coen brothers with such films as No Country for Old Men and Jarhead to his credit, Deakins creates a rich yet dulcet tone for each wildly different location across the globe. From the glowing neon lights of Shanghai’s cityscape to the concrete and maze-like exteriors of London, Bond’s mission is brought to life with a darkened touch. Deakins and Mendes also effectively capture the grisly identity of Bond. The use of both silhouettes and mirror images create an inner conflict within Bond himself; as a character establishing his own sense of place after previous failings. From the opening shot, Craig’s silhouette helps to create a truly imposing visage and charismatic presence. White the inventive silhouette covered fight atop Shanghai creates intense edge-of-your-seat thrills. The action sequences are effectively shot and choreographed, capturing several awe-inspiring moments within Bond’s dangerous missions. The exciting pre-credits chase through Istanbul creates a death-defying sense of scale fitting for its chilling resolution, while matching the intense Parkour chase in Casino Royale.
With Skyfall a worthy extension of the Bond universe, it should hopefully inspire the same level of ingenuity and depth in both future Bond instalments and modern action cinema. Thanks to the amicable cast and crew, this instalment stylishly honours the legacy.
Verdict: An affectionate and heart-thumping take on 007.