A film review by Craig J. Koban November 16, 2012
2012, PG-13, 143 mins.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.