The sky's the limit
Skyfall is directed by Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig is his third appearance as James Bond. The film also stars Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Berenice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, and Judi Dench. Skyfall's release coincided with the film series' 50th anniversary, and it won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and for Best Sound Editing.
Daniel Craig's first two outings as James Bond saw the rebooted series go from top of the mountain to stumbling down the slopes in almost the blink of an eye, and no one could have imagined initially that the series would be able to pick itself up and soar again just one film later. But that's exactly what happens, as Bond comes roaring back with another entry to the film series that, like Casino Royale, ranks among the very best in the entire series. There's really no disagreeing that Casino Royale and Skyfall are the best of the currently four Craig-led Bond films, where one's choice between the two as the absolute best Craig Bond film is most likely to come down to one's personal taste. Some will take Casino Royale because they think it has the better villain or they'll pick Skyfall they think it has the better action scenes. Whatever your preference is, let's just all at least come to the agreement that Quantum of Solace is nowhere near Casino Royale's or Skyfall's levels, and it now serves as just an annoying speed bump in the road going from Casino Royale to Skyfall.
It took me giving Casino Royale and Skyfall both a second viewing, but I can now confidently acknowledge that while I believe Casino Royale to be the best of the Craig-led Bond films, Skyfall is my personal favorite of them. Actually, not just my favorite among all of the Craig-led Bond films, but among all Bond films period. For one, I find it to be the most unique of all of the Bond films in terms of story. Also, I have a particular fondness for several of the big names involved, specifically director Sam Mendes and composer Thomas Newman whose respective work in previous films have played at least some part in several of my most joyous film experiences over the past few years.
I should go about discussing the plot before I dive into anything specific. I have to be careful though, because Skyfall has probably the most spoiler sensitive plot in James Bond history. So here goes: the film opens with Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) pursuing a mercenary named Patrice (Ola Rapace). Patrice has stolen a hard drive containing valuable information on undercover agents, and MI6 cannot afford to let him get away. The pursuit leads to Bond and Patrice fighting on top of a moving train, with Eve attempting to shoot Patrice from long distance. M orders Eve to take the shot, and Eve accidentally shoots Bond and sending him falling into a river. Some time later, Bond is revealed to be alive and enjoying early retirement, while back in London at MI6, M comes under pressure from Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to retire. Shortly afterwards, MI6's servers are hacked, and their headquarters are destroyed by an explosion. Bond learns of the attack on MI6 and returns to London, where M assigns him to return to field work, despite Bond not being able to pass a series of physical and psychological tests. Bond is ordered to hunt down Patrice and find out who Patrice works for. Bond's investigation eventually leads him to former MI6 agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who seeks revenge on M for disavowing him several years back.
On its most basic level, Skyfall is a story of its villain seeking revenge against someone. However, in the context of how this revenge story is told, it thrives in a way that other films with a similar story line can't boast about, because those other said films are not Bond films. And while Skyfall isn't the first Bond film to feature a former MI6 agent becoming a diabolical villain, it still seems wholly fresh and not the least bit banal. Here's what I mean by that: first, think about the types of stories that many of the older Bond films are bound to give you. Most of them involve some kind of villain determined to throw the world into chaos, usually in hopes of getting all the money or all the ratings or all the glory of watching the world burn to the ground. Now some of those villains worked and others didn't, but regardless of how wonderful or pitiful that the villain was, their scheme mostly relied on putting the world at risk in some capacity. The world being at risk is not present in any meaningful capacity in Skyfall, and this is where I'd like to distinguish the film from GoldenEye, which saw the rogue Alex Trevelyan try to threaten the world with the GoldenEye satellite and not go for strictly killing Bond just because Bond left him behind. Because of how Skyfall lacks any sort of villain primarily involved with world-threatening matters such as terrorism (Silva is described to have taken up cyberterrorism, but little to nothing is made of it during the film), destroying the environment, or destabilizing the world economy, it has the unique honor of being the most personal James Bond film. Personal meaning that Skyfall's story takes place so close to home, and its main characters have their motivations woven together because of their common connection to MI6.
- I never would have believed prior to 2012 that Sam Mendes would be able to pull off the kind of action scenes necessary for a Bond film to succeed. Road to Perdition had some neat sequences of violence, but that film never had anything involving a thrilling car chase coupled with a fight on top a train, all in just an opening scene. It doesn't stop there. There's a gorgeous looking fight scene with beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins, in which Bond fights another man on top of a building with the two looking like silhouettes, all while we see giant jellyfish floating on a billboard just outside. And then there's my favorite moment: in which Bond chases Silva through London underground, a scene that I won't even think about spoiling in detail, other than that it highly enhanced by Newman's score. All of the action scenes have something about them to love, coming in small enough quantities to leave you hungry for more as the film progresses.
- Thomas Newman! How do you keep doing it? I have yet to see a film in which Newman was the composer and the soundtrack didn't sound like background noise. A majority of Newman's soundtracks have been for more dramatically oriented films, so being the composer for an action thriller like Skyfall I think is Newman stepping his game up a little. And oh boy does he knock it out of the park with a soundtrack that does just enough to intensify the excitement you see on screen while never becoming overbearing so as to be distracting.
- The only place where Skyfall falls short is how it handles its depiction of the Bond girl. Naomie Harris's Eve is meant to be the Bond girl of the film, but hardly anything happens throughout the film to suggest that Bond and Eve will hook up. Eve assists Bond when he is trying to get information at a casino in Macau, and the most intimate that the two ever get is when Eve helps Bond shave. At the casino, Bond meets the beautiful Severine (Berenice Marlohe), who helps him first meet Silva. Aside from those two scenes, Bond rides solo in his mission towards stopping Silva and protecting M. Given that the film has such a rich revenge story and thrives in other categories necessary for the film to work, I can't complain too much about the lack of a notable Bond girl. Some might even say that M is the Bond girl, though I am not one who would advocate very much for that. Sacrifices are sometimes necessary fora Bond film to work in the ways it wants to work, and in the case of Skyfall, it was the prominent Bond girl who was sacrificed.
The title, Skyfall, refers to the name of the home in which James Bond grew up in, which plays a crucial part to the film's finale. It is a very appropriate title, because home is an essential component to Skyfall's story and the way it goes about telling its story. This is not James Bond saving the world from an evil mastermind who puts millions of lives at risk. This is James Bond protecting the people and protecting the place that could be reasonably called his family and his home, respectively. Sam Mendes tells this more personal story of James Bond, M, and MI6 with such magnificent direction, all the while providing elite action sequences that get a hefty boost from Thomas Newman's score. And before I forget, a quick word on Javier Bardem: he was a natural choice to play a Bond villain, and his Silva is a weird and flirtatious figure, but in a good sort of way.
The film works gloriously in all the ways it needs to work, more than making up for whatever setbacks there may be in other departments. So while Skyfall may not be the bonafide classic that Casino Royale is, it flirts many times with being a classic. One other thing the film has going for itself is having the theme song by Adele being a serious challenger to Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger for best Bond theme song of all time. I'm not kidding, it's that good. And finally, I find it a little strange that two of the best Bond films of all time happen to be two of the most recent ones. Hey, when you've got all the right people together for a Bond film, the sky is the limit.
Recommend? Yes! However, it might be better if you see Casino Royale first (you can skip Quantum of Solace. Just read its plot summary on Wikipedia and you'll be good to go).
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: