Daniel Craig is back as James Bond in the highly-anticipated Skyfall! But will this be one of the greats within the long-running franchise or does it fall toward the bottom of the pile? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Sam Mendes Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan Runtime: 143 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
James Bond - Daniel Craig Raoul Silva - Javier Bardem M - Judi Dench Gareth Mallory - Ralph Fiennes Eve - Naomie Harris Q - Ben Whishaw Severine - Berenice Lim Marlohe Kincade - Albert Finney Bill Tanner - Rory Kinnear Claire Dowar - Helen McCrory Patrice - Ola Rapace
James Bond returns to the cinemas in 2012 with Skyfall, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the characterís movie franchise. Itís been a bit of an uncertain time in the last several years. The series was successfully rebooted with Casino Royale, but the future became hazy with the bankruptcy of Bond movie studio MGM. Thankfully, that was all resolved and we are fortunate to get actor Daniel Craig in his third Bond outing, directed by the highly acclaimed Sam Mendes.
Sadly, the set up of the Quantum organization in the last two movies Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace has been jettisoned. The issue was likely dealt with off-screen unless itís still festering. Quantim of Solace was an unfulfilling disappointment; it made some poor story choices and had a weak villain. Despite the disappointment of the writers lampshading the whole Quantum issue, Skyfall is a smaller, personal, and more focused threat. The threat is not really against the world, but really MI6. A skilled assassin Patrice (Rapace) has stolen a MacGuffin (hard drive) that has the names of all embedded and undercover agents for MI6 and NATO allies. Bond and his new partner Eve (Harris) pursue Patrice throughout Istanbul. A wounded Bond and Patrice eventually come to duel it out over the roof of a train before Eve inadvertently shoots Bond at the order of M (Dench). Bond goes MIA for several months and perhaps has finally given up the life of being a 00. Dench finds that the new owner of her MacGuffin is specifically targeting and going after M and MI6 by revealing the names of the undercover agents on the web, hacking MI6ís systems, and blowing up their home base.
Since we wouldn't have a movie otherwise, Bond ultimately comes around to resume his duty, because deep down, despite everything, Bond wants to protect M. However, Bondís body is broken down. Heís weak and off his game, clearly unfit for field duty. M is on the verge of getting sacked by the British government and is determined to retrieve the MacGuffin before any further damage is done. This smaller, more personal threat comes in the form of Raoul Silva (Bardem), a charismatic ex-agent who was groomed by M and subsequently made expendable. Silva is obsessed with M in a fashion that would make Freud drool.
This movie succeeds more than Quantum of Solace in its completion of the origin saga for Daniel Craigís rendition of James Bond. Through this story, James Bond becomes more of the James Bond whom we know. Q is reintroduced to the franchise in the form of a younger, upstart nerd in Ben Whishaw who has no problem matching wits and barbs with 007. Itís a nice bit of role reversal to see Bond exasperated by Q rather than the latter. This version of Q is a bit of a cocky, know-it-all, braniac, which is funny. As far as setting the stage for bringing Craigís Bond full circle and re-establishing his Bond-verse, it also comes in the form of two new supporting characters in Naomie Harrisí MI6 Agent Eve, and the new government security bureaucrat Gareth Mallory (Fiennes). I wonít say much else, but just looking at this paragraph you can probably figure it out. This is the direction that The Dark Knight Rises should have gone, until David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan wrote themselves into a corner with that story.
