Skyfall (2012) / Action-Thriller

MPAA rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexuality, language, and smoking
Running time: 143 min.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Review published November 24, 2012

Skyfall 2012At its 23rd movie, the makers of the James Bond series know their franchise is a bit long in the tooth, now having celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Trying to keep up with newer, flashier action series has produced mixed results, such as the previous entry, Quantum of Solace, trying and failing to outdo the Bourne series at its own game.  Smartly, wiser heads saw one more direction for the series that hadn't been explored, which is that Bond (Craig, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), M (Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) , MI6 and the rest are growing a bit long in the tooth to keep up with the dangers of today's menacing, technologically savvy world, and that fresh blood and fresh ideas need to be put into the mix to thwart such things as cyber terrorists and others who can bring the world to its knees from the comforts of their own private hideaways. 

One of the things that makes James Bond a bit less exciting is his invulnerability.  He rarely gets hurt, and if he does, it's only momentary, with his aches and pains completely forgotten by the time of his next adventure (if not his next scene).  And it's hard to really get really charged up when Bond is in a battle to the death with a super-villain knowing that 007 will never die.  To counteract this somewhat, the film starts with a very well-made motorcycle action sequence across the rooftops and on top of a train across the Turkish landscape, and in which Bond appears to finally meet his demise.  Well, not really, or you wouldn't have a movie, or much of a series, but he is severely injured and so rattled by the experience, it does make him far less of an agent for the remainder of the movie.  He can't shoot straight, his stamina no longer allows him to do death-defying feats, and his confidence is cracked, if not shattered altogether.  To top it off, all of those vodka martinis have finally caught up with him, as he develops a bit of a drinking problem.

The basic plot: Shortly after Bond is out of the picture, M becomes vulnerable, as there appears to be a cyber-terrorist out to exact some sort of revenge on her, threatening to out 5 secret agents a week on the internet, leaving them likely to die once their covers are blown.  Turns out that the culprit is a former agent left for dead named Silva (Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), blaming M for the predicament that left him a shambles.  He particularly despises Bond for being the 'favorite son' of the motherly figure.  Once Bond returns, it's a game of two cats and a mouse, with M being the rodent, while the two cats, Bond and Silva, fight it out as protector and assassin, respectively.

The third Daniel Craig Bond sees a continuation of the darker Bond movies, and at times it actually feels reminiscent to, dare I say, a mash of the Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.  It's like HP, not only due to its stellar (mostly) British cast, but also its use of landscapes, secret passageways, sweeping camerawork (thankfully, the shaky-cam action of Quantum is jettisoned), and its underlying themes of an young man trained by wiser 'wizards' to be the best special agent he could be.  Coincidence that all three -- Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, and now James Bond -- are all orphans who were taken up as young men and trained in the ways of being the best they can be to protect the innocent?  That the grand climax takes place in a secluded mansion of Bond's youth, dubbed 'Skyfall', on the isle of Britain only solidifies the evocative feeling of both Potter and the Dark Knight simultaneously.  Perhaps it also explains the epic length of the film, which pushes close to the 2.5 hour mark.

In keeping with the theme of 'out with the old, in with the new', we have a new Q, our youngest yet, played by Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Perfume).  He barely looks old enough to have completed college, and his specialties lie not with making exploding cigarettes or switchblade shoes, but with computers and technology. He's a digital maestro for a digital age, modifying Bond's gun with tech so that only he can fire it.

Director Sam Mendes (Jarhead, Road to Perdition) does quite a solid job in his first outing, perhaps only lapsing when it comes to the movie's length, and with a few lulls during the body of the film, perhaps some shrewd trimming could have made the film feel a bit more exciting than it ends up being.  That's not to say the film doesn't crackle when it needs to, but there is always an icy cold aloofness to the from, a certain darkness at the core of the characters and their situations, that makes the film feel too heavy for sheer exuberance.  That's not a bad thing, as there have been Bond releases that feel like they were just piling on the stunts and special effects just to outdo all others, but I mention this to the Bond fans who were still hoping for return to the lighter, comical 007 they may have enjoyed that the film is scarce with comic relief.

I won't go so far as to proclaim Skyfall as the best of the Bond films.  I still think that Goldfinger remains the epitome of what every James Bond film has strived to be.  However, basing it solely on how well the films is shot, edited, acted, and scripted, Skyfall ranks as high as any of them from a professional expertise standpoint, even if it contains less oohs and aahs that a typical Bond outing. Even the Bond theme by Adele ranks as one of the best, echoing Shirley Bassey's finest.  But the fact remains that Craig is a physical Bond, strong and silent, but just not as entertaining as a playboy and quipster, which makes dialogue scenes heavily reliant on the bad guy to provide the witty interplay.  Bardem is up to the task, evoking somewhat the sinister, wronged and misunderstood tortured soul (with a homosexual twist) of the Joker from The Dark Knight, who seems all the more dangerous when he is captured, but he doesn't arrive until the halfway point of the film, and while he is menacing and more than a bit creepy, his heft is thwarted by the sheer magnitude of the production design.

Skyfall's importance in the Bond oeuvre will primarily be as a reset-button in the long-running series, setting about the future make-up of Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny, and the tone for future releases to come.  With a Bond with a past, and his ability to sustain injury, it will likely herald a more serialized set of Bond adventures -- one with history and a memory -- rather than the mostly episodic adventures we've been given thus far.  It may not deliver the highs in thrills and chills, but it does give us what previous releases have clearly lacked, which is a depth in characterization and heightened emotional component that had largely been nonexistent until Craig's run.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo