REVIEW: Skyfall [2012]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 143 minutes | Release Date: October 26th, 2012 (UK)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Sam Mendes
Writer(s): Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan / Ian Fleming (characters)

“He’s keen to get home”

With Paul Haggis relinquishing co-writing duties opposite duo Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to John Logan, the newest iteration of James Bond finds itself an autonomous entity. More attuned to the legacy that came before Daniel Craig donned the suit, we no longer need to worry about Mr. White or the loss of Vesper Lynd because their tale has run its course. Instead, Skyfall deals with a new chapter in the aging hero’s life as his and his employer’s loyalty is questioned against the changing times. As Live Free or Die Hard reinvigorated its long-dormant franchise with a little cyber-terrorism, Bond’s newest foe proves he can do pretty much whatever he wants with the push of a few well-connected buttons.

Logan and company’s script lends itself perfectly to new director Sam Mendes‘ sensibilities with Bond shown at his most vulnerable. Less a wall-to-wall actioner like its two predecessors, Skyfall is constructed as a secondary origin story. With Casino Royale setting the stage on a grittier, edgier 007 by introducing the job and the character before Quantum of Solace‘s bloated mess ill served that promise, this third installment travels towards more familiar canonical territory as well as introduces a psychologically plausible history with which to infer on Bond’s unique skill set. The core partners of Ian Fleming‘s suave protector of Queen and country—M, Q, and Moneypenny—take their final shapes and he’s reborn into the lecherous man of mystery pop culture adores.

Opening on a high-speed chase through Istanbul for a stolen hard drive holding the identities of undercover NATO operatives, Bond (Craig) and his partner Eve (Naomie Harris) bite off more than they can chew. The sensitivity of the material has M (Judi Dench) on edge as her agents crash through city streets, ride motorcycles on rooftops, and jump onto moving trains. When faced with the possibility of quick victory despite heavy risk, M gives an order that could potentially change the face of MI6 forever. Thought by outsiders to be ready for pasture, she finds herself an isolated dinosaur frowned on by her younger, naïve contemporaries. When her computer is impossibly hacked and her office decimated, only a battered, bruised, and unfit for duty Bond can save the day.

The adventure continues into Shanghai, Macau, and London as our hero does what he does best. His work is cut out for him, though, as the mastermind behind this attack on the British Secret Service proves to be one of its own. Saddled by a personal vendetta trumping any need for financial greed or sadistic fame, Silva (Javier Bardem) appears three steps ahead of Bond and M at every turn. Flaunting his superiority while laughing in their faces, this crazed psychopath shines a mirror into 007’s face by showing what one tough decision can do. A former star agent, betrayal and bad luck turned him into a monster hell-bent on revenge. Desiring to show Bond how his own trajectory is quickly following the same path, Silva looks to pull England into chaos.

What’s interesting about Skyfall‘s steady progression to a final showdown bathed in fire at a remote countryside estate is how deliberately it unfolds. The over-the-top villainy of Bardem doesn’t even come until almost half of the overlong 143-minute runtime has expired. Until then we’re reacquainted with the universe and the rather heavy stakes put upon the shoulders of a clandestine agency forever existing in the shadows to keep its people safe. This could be a result of the four-year gap after Quantum due to MGM Studios’ financial woes or perhaps the filmmakers want to create something all their own. Either way, our reintroduction to MI6 comes shrouded in uncertainty as the end to an era begins with the future of the agency resting in the hands of its greatest member.

Infused with a delicate visual subtlety, I don’t think Bond has ever looked better. Cinematographer Roger Deakins skillfully utilizes gorgeous lighting and composition throughout the globetrotting chase, thankfully allowed to let his set-ups and slow pans exist without the hyper-cut fisticuffs we’ve been inundated with since The Bourne Identity. Watching Craig engage Ola Rapace‘s Patrice in Shanghai against a backdrop of electronic signs and neon lights through a crystal clear glass skyscraper’s façade possesses a hyper-real feel as their darkened silhouettes fight without break. Pair this with the stark Days of Heaven-esque landscape at the end when Bond, M, and Albert Finney‘s Kincade set up a last stand inside a decrepit home surrounded by nothing but open field and you have a sense of aesthetic never before seen from the franchise.

Story—no matter how laborious it gets as twists and turns unravel—becomes king with its environments manufacturing a complementary intrigue. Skyfall‘s characters inhabit this sumptuous world rather than merely existing where the camera happens to reside. Everything moves in harmony as the life Bond and M have built crumbles. Their complexity is necessary to understand their motivations and believe in an unspoken familial attachment; they are the orchestrators of their fate against an adversary who knows them too well. Silva is the Joker to Bond’s Batman, a likeminded soul who’s lost the mission. He is the darkness of doubt clouding Bond’s judgment after being shot and left for dead; the living embodiment of that which he must destroy before getting back to the only life he’s known.

Ralph Fiennes‘ Gareth Mallory and Ben Whishaw‘s Q round out the cast with likeable introductions and the potential for more screentime in future installments while Bérénice Marlohe‘s Sévérine provides a surprisingly brief infusion of the sexuality we expect from Bond. The thing about hiring Mendes and Logan is that they’re willing to dig deeper into the psychology of these characters and take them to their breaking points or beyond. As such, no matter how showy, smarmy, or brilliant Bardem’s antagonist—he’s sure to be in Best Supporting Actor talks—you must also appreciate the level of craft seen by both Craig and Dench. This is Bond and M at their most three-dimensional, vulnerable, and raw and their performances help transform Skyfall into a great movie whether diehard fan or not.


photography:
[1] First official shot released from SKYFALL of James Bond (DANIEL CRAIG) from a scene set in Shanghai. Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL. PHOTO BY: Francois Duhamel COPYRIGHT: Skyfall ©2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.
[2] Daniel Craig (left) and Javier Bardem star in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL. PHOTO BY: Francois Duhamel COPYRIGHT: Skyfall ©2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] Ben Whishaw stars as Q and Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL. PHOTO BY: Francois Duhamel COPYRIGHT: Skyfall ©2011 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

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