Skyfall (2012) Review (R)
Daniel Crag reprises his role as the British MI6 super agent James Bond (this time with Sam Mendes filling the director’s chair) with more than satisfying results. I have not been a fan… not really, anyway.. of Mendes’ films in the past. With the exception of Road To Perdition, it’s been my opinion that his films so adored (and I mean with full tongue action) by critics, have been thoroughly overrated . Sure, he’s managed to produce ‘professionally made’ films, but, to me, the way he presents a story can be downright boring. Combine that with some of the material he’s worked on and I have had things to complain about when I made the mistake of seeing one of his stinkers in the theater. If you’re a die hard fan of his, though: “To each his own”. I just want to be clear that I haven’t been a fan, so that when I say I enjoyed Skyfall, it’s not because I’m slobbering all over the director’s work as all of those ‘big name’ movie critics do. But, enjoy this I did. Is it the ‘best Bond ever’? Nooooo. It’s not even as good as Craig’s debut as Bond in Casino Royale, but it’s still good fun and successful in setting up the franchise for future installments.
Mendes’ take on Bond is fitting as it celebrates the fiftieth year of the franchise. It offers a mix of ‘new modern spins’ on the material as well throwing a very sizable bone to longtime fans of James Bond films. As the film progresses, Bond’s environment regresses until what transpires onscreen wouldn’t have seemed out of place if it had occurred with Sean Connery in the starring role. I have to say there were some longtime fans in the screening that I viewed the film in (the day it opened here in Pensacola), that squealed when one of the Aston Martins makes an extended appearance. Yes, men in their 60s (presumably) squealing. Craig’s take on the role has been largely ‘sans gadgets’, but Mendes manages to sprinkle in some of what old fans of the series loved, while making some post modernist commentary on that subject, as well as some of the other cliches/staples of the series.
The film begins with what could be a summation of the very most important core elements of the series, but ends with a twist. Bond and some other agents are hot on the trail of a man that has a stolen hard drive in his possession. This hard drive contains identities and details of MI6 agents serving abroad, so it’s imperative that the man is captured. Overseeing the operation is ‘M’, the MI6 director of operations (Judi Dench reprising her role which appears to have gotten larger with each film), who takes recovering the hard drive extremely seriously. She orders Bond to abandon another agent who has been potentially mortally wounded to continue the chase and he does so with reservation. At some point she orders another agent, Eve (played by Naomie Harris, who I last saw way back in the excellent contagion film ’28 Days Later’), to ‘take the shot’ while Bond is engaged with the bad guy… on top of a train (the sequence in the trailer). She takes the shot and “Whoops.” She shoots Bond! He falls off the train and into a river. Opening credits. You can almost hear Mendes going “Yeah, you didn’t see that comin’. We killed him off in the first 5 minutes. Beat that!” Then, you’ll almost hear me and everyone else saying ” Oh bull crap. He’s not dead. Quit playin’…” And, of course, he’s not dead, but it’s a good start at trying to shake things up to some extent. And I enjoyed the underwater ‘death’ motif that was in the title sequence, if nothing else. Anyway…
Flash forward to some months later, and M is facing the fallout of the failed mission. She’s being forced out by the new Intelligence chairman (Ralph Fiennes), all the while being taunted by a mystery man who is using the information from the stolen hard drive to kill M16 agents. Meanwhile, Bond, who has been partying too hard and wrestling with the angst of being shot by his own people (and left for dead), returns to London to confront M. And… because he’s bound by duty. He’s that kind of guy, but you know that.
The film is different from most of the other Bond outings, where the mission is not necessarily about saving the world, but more personal in nature (I guess saving the world would have personal implications, but you know what I mean). There is far more background information about Bond here than has ever been given in any of the past films combined, I think (and it’s still not all that much). Mendes frames the relationship between Bond and his boss, M. There has been a maternal (wait for it).. bond.. between the agent and M in the past two films, but here it is specifically highlighted as such. The eventual villain (played very creepily by Javier Bardem), is a former agent himself who, like Bond, was treated as somewhat expendable in lieu of the mission by M. He’s used as a reflection of Bond. The two are contrasted as if they are two brothers fighting over their mother throughout the course of the film (with one of them wanting to literally put a bullet in Ma for being so neglectful). Aaaaand, I think that’s enough of the plot for this review. You can find out all of the little surprises for yourself. Mendes’ manages to make the film about something, I think, besides just having a kooky villain trying to destroy some part of the world for personal gain. What’s really bizarre, though, is that the director (and writer) manages to make Judi Dench into a quasi-Bond girl. That alone is enough for me to reassess my dismissal of Mendes’ talents [from past critically acclaimed (but mediocre in my eyes) films like American Pie and Jarhead], because at this stage of her career, that’s an astounding feat.
