Reviews, Theatrical Reviews — November 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm



“Take the bloody shot!”


The possibility of Skyfall achieving acknowledgement at the Academy Awards is not without merit. An outstanding cast, Oscar-nominated composers and cinematographers with, for the first time ever, an Oscar-winning director, clearly establishes Skyfall as a film which has broken the rules regarding James Bond filmmaking. Despite this, Skyfall additionally manages to respect the series with the usual tropes of 007 by seamlessly advertising tourist hot-spots including Shanghai, Istanbul and – in the year of the 2012 Olympics – London. It includes exceptionally attractive ‘Bond Girls’ including Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe, but it is Judi Dench’s ‘M’ who is the central female character. We witness the re-arrival of Q (Ben Whishaw), offering a clear attempt at re-aligning all the facets which make James Bond so engaging. This film took “the bloody shot” and is a game-changer – and makes no attempt at hiding its influences.

“Storm’s Coming”

It is interesting that, in a year whereby Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises advertised the term ‘a storm is coming’ as Bruce Wayne harked back to his roots, this James Bond film delves deeper than any other James Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in exploring where 007 emerged from – and additionally uses the line “storm’s coming” to precede the final act. The film begins as 007 is shot during a mission in Turkey attempting to retrieve a list of undercover-agents, which has managed to get into the wrong hands. The plot is similar to the McGuffin in Mission: Impossible and the infamous ‘Noc’ list. Unlike DePalma’s thriller, Skyfall continues initially under the assumption that Bond is dead – whilst M is held accountable for the loss of the agent and the missing list. Suffice to say, due to a terrorist-attack on MI5, 007 returns to England. But he is a broken-man and has to re-establish himself as the skilled-spy that he truly is.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have tried to change the Bond series for decades. Licence to Kill changed the formulae as Felix Leiter became a victim to Robert Davi’s ‘Sanchez’ (and his sharks), whilst Bond in true Dirty Harry form, “went rogue” to avenge his best friend’s death. Goldeneye became self-aware as the villain was alternate-agent 006 (Sean Bean), mocking the characteristics of Bond which we love. The World is not Enough saw ‘M’ become a victim as Sophie Marceau’s ‘Elektra King’ double-crossed the whole of MI5 and even Die Another Day pre-dated Daniel Craig as Brosnan’s Bond was tortured by scorpions during the opening sequence. Until Casino Royale all these attempts simply failed under the pressures of the expectations of the Bond series – so Die Another Day jarringly blended the torture at the start with a diamond-laser finale.

In 2006, Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig proved that James Bond can be so much more – and in Skyfall, all these elements come together to create a 007 adventure that truly represents James Bond in the modern era. No more token-gestures at change – Skyfall truly, and literally, destroys the “House that Broccoli-and-Saltzman built”, in favour of a series built on firmer foundations. Scott Mendelson writes how these elements are what weaken Skyfall, stating the we are “drudging along recycled territory” whilst the filmmakers themselves offer only mere “periodic pandering” to fans of the series. I would disagree – after 23 films, this is what we have all wanted. It is simply a shame that they have tried (and failed) so regularly since Brosnan was cast to change the formulae without losing what we all love about the series.

Influences Further Afield

What separates Skyfall further from the franchise is the incredible direction of Mendes behind the camera. Rather than merely turning to action-films to inspire him, Mendes turns to films as diverse as Apocalypse Now, The Usual Suspects and Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight to create mood and depict scenes. Marc Forster failed to evoke the action depicted in The Bourne Trilogy in Quantum of Solace, but it seems that Mendes knew that this direction was the wrong tone for James Bond. Whilst Jason Bourne was rough, off-the-radar and uncontrollable – James Bond can be clean cut, exemplifies extreme class and style and his attitude borders on blatant arrogance. His snarky quips representing his personal, supreme confidence in his skill. Jason Bourne would be unlikely to discuss his sexual-experiences with an enemy when tied to a chair – as James Bond does with the brilliant villain Silva (Javiar Bardem). It is this use of character that not-only separates James Bond from the Jack Bauers and Ethan Hunts of the world, but it also separates Skyfall from all of its predecessors.

