Daniel Craig is back as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in Skyfall, the 23rd adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time. In Skyfall, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. (Skyfall-Movie.com)
It's now been six years since Daniel Craig first suited up as the iconic super spy James Bond, and for two films, the actor has been adjusting to the big shoes he's had to fill. Casino Royale was a restarting point for Bond, and the Bond that fans have come to know and love was someone Craig's 007 was a pretty fair distance from settling into. Skyfall is the long delayed, long awaited third outing for Craig as Bond and, as some have already started to call it, it may very well be the best Bond film yet in the character's 50 year history.
Skyfall's Bond is probably the closest Craig has come to 007 yet. I loved the James-becoming-007 origin story of Casino Royale and I enjoyed seeing how it shaped him and his decision-making in Quantum of Solace, but Skyfall is the first time Craig is just playing James Bond. However, instead of ignoring the previous Craig films, Skyfall is indeed the next step as it continues his evolution. For example, we finally meet the new Q in this film, as well as some distinct nodding to past films and the past incarnations of the character. Some of it borders a little too much on paying homage in a way that distracts from letting this Bond just be James Bond, but at the same time, each obvious nod generates cheers from the audience and laughs from those who get it. While Quantum wrapped up the story started with Royale, Skyfall makes it clear that some considerable time has passed between that tale and this one. Since Quantum, Bond has gone from a questionable new recruit and loose cannon to a trusted and respected agent. While I do feel like there was probably a story or two that could have easily been told between these two movies (we can probably thank the greedy Hollywood hands that let the rights to the Bond franchise cause rifts between companies for that), Skyfall is enough of what Bond fans like about Bond and what others liked about the Daniel Craig films to make any of such fans giddy with delight.
Enlisting the aid of a dramatic director doesn't always work; Marc Forster probably hadn't directed a lick of action before Quantum and, quite frankly, it showed. It was an entertaining film, but it lacked painfully after the fine work that Martin Campbell did with Casino Royale. Sam Mendes (American Beauty) enters new territory on Skyfall, and seemed wise enough to avoid making a lot of the same directorial and editing mistakes that Forster did on Quantum. The action is still wild and frenetic at times, but Mendes makes it easy to follow -- especially in comparison to the previous entry into the series. But Mendes' approach is one of the most stylish in the series as well. It's slick, colorful, cool; while Royale still had elements of previous 007 ventures in its look and feel (and it didn't hurt that Campbell had also previously done Pierce Brosnan's first 007 movie, Goldeneye), Quantum took on more of a raw, Jason Bourne-esque look and feel and Skyfall takes it all a bit further. It's obvious that Mendes is taking everything to a different level. There's a greater deal of dialog, head games, and character moments here--which all lead up to a very James Bond over-the-top (but not simultaneously, surprisingly poignantly human) action finale (And given its running time, Skyfall does feel like Casino Royale in the sense that it's such a long movie that it feels like it has more than one ending). Something that really adds to the different feel of Skyfall is the enlisting of a new composer for 007 in Thomas Newman. See, Newman has worked with Mendes many times before, and while the directors have changed with each Bond film, the composer had remained the same from 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies on through 2008's Quantum Of Solace. The extraordinary and versatile David Arnold had created a sound for Bond that was unmistakable. While Arnold's work on Brosnan's films (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day) became progressively more electronic in nature, Arnold changed it up appropriately for Casino Royale with a more theatrical vibe. Still, Arnold's scores were undeniably James Bond. Skyfall is the first Bond film since Goldeneye that has been almost entirely forgettable (It got to the point where I knew I could buy a David Arnold Bond score before the movie came out and love it. This isn't the case with Newman's work). In fact, while Arnold's themes were cool and appropriate for the film it supported, there are a couple laugh-inducing cues from Newman that are disappointing, if not offensive, in that they border on hurting an otherwise great moment in the movie. This is when film scores can do more harm than good. Arnold knew Bond; it's obvious that Newman does not. My only hope is that whoever takes on 007 for the next film in 2014 will heed the cries of those disappointed with Arnold's snub and either re-hire Arnold or enlist a more appropriate composer than Newman.