Javier Bardeem is not quite as creepy here as he was in the brilliant ‘No Country for Old Men’, but his hair was as much a character unto itself as it was in the Coen brothers classic. The man needs a shampoo endorsement. His villain, the dastardly Silva, is a merging of the old and new (keeping it in line with the theme of the film). He has enough of the goofy campness of past Bond villains to fit right in with the old school Bond rogues gallery, possessing some of those weird physical maladies as many of the villains in the series used to display on a regular basis. He’s also certainly as sick in the head as he needs to be as the villain, but at the same time has a serious “I’m making a point about modern social issues” kind of quality. Not that I need that, but there are those that do. He does have solid motivations for doing what he does and a legitimate beef with his former boss.
Dench is one of those older British actors that are just great in everything. Having a much older woman become such a vital part of a James Bond story is different. I can see one of the producers, really squirming over that fact and desperately wanting to make M in her 30s.. No 20s. And really smokin’ hot. “Sam, I have to tell you that I think Candice Swanepoel would be perfect as M! And I’ve already got some ideas for blatant product placement.” Dench, though, is great here as she’s been a highlight in all of Bond films that she’s appeared in. And when Albert Finney turns up (another of those British actors that I was just speaking of), it’s a whole lot of fun. I wouldn’t have imagined 007 teaming up with (I believe) two septuagenerians in the film’s climax until I actually saw it. Great stuff.
I had minor quibbles with the film, mostly with the diminished role of the Bond girl in this one. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Bérénice Marlohe… Okay, maybe that didn’t come out exactly right. Or maybe it did…. I get what they were trying to do in this one, but I didn’t exactly like where her character’s story goes. If you include the female agent Eve (Harris) and, um… Judi Dench… as a Bond girl, then maybe they had plenty of screen time, but it’s just not the same. I guess, some of the franchise cliches can get in the way of trying to tell new stories, but if there’s one Bond cliche that I would prefer them to keep, it’s the one with the hot babes. I admit it. I can handle Bond drinking a beer instead of his usual martini (shaken, but not stirred), but I’d kind of like to keep the hot tail. Marlohe is exotically captivating when she’s onscreen. She makes an impression, but I wanted more. That’s why I used her version of the movie poster up top. She gets top billing here at the Crash! Site.
They made another little change by introducing the new Q. Instead of the quirky old gadget guy, we get a much younger computer hacker-nerd (Ben Whishaw) that really doesn’t offer up anything extraordinary (gadget-wise) so as to keep Bond grounded in this kind of new realism that’s all the rage. I think I liked Whishaw much more here, than in the recent Cloud Atlas (that I have yet to write a review for… it has thoroughly confounded me, I suppose). It’s not really him that I didn’t like about that other film, though, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of film. Wishaw seems to be a decent actor and he added some laughs in this one. Obviously, they’re stocking the cabinets for future installments, along with Fiennes and… Well, I can’t give that last one away. There’s a surprise for fans near the end of this one, that really was a bit of a surprise.
Of course, the star of the film, Daniel Craig, continues to vie for best Bond of all time. I don’t know if he holds the title, but he certainly has a claim with three of the better Bond films (yeah, I even liked Quantum of Solace, even if it wanted to be like the Bourne films even when Jason Bourne is really the ‘grandchild’ of James Bond). He brings a hard nosed ‘tude to 007 that none of the other Bonds have really had, except for Connery (Dalton did try hard, though). He’s serious to the point of being stoic, but he has a great sarcastic wit. His Bond also has a certain coldness, but you get the idea that deep down, he does care. He doesn’t play Bond as a cartoon character.
I’ve heard others talking about ‘Skyfall’ as if the bar has been set too high now, which is just ridiculous. It does set a sound foundation for years to come provided Craig wants to keep coming back (and I think he’s under contract for more). The natural progression of these types of films is to try to top the previous episode (BIGGER EXPLOSIONS!). The fact that they made the film focus on something small/personal, in my mind allows for them to expand the scope next time without even really trying that hard. I’d rather see the more personal films like this anyway, though. Great film. I saw it when it opened (what? Five or six weeks ago?), but I just read it’s now the number one movie again (on a slow weekend). I highly recommend seeing this one at the movie theater if you’re able. It’s worth it.