Indeed, supporting cast members Judi Dench and Naomie Harris manage to provide a scope to the film that the lone-wolf in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace lacked. Harris’ ‘Eve’ is much more than a token ‘Bond-girl’, whilst M manages to garner more screen-time than any other actor other than Bond himself. The fact that Oscar-winner Judi Dench holds the role assures you of the quality of her depiction of ‘M’ in her seventh-outing as 007’s superior. In this film particularly, her role is one to be commended and celebrated. Indeed, she is as conflicted about the morality of her role in MI5, leading men into battle, as James Bond is about his espionage work on the front-line. Therefore, it is simply poetic that Silva is a character (not unlike Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye and Scaramanga in TheMan with the Golden Gun) who is physically and mentally 007’s reflected-rival, adding a further dimension to the Mother-Child relationship between Bond and M.

The Destruction of the Past

As a fan of the series, the final-act is what is noticeably different to previous outings. Even Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace had an almost-cliché finale as huge, exotic locations – Venice and the Atacama Desert in Chile respectively – set the scene for an explosive ending that would-not be out of place in any other Connery or Moore adventure. Skyfall sets the scene in the highlands of Scotland. The misty moors and dusty chandeliers are hardly the expensive ‘quality’ we are used to seeing in the series. But it is Roger Deakins that turns the location into a ghost-town that accurately represents the story which Purvis, Wade and Logan are telling. Again, this is not your usual James Bond film and the end of this film is like no-other. Sam Mendes has peeled back the layers of the character to reveal his history and his past – something that many may see as sacrilege. But Deakins cinematography is simply glorious; capturing the mood and emotion attached to the moment. After Vesper (Eva Green) ‘stripped away his armour’ in Casino Royale - only for him to bury it deep within his soul after her betrayal; Skyfall destroys every other human characteristic James Bond had, and the final act represents how much has been taken away to make 007 a lethal man with a licence to kill.

Fans of the series will leave the film with a similar crooked smile on their face. We will think to ourselves “Now he is James Bond!” the same thing we thought when the sniper-rifle hit Mr White at the end of Casino Royale. In that respect, a niggle of frustration may creep through as it has almost been three films now of ‘understanding’ James Bond. Can’t we simply have a James Bond adventure? Can’t we see a story contained unto a single film without a self-referential collective ‘aah’ when he says the same “You must be joking” line we have heard too many times in the series? Maybe. In fairness, this is what Quantum of Solace should’ve been. This is what the 20th film, Die Another Day, dreamt it could’ve been. But it is 50 years since Dr No, and this film is a way that truly celebrates that success. No other franchise has such longevity and, therefore, captures 50 years of stylistic changes and cultural shifts over the period of its release. This film will remain a special film for many reasons – the use of James Bond’s home town, London; the political and personal relevance to the nature of terrorism in the 21st century; the dramatic finale. It is only fitting that the film ends where it all began, almost daring younger and new-fans of the series to pick up the box set and go back to the start. Because behind all the Oscar-nominees and Oscar-winners; behind the cast and crew; behind the two producers who have managed to maintain the series since GoldenEye are fans of the series – like we are. And we only want what is best for Bond – and this could be the very best of the entire series.


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  • Some strong words here Simon. The only thing that has me doubting is that you don’t seem to harsh on Quantum of Solace which for me is a solid bottom three of the franchise.

