by Bret Dorman
Bond, James Bond. Am I right? No really… am I? I’ve never been a big fan of the 007 series of adventures. Not that I think they are bad, I just never got into them. I’ve seen at least one of every Bond’s movies (even that poor chap who only had one Bond movie). I did see all of Brosnan’s and both previous Craig films. So maybe I’m not qualified to say Skyfall is the best Bond movie yet because A) I haven’t seen them all and B) I’m not the best judge of all the Bond-ness of what makes Bond Bond [If I was… Insert something about how I should be outraged about Bond taking a swig of beer here!]. But I can say this is the best Bond movie I’ve seen because A) I have seen all the ones I’ve seen and B) I am a good judge of what makes good movies I like good movies I like.The Story: Bond, James Bond (Craig, Daniel Craig) (also that will never get old, but I’ll stop for now) is sort of kind of betrayed by MI6 (the British version of the CIA) and M (Dame Judi Dench). But he loves his country! So he teams up with Eve and the brand new Q (Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw) to stop the evil mastermind Silva (Javier Bardem). He makes kissy faces at Severine (Berenice Marlohe) and makes scowly faces at Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Also, there are Komodo Dragons!
For starters I went into this movie completely cold. No previews. No trailer analysis discussions. No press. I have to say I personally was on the edge of my seat, wondering how they would move from major twist to major turn. I will have what I consider ‘minor’ Spoilers! for the first half of the movie, then move on to a full blown Spoilers! section. Skyfall is getting a lot of comparisons to The Dark Knight (but what movie isn’t?) and I understand those comparisons, but Skyfall felt a little bit like Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol to me. While M:I:4 is super relentless, Skyfall feels similar, never settling into one place for too long, never back tracking its way into the immediate story, and moves forward naturally.The opening action scene feels so good. It’s been a while since we had a real, fun, good action opener (DKR had an impressive one and of course Expendables 2 started off strong). Action movie openers are becoming less and less of a necessity. But here it sets the tone. Immediately you have Bond in the shadows, a musical sting appropriate for the franchise, a death of an agent to set the dark tone, a tense hallway moment turned car chase, turned motorcycle chase (that goes from road to roof to road), turned train shootout, turned back hoe improvisation, turned top of train fight (setting the tone for its fast pace; never settling into one thing for too long), and finally Bond getting shot, an action which the consequences resound throughout the rest of the film thematically and literally. It was nice to see something exciting that also wasn’t JUST fun for the sake of fun. Just as we hit the low of the opener Adele’s Skyfall theme kicks in, which is another fantastic Bond song from a great artist.
The plot and pacing of Skyfall excel at making Bond earn his confrontation with Javier Bardem’s Silva. MI6 is left in the cold after Bond disappears with the only shrapnel of a clue as to who took the hard drive in the beginning. Evidence and information is withheld from the characters as well as the audience, so we have to follow Bond’s lead as he bravely struts into dangerous situation after dangerous situation. Bond just doesn’t seem to care what unknown obstacles lay ahead of him, he’s got enough confidence in his abilities (even though we are shown and told he is ‘out of touch’) that he digs a hole for himself and shoots his way out. From a high rise elevator to poker chip in a shady casino to a boat full of armed guards, Bond is always in the dark trying to find the light leading to the next clue.Speaking of in the dark, the movie does not shy away from telling you this story is all about what lurks in the shadows. Unknown enemies, dark pasts, and stealth missions all play a crucial role in the film. Both Bond and M have pasts full of skeletons they’d rather forget about, but are forced to confront. I know a lot of people call films beautiful but Skyfall has to be one of the most gorgeously shot movies of the year. From the opening shot, to the hit in Shanghai, to the golden glow of the Macau Casino, Silva’s desolate hideout, London’s rainy greys, and the final standoff at night, illuminated by fire… every location feels unique with its own sense of beauty and dread.
I’m not a huge Bond fan, but I can appreciate how they inject the bit of humor through references as well as Bond-isms like one liners and a bit of self awareness (“There’s only six people who can do this.” “Of course there are.”). I like how Q is introduced, with him and Bond verbally feeling each other out, immediately testing their chemistry with playful jabs, and ultimately showing mutual respect. Q is well used, has a decent part in the story, and isn’t forced in and overused. Silva really only appears for the last half, but this is tremendously effective as we don’t have a back and forth good versus bad like Heat or The Dark Knight. Bond plays a much more effective good guy than Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, so it’s appropriate he takes up more screen time. I’m also not a huge fan of Dame Judi Dench, but I have to admit she was fantastic here.
