Never before have I been so excited to see a James Bond movie than I was going into Skyfall. On my “Most Anticipated Movies of 2012” list that I never finished, it ranked #5, behind The Avengers and ahead of Django Unchained. The reasons for this anticipation? 1. I think both of Daniel Craig‘s Bond flicks thus far have been insanely awesome. 2. Sam Mendes is the director (bringing with him his amazing behind-the-camera collaborators). Finally, 3. The incredible cast; in addition to Craig and Judi Dench returning as M, the additions of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and none other than Javier Bardem as the main villain had me salivating. This was shaping up to be one hell of a ride, and the rare action movie that might also qualify as “one of the best movies of the year” material. That was the potential I saw. Then we learned this summer that none other than Adele would be performing the theme song, and that just sealed the deal. This was going to be incredible, no doubt about it, best Bond movie ever. Guaranteed. It seems no matter how old I get, I refuse to cease putting absurd expectations on certain projects. One of these days, I’ll learn my lesson. Or not.
I don’t exactly have a long history with 007. As much as I adore the most recent Bond films, I can’t say that I call myself a diehard Bond fan. Truthfully, my first real exposure to the series was the Pierce Brosnan Bond flicks, which I always enjoyed, but never really loved. It wasn’t until Casino Royale in 2006 that I really fell in love with Bond. Daniel Craig immediately took ownership over the role, and I think all 3 of these most recent films are better than any of the Brosnan movies. Though again, I did like Brosnan as Bond. I will never understand the Haterade people seem to chug before they talk about Quantum of Solace, though. No, it isn’t as good as Casino Royale, but it sure as hell isn’t bad. I just want it on the record that I love Quantum of Solace. Come at me, broheim.
That said, I am ashamed to say that I haven’t seen ANY of the pre-Brosnan Bond movies, and that’s something I know I need to rectify soon. However, at this point, I can’t envision a scenario where I’m going to think Sean Connery was better in the role. We’ll see.
So where does the reality of Skyfall stack up against my ridonculous hopes and dreams? Well, like many other big 2012 movies, Skyfall is really good, but it wasn’t everything I wanted. And that’s okay, I guess. There’s still plenty to love about the movie, but I was inspired to write this review because I wanted to take note of some of the things that disappointed me and place them in proper context.
Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD. This review is not meant to convince you to see it or not see it. As I write this, the movie has been out for 5 weeks now. If you wanted to see it, you’ve already seen it. If you’re still on the fence at this point, I don’t care. Needless to say, I think everyone should see it. There’s your flippin recommendation. This is meant to be more of a discussion starter for people who have seen the movie and may or may not agree with me. If you don’t want to know what happens, this is 4,000+ words you ought not read. Let us begin…
WHAT I LIKED
–The opening action sequence. And of course Bond fixing his cufflink after jumping into the train has to immediately go down as one of the best moments in any Bond film. I thought the stunts were cool and the action was engaging. I like the 1v1 fist fight on top of the moving train, and I like that M has to give the order to shoot, knowing it may very well result in Bond being hit. Then, once she hears “Agent down.” over the comm, I love the reaction shot of her silently going over to the window in solemn reflection as the sound of the rain outside gets louder, transitioning to the sound of the river Bond’s body is floating down. Beautifully done.
Like a mothafuckin boss.
And of course, this opening scene leads us straight into…
–Adele’s song and the opening credits. Love love love it. Simple as that. My iPod says I’ve listened to the song 25 times, but that’s only the times I let it play to the very end. The more accurate number is probably 40 or so. I adore it. If this doesn’t get nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, AMPAS will officially be dead to me. Of course, the opening titles sequence to any Bond movie is usually pretty awesome, and this was no exception. I still think the opening to Casino Royale is my favorite of the 7 I’ve seen, but this one is right up there. The tradition of the extended opening titles sequence is a big part of what makes the Bond franchise so great…you know there are certain things you can expect every time out. I wish more big-name franchises would take note of this.
