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- FILM REVIEW, S

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall (2011)

Directed bySam Mendes

The cast includes:

So what’s it about?

Bond’s mission is to keep a computer drive that has a list of British agents from being used against them. He chases the man who has it and they have a brawl on top of a train. Eve, an agent sent to assist Bond has them in her cross hairs but hesitates to take the shot because she might hit Bond but M orders her to take it. She does, and hits Bond who falls into the river and is believed to be dead. A few months later, the British government is upset with MI6 for losing the list; specifically with M. She is told that she’ll be allowed to retire but she refuses to leave till the matter is resolved. So she returns to HQ to work on it but as she arrives, there’s an explosion. In the meantime, Bond, who is not dead, has been laying low. When he learns of what happened, he returns. And M tasks him with finding the one who has the information. He eventually learns that the man who has it, is someone from M’s past and who has it in for her. (Source: IMDB)

The review:

The Bond backlash had started before I even set foot into the cinema to watch “Skyfall”. After such universally amazing plaudits from critics and moviegoers alike, rumblings of discontent had started to emerge online and within earshot. The danger with such a well-publicised movie is that people start responding to the hype surrounding the movie rather the movie itself. The 23rd James Bond motion picture in the franchise’s 50th anniversary year clearly sought to capture a celebration of all things 007. Did they achieve that?

Yes, yes they did.

Sam Mendes “Skyfall” (2012) sees something of a return to form after the curiously forgettable “Quantum of Solace” (2006). There are some blistering exciting chase sequences, gorgeous exotic locales, equally gorgeous femme fatales, and a suitably villainous villain. Mendes even adds in some much-needed depth of characterisation and some human drama to proceedings along with all the other constituents that you have come to know, love and expect from any self-respecting ‘James Bond’ movie. Mendes, for his part, has already admitted in interviews to being a devotee of the movies so the experience of directing a ‘James Bond’ movie was akin to being a ‘kid in a candy store’.

The problem is it’s too much. Somewhere in the melee the story got lost. I can imagine some Bond exec having whispered conversations with Sam and the writers about crowbarring more and more into the movie: “What about the Aston Martin?”: “What about having Bond return to his ancestral home in Scotland?”; “What about Q?”; “What about Moneypenny?”. “Skyfall” ends up as a fiesta of Bondness: stuffed full of lovely Bond goodness. The end result is a heavy pudding of a movie.

Furthermore, in its 50th year, someone decided that Bond needed to go postmodern. As a result we have a very ‘knowing’ movie – totally aware of its predecessors and intent on tipping a wink to the audience at every opportunity. Naomie Harris as Bond’s colleague, Eve Moneypenny, is particularly culpable in this regard as she utters lines about “teaching an old dog new tricks”. This unsettling need to draw attention to itself does not really pay off. The dialogue feels flat and self-congratulatory instead.

This new postmodern Bond is also, bizarrely, washed up. There must be something in the water. First Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises” is presented as a Howard Hughes-esque crippled recluse, now Bond is an embattled, embittered relic incapable of passing the psychological and physical examinations required of a MI6 agent. Ralph Fiennes slimy Gareth Mallory even gives him the option of retirement. (Shock! Horror!)

Thankfully, Daniel Craig is on fine form once again in the lead role. It seems bizarre in the extreme to recall the furore that his original casting caused. Judi Dench, as Mother hen, is similarly accomplished and the two spar off each other expertly well. It is perhaps understandable that the storyline makes so much use of her but it veered a little too much into “The Judi Dench show” for my liking.

Of the rest of the cast, Berenice Marlohe is fantastically smoldering as the femme fatale. Alas her limited time onscreen reduces her to just that: smoldering, and no more than that, as she departs from proceedings so very very quickly. Still she manages to fit in a fair number of costume changes during her brief visit to the movie. Ralph Fiennes also does well as the shifty Chairman of the Intelligence Committee who may or may not have M’s best interests at heart.

Bum notes come from Ben Whishaw as “Q” who delivers another thoroughly detestable know-it-all performance following his stint as a detestable know-it-all in the BBC’s “The Hour”. Though he obviously did not write the line, his character epitomises the joylessness of Q branch’s new “We don’t do gadgets any more Bond” policy. Naomie Harris is another uneven performance; unconvincing both as the ‘kick-ass’ MI6 field agent and even more so as Bond’s ‘friend with benefits’. She actually looks embarrassed as she fudges the pointless reveal when she finally tells Bond her full name at the tail end of the movie. 

Indeed, there are real problems with “Skyfall“. It is a problem that the most exciting chase sequence happens before the opening titles. It is also a problem that Mendes cannot direct any of the flirty/vaguely sexual scenes so that, for once, there is zero chemistry between Bond and… anyone. Yet, despite this, the movie ticks along for two-thirds of its running time with moments of high excitement followed by reasonably flat periods before picking up speed as it lurches into some final showdown silliness of the Schwarzenegger-in-his-prime variety. 

Ian Fleming always said of his character, James Bond, that he was a “blunt instrument” used by the government. Yet, I cannot recall Bond ever being so blunt. He is outwitted by Javier Bardem’s villain at nearly every turn and plods through the movie fighting a multitude of faceless henchmen like some kind of mindless automaton. Gone are the halcyon days of the debonair, witty Bond. Instead we get Bond the cudgel.

This is best exemplified in the unfortunate final third. The historic returning of Bond to his Mum and Dad’s Scottish estate should have been more interesting given that we are finally given some back story to his character that has been missing for so, so long. However, Instead of something vaguely emotional or interesting we get Albert Finney as some kind of “Groundkeeper Wullie” figure and a montage of Bond and Dame Judi Dench rigging the Skyfall estate up like MacGyver. And that’s before Bond starts wandering round with his old dad’s sawn-off shotgun. [And don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of Bond holing up in the Skyfall estate with ONE 40-year-old gun and an entire army of fully-equipped mercenaries coming to get him.]

All that being said, I still enjoyed this movie. Very much in fact. It isn’t “Casino Royale” but it’s much better than “The Quantum of Solace” and light years from the dark days of Pierce Brosnan. Part of the reason is Javier Bardem’s delicious turn as the villain Raoul Silva. He seems to revel in his role as the Bond villain who is a perfect foil for Bond and, for once, totally justified in his demented campaign of terror. Bardem plays the role with just the right level of camp which recalls the heady days of Charles Gray as Ernst Blofeld, not to mention Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint from “Diamonds are Forever”.

Another part of the reason for the movie ‘working’ is also Mendes himself. While he may not have crafted the perfect movie from a screenplay, which frankly does not always make perfect sense, he has done enough to please most Bond lovers. As a James Bond fan-boy himself he seems to understand what is required. There are enough ‘punch the air moments’ and boxes ticked off to ensure the movie was never in any danger of being anything other than a success. Sure there are problems which could leave you grumbling and ruminating for days afterwards, but this movie feels such a celebration of the whole history of Bond that it is hard not to forgive it anything.

IN SHORT: A glorious celebration of all things James Bond which lurches dangerously into becoming a heavy pudding.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Final third lets it down.

What did you think? Did you enjoy “Skyfall”? Leave a comment and rate it below.

  1. Check out the movie’s official site
  2. Read about the film on IMDB
  3. Read about the film on Wikipedia
  4. Check out the film at 007.com
  5. Read the review at Totalfilm.com
  6. Read about the film on Rottentomatoes.com
  7. Read about the film at the Guardian’s website

Watch the trailer here:

About dustforprints

Part bibliophile, part cinephile, part dream weaver. Hmmn... in short, I like books and movies and I write words about both from time to time.

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