Directed By: Sam Mendes
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Produced By: Michael G Wilson & Barbara Broccoli
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris
Edited By: Stuart Baird
Music By: Thomas Newman
Distributed By: MGM & Columbia Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Runtime: 143 minutes
Simply put, Skyfall is an excellent film that I would encourage everyone to see. Most people expect something great from a Sam Mendes directed Bond with an Oscar winning actor playing the villain, and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s emotional, it’s intense, it immensely entertaining. Skyfall has most everything I want out of a James Bond film in the post-9/11 world we live in, and I hope that future installments continue to lean more Casino Royale than Quantum of Solace.
–This review contains MILD spoilers–
There was a lot of mystery surrounding the latest installment in the James Bond franchise, it’s 50th anniversary. We knew the cast, but everyone speculated whether Naomi Harris’ “Eve” would end up being Moneypenny and what sort of role Mendes would cast the brilliant Ralph Fiennes in (one can never let an actor of his caliber go to waste). The all too brief plot synopsis seemed to suggest a very Judi Dench-M focused storyline, intriguing but mysterious as the film is not based on any substantial Ian Fleming material. In the end, everything ends up being great, and a lot of it comes down, oddly enough, to Mendes and company deciding to write an original story. There was a lot of worry when MGM went bankrupt that the Bond franchise would die, but Mendes has said the troubles ended up a good thing because it allowed them to keep working on the screenplay.
All of the extra time paid off in a film with high production value, impressive visuals, and a solid script. The story does, indeed, revolve around M and one of her former agents coming back for revenge. It speaks a lot to Bond’s character, of course; Craig has aged over the last five years. He’s not as fit or fast as he use to be, but for some reason M still likes him. Silva, Bardem’s character, experienced the opposite when M left him for dead, and it left a very lasting impression on his psychology. This Bond is a much darker Bond. A lot of people have compared it to The Dark Knight both in style and story structure, and it’s hard to deny the influence. The second act climax is Silva intentionally getting captured only to escape and cause mayhem in his attempt to murder M; very similar to the Joker’s arrest and subsequent escape. In fact, the only major difference in structure I see is that Skyfall is very much a three-act story compared to Nolan’s tendency to write four or five-act pieces.
Just like Bruce Wayne, Bond wonders how long he can keep on doing this. These spy games are meant for younger men, as exemplified in the new Q who has a pleasant and enjoyable amount of screen time. I’d expect a lot from Q in future installments, or at least the next two that Craig has already signed on for. Yet, as Q points out, sometimes you need someone to pull a trigger, and Bond remains rather good at that. Along with fist fighting assassins hundreds of stories in the air or, when one runs out of bullets, knowing how to throw a good knife. Skyfall is not as much a character study of Bond as Casino, but it certainly does a better job than Quantum and the use of Bond’s childhood home is well played. I’d also like to point out that the subsequent destruction of said home is one of the greatest explosions I’ve seen on film, made even better by the IMAX experience.
This is just one of those films that is all around extremely well made yet entertaining. Sam Mendes knows his craft. Newman’s score never takes over but you always know its there in the back of your mind, and he does an excellent job of using the Bond theme; something the first two Craig films were somewhat lacking on. The cinematography is beautiful. Usually employed by the Coen brothers, this is Roger Deakins’ first digital film and he does an excellent job. The single-shot, blue lit Shanghai skyscraper fist fight is one of my favorite moments, along with the above mentioned explosion of Bond’s mansion. Mendes and Craig have both said that they wanted to bring back some of the classic Connery Bond elements, mostly exemplified by the Bond theme and the use of one line quips. Admittedly, Craig is better at brooder than he is at delivering punch lines, and some of them come off a bit awkwardly. I’m thinking particularly of his “in deep water” line at the end of the film. Still, it’s one of those things that you accept because it is, in the end, a Bond film. The movie is still awesome.
On a theoretical level, I think it will be interesting to see how critics and film theorists respond to Silva’s rather flamboyant characterization. I didn’t notice this when seeing the film, but a friend later brought up how Silva is an example of Hollywood vilifying homosexuality by putting Silva’s evil character I contrast to Bond’s very alpha male personality. I don’t want to make any strong social statement because I thought Bardem played a very awesome and fun to watch villain, but it raises interesting questions. Once again, the movie is still awesome.
Personally, I never had as much issue with Quantum as many colleagues. It’s campy and pure action, but I don’t mind that now and then. Still, it’s hard to deny that adding solid story to your action film isn’t a good thing. Casino is definitely more of a psychological drama, and it’s a great film, but I’ve always thought it a little lacking on the fun sides of Bond. Skyfall, I think, is the best of both worlds. It has a lot of visually impressive action (I’m going to keep coming back to the house explosion) while delivering equally a compelling human side to the killing machine that is James Bond. It’s a great film that I will certainly watch again, and I give the majority of the credit to Sam Mendes’ direction. Hopefully the rumors of his involvement with Bond 24 prove true because I, for one, am already excited for the next installment in Craig’s Bond career. There’s a lot to show about Bond’s ability to still engage audiences after all these decades; perhaps one or two things the next Star Warstrilogy could learn from.