Jan 24, 2015

Review: Skyfall (2012)

2012 was the fiftieth anniversary of the James Bond series, an incredible achievement for one of my favourite cinema staples which started with Dr. No all the way back in 1962. There are very few films that can match Bond in the escapism department and even fewer that have such an established formula. Exotic locales, attractive ladies, beautiful cars, high-flying action and crazy gadgets are all important ingredients in what makes a Bond film special and I wouldn't want it any other way.

After fifty years though, there comes a time when change is inevitable and I honestly believe that is what director Sam Mendes was brought in to do. Even during MGM's financial problems, Mendes was always involved in some capacity and he even brought in frequent writing partner John Logan to collaborate with regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on the script. Change was clearly afoot during production and after seeing Skyfall for the second time now, my conclusion is that it successfully performs a fine balancing act. It brings the necessary changes the Bond series needed, but it also keeps the usual traditions intact. It's a step forward as well as a love letter to the series that has charmed so many.

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Genre: action, adventure
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Produced by: Barbara Broccoli , Michael G. Wilson, Callum McDougall, etc.
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Music by: Thomas Newman
Running time: 143 minutes
Production company: Eon Productions, Danjaq, B23
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures International, Columbia Pictures, etc.
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Language: English
Budget: $200,000,000
Box office: $1,108,561,013 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory, Nicholas Woodeson, Bill Buckhurst, Elize du Toit, Ian Bonar, Gordon Milne, Peter Basham

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Synopsis


An important hard drive containing information about NATO operatives in the field has been stolen. James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harrie) are in hot pursuit of the thief (Ola Rapace) in Istanbul. If the information on the hard drive were to be leaked, it would spell disaster for many of the field operatives in action. It is later revealed that this is part of a plot to discredit M (Judi Dench) as head of MI6 by an unknown individual who in fact has a special connection with M and James Bond as well.

Review


First thing's first: Skyfall is a gorgeous movie. There is no doubt that it is the most proficiently filmed entry in the series and a big reason for that is the hiring of Roger Deakins as the director of photography. There are numerous shots that are worth oohing and awing over and you could pause the movie at pretty much any point and have something impressive to look at. The amount of detail in terms of colour and lighting is incredible. Some of the most memorable scenes in Skyfall owe a lot to how they're captured.

The pre-title sequence is action-packed but also finds a decent balance between Bond being super cool, but with vulnerabilities as well. It ends with an absolute bang of a finish and is in my opinion one of the best ends to a pre-title sequence in a Bond film ever. The subsequent title sequence is a perfect match, song-wise with Adele's vocals and design-wise which also throws hints regarding the plot.

The big difference in Skyfall is how deep it goes into its characters and how much it also respects them. We've gotten tidbits in regards to James' past before, but never to the level we get in Skyfall and I personally love it. He's become disenchanted with the world he operates in, but sees it as his duty. He's grizzled, he's gotten older and he's working in what is a young man's job. He's not an unstoppable freight train anymore and that's cool with me.

M finally gets a real opportunity to shine and be part of the plot in an important way. Judi Dench has been stellar in all her small appearances so far, but her character has finally been fleshed out in a satisfying way and she's been given more screen time than ever before. Her abilities to do her job are put into question and you start to really wonder if she's ever been right about how she's done things throughout her career.

That's another thing I love about this entry. The abilities of James Bond, M and even MI6 are in doubt. Ralph Fiennes' character Gareth Mallory is a big part of that and events force M to attend a public hearing regarding her leadership and MI6's role in today's world. The world has changed immensely and there may not be a need for MI6 anymore which appears to have fallen behind the times.

Now when it comes to the main villain, how can you not love Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva? I suppose that it's no surprise that he excelled in the role, but still. He oozes calm charisma and he also excels at being quite creepy when it's required. Silva's past is well explained and what this does is build genuine sympathy for him. Some villains are evil just to be evil, but Silva isn't. He has very clear motives and probably any person would feel the way he does if they were in his shoes. Like the real world, this isn't a black and white matter. It's just shades of grey.

Action is of course a big part in Skyfall and what I like about it this time around is that Sam Mendes has been able to inject a bit more fun into these scenes like the Bond movies of yore. Casino Royale and especially Quantum of Solace go out of their way to be gritty and serious without much room for any laughs. While that can be a good thing, it got to be a bit much in QoS. Daniel Craig has explained that the Bond films had nowhere else to go but darker all because of Michael Myers and Austin Powers. While I definitely agree with the decision, it's nice that Skyfall seems to signal a change in direction which should continue with the next entry Spectre.

The action sequences in Skyfall really are experiences in themselves and one of the reasons why I love Thomas Newman's score so much. Along with Roger Deakins' gorgeous cinematography, there's a lot to be impressed with as you watch Bond duke it out on trains, Shanghai skyscrapers and underwater.

I can understand some of the criticisms I've read in regards to Silva's plan as being a bit too ridiculous and too well planned, but aren't we used to ridiculous Bond villain plans anyway? We've had a villain a who planned to brainwash people to spread a virus, a villain who built a diamond satellite that can destroy targets, the list goes on. I'm able to look past the issues no problem because this is James Bond. Skyfall is entertaining enough to make me forget about how ridiculous something may be and that's enough for me. (Spoilers) Better than the water terrorism from Quantum of Solace anyway. (End Spoilers)

The last thing I'd like to praise Sam Mendes and his team for is their obvious love of the series. There are quite a few references they make to more classical Bond movies and it's all very respectfully done without being too fan servicy. I don't want to say more than I already have because if you're a Bond fan and you somehow haven't seen Skyfall yet, you're in for an absolute treat.

Skyfall is a harbinger of change and  a guardian of tradition all at the same time. It's a love letter to the James Bond series as I said before and as a Bond fan, it's impossible to express just how happy I was after both my viewings. I have no doubt that the images, the music and the performances in Skyfall will be in my head for the next few days which really means something. That's a mark of a good film, not just a good James Bond film.

Rating



8.5/10