Movie Review: Skyfall
As director Sam Mendes has attested, a hiatus during the filming of his latest project, due to the bankruptcy of the studio MGM, helped him focus and create a better product. It shows on the big screen, and while part of you says, take however much time you to need to do something like this again, the other part of you wants the next film right away.
Mendes shaped Skyfall, and while it is the latest in a James Bond franchise that is celebrating its 50th year and 23rd movie, it is more accurately the last movie in a trilogy that began with Casino Royale and continued in Quantum of Solace that is sprinkled with action and style, but driven by one of the most compelling figures in cinematic history.
That is not to say that it is by any way an end as Daniel Craig, the most blond and muscular man to portray the British spy thus far, has signed on for at least two films more.
Still, the two and a half hour entry in the Bond annals is far more a drama than action film, and it is all the better for it. In terms of the two most recent films, which set a marked departure from the later Pierce Brosnan films, there is no set piece as spectacular as that in the opening of Casino Royale, or a great deal of emphasis placed on the ‘Bond girl’ aspect of the series, as it were, despite the introduction of Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe.
Separate in plot from the first two, though similar in threat, we see a Bond that is but one man in a 21st century fight against global terrorism that is increasingly countered with technology and long-term espionage instead of brute force, and guns. Skyfall continues in making the real menace the fight against unseen foreign enemies, as a terrorist, or terrorist cell, has taken to revealing the true identities of British spies around the world, information that escaped Bond’s grasp after he failed to neutralize a courier carrying the always ominous briefcase.
Bond returns after the mishap, a man beaten both physically and mentally, and still alone. A pair of abandonments has helped shaped the secret agent, are both are on display in this final chapter of characterization for the new Bond. He was an orphan, and more of his past is revealed in this film (which isn’t hard to do since the other two films didn’t touch on it), and like in Quantum, following the betrayal of Vesper Lynd of who he’d fallen deeply in love with, Bond continues to show disregard and a complete lack of emotional investment in women.
This isn’t a therapy session by any means, with explosions and gunfire in lengthy opening and ending scenes, but there is far more depth and meaning here. It evokes (based on scope, anticipation, and darkness, and because of its release just this summer), the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and illustrates the gravity and seriousness defining big Hollywood franchise films.
We have too of course a Bond adversary, though not the typical one by any means, and not set up as such either. This film is about Bond, but as Javier Bardem struts into Skyfall about halfway through, he changes drastically the power of the film, offering another foil to judge Bond against. He is Silva, the stylish, well-spoken, and reputedly ruthless bad guy of the film played masterfully by a man who has himself won an Academy Award playing a bad guy. He is nothing more than a man (like the other villains in the Craig films), but he is indeed sinister and utterly captivating with every breath and gesticulation.
He targets Bond, naturally, and MI6, British Secret Service, including M (Judi Dench), and her new supervisor Gareth Mallory (a welcome Ralph Fiennes), a man who questions the ability of both Bond and M. Also working for M16 is a young, bright quartermaster (Ben Whishaw), a techie with the looks and charm of no nerd you or I know. His work is done in a lab; Bond’s is done in the field.
It is a battle of new and old: mentalities, bodies, and attitudes. How long can Bond continue fighting and shooting? How long will he be needed? And how much time do we spend in the past at the expense of the present and the future?
They are some simple, fascinating, and well, curious questions to be asked by a movie series that is half a century old now. The film simultaneously embraces the past and deviates from it, with several plays that will make longtime films blush and cheers, and a few other moves, or omissions, that may be strange and bothersome.
Bond though, like the franchise, continues to find ways to not only survive, but thrive, to charm and amaze, to satisfy and surprise. Bond is in it for the long haul, doing really the only thing he knows how. Skyfall is not just a quality film on its own, but an incredibly entry into the James Bond legacy—and the worst thing about it is that we have to wait for the next one.