Here’s a pretty decent bootleg of the opening titles:
–Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 (had to use the official wording as seen in the opening titles). Once again, he kills it. It’s not often an action role gives an actor opportunity to showcase their dramatic talents, but Craig’s acting in these 3 movies has been spectacular, not to mention his comedic timing. With this film in particular, Bond finally feels like he’s at least close to being a three-dimensional human being, and revelations about his past are key plot points, which I believe is new to the series. I love how he’s a proud patriot, and clearly places service to country above all else in his life. This guy is nothing without his job, as we see very early in the film. That kind of patriotic zeal is extremely unpopular in modern action movies (for a variety of reasons, chief among them the fact that studios want more and more to appeal to an international audience with these blockbusters), and it’s nice to see a bit of it return. The final scene of the movie is perhaps the best example of this, and I love the final lines of dialogue, when Ralph Fiennes’ M asks if Bond is ready to get back to work, to which Bond replies without hesitation, “With pleasure, M. With pleasure.” Cut to black. Perfect. Good news for us; earlier this year, Craig signed on for 2 more Bond movies, so we’ll have at least 5 total before he hands the reigns to someone else.
Let it also be said that Craig’s physique in these movies is pretty much my exact goal in life. Not too slim, not overly muscular. I’m not sure any man in any other movie has looked as good in a suit or tuxedo as Daniel Craig has as James Bond. Serious man crush. And inspiration to keep up the hard work in the gym.
–The key supporting players; Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris. As always, Dench brings Morgan Freeman-level gravitas to the role of M, and while it’s sad that she’ll obviously not be returning for Bond 24, she’s had a damned good run, appearing in the last 7 Bond movies over the span of 17 years now (yes, Goldeneye is that old). This is easily her best performance in the role. Fiennes ought to fill in nicely as her replacement going forward, and I like his interactions with Dench and Craig throughout this film. He’s a bureaucrat with a field agent’s heart, and that should prove an interesting combination moving ahead. Similarly, the revelation at the end of the film that Naomie Harris will serve as the new Moneypenny was also very cool. I like the sexual tension between she and Bond, and that she’ll always be the one woman he can’t seduce with his charms alone. I always enjoyed the Moneypenny scenes in Brosnan’s movies, and they should continue to be really fun with Daniel Craig as well. A lot of female critics are up in arms that she so readily accepts a desk job over trying to get back into the action, but tough shit. These are established characters, and Bond doesn’t have a partner in the field, male or female. Deal with it. It’s also worth mentioning that Rory Kinnear is also really good here as M’s assistant, Tanner. He first appeared in Quantum of Solace, and I hope they continue to bring him back as well.
–Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva. Although I had some serious issues with the logic and execution of Silva’s schemes (which we’ll get into below), like most people I absolutely loved Bardem in the role. The first encounter between Silva and Bond is a tour de force acting battle, and Silva’s sexual ambiguity in the scene made it doubly interesting. One wonders why he needed to clear out an entire island just to use one building to house his large computer room (complete with an elevator for dramatic entrances!), when someone with his skill and resources could have set that up literally anywhere. Also, wouldn’t it make the news that an entire island of thousands of people was abandoned out of fear of a chemical leak of some sort? That’s sort of a big deal. These refugees turned up in other places and nobody wondered what the hell was going on? Aye vai. Anywho, I love Bardem’s performance as Silva, but I wasn’t crazy about the character itself. Again, much more on that to come.
Awkward, but great.
–007 meets the new Q, Ben Whishaw. Could this scene, quietly set in an art museum, have been written, acted or shot any better? I think not. I look forward to seeing Whishaw as Q for many Bonds to come. Perhaps Skyfall‘s greatest accomplishment was establishing this stable group of actors and characters for future films. Pretty much the only person they’ll have to cast for Bond 24 is the villain! Anyway, here’s the best exchange between Bond & Q:
Q: “I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.”
Bond: “So why do you need me?”
Q: “Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.”
Bond: “Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas.”
-Along those lines, I need to point out how much I liked the script. Not necessarily the structure of it, but the dialogue is fantastic throughout. The writing duo of Neal Purvis & Robert Wade have been working on Bond scripts The World Is Not Enough in ’99, and this time they had the help of none other than John Logan, one of my favorite modern screenwriters. Logan wrote or co-wrote RKO 281 for HBO, Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, The Aviator, and Hugo, among others. I’m very pleased that they’ve already announced Logan will be working on the next two Bond movies as well.