The score is really my biggest complaint about Skyfall. The film otherwise almost hits all of the right notes itself. A James Bond movie can't really be a James Bond movie without some over-the-top action, and there are a couple moments that fit the bill here. Explosions are the norm for these movies and, while some of the past films just seem to have very random things exploding just for the sake of there being an explosion (I believe it was The World Is Not Enough that has an opening that's quite guilty of this), it mostly makes sense in context here. The opening chase sequence with Bond pursuing a man who's lifted a chip containing very sensitive material includes some wonderful fights as well as some fun and insane stunts involving a speeding train, a bulldozer, and an agent realistically taking a hit or two. Some other great moments feature Bond traveling to Shanghai and a finale that takes everything back to the basics, bordering on a classic western shootout (yes, you read that right). For those wondering about Bond's womanizing ways, the previews for the movie make it look a bit more like Bond is back to sleeping with any possible girl he can. There's a hint of that, but two encounters are shown here in very brief glimpses. It doesn't all seem quite as goofy or icky as, say, Connery's or Brosnan's Bond, but it's still one of my least favorite traits of the character. The longest one has James walking into a steamed-up shower where he joins a woman and the two briefly passionately kiss and embrace before the scene ends. Before that, we see Bond embracing a woman in the heat of the moment before it cuts to just the two lying in bed clothed afterward. They're scenes that make sense for Bond's character but don't go overboard in their sensuality. Like the two Daniel Craig-starring 007 movies before Skyfall, there's a lot more humanity in Bond and his surrounding characters that seemed to be lacking in Bond films of decades past. It brings a depth to the character and his world that was sorely missing, but there's still that sense of good vs. evil and slick super spy fun that the character has been rooted in. Because of that, this action thriller is exciting.
Aside from the two brief love scenes, there's a painfully awkward encounter between Bond and the male villain, Silva. Right after the bad guy makes his anticipated entrance, he delivers his obligatory master villain monologue to 007 who's tied up in a chair. Soon, the villain unbuttons the top of Bond's shirt and inspects his chest a bit. He lightly caresses James' neck and then glides both of his hands across the top of Bond's seated legs (I'm not even kidding). Bond seems more disgusted by this than anything, but he keeps his cool. When Silva makes a remark about what he just did, James jokes, "What makes you think this is my first time?" (or something like that). It's a bizarre exchange between the two, and it's never made clear if Silva was just trying to rattle the spy or not, but when we actually see Silva kiss a girl no later than a scene or two after that, it just makes his character seem all the more unstable and psychotic. The profanity in the film is about on par with most 007 movies, but Judi Dench's M does use the "F" word once at a moment when she reflects on their situation (She says, "Well I really ****ed things up, haven't I?" or something like that). Q uses the "S" word four times in one scene with it being uttered once later on by a peripheral character. Otherwise, there are a couple uses of "Chr-st" and a handful of "G-d," "h*ll" and "d*mn." Finally, there's the violence. As can be expected, there's quite a bit of violence in Skyfall, but most of it isn't graphic. We do see some dead bodies in the opening scene with a little bit of blood around them, as well as blood on Bond's shirt and jacket after taking a bullet to the shoulder in the beginning. The worst, however, is when we see Bond plunge the blade of a knife into his bare shoulder to dig out shrapnel from the bullet. It's somewhat brief, but definitely the most graphic moment in the movie.
As mentioned before, there are some great references to other films in Skyfall. My favorite, however, is the continuity across the three Daniel Craig movies. There's a subtle reference to Casino Royale where Bond commands Eve not to touch the ear piece in her ear while communicating with him (just like when Bond reprimands another agent before the big foot chase in the beginning), while the best and most obvious moment comes when Bond is talking to Sévérine and "reads" her by observing her body language and surroundings--exactly how he did when he first met Vesper on the train in Royale. There are also a couple references to Goldeneye, from the more obvious "exploding pen" gag to the set design on Silva's island (the giant statue ruins), and even a trait about the villain himself. And then finally, there's the Bond car -- which I won't spoil here -- which earned some delighted reactions from our theater audience, and rightfully so.
Skyfall may arguably be the best James Bond adventure yet (although I'm still pretty partial to Casino Royale). Sam Mendes brings some needed depth to the story while keeping it exciting and unique, all the while winking and nodding to the audience about the previously established 007 lore (the final scenes are priceless). After the set-ups of the previous two Craig outings, Skyfall feels like quite the pay-off, and it's good to see Craig more comfortable in his Bond skin and owning the role a little more. Granted, there are some setbacks to Craig being 100% James Bond in this movie, thanks to a unique twist on things, but it just adds to the human element of the story, making Skyfall a great Bond film and easily one of the best movies of 2012.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/9/12)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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