Review: Skyfall

Skyfall (2012) –  large_4

Skyfall could have been a make-or-break film for Daniel Craig. The actor has always had his naysayers about his suitability for the role of Bond (a website called http://www.danielcraigisnotbond.com was even set up), with some people going as far as to say that his blond hair should have disqualified him from the role.

But then Casino Royale happened, and changed a lot of peoples opinions. There were still those who didn’t take to Craig though, dubbing his incarnation ‘James Bournd’ and complaining about the modernisation of the series. Most people, however, loved the fresh take on Bond and couldn’t wait for the next one. And then came the “disappointing” Quantum of Solace, and a lot of those people who had embraced Craig seemed to turn away, already dismissing him as a one-hit wonder.

So it’s fair to say that Daniel Craig, and even the entire Bond franchise, had a lot to prove with this film, especially after it arrived in cinemas after being plagued by delays. So yes, Skyfall could have been a make-or-break movie.

*

But it wasn’t. Craig slips back into the role off Bond with such ease and comfort that you forget why anyone would ever feel the need to doubt him. It’s probably quite controversial to say this, but I personally think that Daniel Craig is the best Bond we’ve had. Even before Sean Connery vacated the role (the first time), Bond felt like he has become a caricature, merely going through the motions to please the audience. Craig, like my previous favourite Timothy Dalton, gives Bond a necessary shot in the arm and is able to  portray 007 as a person instead of a character. His Bond could exist in the real world. There is a fragility behind the steel that we’ve never seen before, there is emotional trauma behind his eyes. He no longer quips because the script requires him to, now his sarcasm comes from a deep-rooted problem with authority. He no longer sleeps around because he’s a horny bastard, but because he cannot cope with the pain of forging another emotional connection. Craig’s Bond is very human and that makes him a far more interesting characters. After all, when was the last time we saw Bond cry?

The rest of the cast is equally brilliant. Albert Finney brings warmth and humour to the film’s final act, Ralph Fiennes makes a great addition to the Bond franchise (although I must admit that, due to his association to Voldemort, I kept expecting him to turn evil at any moment), and Ben Whishaw makes a fitting Q for the digital age. Both Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe perfectly balance smarts and sex appeal to portray two very compelling and complex Bond girls, and their scenes with Craig spark with a real chemistry.

It isn’t until Javier Bardem arrives on screen, delivering a lengthy speech in a single shot and sporting a truly awful shock of blond hair, that you realise how much you’ve missed the Bond villains of old. Grandstanding and otherworldly, Bardem’s Silva delivers where Craig’s two previous films have lacked and gives us a truly memorable and menacing villain. What makes Silva so effecting is the fact that not only is he a brilliant throwback to the classic Bond villains, but that he fits perfectly into the more realistic tone of the Craig era Bond films. Yes he has a secret island, yes he’s disfigured, yes he monologues, but despite all his power, be doesn’t want world domination, he doesn’t want to trigger another war. His motivations are incredibly personal and believable. This makes him far more realistic and far more terrifying.

I’ve heard it said in other reviews that Dame Judi Dench’s M is the true Bond girl of the film, but I personally think that comparison hugely undermines the importance of her role. She is the definite co-star of the film and is the heart and soul of the movie. The maternal relationship between her and Bond that started in GoldenEye has never been more effective and shows why the casting of Judi Dench all those years ago was a master-stroke. She injects her M with a powerful mix of exasperated mothering and steely professionalism and her scenes with Craig are truly heartfelt and powerful. Their dialogue crackles with realism and electricity, and their shared scenes are a highlight of the film.

*

The appointment of Sam Mendes as director was something that immediately piqued my interest in the film from very early on, and I was very relieved that he stuck with the project throughout its numerous delays. Mendes has delivered an incredibly stylish and sleek Bond film, but isn’t afraid to get rough and ready when the story requires it. The film’s pace is relentless and engaging, and despite having a running time of almost two and a half hours, the film zips along, taking the audience on a pure adrenaline rush of entertainment. Due to the slow, thought-provoking films of his back-catalogue, there were doubts from some as to whether Mendes could handle the action required for a Bond film.

It doesn’t take long for these doubts to evaporate though, as Mendes does more than prove his mettle with a thrilling opening sequence, which features on of the film’s best moments – after having been shot and smashing a digger through the roof of a train, Bond jumps into the carriage and calmly adjust one of his cufflinks. It’s the smaller moments like this, and there are plenty, that really make the film a true joy to watch. The finale also highlights Mendes’s skill at directing action, with a tense and nerve-racking siege evoking fond memories of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.

Mendes also excels in the slower scenes, making sure that the quieter character moments are just as important and impressive and the big set-pieces. He draws some incredibly heartfelt performances from his cast, making this the most emotional Bond yet.

*

With a far more personal story than the usual grandiose Bond plots, and plenty of pitch-perfect throwbacks to the existing franchise, Skyfall is a brilliantly made and beautifully acted film. Skilfully balancing the old-school charm of classic Bond and the realistic modernism of Craig’s previous outings, the film proves beyond and doubt that James Bond is back, and he will return.

 

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