Tainted's Skyfall Review
An honest review from a life-long James Bond fan. No spoilers.
As a life-long James Bond fan, you can expect some hefty criticism where it is due, and likewise, the deserved praise where it is earned. 007 has been shaping the action genre for 50 years with the longest-running film franchise in history – all this I’m sure you know, but as a consequence, each additional Bond movie should be deemed necessary. As the American and Soviet cold war has been officially over since before Brosnan took the reins in the 90s, each film has the burden of justifying its existence to the audience, myself included.
So to begin, I’m going to tear into the opening a bit. The thrill of the cinema, or rather, Bond in cinema, is the opening shot with the surround sound. For me, it is mandatory. Casino Royale uniquely worked the pre-title sequence in to setup the gun-barrel shot, but Quantum of Solace left it out until the end. This one followed suit – and while it was a nice send-off, that kind of excitement belongs in the front of the feature. Because without it, I was left waiting for a signature Bond moment to pop up BEFORE the title song played, and it just isn’t a good idea to keep your audience wanting. As for the pre-title sequence itself – I liked it well enough. I like Naomie Harris whenever I see her, and to see her work alongside Bond in a chase sequence was particularly engaging. In hindsight, I wish the trailers and ads didn’t spoil the opening, but I suppose they were non-committal to keeping it under wraps because of the way the injury is all but forgotten afterwards. Even so, between the lack of the iconic gun barrel shot and the spoiled pre-title sequence, it wasn’t the best way to open the movie.
Skyfall was a mediocre tune, but I’m somewhat biased as I don’t particularly care for the music of this generation. There are a number of title songs that will not be remembered, so this is still on-par – for every 10 movies, perhaps 3 or 4 songs become classics. My favorite is Live and Let Die. I do give Adele props for being the first singer in 10 years to have worked the title into the lyrics though. As for the credits, the visual was fascinating, which definitely distracted me from the boorish song.
Now, as a Bond movie, regardless of the generation, there is the expectation that it will adhere to a distinct formula that is only known to have been broken once or twice, and only in small proportions. There is the MISSION, the VILLAIN(S), the BOND GIRL(S), the GADGET(S), the VICTIM(S), and the LOCATION shooting. As I’ve promised this review will be absent spoilers, I won’t go into too much detail, but Skyfall manages to capture all of them, although the BOND GIRL is somewhat ambiguous.
Not too shabby, but nothing original. Still on-par, and given that this is the 23rd outing, originality would be rather hard to come by. The mission is usually follows some red herring with only a few very subtle clues of a MUCH larger scheme that Bond will undoubtedly uncover as he investigates. There isn’t much to spoil here – the villain has his hands on a NOC list of sorts that threatens the safety and success of every covert operative in the world. Bond is to investigate any lead and recover the data while deep cover agents are being executed.
Javier Bardem plays “Raoul Silva”, a former Mi6 agent and technological terrorist who has a personal vendetta against M. In the 90s, he was traded for 5 other agents, and in the process, was tortured to madness. I thought he was great – a great callback to Francisco Scaramanga, Alec Trevelyn, and James Bond from “The Man With The Golden Gun” novella. Very menacing, not to mention thoroughly creepy. I enjoyed the delivery of the story he gives to Bond when they first meet – how he manages to start and finish it (in great detail) while walking the length of the hall they are in.
This is up for debate, as although James does get around here, the woman he devotes the most attention and affection for is M. The women of this generation are portrayed as intelligent, not as supermodels clad in bikinis with an English dub over their eastern European accents. Naomie Harris may not be Bond’s equal out in the field, but she is equally competent. M is and has been something of a maternal figure for Bond, which was even joked about in the previous film. Here she represents antiquity AND integrity, standing for values her own government believes to be too old-fashioned. In this, she fits perfectly with the central theme of the movie, and is probably the most relevant “Bond Girl” to date, if she could be called that.
Back when this started, the only equipment Bond was ordered to carry on his assignments was a Walther PPK, replacing his Beretta. Not after long, Q branch equipped 007 with all kinds of nifty gadgets that were disguised to look like any mundane object, but would hold either a nasty or useful surprise inside. Cars were armed to the teeth with machine guns, rockets, oil slicks, and even a passenger ejector seat, not even mentioning the Lotus from “The Spy Who Loved Me”. But this generation has distanced itself from all of that, for the better. Bond gets a palm-printed Walther which only he can fire, as well as a simple radio distress beacon. One particularly amusing tribute is the short return of the Aston Martin from “Goldfinger” towards the end. As for Q – well I’m of the opinion he was miscast. I understood the relevance of Q being a much younger man, and agreed on that decision – but Ben Whishaw’s deliveries were just too low-key and uninteresting. It is his job to look bored, not to bore the audience. I’m on the fence with this one.