–The Shanghai sequence. It’s wonderful just to look at this sequence; the colors, the shadows, the multiple walls of glass between the two men, the use of the massive LED lights running up the building. Beautiful stuff. It was cool that Bond was watching him watching other people in an adjacent building. The fist fight with Patrice is amazing, even moreso given that it’s all done in silhouette. It just worked brilliantly. And could Bérénice Marlohe have looked any more beautiful in that dress? Jesus Christmas.
O, HAI. I can haz kiss?
–The cinematography. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that Roger Deakins is probably the best cinematographer working today. Here’s just a few of his credits: True Grit, No Country for Old Men, A Beautiful Mind, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption. Yeah, he good. If he ain’t #1, he’s 1-a. This marks Deakins’ third collaboration with Sam Mendes, after Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. The photography throughout Skyfall is drool-worthy, particularly the colorful nighttime locations in Shanghai and all the stuff in Scotland. The shots of Bond and M driving through the Scottish countryside are breathtaking, and actually reminded me of the opening to The Shining.
While researching this review and browsing around, I randomly happened upon a couple of very interesting articles about the film’s cinematography. One is a blog post called Why Skyfall is a Master Class in Cinematography, and another is a fantastic piece at HDVideoPro that focuses more on the technical side of things. It’s worth nothing that Skyfall was shot digitally, using the ARRI ALEXA system. It’s the first Bond movie not shot on film. Apparently this was done at Deakins’ suggestion after he had a really good experience shooting digital on In Time (which, whadd’ya know, also features amazing photography).
–Thomas Newman’s score. One of the more interesting aspects of this project to nerds like me was finding out how Thomas Newman, who has scored all but one 5 of Mendes’ previous movies, would fare outside of his comfort zone. Newman is known for his brilliant dramatic scores (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, American Beauty, Road to Perdition) as well some work for Pixar (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), but prior to this had never done a pure action movie before. Newman is one of my top 5 favorite composers, but even I was skeptical he’d be able to pull this off. I suppose I should’ve known better. The score is superb. The action beats are really good, he integrates the classic Bond motifs perfectly, and we get several familiar Newman sounds throughout the film. I thought he was particularly good at scoring the big establishing shots at each new location.
It’s interesting to note that Skyfall was the first Bond movie since Goldeneye in 1995 not scored by the great British composer David Arnold. It seems Mendes was determined to bring his personal composer onboard even though Arnold’s Bond scores have always been excellent.
Here’s one of my favorite pieces from Thomas Newman’s score, called “Jellyfish”, which plays over the Shanghai sequence:
–The reveal of Bond’s old school Aston Martin DB5. Do I have to say anything else? I thought not.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
-I’m not gonna say a human being couldn’t survive that fall Bond takes at the beginning of the movie after being shot off that bridge, but…he fell a looooong way, and he appeared to land directly on his neck, which would have the same effect landing on water as it would landing on cement. Just sayin, folks. Then, to add insult to injury, his unconscious body plummets off a waterfall! Even for an action movie, this is stretching the limits of the suspension of disbelief, to put it mildly. But hey, it LOOKED amazing, didn’t it?
–It takes an awful long time for us to meet Silva. In fact, it’s a full 70 minutes before we finally see him. I can’t recall a single instance in a movie like this where the main villain is kept behind the curtain for so long. Mendes has repeatedly said how much he was influenced by The Dark Knight with regards to creating Skyfall‘s villain, but one of the most important things that movie does is introduce The Joker in the very first scene of the movie. And of course many films introduce their villain in the opening scene. The longer you wait to introduce the villain, the more impressive he has to be, and I’m not sure Louis Silva and his absurd plots are worth the 70-minute wait. More than once during my first viewing, I thought to myself, “Where in the blue fuck is Javier Bardem?!” as if I had been watching an alternate cut of the movie where he had been removed.
“It’s true, my plan is ridiculous.”
–Silva escapes and Bond chases him underground. This is the one extended sequence where the filmmakers most tried to make Skyfall feel like The Dark Knight, and unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me. And by “didn’t quite work for me”, I mean it didn’t work at all. My problem with it is that the entire scene relies too heavily on coincidental moments, ludicrous advanced planning by the villains (the whole “bad guy gets caught on purpose to set in motion his master plan” angle, which is becoming cliché at this point), and on Silva’s poor marksmanship, which apparently was reduced by 75% when he left that island (you know, where he headshots Sévérine from 50 yards with a 19th century pistol). You will never see worse aim by current and former secret agents and trained henchmen as you do in that government chamber during the shootout at the M hearings.