    • Clearly you haven’t read my review of QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Indeed, I thought it was awful. (links are within the SKYFALL review)

      • Hahaha I need to check it out that film is a mess. I caught some glimpses of forgiveness over it here I thought. :)

    • Quantum of Solace “a solid bottom three of the franchise” that’s harsh. It’s a solid if unspectacular movie. Sandwiched between two really good movies Casino Royale and Skyfall doesn’t do it any favours but had it come out towards the end Roger Moore’s days as Bond it would have looked amazing. As for it been bottom three, off the top of my head all the following films are worse: Die Another Day was a terrible film, more of a Parody of Bond than Mike Myers, Michel Hazanavicius and Charles K. Feldman could have dreamt up! Moonraker was a shameless attempt to cash in on Star Wars and its only merit is in the comic value. For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy are dull and forgettable with only a car chase each providing any memorable scenes. A View to a Kill featured a 58 year old actor as Bond, that would have been an interesting angle had he played it as a 58 year old not pretending to be 30 something. Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough are watchable but no better than Quantum of Solace. And even Sean Connery got it wrong. Diamonds Are Forever has aged really badly.

  • I mean, Mendes and Deakins alone are driving me to see this one; Quantum left me so cold that it’s taken all these wildly positive Skyfall reviews to really get me to give a shit about seeing it at all. (Though the fact that I can’t really count myself as a Bond enthusiast probably didn’t help either.)

    I did dig Casino Royale, though, and if Skyfall is more in that vein in terms of quality, then consider me interested. Thorough as usual, Simon.

    • I’ll tell you what Andrew – I’d be very interested to see if you are keen to watch/rewatch the entire series upon finishing SKYFALL… lots of reasons to turn to DR NO after viewing the film…

      • I don’t know Simon. To be honest I feel that the Craig films are quite separated from the rest of the Bond films. Mainly because they have that uncertainness to when they occur compared to the rest.

        So for me the really don’t tie together that well with the older ones.

        • Yeah, that is very true – and there are plenty of reasons why it doesn’t link back. But I think the finale does indicate a huge respect for the initial set-up of DR NO and what followed it. You are supposed to see that parrallel

          • Damn now you make me curious as hell… do I have to go back and re-watch Dr. No is that what you are saying? I still think you see to much in it.

      • The only connections I can immediately think of between No and Skyfall are the attacks on the Station Chief and the cyanide cigarette, the latter being the stronger bit of tissue. But now I am curious to rewatch that particular film.

        Regardless, I really liked Skyfall– I think it’s one of the strongest entries in the series to date, because despite not being a diehard I’ve seen most of the films because I still like them, and I think it’s the entry that will solidify Craig’s place alongside Connery as one of the most definitive Bonds.

  • Well I’ve finally seen Skyfall. Did so yesterday and I go to say I’m not that impressed as many seem to be.

    As usual Bond producers are a couple of years off. Since the Moore era we are used to bond being the imitator of whats trendy for the moment (or a couple of years ago), Live and Let Die = Blaxploitation, Man with the Golden Gun = Kung fu influences, Moonraker = Star Wars, License to Kill = Miami Vice, Casino Royale = Bourne and now Skyfall = The Dark Knight.

    I think the Dark Knight reference is quite obvious I don’t want to go into that much spoilers but it really had some close resemblances there.

    As for the structure of the film it also follows the most typical Bond narrative of splitting the film into two halves. I must say I felt they could have edited it down quite much especially the contrived way Bond disappears in the beginning. It feels like we have seen that quite a bit.

    I’ll be more detailed on certain plot points when more people have had the chance to see it but my high point came in the end at two particular scenes.

    As for the film as a whole I’d say right now that I hold it above Casino Royale that I have seen only once but that doesn’t mean Skyfall is a masterpiece. I’m not the biggest Casino Royale fan.

    As for Craig I’m having issues with him as an actor in most films so I try to keep him out of the equation but to be honest I think his best Bond performance was performed during the Olympic opening this summer.

    • I think if you have an issue with Daniel Craigs incarnation then the films, obviously, complement him – so that’ll always be a struggle. You are right though – the beginning is reminisncent of DIE ANOTHER DAY and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but it crucially sets up a great banter between Eve and Bond.

