First, contrary to advance word, Skyfall is definitely not the best Bond movie ever. Yet, it is a game changer with some eye-popping moments never seen in a 007 film before so it’s definitely worth seeing for both fans and non-fans. (Incidentally, that little top 10 list I made yesterday? Chuck #10 and replace A View to a Kill with this flick.)
But, there is absolutely no way to have a frank discussion without spoilers so be warned. Turn back now if you haven’t seen it.
Let’s start with the negatives.
Inexplicably, they kill off Judi Dench as M. Unless she, as an actress, wanted to retire, that decision is completely ludicrous. Only she can pull off an Alfred Tennyson poem in the middle of a government hearing in an action movie. Ralph Fiennes is introduced as a bureaucrat monitoring M and by the end of Skyfall, he has taken her place behind the desk handing Bond confidential files. And the problem is, his character is nowhere near as compelling as Dench’s.
In fact, there’s a lot of the sense that they are bringing in the new and tossing out the old in Skyfall. Much is made that 007 has “missed a step” and needs to be put out to pasture and M must retire. Didn’t they just reboot the bloody series a few years ago? If that’s the case, why not just hire Henry Cavill and start the whole thing over again. Again.
Director Sam Mendes (The Road to Perdition, American Beauty) finally dumps The Bourne Identity mimicking tone and while refreshing with some just plain jaw-dropping, sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption), somehow it doesn’t work. Even though the most exciting action sequences: the opening train destruction in Turkey, the train destruction in London, a fistfight outlined in blue neon, the shootout in a courtroom, a helicopter crashing into an old manor at the climax… Everything seems to fall flat. There’s no punctuation to the violence. And when Bond and Silva finally have their final confrontation, it isn’t the competitive match we expect. At times, the pacing seems more like the recent Alex Cross, not a Bond movie.
The soundtrack by director Sam Mendes’s frequent composer Thomas Newman is particularly disappointing, especially after the great strides made by David Arnold. The music is a tad too non-intrusive and we miss the eponymous Bond theme more than ever. Sometimes during the action scenes, even we find ourselves humming it on our own.
Adele’s theme song, listened to on its own seems subdued and derivative, but in the context of the film itself, it turns out to be absolutely perfect. Daniel Kleinmen returns for the opening credits and it’s the most visually compelling since Casino Royale. It’s a surreal, swooping, unnerving murky underwater nightmare of moving feminine curves and bleeding target range body-sheets that will look terrific on Blu-ray.
Also beautiful is French actress Berenice Marlohe as the mysterious bad guy’s girl Severine. Slinking around in black dress and equally black goth make-up, she just looks gorgeously intriguing right up until the moment she is called upon by the screenplay to portray fear. Then, inexplicably, she has a case of the giggles. Without hesitation, Connery’s Bond would’ve slapped her back into reality.
Albert Finney has a wasted small part towards the conclusion as the gameskeeper of Bond’s old family estate and his presence is a bit unnecessary. Usually Bond doesn’t need amateur assistance, especially from a crotchety character straight out of a Dickens novel. Usually the job goes to the Bond girl to assist 007 during the final conflict. This makes Finney Craig’s Bond girl. Eww… Either that or the bisexuality theory just took an extremely fascinating turn.
Moneypenny is finally introduced in the form of Naomi Harris. It’s a subterfuge; the press releases and advance media portrays her as a Bond girl but by film’s end we learn her last name and find her behind a desk in front of M’s inner sanctum. Frankly, it all feels like a gimmick. And as we infer by the famous shaving scene, her and Bond did it. I know we’re re-inventing the series but Bond and Moneypenny should never oof—that’s just wrong. Their whole relationship is based on unrequited flirting. Prior to Skyfall, I always felt that Moneypenny should be gay; someone for Bond to mercilessly toy with. Oh well… These fill-ins just feel like gimmicks as opposed to organic elements added to the Craig canon.
But leading from homoeroticism, here’s what does make Skyfall work: at the top of the list is Javier Bardem as the evil, unhinged Silva. Arguably the best villain since Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill, he steps it up from his sociopath in No Country for Old Men and goes full-on into psychopath territory. Bardem is given so many great moments, more than Craig himself: his intro with the rat monologue, a deadly game of William Tell with old fashioned pistols, his revealing of a deformity due to a cyanide capsule gone wrong, and best of all, his sketchy, pervy “interrogation” of Bond… It’s the kind of classic jolts that we missed from the villains of the past. (And depending how you interpret Craig’s blech face once Bardem turns his back, could Bond be bisexual?!)
Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) is introduced as Q and he’s completely dorky and watchable even though, as an afterthought, he adds completely nothing to the story. He seems busy pushing a lot of keys on a computer but we really have no idea why. Hopefully he’ll have more to do in the sequels because his presence is refreshing.
Last but not least though is Daniel Craig, Bond himself. His portrayal continues to be sincere and appropriate, no small feat in this era of short-term reboots. While he doesn’t go Roger Moore on us, his subtle injection of humor is just what the series needs for the long term. From adjusting his cuff links after dropping into a train car via construction lift to his confident reply to Silva’s leg-rubbing pass at him: “What makes you think this is my first time?”, Craig proves that the part is his for as long as his muscular fingers want it; regardless if other characters in the movie deem him too old.
Every moment Craig is onscreen, it’s riveting. You can’t help but think that this is the coolest man on the planet, exactly what James Bond is supposed to embody. He does a tequila shot with a scorpion crawling on his wrist and even though the movie isn’t perfect, you feel you are witnessing the best portrayal of the Ian Fleming creation since…well…Casino Royale. There’s a great moment during a fight with a henchmen in a komodo dragon pit. (Yes, komodo dragons are involved.) Craig has the perfect look of MMA focus and surprised confusion as the slow lizard moves into the frame. And he’s wearing a tux in the scene as well. If he ain’t Bond, who is?