Tuesday, November 20, 2012


SKYFALL (Sam Mendes, 2012)

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is missing and presumed killed at the start of SKYFALL, the 23rd official 007 film.  Things are not looking good for the British Secret Intelligence Service either.  MI6 head M (Judi Dench) faces being pushed out of her job, agency headquarters are attacked, and the hard drive with the identities of undercover agents working in terrorist groups is still out there for the wrong person to use against them.

Although he’s the worse for wear, Bond reappears and is approved to return to active duty.  He sets out to find the computer device with all those important secrets.  The path eventually leads him to Silva (Javier Bardem), an amoral genius who feels a certain kinship with his pursuer.  

SKYFALL differs from previous Bond films in that it devotes more time to character study than the spectacle-laden series ordinarily grants.  It’s not exactly an origin story, and thank goodness for that.  As a character Bond doesn’t need some complex history to explain why he’s chosen his line of work.  Nevertheless, it’s heartening that this installment adds a bit of dramatic substance to its typical arsenal of flashy stunts, worldly glamour, and sexy women.  Whether Craig continues to play the spy, SKYFALL brings some closure to his trilogy of films that deepens the character and his relationships with co-workers.  

With his flamboyant performance Bardem’s Silva makes for the most memorable villain in a long time for the Bond films.  His alternately attempts to seduce and taunt Bond with the promise of what they can do together outside the purview of government oversight because, after all, bad guys have more fun.  Bardem plays Silva as the cross of The Joker, Br’er Rabbit begging to be thrown into the briar patch, a tech nerd, and a dandy. He doesn’t just want to show up Bond and MI6.  He wants to be able to show off how superior he is to them.
Director Sam Mendes gets strong performances out of the supporting cast too. Dench’s M continues a respectful but cool relationship toward Bond that pays off in unexpectedly emotional ways.  As her potential replacement, Ralph Fiennes pleases as a political weasel working to see that her resignation is demanded.  Naomie Harris’s Eve adds the complicating dynamic of professional admiration for and attraction to Bond as they work together.  Bérénice Marlohe brings the requisite sizzle to her scenes with 007 while lending sadness to what the franchise would typically treat as a disposable role.

On a technical level, SKYFALL has to be one of the best looking Bonds.  The lighting flatters the stars, but cinematographer Roger Deakins reserves full eye-popping beauty for how he captures the locations, including Istanbul, London, Shanghai, and Macau. The set for the uninhabited island, a stand-in for Hashima Island, is a dazzling space that supports the bigger is better mentality of these films.  

SKYFALL proves that a long-standing series can deliver the expected fundamentals while keeping the new films fresh and unpredictable.  If the three Bonds with Craig point the direction for another fifty years of the spy, let’s hope it follows the evolutionary path this one lays.

Grade: B

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