Movie Review: “Skyfall” (2012)

Thanks to my dad I’ve been a Bond fan since I was a kid. I’ve seen every movie in the series at least once and own the pimping 2007 DVD set. I’ve enjoyed the classy Bond of “Goldfinger”, the goofy Bond of “Man with the Golden Gun”, and even the dumbfuck Bond of “Moonraker”. That being said, there have naturally been a couple of titles that I either didn’t care for (“Thunderbolt”) or just flat-out hated (“Die Another Day”).

As a big Bond fan, I’ve been ecstatic about the rebirth that took place in 2006 when the unlikely Daniel Craig took the lead role and the entire goddamn thing was overhauled for the better. Unbelievable stunts turned into realistic action, unlikely gadgets turned into credible devices, and a robotic icon was finally turned into a flesh-and-blood character.

To this date, “Casino Royale” might be my favorite action movie (though the two last “M:I” movies are right up there). The plotting was elegant, the characterizations profound, the acting layered, and the action scenes incredible (parkeur through the construction site never stops being exciting). “Quantum of Solace” was a step back, but it remained in the same elevated league as its predecessor. As far as “Skyfall”, the newest Bond story that also marks the character’s 50th anniversary in film, I’m glad to say that it’s comparable and in some ways superior to “Casino Royale”.

After the very exciting and cleverly framed introductory action scene came the single best opening credits I’ve seen in a Bond movie (even cooler than “Casino Royale” with Chris Cornell rocking hardcore). This title sequence played under a great old school song by “I’m more romantically resentful than Taylor Swift” Adele, was visually striking, beautifully grim and resonant—I want to watch it again right now.

Perhaps the biggest problem I had with “Skyfall” involved the pacing. The story being told here doesn’t warrant its length, and at times seemed to plod through needlessly extensive scenes that would've benefited from some "Cutting Tool" action in the editing room. However, when the narrative kicked into gear and the plot moved forward, it did a great job at making me forget just how long the movie was. After some dead air during the first act, “Skyfall” picked up, and didn’t stop until the lengthy but consistently exciting climax. I do have to also say that some big questions that I thought needed answers remained big huge question marks by the end, and that felt perhaps a bit lazy.

There’s something very unique in “Skyfall” I don’t remember seeing in any other Bond movie, and it involves the villain and, more importantly, the stakes at play. This isn’t a villain who’s planning to launch missiles, destroy cities, send countries to bankruptcy or cause wars. What the villain here wants is something far more intimate and personal for Bond, and I do think this is the time I’ve been the most invested in a Bond story—I really, really, really wanted the villain to fail. In general terms, the sense of drama and tension is upped a notch, making it one of the most dramatic Bond movies of the lot, if not the most.

Speaking of the villain, this is one of the terms in which “Skyfall” is superior to “Casino Royale”. Javier Bardem’s portrayal of the flamboyant and batshit-crazy Silva was the right amounts of hammy and serious to be both terrifying and fun to watch. There’s a scene near the very end that creeped the perfect blue hell out of me. There was a plot point/twist involving Silva’s plan that bothered me because of its typicality—I won’t spoil it, but it disappointed me that an otherwise well written character was also part of an overused narrative scheme. Luckily this twist passed by as the plot redirected itself towards the climax, and much like the movie, I forgot about it.

“Skyfall” is unique, even if in very subtle ways; it feels like an “end of an era” with the promised beginning of a new one—almost like a finale that isn’t quite that. Throughout the entire film, the theme of Bond’s past, present and future in MI6 is constantly discussed, beginning a transformative journey for Bond and preparing him for whatever lies ahead. Similar to the tragic ending of “Casino Royale”, new aspects of Bond—as a character—are revealed, making him far more endearing and complex and further removing him from the two-dimensional icon of the pre-Craig era.

Because of the theme at hand, the movie isn’t completely sure of what side of Bond it wants to stand on, though, and feels a bit inconsistent because of it. While sometimes it openly rejects “the old ways” (gadgets, cars, girls, stunts), it also sometimes embraces precisely those things. The entire movie is not only a great action film, but also a clever commentary on the current state of the series, ensuring us that it’s nowhere near over. Thank Fenrir for that.

I just hope that the roles established in this one stick around, because Bardem wasn’t the only winner in this all-star cast. Daniel Craig was born to play this role and he adds layers of depth to Bond we didn’t even see in “Casino Royale”. Judy Dench remains imposing and incredibly likable as M, and we see her actually be a character here, facing her own dramatic arcs instead of just being the boss archetype. Ralph Fiennes is one of my favorite actors of all time and though his role isn’t as substantial here as I wished it would be, he just kicks ass. We even get a cameo from a very popular British actress I won’t spoil.

Director Sam Mendes does a brilliant job behind the camera, working with his DP to create a remarkably rich movie in terms of visuals. The scenes leading up to the climax, which take place in a beautifully bleak moor in Scotland, were amazing. One particular shot that took place underwater made me hold my breath. Mendes also had a great eye for action and framed some pretty well choreographed fights that were exciting, even though they never quite measured up to what was achieved in “Casino Royale”. I do have to say that some of Bond’s stunts (one of which involved an elevator) did wander dangerously close to Pierce Brosnan territory in that they were both unrealistic and unnecessary.

“Skyfall” amounts to a great movie-going experience in itself, and also as a reward for Bond fans. It proves that the James Bond franchise has big ambitions, talent backing them up, and a whole lot of steam left. “Skyfall” is also a commentary on the legendary franchise’s past and future—think: a checkpoint—but the cool thing is that even if you’re not interested in that metafictional stuff, you still get an exciting and robust (I want to use the word "formidable") movie filled with action, a sense of humor, and drama.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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