[Review] – Skyfall

7 Dec

Skyfall

Title: Skyfall
Year: 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, based on the characters by Ian Fleming
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
Runtime: 143 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 81

Yes, I know, I’m officially the last person on Earth to have seen Skyfall. I’ve listened to unanimous praise being bandied about in regards to this movie for over a month, people calling it the best Bond movie of all-time even, and read about it smashing box office records (it’s currently at over $870 million worldwide) but yeah, it’s taken me a while to sit down to watch the twenty-third entry in the spy franchise. It didn’t take me quite as long, however, to agree that, yes, this may just be the best one there’s ever been.

Expectations were quite high going into it for a number of reasons. On the one hand there was 2006’s Casino Royale, Daniel Craig‘s first outing as 007 that is definitely in the Top 5 of the franchise and was credited with reigniting the whole series; on the other hand there was the one that came after that one, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which was just a totally mediocre film that seemed to squander all the amazing things Casino Royale did for the franchise. So Skyfall was out to prove that one of those films was an anomaly, that either Casino Royale was a rare occurrence and we were in for some uninspired Bond films or that Quantum of Solace was the odd duck and the franchise really was genuinely revitalized.

Not to mention that this one was coming a full four years after Bond’s last outing, a result of the financial turmoil that surrounded MGM a few years ago. So, yes, this one was out to prove some things and it did so in spades, and a lot of credit has to go to Sam Mendes, who took over the directing reigns. This is just his sixth film but as you see his filmography, not to mention the stuff he’s done in theater, you know this is a man who’s just tremendously accomplished and talented, obviously having won the Best Director Oscar for his debut, American Beauty.

The stuff that will be said about Mr. Mendes, not only because it’s apparent while watching the film but also because he’s admitted to it himself, is that he just did for the James Bond franchise what Christopher Nolan did for Batman. Not only did he take it into a far darker territory but with that came the fact that he grounded the character and his world in reality. Sure, you do get some cool “Bond moments” here, but they all at least appear to be much more plausible than the ludicrous stuff the Pierce Brosnan incarnation kept pulling off.

This really is a flat-out impeccable movie that, to me, actually classifies as one of the very best of the entire year, to be honest. Not only is it sexy and slick as Bond movies are required to be, but it’s also smart and it just rocks you to the core, not only because of the unbelievably thrilling action but also because it achieves some remarkable emotional depth while it’s at it. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, this film feels necessary. When you have a franchise that’s on its 23rd movie (and its 50th year) it’s tough to have it not feel like a mandatory opportunity to cash in some money for the producers; this one, whether it’s because its been four years since the last one or not, doesn’t really feel like that at all.

I don’t know how much I want to get into the plot because there are certainly some surprises at hand that are best left unspoiled. It is basically a movie that centers around the relationship between Bond and M, played for the seventh time by the wonderful Judi Dench (if she’s getting an Oscar nod I hope it’s for this and not for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). You see, M’s past comes back to haunt her as a former MI6 operative who felt betrayed by her comes back on a mission to discredit and ultimately kill her. Bond, obviously, will have to battle that threat and make do with the deadly consequences that may arise from it.

If you’ve seen the trailer you know that fairly early on you’ll have bond fighting a bad guy atop of a cargo train on a bridge and that another officer (the new incarnation of Eve Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris here) has both men on her sights with a sniper rifle. M orders her to take the shot and the bullet seems to hit Bond and we see him apparently fall to his death. Of course, this happens fairly on in the movie, so you know he’s not dead, but still, that moment, that possibility, kind of looms over this new direction that franchise takes in which it exchanges the glitzy glamour for something far more dire.

Daniel Craig, by the way, really embodies James Bond in this movie tremendously well, certainly the best turn he’s had so far as 007. This is, of course, a Bond for our times. By which I’m not only talking about the homosexual undertones so clearly present between Bond and the film’s villain (we’ll get to him later) but also about what Mr. Craig’s physicality and psychological exploration of the character seem to indicate. This is a Bond that doesn’t feel like the unattainable icon of masculinity who has fancy drinks in fancy places; I mean, yes, in a way he does feel like that, but he’s also a man you could see yourself bumping into in a rundown pub on a damp English street.

I absolutely loved that combination of the old and the new that really seems to run through the entire movie, which is obviously full of reverence to those that came before it even while it’s taking the franchise into some new and amazing directions. Seeing Bond disheveled at times, seeing him even more emotionally vulnerable than we saw him in Casino Royale, seeing him out of shape and drunk are things that may enrage a bit the people who grew up with the old Bond and see him as this utterly immortal and always-sharp character. Yet here he’s also immortal and always-triumphant, but Skyfall isn’t afraid of acknowledging some stumbles may still occur in the way there.

Now, back to that villain. He’s Raoul Silva, the first obviously gay villain in the series, a cyberterrorist that’s played to perfection by the great Javier Bardem. To me there’s no doubt in my mind that Silva is the single best Bond villain in the history of the franchise, and it’s all because of how amazing Mr. Bardem is in the role. We already knew he could play an all-time great villain thanks to this Oscar-winning performance as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (one of the three or four greatest villains in film history, in my mind) but this is such a different performance and yet it’s so, so good. If he gets an Oscar nod, which I doubt will happen, it would be much deserved.

Yes, between Mr. Craig, Ms. Dench and Mr. Bardem you get a three-sided-coin toss-up as for who steals the movie, but the rest of the cast is damn amazing as well. You have Ralph Fiennes as the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, you have Bérénice Marlohe as the enigmatic Bond girl, you have Albert Finney as the gamekeeper of Skyfall (to find out what Skyfall is, see the damn movie), and you have Ben Whishaw taking over for John Cleese as Q (a casting choice I think was absolutely brilliant). Everyone here is top-notch, every single element working to make Skyfall the greatest Bond film of all-time.

From the Adele title song, to the stunning action sequences, to the gorgeous cinematography provided by the great Roger Deakins, to Judi Dench finally getting to rock it as M, to Javier Bardem delivering an instantly-iconic antagonist, to Daniel Craig fully owning the (tightly-tailored)suit of Bond, James Bond. Skyfall is an absolute blast, a film that’s never shy about acknowledging where Bond has been before, but that’s always intensely focussed on where he’ll go next.

Grade: A

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