Film Review: Skyfall
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Brocolli
Studio: Eon Productions & Danjaq LLC, MGM
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Ben Wishaw
The last time we saw James Bond he was escorting the Queen of England to the Olympic Park, a light hearted reminder that the 50th anniversary of the super-spy was upon us and that he himself was reminding us all that his next outing as 007 in Skyfall promised to be his greatest outing yet. Considering that Mr Craig’s take on 007 gave audiences the excellent Casino Royale I felt this was a bold claim to make. Did Mr Craig and the crew of Skyfall deliver on their promise? I’d say they certainly did, it is a movie that easily meets the standard set by Casino Royale but depending on your age and/or past experience with the franchise it might not quite surpass it.
The story starts in an unspecified time after the events of Quantum of Solace; 007 is back in the field in Istanbul chasing up the whereabouts of another MI6 agent “Brosnan” (See what they did there?) who has unexpectedly gone off the grid. Bond tracks down the agent only to discover that he has been mortally wounded and the hard drive from his laptop has been stolen. The hard drive contains the details of every single NATO agent working undercover in terrorist organizations worldwide. Bond sees the assailant making a getaway and chases him down after an incredible chase sequence across the city. During the chase Bond is hit by friendly fire from his fellow agent Eve Moneypenny and falls from a train presumably to his death. Three months later five names of NATO agents are released onto the internet from an unknown source promising to release more with each passing week. On top of this MI6’s office is hacked into causing a massive explosion, killing numerous staff members. The escalating crisis places 007’s boss “M” under mounting political pressure to resign. Bond, who barely survived his near-death experience sees the events unfolding and returns to help MI6 in its’ darkest hour despite being depleted both physically and mentally.
With little guidance, little equipment, and precious little time to spare Bond embarks on a mission to find out who has the information and what his or her motives are for attacking MI6.
I’ll say this about Skyfall straight away: It is leaps and bounds better than Quantum of Solace, an outing that left many feeling rather empty. Instead we get a hugely enjoyable action spectacle that manages to remain grounded in some measure of reality. To me this is a movie of two halves meant to appease two distinctly different crowds; those that like the more ‘serious’ strain of 007 and those that miss the pre-Craig era featuring one-liners and more humour. This mish-mash of ideals might look like a disaster on paper but on screen it actually works pretty well, the different tropes and trends of the eras fuse together seamlessly and the end result is something worthy of 007’s 50th anniversary.
Performances are spectacular across the board; Daniel Craig gives us an older, wiser, and more robust 007 than we have become accustomed to. Judi Dench reprises her role as “M” and once again nails it perfectly. Newcomer Ben Wishaw provides both some minor comic relief and interesting context with a younger take on the iconic “Q”, and Ralph Fiennes enters the picture as the shrewd Gareth Mallory who takes over active management of MI6 during the crisis. However, the show stealer here is Javier Bardem as a hot contender for “Best Bond Villain” – Raoul Silva. Silva is a former MI6 agent turned narcissistic cyber-terrorist, a man with serious mental issues and an unbridled love for revenge. I’m not sure if his slight resemblance to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, especially when I considered what each respective person is infamous for, was intentional or not but it’s something that was always on my mind. What makes Silva so instantly memorable is the way he talks and acts, it’s downright chilling to say the least. The entrance Silva makes when he finally meets Bond in person is easily one of the greatest introductions to a villain in the history of the franchise; He slowly approaches 007 from a distance whilst delivering an insanely sinister speech about what happens when rats fight each other – a speech that will stick unceremoniously in your memory for months.
If Mads Mikkelsen’s “Le Chiffre” in Casino Royale was the personification of mind-over-body Javier Bardem’s “Silva” in Skyfall is the personification of evil, and not in an over-the-top-stereotypical sort of way. He is interesting to watch but not in a way you will, or should not, find even the slightest bit amusing – if his icy dialogue does not make your blood chill then his incredibly unsettling demeanour and expressions will get the job done. The influence of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (Again…) and more specifically Heath Ledger’s role in said movie is unmistakable in the performance Bardem gives but he still manages to make it something of his own.
The set-pieces are fantastic as is the action, the plot flows coherently until the tail end of the movie where some might find developments becoming a little too implausible. The quality of the movie doesn’t necessarily dive in the final twenty-five minutes but considering where 007’s mission has taken him so far where he ends up will probably end up baffling more than a few viewers. Developments towards the end of the movie shouldn’t end up killing the experience as a whole but it’s still something to keep in mind. One final observation to make is the greatly, and thankfully, toned down degree of product placement present in the movie. Audiences had to put up with some rather blatant and eye-rolling cases of product placement in the past and thankfully someone at MGM got the message and decided to make it a lot more subtle, the only scene I can think of off the top of my head where I saw some placement was when 007 was holding a beer bottle of a certain brand but his hand was concealing a good 90% of the label.
So where does the franchise go from here? Are there any other stories we can see? Is it time to discharge 007 from active duty for the time being?
I’m going to say no, there is still ample room for expansion and as Daniel Craig has shown us all – “007” is a code name that can be taken on by anyone and that the name “James Bond” knows many faces.
Despite my complaints about the slightly implausible final twenty-five minutes or so this is an excellent action movie and more importantly one of the greats of the 007 franchise. I’d even go as far to say that this comes extremely close to matching The Avengers as my best movie of the year, I cannot think of much else that could possibly challenge that further at this stage of the year… GOD DAMMIT!!
Final Score: 9/10
+Stellar acting +Great action +Engaging plot +Pays respect to the series as a whole whilst never losing its’ own identity in the process +Fantastic villain +Shows great promise for further installments +Amazing theme song (See below!)
-Don’t go to the bathroom mid-movie or you might miss a crucial plot development! -Slightly implausible ending
“James Bond will return” – Hopefully he will, and not in the too distant future!