CAST: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory
RUNNING TIME: 143 mins
BASICALLY…: James Bond (Craig) investigates an attack on MI6 by Silva (Bardem), who seeks revenge on Bond’s superior M (Dench)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November April, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, it’s time to look at the most acclaimed Bond movie of the 21st century thus far, which also commemorated 50 years since the secret agent’s debut in Dr. No. Audiences and critics alike heaped their praises on Skyfall when it first came out, making it the first in the series to not just make over $1 billion worldwide at the box office but also win more than one Oscar at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony (it was even seriously considered as a Best Picture contender at the time; even though it wasn’t nominated, the fact that a Bond movie could enter that kind of conversation at all is a staggering achievement).
However, in more recent years, the film has generated a bit of a backlash from people online, probably due to the immense popularity it received. As with anything that becomes a massive success, there was always bound to be a small minority who would harp on and on about its criticisms in order to remind others of how it isn’t as perfect as they think: “the direction’s flat,” they say; “Bond’s a secondary character”, they’ll preach; “Bond bangs that girl who was once sold into a sex trade at an early age,” they try to shock you with.
Just to be clear, I do not agree with those people – in my opinion, Skyfall was awesome in 2012, and it’s still awesome to this day – but I think it is interesting to look at a different point of view on a film that is otherwise universally adored, even if they don’t align with my own thoughts.
But for now, let’s break down why Skyfall is a hell of a ride: for one, it’s a much more intimate storyline than we’re used to, even if Daniel Craig’s Bond isn’t the primary focus this time round. Instead, the plot revolves around Judi Dench’s M, who becomes the target of former agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who he feels betrayed him many years ago. For Bond, it’s not as simple either; he’s just returned to the field after going AWOL following a mission gone wrong, and he’s having a few trust issues of his own with his superior; nonetheless, ever the professional he travels across the world to Shanghai and Macau to locate the list of known field operatives that had been stolen by Silva, eventually coming into contact with him and unwittingly playing into his deceitful game of revenge.
Certain Bond trademarks make their return here after a two-film absence, including a brand-new Q played by Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris takes the role of Moneypenny, and even Bond’s old Aston Martin DB5 makes a crowd-pleasing appearance in the final act. They form part of what Skyfall does best; combining the very best elements from Bond’s past with a newer and slicker tech-driven society, all while making the transitions feel natural and giving them enough firepower to ensure a long and healthy life in today’s world. It’s a monumental task for any filmmaker to both honour the past and tease the exciting future, all while delivering a strong standalone action adventure, but Sam Mendes proves to be a formidable choice to maintain the balance between nostalgia and homage, without once slipping into parody as Die Another Day did ten years prior. He and his regular cinematographer Roger Deakins also put in extra effort to make this by far the best-looking of the James Bond series, with beautiful uses of lighting and composition giving it a real epic feeling for the first time in this collection of films; the climactic showdown at the venue of the title alone is a gorgeous palette of colour and silhouettes which deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible to fully appreciate it.
While Craig’s Bond is certainly more of a passive observer in this film, with much of the film’s drama and intrigue coming from a magnificent Judi Dench in her most fleshed out role as M yet, as well as a very sinister Javier Bardem (who somehow makes his character’s flamboyancy utterly terrifying in some scenes), his rendition is perfect for this kind of entry, which opts for a quieter but no less tough-as-nails tone that knows when to turn the action dial up and down whenever it’s required. Craig, who continues to be one of the most interesting portrayals of Bond yet on film, is given the opportunity to make his character feel a bit more human than he’s been allowed to so far – which, coming after the mess of Quantum of Solace, feels like a breath of fresh air – with brief moments of light relief to clear some of the tension he gives from his steely face alone (an oft-overlooked reaction to a Komodo dragon is one of these), but you do always sense the troubled young boy he once was is still somewhere in there, especially as we find out a little bit more about his backstory during the third act. The next film would dive a little more into Bond’s past – though some would say a little too far, but let’s save that for next week – but at the time, this was the closest we ever got to envisioning James Bond before he even considered joining the secret service, one of the many things that audiences everywhere found fascinating.
Returning to the backlash that the film has received more recently, while I don’t necessarily agree with most of them I do think it’s worth looking at why it’s been as dogged on as it has. Its overwhelming popularity could have had something to do with it – because, again, people like to hate on things that are popular within the public consciousness – but my personal belief is that a lot of it stems from the film’s decision to play around with the usual formula. While the film certainly follows some familiar beats, it takes a radical turn about halfway through which largely nixes the international action in favour of something much more homegrown, and for a film meant to celebrate a series’ 50th anniversary some might have felt that it didn’t go all out like it should have. To that, I say: we already had a commemorative Bond film that went all out ten years prior to this, and look how well that turned out. By taking a more radical approach and actually spicing up the formula somewhat, it makes things far more exciting and thrilling than Die Another Day ever was, because it manages to do the impossible with a half-century old franchise and make it feel brand new once more. It celebrates the very best qualities of Bond whilst also doing its own thing, and it does a masterful job at keeping things consistently entertaining while also paying great respect to what came before it as well as paving the way for the future.
For those reasons and more, this is probably my favourite James Bond movie; it makes an old boy like James Bond feel like a fresh young face again, who has come a long, long way since his iconic introduction in Dr. No.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Skyfall is a masterful commemoration of the series’ 50th anniversary which combines the very best elements of past films with a braver, newer attitude that firmly brings the series into a new era where it feels even grander and more epic than ever before.