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Skyfall (review)

Skyfall Daniel Craig green light

I’m “biast” (pro): loved Casino Royale…

I’m “biast” (con): …but Quantum of Solace somewhat less

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)


Ah, finally we understand the masterplan that has been quietly ticking over since Casino Royale. That movie was not, in fact, the 007 reboot, though in our ignorance we assumed it was… as we were meant to. It’s clear now that Royale was but a feint, a cover op to disguise the real work happening right before our very eyes. Because we wouldn’t have been able to handle the truth, that “James Bond” as a thing, as a pop-culture artifact, needed not so much a reboot as a low-level reformat. It would have been too much madness to take in all at once.

So Royale merely set the stage for the reboot, by giving us a new Bond and a new origin story for a post-Cold War world — it introduced us to Daniel Craig (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn) and raised him up from a pup to a supercool secret agent rockin’ a tux and a forever-broken heart. But though it hinted at the new global mess of ideological terrorism and financial supervillainy supplanting the threat of mutually assured destruction or, at a minimum, tanks rolling across Europe again, it kinda avoided delving into such matters more than it had to. As if, perhaps, it didn’t know quite what to make of this new world yet. And fair enough: none of us knew what to make of it. In 2006, when Casino Royale graced our screens, the post-9/11 other-shoe — the 2008 financial crisis — had not yet fallen.

Today, however, we are fully trapped in the quagmire of Homeland Security and military misadventures sucking up whatever resources might be going to prop up sinking economies. How does a relic like James Bond fit into such a world?

This is the sneaky cleverness of Skyfall: it is, at last, going to tell us why Bond still matters. It is not going to make it easy on itself, though, nosiree. Bond is taunted by his villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem: Eat Pray Love, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), who likes himself some cybercrime, with a hearty “Chasing spies: so old-fashioned!” M (Judi Dench: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, J. Edgar) is grilled by an MP who accuses her and her agency of lingering in a lost “golden age of espionage.” Skyfall is confident enough to face the Cold War legacy of Bond head-on, and with the sort of glee that comes from knowing it has a wicked riposte up its sleeve.

(I have no idea if there actually has been a masterplan for these three Bond movies since the beginning. I suspect not. I suspect that no one quite realized until they sat down to actually figure out what the heck to do with Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond — particularly after the less-than-satisfying second one — that they needed to do yet more housecleaning. But it’s a fun metaphor. Though there’s still no good excuse for Quantum of Solace, frankly.)

(It also suddenly makes sense why the Bond flicks of the 90s didn’t work: Bond really was completely unnecessary during that brief flowering of peace and prosperity, when our biggest collective problem was waiting for DSL to be deployed in our neighborhood so we could finally get off dialup.)

Oh, right: but in order to tell us why Bond still matters, it will have to give us a world very different from the one Bond has been associated with. It all needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up in a place more recognizable to the second decade of the 21st century. And Bond-the-man needs to be torn down and rebuilt, too… yes, even though Bond was rebuilt once in Casino Royale. So Skyfall beats Bond up — badly — psychologically and physically and morally, in ways that are stunning and shocking, that challenge our notion of stolid, invulnerable action heroes as well as the clichés surrounding them.

Everything that makes Bond Bond is challenged here, in fact, and if that sounds kinda depressing, kinda like it’s beating up on our fantasies, too… well, it isn’t. There’s an astonishing cool elegance to Skyfall, as if director Sam Mendes had stumbled over the idea of The Action Movie itself, and so was compelled to lay it all out for us with an air of wondrous discovery: Look what the movies can do! (Mendes hasn’t made a film quite like this before, but the grimly graceful Road to Perdition perhaps comes closest.) I felt like I’d never seen a motorcycle chase before, or fisticuffs on top of a train. The returning Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace screenwriting team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with an assist by John Logan (Hugo, Rango), have invented some audacious action setpieces, and Mendes makes them glossy without seeming slick, and suave without seeming glib. Gosh, and Skyfall just plain looks gorgeous, too: I’m not sure that skylines either neon-slick (Shanghai’s) or stone-gray (London’s) have ever looked so beautiful onscreen; thank you, Roger Deakins, secret agent of cinematography.