Overall, Skyfall feels like a good mix of the fun, exciting, franchise fueled adventure of Avengers and the dark, serious, ‘realistic’ take of The Dark Knight (Rises). Now that Bond has been done being “reinvented” (Casino Royale) and finished up what didn’t quite really need finishing (Quantum of Solace) it’s nice to see a stand alone flick that carries, then passes the torch on for more Top Secret Missions.
Spoilers!Silva’s introduction is a work of cheesy fun mixed with legit cinematic/theatrical flair. The elevator coming down into frame, Silva walking out, down the long path of naked computer parts deep in his ‘lair’, in a long single take, talking about rats on an island are elements that combine the best elements of Bond (or at least what I like about the Bond films I’ve seen). Silva dressed in white, talking about how he has liberated himself clashes with Bond’s dark suit, working for the ‘evil’ organization of MI6. Instead of Silva putting Bond in a situation to endanger Bond’s life, he put Bond in a torturous situation that ends Severine’s life. Bond does manage to get the upper hand, but just a moment too late.
I was especially surprised by Bond’s “death” and how important it was for the movie. Obviously you know he isn’t really dead, but the fact that he had a way out and came back does have an impact. His little chit-chat with Eve as they reunite in the new MI6 HQ (an underground, abandoned lair, to mirror Silva’s) is full of fun quips back and forth like “You gave it your best shot.” It’s not until M’s trial does the importance kick into high gear though, as Bond desperately runs to catch up to Silva and save M. The courthouse shootout works well because it comes right after the tense meeting of Silva and Bond. You think the movie might take a breather but then Q (in a dummy move) gets hacked and Silva’s impossible plan with decades of seeding perfectly comes to fruition. As M talks about enemies, darkness, shadows, and danger, Silva menacingly approaches and Bond is left behind.All of this build up as M talks and the camera focuses on Silva’s determination leads to one of the most intense and well earned action scenes of the year, as Silva bursts into the courtroom and shoots the place up. Innocent people are slaughtered, bodyguards and assistants willingly use themselves as human shields, bureaucrats chip in, and Bond arrives just in time to save the day with a wink and classic (extinguisher-smoke) improvisation. And when the action is just for flair, its done expertly as well. Bond vs the hitman in Shanghai is done with a cool blue neon backlight as the two spies struggle to gain the upper hand. Muzzle flashes give us a hint as to who is who, but the lighting implies that in the world of spies there are no good guys and bad guys, just the lucky and the dead.
Keeping with the sudden burst of energy, as Bond and M make their getaway, the movie only slows down for a couple of minutes before they have to defend Skyfall (that’s the name of the movie!) against an onslaught of heavily armed mercenaries. The first waves depletes the tricky trio of their gimmicks and shotgun shells and keeping with the one upping frenetic pace of the opening action set piece. As Silva steps out of the chopper tossing incendiary grenades, the dark blue night sky behind him, we see him at his most menacing. When Bond blows up his own house, it truly catches Silva off gaurd and makes him really angry and frustrated. I get why they have to have the ice lake run followed by Bond’s brave move. They need a moment with just M and Silva and I do like how Bond stabs him in the back (so un-good guy like!) and Silva’s reaction is classic. Since they decided to kill M (a potentially cheesy/sappy move for just the shock factor) I am glad they brought her demise into the theme of the story. Her death fits and is earned.
I’m not going to pretend Bond is perfect. If I over-thought the subject, I could pick on how they cast different actors as Bond even though the Bond character retains all the same stories and memories (the Aston Martin), but they have to justify why or how they get a new Q or M who are different characters each time a different actor/actress play them, THEN they also do a full blown reboot of Moneypenny who is a different character and different actress. Not quite sure how that works.
In Conclusion, It’s hard to keeps franchise like Bond running for 50 years, but the key is re-invention. Each new Bond reinvents the character just a little, each new director adds their own style, and Bond goes through different tones ranging from suave to cheesy to dark and gritty. Skyfall doesn’t feel like a desperate attempt to do what The Dark Knight had done before it, instead it feels like a fresh story that stands on its own. As always, Bond promises to return and this time I’ll be eagerly anticipating the cast, crew, and brand new adventure.
Final Grade: A-