Craig does a tremendous job playing up Bondís vulnerability. As a fan of the Ian Fleming books, I was quite surprised how often Bond would find himself in situations where heís getting severely injured, beaten up, or brutalized. This is a stark contrast to the James Bond I grew up watching in the movies who would walk away from all sorts of calamities with nary a scratch. Craig plays that aspect well, and more so than any other Bond actor. Bondís much wearier in this movie. He's now a physical wreck to go along with the emotional one he was becoming in the last two movies. Craig also does well in giving us those quiet, introspective moments, allowing us a peek into the mind of a government-sanctioned killer. Fleming talked about Bond being ďan anonymous blunt instrument,Ē words that M similarly echoed in Casino Royale. The reason I never cared for the interpretations of Roger Moore and later Pierce Brosnan as Bond was because they essentially became cartoon characters. Their suits and tuxedos were their spandex costumes, and their movie plots became even campier and sillier. Craig brought Bond back to his Ian Fleming roots and it holds true here as well. Craigís Bond is not about catchphrases and gadgets. Craig is that blunt instrument that deals in an ambiguous world. These movies address that at times Bond is a bit of a heavy and what that does to a person.
Bardem is extremely entertaining as an anti-Bond or Bond doppelganger of sorts in Silva. Heís flamboyant and clearly having a good time. Bardem seems to be channeling the Joker here a little, which makes sense since Sam Mendes pretty openly talked about Christopher Nolan and his movies having a strong influence on Skyfall. This is interesting, considering Nolan is a huge Bond-phile and took many cues from Bond for his version of Batman.
The subplots with Naomie Harris and Marloheís Severine weren't very fulfilling. Knowing who Naomie Harris is playing and her history, a lot more should have come out with her character in the story. Marlohe is stunning as Severine, but her role is fairly pointless to the overall plot. Most of the Bond girls in the Craig movies have been extremely lacking since Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. However, it is amusing that the closest thing Skyfall has to a true Bond girl is Judi Dench as M. M is the most well rounded female character in the entire movie. She has the most to do, and basically fulfills the tenets of the main girl in a James Bond movie in this story. Unfortunately, itís at the cost of giving more effective storytelling for Eve and Severine.
The action sequences were all very impressive. Presentation-wise, the style is a lot closer to Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster clearly didn't know how to direct an action movie or a Bond movie, and basically had his stunt choreographers and second unit directors rip off the Jason Bourne movies' action style and aesthetic since the Jason Bourne movies were trashing Bond movies in the US at the time. Skyfall is how a Bond movie should look. Mendes pulls the camera back and lets us see the action. The set pieces are nicely and beautifully shot with a focus on action that looks real and practical, with minimal CGI and blue screen. While I enjoy the Jason Bourne movies and how they revolutionized the genre and what they brought to the table, itís nice to watch a spy thriller where you can see what is going on for once. Copying the Bourne aesthetic did not work for Quantum of Solace at all. Many films have tried unsuccessfully to do this, and they donít really understand why those movies worked with that style. There is a great sequence here where Bond pursues Silva through the London subways. It was nice to see a good chunk of a Bond movie taking place in London for a change; and not only that, but seeing Bondís frustration with dealing with the crowds and hustle and bustle of a London subway station. Q makes a humorous remark about a field agent not being used to this. How perfectly, brilliantly, ironic to see an Englander like Bond getting beaten up by a London subway which he never before has had to use in his globe-trotting adventures, seldom fraught with the issues of everyday, mundane life.
I don't know why people got so worked up about the business with Silva and Bond. It was one of the funniest moments of the movie and Bond is clearly BS-ing his way through that whole scene to play along with and humor Silva -- similar to how he was trying to get through his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Bondís reaction to Silvaís interrogation actually got one of the biggest laughs and positive reactions out of the whole movie at my screening. People who say Craig has no charm or sense of humor in the role are horrendously off. Craig has a great sense of humor; itís just more of a dry wit that perfectly fits in with the tone and style of his movies.
So now, three movies in, Craigís Bond has come full circle and reached a new status quo. From here, perhaps the real fun can finally begin in order to give Craig a proper sendoff to the character. Craig is, without hyperbole, the greatest James Bond of all time.
The 411: Skyfall is a nice return to form of what made Casino Royale work so well in exploring the psyche and persona of a government's blunt instrument. This story is a completion of the origin of Bond that started in Casino Royale and brings back more familiar Bond legacy characters to the fold. Daniel Craig is without a doubt the best James Bond performer in the history of history.