The action gave me delicious chills; the rest of it is even more thrillingly witty and classy. The plot revolves around the hunt for a stolen hard drive containing some very sensitive information — it’s less of a Macguffin than it sounds — and revolving around the plot is some toe-curlingly mischievous play with motifs of fear and aging and *gulp* even death. Honestly, Bond looks like hell though much of Skyfall (in, never fear, a still scrumptiously sexy way), and much is made of how perhaps he’s getting too old for this shit. That’s reflected in the brand-new Q (Ben Whishaw: Cloud Atlas, The Tempest), younger enough than Bond to haul 007 and MI6 and this universe into the Matrix-y futureworld of cyber warfare that is already occurring around them; Bond’s snarking on Q’s nerdery does make him seem old-fashioned, but he wises up soon enough. It’s reflected in another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris: Street Kings, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), who is fully Bond’s equal in the field and is a clear slap in the face to the notion of the “Bond girl” who exists to be only his bed partner, not a professional partner — she’s also younger than him. But on the flip side, there’s M being challenged by the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes: Wrath of the Titans, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2), who sees her as no longer able to do the job required of her; she is a remnant of the almost-swept-away past that he would like to be rid of. Woven through it all is a frisson of worry: Just how far are they going to go in re-creating James Bond? Could it actually involve getting rid of James Bond? What the heck does “Skyfall” refer to, anyway, and why does it sound so damn ominous?

Madness! Or is it? This is no spy fantasy but a slice of pragmatic reality just barely wrapped up in something that looks escapist. This is a Bond flick that is haunted by the past and deals with that in, ahem, explosive ways. What we witness here is the destruction of the old Bond mystique, and the creation of a new one. Welcome to the brave new Bond world, fueled by the catharsis of a clean break. It is a wild ride that has only just begun by the time it’s over.

US/Canada release date: Nov 9 2012 | UK release date: Oct 26 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated SAS: Bond, shaken and stirred
MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate action violence and one use of strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • http://twitter.com/doubleored Marshall Myers

    I absolutely love it when you really love a movie – you can feel the energy of your experience shining through your piece.

    Although I largely agree with you about the 90′s bonds, I actually think that Tomorrow Never Dies was among the best of that series, since it dealt with sensationalistic journalism for the sake of profit rather than as a method of despensing truth – something I think that is relevant for today’s world and looking back was very prophetic.

  • PattH.

    Oh, phew! I’m so glad you liked this, and now I’m so much more looking forward to it than before (although I was quite pumped up by the trailers already).

  • RogerBW

    I wasn’t super impressed with Casino Royale though I’ll grant it had its moments. Sounds as though this is the Bond that was needed, and about time too – if the thing’s going to be kept alive at all, it needs to be reasonably modern.

  • http://twitter.com/RothAnim Jonathan Roth

    Good point. Personally, I loved Goldeneye, and the face of electronic warfare and fear of loose Soviet WMDs were certainly timely, even though they don’t hold up nearly as well as the face of modern fear the way Tomorrow Never Des does. 

    It also flirted with the ideas of Bond’s relevance in the modern age that Skyfall does, but never really committed to the theme. 

  • Trooper6

    I actually quite enjoyed Quantum of Solace…not as much as Casino Royale…but I did like it. I have to say, that I really love Craig’s Bond (I also liked Dalton)…and I just never really liked Connery’s Bond…or Moore’s Bond. I know, heresy. But I’m looking forward to Skyfall!

    Side Note: I did Espionage work in the 1990s…and there was plenty to do, Bond at that time was just not yet ready to be able to look at the world of espionage in the way it needed to to be able to make a 90s espionage film work. 

  • Leroystone50

    Both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace left a bad taste in my mouth.  I liked Craig’s Bond a lot.  But was bothered by the shear darkness of the two films.  Some feel movies have to be dark to be realistic.  But I live in the realistic world.  I come to movies, especially Bond movies, to escape to worlds of intrigue, world travel, excitement and how Bond finally gets the bad guy.  Now at last, we have Skyfall.  Which I am so looking forward to.  The trailers have the perfect energy and from what I’ve heard of the early screenings, THIS IS the Bond I’ve been waiting to see.  So glad they wrote the story the way they did.  This sounds wondrously delicious.

  • Deadwoodward

    SPOILER!!! [added by maj]

    I was very disappointed with Skyfall.   Apart from the beginning chase and fight, it was boring.  Judi Dench should have died years ago. I kept looking at my watch for long periods. The Bourne films are much better

  • Patrick Collins

    Just home from the film. I think brilliant.
    The lack of gadgets in the art gallery. I’m thinking “where’s the car with all the gimmics”.  Will the film survive this. Yes it does, in spades. An all action Bond with a gun that runs out of bullets and requires a fight on the top of the train and a radio transmitter to call in the cavelry.

    I did think the writers have borrowed from other action movies. Mr Silver, when he  removes his implants complaining about the physical and mental effects of cynaide reminds me of the villian two face from Batman while Bond’s plan to save M is similar to Crocodile Dundee Pt2. There might even be a bit of McGyver in there with the adapted bullet shells.

    I do think that the opportunity is now there for the writers examine the option of James Bond  retiring and a new character being employed in the 007 position as I am sure the 006 post was refilled after the incumbent was killed in Octopussy.

