A film review by Craig J. Koban November 16, 2012


2012, PG-13, 143 mins.

James Bond: Daniel Craig / M: Judi Dench / Silva: Javier Bardem / Mallory: Ralph Fiennes / Eve: Naomie Harris / Q: Ben Whishaw / Kincade: Albert Finney

Directed by Sam Mendes / Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, based on Ian Fleming’s characters.

2006’s CASINO ROYALE introduced a newly – and more than satisfyingly - retooled James Bond for the new millennium, one that seemed to be much more akin to author Ian Fleming’s original conception of the British secret agent as a ruthless, determined, and steely eyed blunt-force instrument.  Daniel Craig - virtually an unknown entity at the time of his casting as the sixth actor to play 007 – triumphantly emerged as the perfect embodiment of what Fleming envisioned.  Seemingly made of granite, no-nonsense, tough as nails, and refreshingly lacking the campy irreverence of so many of the cinematic Bonds of yesteryear, Craig’s Bond was a most welcome sight for sore eyes to many fans of the series. 

After such an auspicious introduction, I found that Craig’s Bond was almost wasted in the forgettable, misguided, and nearly disposable follow-up, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which failed to capitalize on all of the series-revitalizing good will that CASINO ROYALE had so confidently established.  Thankfully, the $200 million budgeted SKYFALL - the long gestating 23rd Bond movie adventure, held back from release due to years of financial troubles with MGM – is a successful return to form for the series and one that thankfully does not squander what Craig has done with the iconic role.  More than anything, SKYFALL arguably cements Craig as the defining Bond of the movies, something that cannot be said about the previous actors portraying the character since the heyday of Sean Connery. 

Like all great Bond films of old, SKYFALL traverses the world (from Turkey to London to Shanghai to Macao to Scotland) and opens with one of those rousing, wickedly over-the-top, and deliriously fun pre-title-cards action sequences.  During it we see Craig’s Bond teamed up with another MI6 agent, Eve (Naomi Harris) in pursuit of a mercenary in Turkey that has a stolen hard drive that contains details of nearly every NATO agent in terrorist organizations.  Their pursuit culminates with Bond chasing his prey on a moving train that involves him utilizing– among other things – a Caterpillar to stop the merc from escaping.  Eve sees all the chaos through her sniper riffle, during which Head of British Secret Intelligence, M (Judi Dench), orders her to take a shot that may or may not kill Bond in the process.  Eve takes the shot, hits Bond, and he then goes missing in action, presumed dead. 



But of course he’s not dead.  After reuniting with M, Bond rejoins MI6, albeit in less than stellar physical and mental condition.  M and her new boss, Gareth Mallory (the always smooth talking Ralph Fiennes) orders Bond back to active service (which he may not be precisely ready for after his shaky sabbatical) and sends him of a mission across the world in search of that pesky NATO hard drive.  Predictably, Bond finds himself geared up with high tech gadgets provided by a much younger and snarky Q (Ben Whishaw, whom was so terrific in the recent CLOUD ATLAS) and later crosses paths with an exotic beauty - a sex-slave named Severine (the smoky-eyed Bernice Marlohe) - with ties to the nefarious mastermind behind everything.  Bond does manage to infiltrate the bad guy’s lair, so to speak, and comes face-to-face with him, an underground cyber terrorist named Silva (Javier Bardem) who seems just as egomaniacal as every other Bond villain from the past, but this time has far more intimate and personal reasons for wanting to make Bond’s life – and that of another at MI6 – a living hell. 

Incredibly, SKYFALL is the very first Bond film directed by an Oscar winner, in this case Sam Mendes, who previously worked with Daniel Craig on ROAD TO PERDITION.  The change of filmmakers from Marc Foster (a good director that was in over his head with QUANTUM OF SOLACE) to Mendes can immediately be felt, as the latter’s overall stylistic approach to action has a more graceful clarity (gone are the spastic editing and frenetic camera work that plagued Foster’s style from Bond 22).  Mendes’ greatest artistic coup was to nab Roger Deakins as his DP, who previously worked with him on JARHEAD and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD.  Their collaboration results in the most exquisitely and forebodingly beautiful looking Bond film in an awfully long time.  The visual tapestry of SKYFALL hits its zenith during a masterfully envisioned shoot-out atop of a Shanghai high-rise with its neon-drenched skyline in the background and during a scene at a Macau casino that glows with rich golden hues.  SKYFALL is a masterpiece of strong and evocative location shooting and elegant cinematography. 

Mendes is an actor’s director on top of being a superlative stylist and he gets great performances from the cast.  Little needs to be embellished about Craig, only that he now seems about as focused, secure, and composed in the role as he ever will be; he's still the most aggressively intimidating of all the Bond actors while, at the same time, eliciting a low key vulnerability that few others have mustered.  Dench’s M still remains a delight (not many actresses can convey poker-faced authority as easily as she does) and Fiennes lends even more austerity and class to an already classy ensemble.   The real standout, though, is Bardem’s haunting – yet deliciously playful – turn as Silva, who’s an outwardly well tailored and coiffed villain that harbors deep wounds – in more ways than one - from a failed suicide attempt with a cyanide capsule.  Silva takes great glee in bombing prominent London locales and releasing the names of top-secret government agents in deep cover on You Tube, which more than echoes Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.  After Bond 22’s uninspired and non-threatening villain (who wanted to cause droughts in Bolivia…yawn), Silva harkens back to the types of classical antagonists of sinister menace that this series is known for. 

SKYFALL does, however, suffer from some aesthetic hiccups, especially when its running time is concerned.  After the explosive opening scene, it takes the film a terribly long time to develop and nurture what essentially is a simplistic revenge plot (and one that hardly warrants a near two and a half hour running time).  Although the emphasis on building the complex relationship between Bond and M is welcome here (which does manage to evoke a new and uncharted dynamic for the pair), it nonetheless segues into a muddled and tacked on third act that tries to explore Bond’s troubled childhood pains, something that should have been explored with more attention and complexity in a whole other film altogether.   Maybe there are also a bit too many obligatory shoot-outs, obligatory stand-offs, obligatory Bond-is-easily-captured and then more-easily-escapes sequences for the film’s own good.  A final climatic showdown in a Scottish ancestral home (I won’t say more) seems more underwhelmingly low-key and more akin to STRAW DOGS than it does the globetrotting exploits of a super secret agent. 

SKYFALL has been getting a lot of press lately for being the second coming of the Bond film cannon and the “best in the series” in decades, which seems not only a bit hasty and hyperbolic, but also short-sighted (CASINO ROYALE, anyone?).  There is no doubt that Craig has now fully invested and matured into the legendary role and has fully made it his own.  The addition of Mendes quarterbacking the whole enterprise also gives this Bond entry a level of visual sophistication and panache that has not been seen before in many past Bond adventures.  The action scenes are crisp, taut, and dazzlingly rendered.  The ending of the film hits a tragic note that echoes the despair of one of the best and underrated Bond films, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE.  The performances are top notch and we have a great and memorable villain.  Yet, SKYFALL is a bit too overly long and meandering in its plot to be considered in the same company of the greatest of the series.  It’s the lesser film to CASINO ROYALE, but world’s apart better than QUANTUM OF SOLACE, and Craig has found his groove towards becoming, I would suggest, the greatest of all cinematic Bonds.  

Watch out, Connery fundamentalists. 

  H O M E