Speaking of Silva’s escape…why does MI6 have this massive, elaborate glass enclosure for supervillains at their secondary underground facility? I like the scene between M and Silva, but his cell looked more like something you’d keep Hannibal Lecter in than ex-MI6 rogue agents. Actually, it reminded me a lot of the cage where they hold Loki in The Avengers. Again, it looks nice onscreen, but why would they build that instead of a few holding cells? I’m just asking the questions. I clearly don’t have the answers.
Of course, once Silva escapes the glass cage of emotion, and prior to his botched attempt to murder M, he’s strolling through the London
subway tube terminal in his prisoner garb, and POOF! Wouldn’t ya know it? Two of his henchmen are walking through at that exact moment, ready to sneakily hand him a police uniform so he can blend in and continue his escape. How did he communicate with these guys to get this timing right, exactly?
And you’re telling me Silva, this world-class hacker who can remotely cause a massive explosion at MI6, the most secure location in London- this guy couldn’t simply find out M’s address and kill her at her apartment?! We’ve already been shown in the film that she doesn’t have security with her once she gets home. How does he not take advantage of that? A drunk, disheveled James Bond can sneak into her place and lurk in the shadows, but not Silva? I realize that wouldn’t be as dramatic cinematically, but when you set up these convoluted plots, people like me can’t help but come up with simpler, alternative ways the villain could have succeeded. And if I could think of it, why couldn’t Silva?
Finally, the most ridiculous moment in this sequence is the amazing timing and logistics of Silva’s runaway train. Let’s get this straight; Silva knew exactly where they’d be holding him at MI6’s backup lair. Check. Knowing this, he plans an escape route through the sewers and subways underneath it. Alllright. Then, he presumes Bond, his chief rival, will be the one coming after him, and, knowing that, he rigged a section of the subway to explode so a train would come crashing through the ceiling and kill him?! Well how does he know a train will come along at the precise instant Bond is standing underneath where the explosives are placed? Or does he have a train launcher ready to fire at a moment’s notice? In the gentle words of Lil’ Jon, WWWWWWHHHAT? No matter the explanation, it’s beyond ridiculous.
Compared to Silva’s plan, Bane‘s highfalutin schemes in The Dark Knight Rises seem downright plausible.
This long sequence is essentially the most important set piece in the entire film, bridging the first two-thirds of the movie to the final showdown at Skyfall, and it makes almost no sense at all if you have a brain. It singlehandedly prevents a really good film from being great. That is why I spent this much time breaking it down.
–The Severine character. To be clear, I thought Bérénice Marlohe was really good in the role, and of course she is 10 levels beyond beautiful. The problem is that the role was paper thin, and she didn’t have all that much to work with. When she gets killed by Silva in that plaza, I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be shocking and show how evil Silva was and force the audience to feel something, but I felt nothing, and I’m pretty sure I speak for 100% of Skyfall audiences when I say that. At first I didn’t even realize he’d killed her, because of the awkward transition when he fires, and then it cuts straight to a shot of her feet and the glass hitting the ground. I realize it’s PG-13, but show something.
-Prior to that, Bond sends out his distress call as the yacht is nearing the island, and a couple hours later (at most) a squadron of British helicopters arrives at the island, which is somewhere off the coast of Asia. Mmkay. And of course they show up one instant after Bond delivers his punchline to Silva about not being alone! Woot!
–The Komodo dragon scene. I like the buildup in the casino and the scene at the bar between Bond and Severine. I especially liked the moment where Bond acknowledges the henchmen by raising his glass to them (a brilliant shot in and of itself from an angle with Bond’s back turned to the camera). Problem is, the fight itself in the pit is kinda lame, and it was amusing that as the dragon drags away the baddie and Bond escapes, nobody above seems to bat an eyelash at the fact that someone is screaming and being eaten under their feet. Perhaps this is a regular occurrence there, like people getting dumped into the Rancor pit in Jabba‘s palace. An occupational hazard.
