I was so pumped for this movie, and due to various impediments I did not get out to see it until 2 weeks after its release. Add that to the four years since Quantum of Solace, and you can understand why I have bestowed the ultimate form of over-anticipation on this film: the perpetual all-capitalization. SKYFALL was a fantastic film that completely lived up to all the hype and expectations, comparisons with other Bond films, and as a stand alone film.
SKYFALL starts out pretty dramatically; they kill off Bond (Daniel Craig) before the opening titles. As he struggles with a bad guy on top of a train, another agent (Naomi Harris) tries to get the bad guy but ends up getting Bond instead. Of course, he’s James Bond so he’s not really dead. There were a lot of close calls in this movie, but I was basically able to allay all of my fears by just reminding myself that he’s James Bond, he’s gonna be fine. The important part of all of this is (besides that everyone else thinks Bond’s dead), is that M (Judi Dench) was the one who told the other agent to take the shot, knowing that Bond may be killed and/or injured.
After recouping for awhile and learning that the MI6 building has been bombed, Bond decides that he should go back to London and M16. In order to get put into the field again, he has to prove he’s not actually dead and take all of these physical and psychological tests. We see them and they’re not going well. He has trouble doing chin-ups and shooting. I guess the psychological stuff didn’t go to well either, but I can’t really say why (it was one of those random word association things). Apparently he does just well enough, and M clears him, much to the surprise of Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who is overseeing M’s questionable choices. He has a way out, he’s not getting any younger, “why not stay dead?” Because there is work to be done!
At first, Mallory comes off as intrusive and unnecessary. He’s questioning M’s leadership of M16, and now Bond’s secret agent skills. Who does he think he is, anyway? Even though initially kind of annoying, Mallory comes through for us by the end, trust me. He also initiates one of the most important themes in the film: old vs. new. I really loved this theme and it was one I especially concentrated on throughout the film. It’s particularly significant when taken in context with fan opinions on various James Bond films and their progression from (in my opinion) less realistic to more realistic. It very interesting how you get the new Q (Ben Whishaw) saying that they don’t give out exploding pens anymore, M being criticized for doing things the old fashioned way, Bond getting old, and then the fact that these are actually the new movies, but they’re quasi prequels to the Connery ones… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So who is behind this bombing? And by the way, whoever it is, that’s not all they did. They also stole a list of all the undercover M16 agents and are releasing it periodically on youtube (yup, they used the actual name). This exposes them and they are getting gunned down mercilessly. It’s not M16 they’re after, it’s M. It is revealed that this mystery menace is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), an ex-agent with a troubled history with M. He uses new school methods (aka computers) to cause all sorts of problems. M sends Bond into the field to find this guy, which he does, and the confrontation scene between them is really intense.
The main question that’s posed by Silva regards loyalty. We already know that M was willing to sacrifice Bond to get the list of undercover agents back, and Silva only adds to this uneasiness by revealing that Bond didn’t actually pass his requalification tests, but M sent him back into the field anyway “knowing that [he] would likely die.” Not very comforting. It didn’t seem to worry Bond too much (that he didn’t doubt M even for a second was one of my few problems with the film), but it made me a bit uneasy. But he’s James Bond, so it’ll be fine.
Silva was one crazy creep, I’ll give him that. I haven’t seen enough of the films to designate a top villain, but from what I’ve seen, Silva seems a worthy choice. He was clearly mentally unstable, but that didn’t interfere with his cunning at all (except maybe towards the end). The most dangerous part about him from an audiences standpoint is that if he wasn’t so creepy he would’ve been pretty sympathetic. Even worse than Bond, M left him in a prison to die a slow and horrible death. He tried to kill himself, but “life clung to [him] like a disease” and he survived the ordeal, though not completely unscathed. During his service, he seemed to have come to regard M as a sort of a mother figure. While this is really creepy, it actually makes sense. Acknowledged in Casino Royale and SKYFALL, M16 makes a point to recruit orphans. That can’t be a coincidence. Removed from his menacing presence, I’m actually starting to sympathize with the guy. Similar to Sean Bean’s character in Goldeneye, this Bond villain has legitimate reason to seek revenge, which makes him all the more determined and frightening.
In order to outsmart Silva, Bond and M have to stop being so predictable. They go old school and off the grid in the last part of the film, and it’s totally awesome in my opinion. They bring back the car from Goldfinger and hide out in Scotland. Silva eventually finds them anyway, as planned out by Bond and Q before he and M head out. This is a perfect combination of old and new methods working together to lead up to an awesome battle sequence.
The acting was great. Judi Dench is always good and was given a bigger part in SKYFALL than in any of the others, which is only fitting. Bardem as Silva was appropriately creepy and menacing. Craig has always been my favorite Bond, and he still is, all the way. We were able to see him more vulnerable in this film than any of the others, but that only makes him stronger when he does succeed. I also really loved Ralph Fiennes as Mallory. Originally he kind of seemed like a bureaucratic jerkface, but it became clear that he really just wanted to get the job done as well as possible.
Perhaps more than any other franchise, Bond films have several trademarks that are always looked for. Everything seems to fit into nice categories: villains, henchmen, Bond girls, gadgets, theme song, title sequences, Bond actor, etc. You had a single, clear villain in Silva, though he didn’t really have a clear henchman. The theme song by Adele was great, but the opening titles were really trippy for such a realistic movie (or as realistic as Bond films can be). Craig was great, as already stated. The gadgets were a bit lacking, but they were never really my favorite part anyway. I always liked Q better than the gadgets, and he was back in full force. The gun that only Bond can fire was cool, and useful. Q goes for quality over quantity I suppose; the radio was useful as well. The really interesting trademark however, was the Bond girl category.
You had the agent that almost kills Bond in the beginning. She is present throughout the rest of the film and is a worthy example of the “not an airhead” Bond girl type. I liked her, and her function was definitely interesting and I’m glad she’ll be coming back. Then you had the type that only exists to get killed off. I can’t even remember her name. Not really important except she is yet another example of Silva’s evilness. Then you have M. What? M classified as a Bond girl? What is this? I’ll admit, when I first read that on other blogs, the idea didn’t sit to well with me. I mean, there is no way you can even call her a girl at all, really. And if her and Bond… eww. But I see the argument. She’s with him the whole way, and they have the closest relationship. Now I almost think it would be insulting not to acknowledge the relationship. We had Vesper in Casino Royale, I didn’t roll my eyes once at Camille in Quantum of Solace, and now M. In terms of the Craig films, I really want to abandon the “girls” and go with “women.” Can’t say that of previous films.
I just can’t get over the transitional elements in the film; the emphasis on old vs. new. I don’t know if they intended this or not, but how it works so perfectly with the ongoing fan debate on the style and tone of the films. I think they must have, right? Hunting for Silva, Bond starts in a very futuristic Shanghai. It was so futuristic I was reminded of Blade Runner, everything was dark or neon, sharp and angular. They end in Scotland, with no modern conveniences, just a barren moor with nothing but a castle-type house and a graveyard. Going backwards in time sort of, perhaps sending a message that the subsequent films will be more like Connery-era? The end definitely But you can’t ignore that these are pretty updated; they still take place in modern day. It’s basically the James Bond time warp. I can predict with reasonable confidence that the subsequent films will not disappoint. It’s James Bond. It’ll be fine.
“Welcome to Scotland!”
Long story short: 4/4 stars
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