Skyfall (2012) Review (R)

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dame Judith Dench… Bond girl.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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5 of 5

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6 Responses to “Skyfall (2012) Review (R)”

  1. […] 2)  Skyfall (Much like with Batman in recent years, James Bond has been reinvented with a little more substance than he’s had in the past. Sam Mendes takes the reins for this latest outing and delivered one of the best Bond films ever. As I said with TDKR, this isn’t just a great Bond film, it’s just a great film. And yes, I prefer the Bérénice Marlohe poster (above) to the Daniel Craig version. […]

  2. Crash! Landen Says:

    Wooooooooooooooo! Check out that long winded answer down there! It might be longer than the review! Now I’m gonna’ go ride around on the ridin’ lawn mower to celebrate (wildly swinging around hat with CAT logo on it). Yeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaaahhhh!

  3. great post, check out mine on this subject and see what you think http://wellthatsdifferent.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/the-worst-evil-plan/

    • Crash! Landen Says:

      Hi Joe, Thanks for the comments. (WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES AND SKYFALL AND MAYBE EVEN THE MOVIE SE7EN…)

      I checked out your post and I think I have to disagree a little. I guess I try not to think about hat occurs in films too much, because with even the greatest films, you can poke holes if you really want to do that. I’m not the cynical type (Not saying you are, ether… Just sayin’).

      In TDKR, I didn’t really see it as Bane’s master plan. Ultimately, it was the plan of that… other person. Bane was just a follower, even if he was seen as orchestrating it. He wasn’t the mastermind, even if he was a smart guy. If you REALLY want to poke holes at that film, it’s not that difficult. It crossed my mind while watching it how ridiculous it was that the trapped citizens of Gotham all stayed indoors during their time under ‘Bane’s’ nihilistic totalitarian ‘government of the people’. No chaos. No riots. Everyone behaving how the screenwriter dictates. Hundreds if not thousands of policemen being trapped underground for months on end and emerging none the worse for wear, ready to battle, clean shaven, with steam pressed uniforms. Apparently no one had any boats or floatation devices they could use to slip away during the night. No gun owners (which, may well be true if Gotham is anything like New York). It’s just too easy… But it’s a superhero film and I took it as such when I did my own review. The point is the ideas that are presented in the story; Bane’s/that other person’s plan was written to illustrate those ideas.

      Bane could have been written so smart that he defeats Batman, destroys Gotham and well… That would be just stupid and pointless. Nihilism wins! Again, pointless. A great bad guy can really drive a film. The better (or badder) the villain, the better the movie. But if you fall in love with the villain (and even start rooting FOR them instead of AGAINST them)… Then, you’re kind of missing the point.

      Silva’s motivation is entirely different to me. Whereas the plans of Bane/that other person are literally to destroy society under the guise of moral superiority, Silva is all about the death of one person: Mommy (or the matriarchal figure for him in the film). His reason for being is entirely to shame M and to ultimately kill her. I don’t think it mattered to him if he got killed in the process as long as he got to see her die (and that she knew it was him). He didn’t care about destroying society. He was disillusioned/ betrayed by the one person that he thought he could trust. His world was shattered and now he just wanted to destroy that which he blamed for destroying his happy worldview.

      Both films are not about the villains, though, nor should they be. There ARE great films that have a villain ‘winning’, but there usually is a point to be made behind that. Take Fincher’s Se7en, for instance. The villain John Doe succeeds in finishing his nasty little game, but the point wasn’t what he was trying to prove to society, but rather it was the arc of the Morgan Freeman character (one half of the Glimmer Twins… little joke/movie reference there). Freeman plays a cop who was quitting the force at the beginning. He had given up. Evil had defeated him and he no longer had the will to fight against a seeming tide of inhumanity. In the course of the film, he gets to know the Brad Pitt character (an optimistic young cop) and his wife who both are polar opposites to him in their worldview. When something REALLY bad happens to them, the Freeman character ‘wakes up’. The last two to four lines of the film indicate the 180 degree turn he’s made and that he’s actually been shaken back into action by learning something the hard way. It was never about the villain, though.

      Sorry for the long answer. I get crazy sometimes. The short answer is that I don’t really look at films for what’s on the surface. There are some great movies that are to be taken entirely as entertainment, but most great films have something at their core even if it’s as simple as ‘one has to stand up to oppressive forces’. If I wanted just what’s on the surface, I would just watch the kind of serialized fiction on the boob tube. Or sitcoms (shudder). So, I guess what I’m saying is that if during the course of a movie, my disbelief is suspended and I never doubt the sincerity of what the villain is trying to accomplish during a film, then there’s no reason for me to nitpick it afterwards. If I think it’s hokey while I’m watching it, then sure.

      Aaaaand…That was all in one breath. Inhaling oxygen again.

  4. After Quantum of Solace, I thought this franchise was starting to die down a bit but thankfully, Skyfall brings it back with a look and style that harkens back to the old days, but also shoves some new things in there as well. Good review.

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