Review: Sam Mendes' 'Skyfall' Earns Top Marks for Bond Accuracy
by Jeremy Kirk
November 8, 2012
50 years. 23 movies. A franchise as rambunctious and stubborn as its lead character, the James Bond series wouldn't have lasted as long as it has without a few great movies here and there in its arsenal. Skyfall is a great movie. Not as elaborately charged or as gun-wrenchingly explosive as one might expect, it still finds a way, thanks to director Sam Mendes, to bridge a gap between old and new schools of spy film, the Sean Connery smoothness of Goldfinger with the electricity of Daniel Craig. Skyfall earns tops marks for James Bond accuracy and continues a groundbreaking, cinematic tradition with a pinpoint bullet.
This time around, we see Bond well into his retirement from MI6 after a daring mission leaves him shot, believed dead, and out in the field. But Bond is called back into action when M becomes a target of a mysterious attacker. Lots of investigation, hand-to-hand fighting, and precision shooting ensues, and what proves to be Bond's most dangerous nemesis ends up hitting closer to home than he anticipated.
Not much of a synopsis, really, but that's what you get with Skyfall, a simple story that allows for ample amounts of character. This film has character in droves, and the way the screenwriting team — Neal Purvis and Robert Wade back in the saddle again this time, with a big assist from John Logan — reflects and reveals information about characters we've known and been invested in for decades is nothing short of brilliant. Skyfall is the most personal Bond film yet, letting us in on a backstory 23 films have yet to develop and playing the Bond/M relationship for all its worth. This is Dame Judi Dench's seventh time playing Bond's MI6 superior, and the veteran actress has never been this concrete in the franchise before.
Along with the newness of character development, though, the writers and Mendes make every attempt at having Skyfall call back to the Bond films of old. The pre-title sequence is as riveting as ever, and the opening song by Adele has a classic ring to it. For the first time in this recent run of the series we have the Q brand to arm Bond with an assortment of high-tech gadgetry. Though the gadgets aren't nearly as ridiculous as the series has been known to include, the banter between Bond and Q, now played by Ben Whishaw, is a welcome return to form. Minor aspects like the villain, a blond-headed Javier Bardem who has serious mommy issues, not showing up until well into the second act and bringing classic cars like the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger help give Skyfall the proper window dressing to the James Bond juices flowing.
All the while Mendes handles the action superbly, choosing clever ways of showing the action instead of aimlessly throwing the camera about and hoping to catch something breathtaking. At times the inclusion of certain CG images are distracting, a sequence with giant komodo dragons almost calling back the days of when Timothy Dalton was ordering it shaken, not stirred. But even with eyesores blotching the screen here and there, Mendes and his crew make very sequence memorable, and the stunning work here by cinematographer Roger Deakins makes every shot as breathtaking as the film's action. Skyfall really is, without question, the prettiest James Bond film to date.
Blending old and new schools of Bond moviemaking calls for a remarkable and unforgettable villain. That's the main staple of any, good Bond film, and Bardem's Silva is up to the task of overtaking that bar set by actors like Donald Pleasence, Gert Fröbe, or Christopher Lee. The mystery behind who Silva is and why he has his sights set on MI6 is part of the intrigue in Skyfall, but Bardem's commitment to the role is unquestionable. In a world where comic book villains haven't been turning it up to 11 for years, Bardem's turn as Silva would be something of a trendsetter. As it is, he's no more diabolical or unsavory than Heath Ledger's Joker, but that doesn't stop Bardem from capturing the creepy-but-cool-and-obviously-sadistic mood that any good villain should exude. The blonde hair helps. In one of the few instances in the film, the CG additions to the character are the most interesting aspects, but even that might be saying too much.
Craig, as always, is the brooding James Bond, the kind of man who will kill on sight when the occasion calls for it but dies a little inside with each life he takes. Craig was the perfect choice to handle this new 007, a spy with a rich, grounded history and a darkness about him to match it. It's poor to continue comparing James Bond with Batman as well as their respective franchises, but you get the impression with Craig in this role that we could very well, at some point, see the demise of this character. The darkness he chooses to wrap himself in each time he plays the part just calls for that type of series outcome, but only time will tell.
What can be said, what should be said, is how satisfying Skyfall is as an entry to the 50-year-old cinematic James Bond franchise. After a swell of support for Daniel Craig after Casino Royale, even die-hard fans of the series were left more than a little soured by Quantum of Solace. With Skyfall, though, their worries for the franchise as a whole should be put to rest. With enough solid action, splendid character development, and a top-notch but simple story that ultimately brings us to the Bond setup we've known and loved for years, everything about Skyfall bleeds 007. Once again, under the reign of a top-notch director, the series has given us another great entry, and once again, when it says "James Bond Will Return" over the end credits, we can't wait for that very thing to happen.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10