SKYFALL review by ShadyGinzo
Spoiler free review of Daniel Craig's third turn as the UK's number 1 export.
Skyfall opened in the UK yesterday, and following rave reviews, many flocked to packed out screenings up and down the country to see a film heralded by many as the "perfect" Bond movie.
As the 23rd instalment of a franchise which celebrates its 50th anniversary, the producers were dealt an almost perfect hand after this year's Olympics saw the eyes of the world turned to London this summer. And they play this hand masterfully making the English capital the central location for the film, Exploiting its iconic skyline, it's famous underground network and everything in between to create a living, breathing London which despite being the focus of a good half of the films 2 hour and 20 minute runtime does not detract from the exotic feel we expect from a bond experience. When Bond heads from Old Blighty to China the film becomes yet more beautiful with Mendes using both locations to further the plot rather than appearing to indulge obligatory globetrotting. All the locations of the film serve the plot while evoking a long lost spirit of adventure, as we travel from point to point we find ourselves closer to the fabled perfect Bond.
It's worth noting here the unavoidable debate, the battle of the Bonds. Craig entered the Bond universe in 2006 in the thoroughly remarkable Casino Royale, which redefined the Bond franchise as a modern, relevant action series and which ruthlessly weeded any hallmarks one could have described as twee or superfluous. Like an overzealous new executive making his mark on a newly acquired business concern, Q was retired, Moneypenny was Redundant, and even the gun barrel got fired. The result was a film which inspired more interest than any before it, not to mention financial return. It also marked the beginning of what could be argued as the most faithful adaptation of Fleming's source material, frequently straying from the words on the page but never far from the character at its core. Craig played a brutal killer, a remorseless womaniser, he played Bond and did so without the throw away one liners which have historically rendered his indiscretions the trait of a lovable rogue. James Bond was finally a callous Bastard and Casino Royale showed us why. It was a ground up reboot of the series which has subsequently become its own series many have come to accept as quite independent of its predecessors. So it seems strange to see old familiar elements creep back into the series, be it a heavily overhauled Q branch or an infuriatingly on/off relationship with gadgets. In one film we hear Q describe explosive pens as something "we don't really go into anymore" only to then have Bond fend off assailants with machine guns mounted behind the headlights of his DB5. This is one example of how Skyfall can never quite seem to decide between reinvention bond's future or reverence to its past, and the result is an awkward and sometimes contradictory compromise.
As a newcomer to the series Sam Mendes seems to have approached the film primarily as a fan and masterful story teller. The American Beauty director cuts his teeth on the action genre with great success here. As much as it's been said, I'm forced to repeat just how spectacular his action scenes are, not once feeling forced and never for a second dull. The film opens with an ingenious, if a little too subtle, nod to the traditional gun barrel then we get straight into a brilliant chase sequence involving Cars, Bikes, Trains and a Bulldozer we have a sense of one of the best Bond films in recent memory before the title sequence even rolls. and the action doesn't dip in quality for one moment after that, My particular highlight was a fist fight between Bond and a master assassin beautifully shot as the two men's silhouettes fight to the death in a brutal and protracted "one shot" - a simple and effective tribute to the two actor's athleticism and energy.
It's not just the action sequences in which Craig personifies Bond, a role in which is now a lot more comfortable than he was in his previous two outings. We get to see Bond taken to a more vulnerable place as a down-and-out, disillusioned drunk, substance abuse is handled quite bravely in a 12A film and all evokes a modern spin on the Bond Fleming penned.
The supporting cast surrounding Craig is a once in a lifetime dream team, Ralph Fiennes brings gravitas to a role which will surprise many viewers with its significance and Judy Dench continues her typically wonderful portrayal of M in a much more central and expanded role as Bond's only maternal figure as she comes face to face with the ghosts of her past. Almost in the knowledge that Dench is Skyfall's true leading lady, Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe are both woefully underused but each make an impact during their limited screen time. Berenice Marlohe's character Severine shares one of the film's best scenes with Craig as he brutally deduces her childhood involvement in the sex trade, setting up a somewhat unsettling romantic relationship between the two.
I mentioned Bond is a bastard, right?
Now, the real jewel in the crown of Skyfall's cast is Javier Bardem's portrayal of Raoul Silva, a gleefully demented sinister git who's as camp as Christmas. Bardem is not seeking world domination, but he does have an almost exclusive command of the film's laughs. This only serves to make him more terrifying and to me the greatest Villain Craig has yet faced.
The story pays tribute to Bond's cinematic half century while pursuing the evolution, or rather revolution, of the character which began with Casino Royale, the nods to previous instalments feel a little forced, as though the producers are sat in your neighbouring seat in the cinema, prodding you in the shoulder to draw your attention, "Look, Look, he just stood on a crocodile like he did in that other one!" A few of these such references double as evolution, more and more elements of the classic Bond formula are on display and by the time the credits roll it's quite clear they're here to stay. What legacy this film has very much depends on how those elements are handled in subsequent films, I must say I was left with a little fear that we might be on the slippery slope back to bond in space or invisible cars but equally we are primed for a rounded Bond legend. To which this is the perfect third instalment. With Craig secured for another two films, to be penned by John Logan who has made a meaning full contribution here. If Craig's era stays the course then in a few years we could have the definitive Bond collection which evokes the 21st century spin of a timeless character.
Skyfall has its faults and cannot complete the impossible task of pleasing every fan, but it is the perfect 3rd instalment for a truly fantastic interpretation of Bond. If 2014 brings us another film of this calibre then this will be a true golden era for the series which might even culminate in Bond's first "conclusion" should the Broccoli’s take a cue from Nolan's batman series - as there does seem to be deliberate effort in Skyfall to evolve Bond's arc rather than keep him static.
4 out of 5
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