In nearly every James Bond film, there is someone who is going to just about literally bite the bullet, simply because they were caught helping 007. Often it is a woman who he has seduced for her secrets, and she is quickly killed in some unpleasant scene. Sometimes it is a fellow spy or government agent of the same sex who is just being too helpful for the villains’ liking. I won’t reveal who it is, but I assure you, that character’s death is handled well and captivates the audience’s attention.
As a quality standard, nearly every Bond film to date has had a scene filmed on location in a foreign country to give the audience a feeling of how well-travelled 007 is. Of course, once a character enters a building, they return to Pinewood Studios, so this is especially important during chase sequences. “Moonraker” had a hammy gondola chase through Venice, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” featured a high-speed escape on skis in the Swiss Alps, “GoldenEye” tore through the streets of Saint Petersburg in a tank, and “Thunderball” filmed a boat chase AND full-scale underwater battle in the Bahamas. In “Skyfall”, while 007 doesn’t seem to be on location in Hong Kong, but in the opening, he chases down a mercenary in Istanbul, driving a motorcycle through the narrow walkways on its rooftops. It’s not bad, but it’s over in a matter of seconds, and nothing is particularly eyebrow-raising or memorable for that matter.
Now that all the mandatory points have been dealt with, let me tell you what I think about it just as a movie standing on its own merit. It had its share of awesomeness, with some action-packed chases, some explosive battles, some well-choreographed brawls, and of course, the sharp wit all of the actors are armed with. I feel the first act was pretty good, the second act was AMAZING, yet the third act just dragged on, and you’re just WAITING for it to be over. As I said, the actors were in top form, and in case you didn’t know, it had been officially declared long ago that this would be Judi Dench’s last Bond film, and she’s ever brilliant. Ralph Fiennes is somewhat reserved given that he is, as a rarity, in a NORMAL role and not as a villain. Albert Finney’s extended cameo is forgettable, but then, his character isn’t meant to do much at all.
In conclusion, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I think “Casino Royale” is the superior Daniel Craig flick, but this did have some sharp teeth. It set Craig’s Bond up to finally be THE established Bond in future films, closing up all that needed to be mentioned about his background (and all that didn’t), while shaping the new Mi6 with the essential staff of M, Q, and Moneypenny. It had quite a few callbacks to the old films, and the first half felt like a superior version of “The Man With The Golden Gun”, but it dragged a bit too much with the central idea of “out with the old, in with the new” colliding with “sometimes old-fashioned is better”. It was a pleasant theatrical experience and even though I’m on a tight budget, I have no regrets, and recommend this feature to everyone.
For those who have seen the movie, and are Bond veterans like myself, here’s the list of little homages, references, Easter Eggs, and various similarities I picked up in Skyfall.
Highlight to read.
The Man With the Golden Gun
• Bits of depleted uranium bullet shrapnel take Bond to Hong Kong to intercept an assassin who uses that rare ammunition, just as in TMWTGG, Bond follows a golden bullet sent to Mi6 – the calling card of Scaramanga.
• As I mentioned, Bond travels to Hong Kong. He follows a lead into a casino, where he encounters the big bad’s “mistress”, who is all but a slave to Silva and wants Bond to kill him. She even keeps to a yacht.
• The yacht takes Bond to a deserted island which serves as Silva’s very exclusive headquarters. Once there, Silva proceeds to explain to Bond why they are not so different, and even makes a few clumsy passes at 007. Likewise, Scaramanga considers himself Bond’s equal, and is borderline-obsessed with the British agent, treating him to lunch before their pistols-at-dawn skirmish.
• Silva shoots his “mistress” because she outlived her usefulness.
• It is also worth noting that Silva was held captive by the Chinese, and returned from the “dead” to target M, although in the book, Bond is brainwashed by the Soviets. The failed use of cyanide is involved both times.
License to Kill
• Bond is given a palm-printed pistol, which even lights up red or green depending on who is using it.
• Indeed, the Aston Martin DB5 is the same model, armed with the same gadgets, and is treated like a relic – an extension of Bond. James is even jokingly tempted to hit the red button and eject M.
For Your Eyes Only
• 007 hands Tanner evidence in a plastic baggy to give to M, implicitly telling him “for her eyes only”, which is kind of a misnomer as someone else would definitely have to study it.
The World Is Not Enough
• When Mi6 headquarters is bombed and compromised, M is “relocated” to a safehouse in Scotland.
• The Scotch Silva pours for Bond is dated back to 1962.
• Silva, like Alec, was an Mi6 agent, who uses cyber-terrorism to achieve his revenge.
• Q makes a reference to an exploding pen.
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