Directed by: Sam Mendes || Produced by: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan || Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Judi Dench
Music by: Thomas Newman || Cinematography by: Roger Deakins || Editing by: Stuart Baird, Kate Baird || Country: United Kingdom, United States || Language: English
Running Time: 143 minutes
Given how long the British secret agent has graced the silver screen with his cool-as-ice demeanor, dashing good looks, womanizing behavior, slick guns, cool cars, and endlessly creative (and some not-so-creative) gadgets, it’s a wonder I haven’t become more exposed to Bond films given how long I’ve been into movies themselves. He’s been around since the 1960’s!
Bond has become a staple of pop culture and movies in particular for good reason: Despite many lackluster realizations, adaptations, and reinterpretations of the character, as well as disagreements on what his adventures are supposed to symbolize, the sheer volume of Bond missions has showered moviegoers and bibliophiles with enough quality fiction to cement James Bond as the definitive secret agent. As cool as Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt are, they are all proud descendants of and pay homage to/rip off much of the Bond universe with each additional series entry. It is amazing to realize that Bond films have been around for about half as long as cinema has been around. And they aren’t going away anytime soon.
I can safely say that Skyfall, the twenty-third Bond film from Eon Productions, is no Quantum of Solace (2008). Skyfall feels like a Bond film, if not a truly memorable or fantastic one like Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale (2006). This new Bond adventure has a definitive secret agent tone, a colorful, almost psychedelic visual style to it, and carries itself as anything but a generic action film that might star Nicolas Cage, Jason Statham, or Gerard Butler. In addition, as is the case with several of the better Bond films throughout the ages, Skyfall mirrors and offers allusions of the times and sociopolitical atmosphere that bore it. This latest Bond mission continues the Craig era’s trend of cut-down gadgets, Bourne-style emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, references modern political tensions regarding terrorism and the lines between societal chaos and order, and even acknowledges the aging nature of the Bond series itself.
Probably the greatest strength of Skyfall is its self-awareness and the way that it effectively captures the tone of modern times. The way it acts as a time capsule for not only its franchise, but also for the opening decade of the 21st century as a whole, gives the story added weight and emotional resonance, because these modern allusions to aging empires, individuals, and life’s many shades of grey are tastefully done and feel genuine rather than contrived.
Easily the best scene in the whole movie is Judi Dench’s voice-over speech as Javier Bardem’s cyberterrorist antagonist guns his way to the public inquiry where M is being interrogated for her responsibility in the recent failings of the MI6 organization. Her short monologue on the how the times are a-changin’, how the modern nature of global warfare and international safety are dependent on the secret agent “wars in the shadows,” is a heartfelt, honest defense of the unsung, real-life heroes the Bond character indirectly glorifies and pays tribute to. It’s a great summary of not only her character, but Craig’s battle against old age and evolving relevancy, the modern nature of Bond villains, and acts as a poignant microcosm of the film’s themes.
Where Skyfall stumbles is how this theme isn’t always executed as slick as in this monologue. Bond, while supposedly sporting an aging physique and rusty field skills, hardly misses a step in any of the action scenes or close-quarters-combat, and most of his character’s referenced physical imperfections (such as Bardem referring to Craig as “a physical wreck”) rarely come into play. Much of the movie’s running theme of aging government institutions (personified by Bond) attempting to combat increasingly cloaked enemies (symbolized by Bardem) is only realized part of the time. The times when Skyfall nails its theme with its mature tone, like in the aforementioned Dench speech, as well as the blatantly homoerotic confrontation between Craig and Bardem, the story’s political tension is espoused in the personal growth of its characters, and the movie is a joy to watch. The problem is that this joy never stays consistent.
The other big area where the film falters is in its pacing. Where as Casino Royale was a well paced roller-coaster ride clocked at 144 minutes, Skyfall, at a similar 143 minutes, feels stretched and extended for no reason. Easily twenty minutes could have been cut from the final theatrical release, as both the opening and final action sequences last far longer than their choreography warrants. Additionally, much of the character development feels one-dimensional compared to the memorable flirtations between Craig and Eva Green back in 2006. Neither of Craig’s relationships with Dench nor Bardem have anywhere near the emotional resonance of the romance in Royale.
Bond die-hards will find plenty of references to previous iterations of the series, from the ejector seat-button in the Aston Martin to the return of Q and Moneypenny, though none of these allusions, however playful, add anything of use to the story. Most of the time, these gadget and character introductions feel shoved in simply for nostalgia imagery’s sake, and that’s because they are.
Ironically, Skyfall is at its best when it’s not trying to endlessly reference itself and uses its theme of power past its prime to its advantage. It doesn’t always do the latter well, and that combined with its bloated length and poor pacing are its main weaknesses. It’s an improvement over Quantum of Solace and it’s a step in the right direction for the series, but Casino Royale remains the only Bond film to have a script worthy of Daniel Craig’s leadership. Skyfall never reaches the dizzying, action-packed heights of Royale’s construction chase, but more importantly, it also fails to tell a character story that is anywhere near as interesting as that 2006 shot of adrenaline to 007’s veins. Still, that palm print-coded Walther PPK is pretty cool.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Skyfall showcases dazzling visuals and several memorable scenes that capture the sociopolitical atmosphere of the times. The story is strongest when it manages to convey Bond’s weakness and rust effectively. I’m no Adele fan by any means, yet the “Skyfall” theme is an awesome return to form for the series, musically.
— However… much of the plot’s inconsistencies stick out like a sore thumb. Bond is rarely, if ever, in a state of vulnerability, despite how often the filmmakers try to hammer into our heads that 007 is past his prime. The film is long, drawn out, and poorly paced. None of the supporting cast are particularly memorable, including Dench and Bardem. Endless series references are poorly implemented.
—> RECOMMENDED, but don’t let anyone tell you this film is better than Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace helped this movie’s success more than you think.
? Country: England. James Bond remains as relevant today as he ever was, and will no doubt continue to reflect the times as they change and pass us by.