    Read in the newspapers where they believe Oscars are on the way. Not sure I would go that far but all in a brilliant movie that gives great value for money. Bring on the next installment..
    Patrick 

  • http://www.yahooinvisiblescanner.eu/ Detector

    I agree on most parts. No way as good as people say. Casino Royale is without question better in recent times. I thought Bardem was the highlight of this film. Think though he could have been included even more I just liked his weird way about him.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Holy crap that was good.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    I’ll be curious to hear your reaction to this. Cuz I suspect that someone who doesn’t like *Casino Royale* probably won’t like this either.

  • http://savelin.tumblr.com/ Lenina Crowne

    This is the same movie as The Dark Knight Rises. 

    Also, I’d go straight for Ben Whishaw.

    That is all.

  • http://bluejaysway.wordpress.com/ Bluejay

    Loved this. I thought Judi Dench was magnificent. The moment when she lifts the story to literally poetic heights is the most unexpectedly inspiring moment I’ve seen in a Bond film.

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    I think you mean it’s the same as The Dark Knight? There were some super-strong Joker moments from Bardem’s character — stupidly so in a couple cases, in my opinion. But overall I can easily agree that this is the best bond yet.

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    The Bourne films are NOT much better. The first one, maybe… but the other two? Please. I can give evidence to prove my claims with just two words: SHAKY CAM.

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    Yeah, if you’re not into the “darkness” of the first two films (?) then I got some bad news for you, leroy. There’s actual darkness here.

  • http://savelin.tumblr.com/ Lenina Crowne

    It had the Joker but it was also about “is Batman/Bond relevant” and looking back to his childhood and getting back into shape after everyone thought he was dead, etc. Maybe it’s sort of an amalgam of both. Also (SPOILERS) the fact that the Bond girl died after like ten minutes is a total Nolan move.

    It was a good movie but it didn’t really feel “Bond” and the fact that I had basically seen this already like two months ago in the form of Batman didn’t really endear it to me much. I may like it better with hindsight.

  • mortadella

    My god, who wishes for Judi Dench’s death? Holy shit.

  • http://reformamendment.blogspot.com/ Paul Wartenberg

    Just saw it last night.  Almost twice: the projector in the first film went out halfway through the bad guy’s escape through the London Underground, so we got free passes and then snuck over to a later showing where the projector worked fine.

    Is it me, or is this the first Bond film specifically made to be a Best Picture contender come Oscar time?

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    Hmm, I see what you mean — though I’d argue that TDKR was more about Batman’s relevance to his fictional universe, whereas Skyfall was focused on James Bond’s relevance to the real one.

  • http://twitter.com/DoctorAvenue Drave

    I’ve seen this twice now, and I’d say it’s easily the best James Bond flick of the past twenty-five years, for quite a variety of reasons. To me, Casino Royale may have been meticulously crafted, and it could be argued that it has fewer flaws, but I found Skyfall far more interesting and far more ambitious. Here are some of the major thoughts I’ve been having about it. This is going to be long.

    SPOILERS AHOY!

    I felt like Skyfall works as a thorough deconstruction of the Bond genre. It takes all the classic Bond elements, strips away all the bullshit, and then tests those elements in a modern context to see if they still work. Some of them need to be tweaked, and some of them mean different things than they used to. Bike chase? Still awesome, but needs to have something we’ve never seen before. Running on trains? Always awesome, but needs to be more creative. Bad guys with secret island hideouts? Will never stop being awesome. Gadgets? Still good, but they don’t have to be cartoonish. Treatment of women? Badly in need of an update. This is maybe the biggest one, so I’m going to talk about it in more detail.

    Here, there are three women that matter. First we have the classic Bond bad girl, Severine, stolen away from the villain, used and discarded. This is closest to the previous model, and it’s the behavior that just doesn’t work in the modern world, so the movie chooses to for once show the consequences of this behavior. What happens to her is truly horrific, and some would call it misogynist, but I would argue the old Bond movies are far more misogynist in their treatment of Bond girls, what with him riding the bad guy’s girl off into the sunset only to have her rendered inconsequential in time for the next movie. They aren’t even people, really. They are genre props. Severine was a real character with a real back story, real hopes and fears, and a real tragic ending.

    Second, we have Eve, also (presumably) bedded by Bond in a way consistent with his previous cinematic behavior, but with a completely different context. Here, it is play between two people in high-stress jobs who clearly see each other as equals. When they meet up at the end in their old roles, it’s a completely different dynamic. He has already shown tenderness to her, despite teasing her about what happened on the train, and when he suggests withdrawing from field work, it in no way feels derogatory. She no longer seems subservient to him as she did in classic Bond movies, because she has already proved herself a fine agent, and has merely chosen a different path because field work doesn’t suit her. Bond still flirts with her as he comes in, but now it seems to come from a place of mutual respect and understanding, instead of the “pervy boss pushing his secretary’s buttons” vibe. He’s teasing her because he actually LIKES her as a person.

    Third, we of course have M. I really dug the repeated theme of agents as orphans/children, seeing her as a maternal figure. I love that she is tough as nails. I love that the movie doesn’t let her off easy for making a difficult decision in the beginning. I love how quickly she makes up her mind to go along with Bond when he kidnaps her. The final shots  of her, of course, say everything that needs to be said. I will not soon forget the image of James holding the dying M in his arms and openly sobbing. Not something a previous Bond could ever have done, but this one earns it.

    Another thing I found really interesting was the recurring theme of actually trying to avoid collateral damage, which again goes back to the overall theme of consequences which is something rarely explored through a Bond flick. Plenty of mayhem is still caused, of course, but many times during the chase we see a bad guy crash through something, and we see Bond make a slight deviation to purposefully avoid hitting someone or destroying something that can be avoided, even if it costs him a few precious meters during his chase. Naturally this is reinforced in the finale, when M and Bond flee to Skyfall. I love this finale because in some ways it is a trope reversal of the classic roles in the Bond finale. Here, M and Bond are the mad villain and henchman holed up in their secret fortress, and Silva is the spy leading a small team to storm the gates. This works even better because this behavior never really makes all that much sense when a villain does it, because being cornered in your own house is never ideal no matter how awesome your house is, and yet Bond and M putting themselves in a precarious situation makes perfect sense because they are trying more than anything to prevent the loss of more lives.

    Also, can we talk about how awesome the title sequence was? Easily one of the best that Bond has ever had! It manages to be artistic, thematically relevant with plenty of foreshadowing, and it has naked ladies in it!

    And of course the final thing I love the best about this movie is how carefully and deviously it maneuvers the character into position so that the movie ends exactly the way the best older Bond films begin! James walks into the office, flirts with Moneypenny, and enters a wood-paneled office to take orders from M. And yet it doesn’t feel like regression because the movie really earns the right to say “This is exactly what you want from a Bond film, but this is a more modern Bond than you have ever seen.” Sublime!

    Can you tell I have some strong opinions about this movie?

  • Michael

    Started out well, but descended into a drawn out mess.
    AND…
    ( spoiler )
    James Bond’s dumb, not well thought-out plan, killed M!

  • LaSargenta

    OK, I was caught up in it…but, then, late last night (only saw this yesterday), I woke and lay thinking about the movie and put my finger on what was bothering me.

    SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

    Shit, man! He was still wearing the two-way in his ear during the fight. He heard the order! He heard the fucking order! And, still, he was going to finish it himself. Wouldn’t step aside (or duck) so that a sniper could take a shot. He was responsible for his own ‘death’. Hubris and macho stupidity.

    So, I guess there wouldn’t have been a movie then, eh?

  • Hans

    Many things will never be the same after this Bond. The Bond girl theme is further deepened by the eroticization of the relation between Bond and Silva, which is a complex and delightful miniature; here is a homoerotic scene in a mainstream movie which is not at all derogatory, we cannot be sure whether Bond is only interested in throwing Silva off-guard when he suggests this is not his first erotic experience with a man and therefore it cannot be shrugged off as something that belongs only to the villain’s world, (it did seem to make a lot of people in the audience uncomfortable). The plot even thickens when the villain is thrown off by this riposte and quickly changes the subject. What really happens between these two men remains enough of a mystery for us to ponder on.

  • http://twitter.com/indigo_sky360 Indigo Sky

    I often sat there thinking, wow this is an arthouse film? I am watching an arthouse film! And the whole Shanghai episode was stunning. I couldn’t believe my eyes…. I loved it! 

  • Hank Graham

    Drave: Are you British? I’m curious, because as MaryAnn pointed out, the box office success of “Skyfall” really implies it’s getting a strong, emotional response from the UK.

  • http://reformamendment.blogspot.com/ Paul Wartenberg

    Escapism is one thing: camp (which is what most of the Moore era was) is something else.  I think the word you’re looking for is verisimilitude, the word Richard Donner used when directing Superman I (and most of II): taking the fantastic but making it seem part of the real world.  Royale was a “realistic” movie in that there were no rocket-launchers mounted in headlights or pen grenades or cartoonish lackeys that can’t be killed; but it still had elements of the fantastic such as the elaborate parkour chase across a construction site.  Royale’s darkness wasn’t to make it realistic: Royale’s darkness was to make it a romantic tragedy.

  • Gibhk

    ‘Emperors new Clothes’ people. Open your eyes, this movie was appalling – extremely lazy writing, tired plot and scenes stolen from other movies. And Bond finally meets Miss Moneypenny – guess we were all supposed to LOL – pathetic.