      You are right – there is an almost tongue-in-cheek nod to THE DARK KNIGHT as I say in my review (“storms coming”). Thats not a bad thing – as you said, that is the way Bond works.

      The two-half split is neither here nor there too I think – if anything, the final half is unlike anything we;ve ever seen. Scotland is hardly the inside of a sub, or inside a volcano. Its simply spooky.

      each to their own but, unfortunately, if you don’t like Daniel Craig, you’ll always struggle. If you don’t like Roger Moore then, suprise suprise, you won’t like his 7-films. It is what it is though – and it is clearly what the Bond series has been after sicne LICENCE TO KILL.

      • Did you just omit Brosnan completely? hahah

        It is what it is in the end. I maybe biased by not being that fond of Craig or Bourne for that matter.

        That scottish environment is beautiful as hell. Best use of Moors since the 39 steps easily.

        • I’m not sure what you see of The Dark Knight in this, but I’m glad Mendes doesn’t act like he’s beholden to tradition– he’s just making a Bond film, not necessarily a Bond film that reflects its era.

          Maybe you could argue that this connects to Nolan’s Batman films in the ways it questions Bond’s place in the world, but superheroes are doing that left and right and have been since Spider-Man 2, so I think it’s slightly off to attribute that to The Dark Knight (though you could argue successfully that The Dark Knight is the film that’s inspired the current trend of self-awareness in superhero/genre cinema).

          The only other element I could think of would be Silva, but he’s no Joker. He actually has a purpose and a real, tangible goal beyond “chaos”, though he does exist as a foil to Bond in much the same way the Joker plays a foil to Batman.

          So I guess I’m really interested to see what you think ties them together.

          • Rich guy, orphaned at a young age, wealthy parents in what’s basically a small castle, raised by his butler with vintage cars and gadgets has to stop a facially disfigured psychopath with unnaturally colored hair from not only killing random victims unless a shadowy figure steps into the public light, but from killing a specific government worker through a crazily concocted plot, during which time the villain dresses as a policeman, involving events that he couldn’t possibly have known (but seemingly does) but at one point planning on being captured, being questioned and imprisoned, and then escaping through another elaborate plot. At the end of the film, the targeted government worker is dead, with the villain being cut by the hero.

            At one point, our hero even travels to China to collect a semi-important side villain who’s in a glass walled skyscraper and who leaves through the window.

            I’m surprised Bardem didn’t say “do you want to know how I got these scars?”.

  • The line about a storm coming both in this and in The Dark Knight Rises just makes me think of Linda Hamilton at the end of The Terminator.

    • Yeah – there is definately an exceptionally clear parrallel between the two. I don’t think the social-issues of Nolans films are as prevalent in Bond. But, politically, there is a question over what the government can and cannot do to defend the law and defend the country.

      I’d be interested if anyone thinks the similarities makes the film WORSE – as it imitates THE DARK KNIGHT in such a way, or whether the story is different enough to be celebrated in its own right.

  • Out of the three Bond movies with Craig staring, I thought this one was the best of the three. I do have to admit how fun it is to watch a Bond movie WITHOUT gadgets and sorts.

    The re-introduction of Q but an earlier version is interesting and can make future endeavors just as interesting as long as the gadgets are not too over the top.

    Bardem is chilling yet comical in a disturbing way. Although with everyone comparing Skyfall to TDKR, I didn’t notice it until stated. Bond is Bond while Batman is Batman. Are there similarities? Yes but while I’m watching, I am intrigued as to what will be happening next.

    The trip to Scotland had me anticipating a cameo by Connery, but alas, it is Albert Finney whom I had totally forgot was in the movie.

    And are we forgetting about the set up of Ralph Fiennes’ character? Should have seen that coming from the onset.

    Nonetheless, Skyfall is a movie that I feel you walk away from wanting more.

    Okay, the bashing can now begin upon me.