–Certain aspects of the grand finale. While not as egregious as the escape sequence, I had some problems with it. I do like that it’s a more intimate battle instead of another long chase through the city streets, and I like that “Skyfall” ends up being Bond’s childhood home. That’s cool. The location (in that wide open space) was incredible, and if they built that house from scratch, it’s even more impressive. What I didn’t like was Bond and M and Kincade (Albert Finney in a very small, but good role) having to booby trap the house for the incoming invaders like this was a spinoff of Home Alone with Macaulay Culkin growing up to be 007. I remember whispering to both the friends I saw it with during my first viewing, “Home Alone: James Bond Edition” or something to that effect. It was borderline laughable. Then of course, the hapless random mercenary thugs, who apparently have military backgrounds but zero military training, fall into each of these traps exactly as expected. At least in Home Alone, Harry & Marv eventually catch on.
I could also quibble with Silva locating M & Kincade escaping through the fields because of Kincade’s nuclear flashlight (which they really shouldn’t need given the fact that the massive house explosion and resulting fire has lit the entire area as though it were daylight). Or the fact that when Silva & his lone remaining henchman have Bond dead to rights on that sheet of ice (seriously, two guys with guns against one guy with no gun), Silva chooses to talk some more shit instead of simply shooting him (though his line is funny: “You see what comes of all this running around, Mr. Bond? All this jumping and fighting…it’s exhausting.”), which results in Bond taking advantage of the delay and overpowering the henchman.
And that’s really it. These flawed scenes, if done as well some any of the other great scenes in the film, would have easily made Skyfall the best Bond movie I’ve yet seen. But because they didn’t nail these moments, especially the pivotal Silva escape sequence, Silva suffers as a villain and the movie suffers as a whole. As such, I have to say that as much as I enjoyed the film, it’s still a disappointment based on what it could have been with the talent involved. It’s actually very similar to Dark Knight Rises in that regard. I still love that movie for everything it does right, but the dozens of plot holes hold it back from being the masterpiece I was expecting.
However, make no mistake, I really liked the movie. I saw it twice in theaters and will buy it on Blu-ray when it comes out. There’s a lot more to like than dislike. A lot more. It’s the first Bond movie I’ve seen where you can see the director’s fingerprints all over it. I hope this is the beginning of a trend instead of an anomaly, and the producers allow more visionary filmmakers to tackle the series, as opposed to the directors-for-hire they usually bring onboard. Daniel Craig will return as James Bond in 2014, and that can’t come soon enough for me.
Skyfall – PG-13 – 143 minutes
IMDb rating: 7/10
UPDATE: Congratulations are in order for Team Skyfall. As I write this, the film is in its sixth week of release, and has grossed a massive $924 million worldwide, easily the best-ever in the Bond series. It will likely cross the billion-dollar mark worldwide and come pretty darn close to $300 million in North America. As Box Office Mojo wrote, “This is a great example of strong franchise management: by bringing in a quality director (Sam Mendes) and allowing plenty of time for script rewrites (due in no small part to MGM’s bankruptcy issues), the end product wound up delighting audiences in such a way that word-of-mouth was and continues to be very enthusiastic.” Skyfall is now the most successful film in box office history in the UK, bigger than Avatar, bigger than all the Harry Potter movies. That’s pretty damn impressive.
With the news that Daniel Craig has signed an extension to do 2 more films, and the producers declaring the next one will arrive in 2014, the biggest question now obviously becomes Who should direct Bond 24? Many famous Hollywood directors have expressed their interest in directing a Bond film over the years, with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino among those names. However, the big name Bond fan I’m most interested in seeing get his shot at the franchise is none other than Christopher Nolan, who has frequently said how big a fan he is of the series. It just so happens Nolan has a hole in his schedule, and is uncommitted to his next movie. It’s time for the producers to get on this. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having Sam Mendes back, either, but that’s highly unlikely.
Mendes and Craig on set.
Here are a few other names I’d like to see thrown into the hat for consideration: Danny Boyle, Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna), Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and he already worked with Craig on Layer Cake), Guy Ritchie (though he couldn’t do the usual Ritchie super-stylized approach, it would still be cool), David Yates, Paul Greengrass, Antoine Fuqua, Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), Roland Emmerich. And Michael Bay!!! (just kidding)