Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skyfall - Theatrical Review

Release Date: November 9, 2012

I wish I could tell you that this is the best James Bond film to date, but the truth of the matter is that it is merely a solid entry into the longest film franchise of all time.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC Universal City Walk
Time: 1:30 pm November 10, 2012 

Projector Type: IMAX 

Film Rating: PG - 13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 25 min
Studio: Sony

Loves: Casino Royale (2006) 

Likes: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes 

Neutral: Quantum of Solace
Hates: That we had to wait this long to get a new bond movie

What took so long?: This was yet another victim of MGM's financial issues

After a failed mission to recover sensitive material concerning deep cover operatives leaves James Bond (Daniel Craig) missing in action, M (Judi Dench) and the entire MI6 organization comes under attack by a cyber terrorist who threatens to release the identities of the undercover agents which leads to a lack of confidence from the people of London in her majesty's secret service and the possible removal of M from office. While searching for the man responsible for the attacks, Bond comes across Silva (Javier Bardem), a maniacal and intelligent man who has ties to M's shadowy past that Bond must uncover while also confronting his own troubled past.

The hype machine has been working overtime for Bond's latest venture. After a four year hiatus from cinemas (due to MGM's financial woes) and a lackluster follow up ("Quantum of Solace") to arguably the franchises best entry in decades ("Casino Royale"), the studio and Bond in general really needed to jump start people's interest in the world's greatest secret agent again. Well, mission succeeded. "Skyfall" successfully integrates all the traditional Bond elements that had weighed down the franchise in the past such as flamboyant villains and silly gadgets without succumbing to their faults, while also creating a film that at once feels familiar and a significant departure mostly due to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins' beautiful imagery and director Sam Mendes injecting a surprising amount of character depth to a franchise whose characters have mostly been fairly one note up until now.

The film opens with your obligatory action sequence that involves car chases through crowds of people, motorcycle chases across the roof tops of the Grand Bizarre in Instanbul and even a climatic battle atop a moving train that has Bond taking control of a...well, it would be best if you saw that one for yourself. After that opening however (and the fantastic title song by Adele) this new Bond quickly sets itself apart from many of its predecessors by doing something almost unheard of in the Bond universe, giving us some real character growth for both Bond as well as M. The action quiets down, there are villainous acts occurring that still propels the narrative forward, but we are given an immense amount of time with Bond and M as they both struggle with their haunted pasts.

That is where "Skyfall" truly excels and sets itself apart from other films in the series, seeing the long standing relationship between Bond and M fleshed out more than it ever has been before. In the past the character of M has been used mostly as a tool to motivate Bond, but until now you never really got the connection or, pardon the horrible pun, bond between her and 007. Likening their relationship together as mother and son is an admittedly strange notion, but it really does add a whole other layer that actually makes the usual over the top action scenes mean something. When Bond goes chasing after a bad guy through the streets of London, it isn't just exhilarating, it has some actual weight behind it because of his personal investment in who he is trying to protect which was kind of cool and certainly unexpected from a Bond film.

The only real drawback to any of this, and this is a minor nitpick, is the amount of time the film takes to set all the pieces of this puzzle in place. In a first for a James Bond film, the villain isn't even shown to us until more than half way through the film and instead we spend a large amount of time with Bond and his fellow MI6 operatives. An excessive amount of the film's extended runtime is devoted to the platonic relationship between M and Bond and it can drag a bit at certain points, but it never becomes plodding or boring. It's more methodical approach will have its supporters and its detractors, but the results are more than worth the extra time devoted to fleshing out these characters we have watched for decades who are given significantly more substance than ever before.

Mendes must be commended for taking the series in this new, bold and somewhat brave direction. It's a daring choice for sure, one that he compliments with some of the most gorgeous cinematography seen in the entire franchise to date. Bond films have always used remote and exotic locales in the past but somehow, Mendes and Deakins have taken those same locations and made them works of art, a fist fight hundreds of feet in the air amidst the neon glow from the lights of Shanghai's skyline is a particular standout as is the entire finale. That may sound like overselling it a tad, but this is a truly beautiful film to behold and a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination come awards season. It looks that good.

This new look and character centric focus may sound like too much of a departure from the established Bond formula, especially since most fans and the public in general have come to expect certain things from their Bond experience. But there is no reason to fret thankfully because everything we associate with Bond is still intact and well represented. We still get our Bond girls, Eve (Naomie Harris) as his fellow field operative and the seductive Severine (Berenice Marlohe) who serves to help him with his libido. The long awaited return of the Q branch and all it's goodies are a welcome addition that has been missing in the Craig Bond films until now. Then of course there is the villain. What James Bond movie would be complete without a satisfactory villain?

The introduction of Silva doesn't occur until nearly half way through the film but what an introduction it is. Going back to the way the film was shot for just a second, how we first see Silva from the same vantage point as Bond was a masterstroke of genius. We had waited, along with Bond, to finally see the face of the man responsible for all the malice we witnessed during the film's first half and instead of giving us an immediate up close shot or the more cliche swing around in a chair reveal, we get this extended shot of Silva at the end of the hall slowly making his way towards the camera as he regales us with a tale from his childhood that has many hidden meanings behind it. When we do finally see his face, it isn't such an "Ah-Hah!" moment as it is an "Oh..." moment.

That reaction comes mostly from Bardem's performance which is this strange mixture of a metrosexual and a sociopath. He's sort of funny and entertaining but there is a darkness beneath that makes him much more menacing than any Bond villain in recent memory. Perhaps it was the late introduction or maybe it was Bardem's performance, but he brings an energy to the film that was sorely lacking during it's first half; it was almost a relief in many ways. Like Bond and M, Silva is given a little more meat to his insanity than is usually afforded to the villain role and when it is revealed how the three are connected it is nothing short of brilliant.

"Skyfall" feels almost like a mini-reboot of sorts, ditching the over arching storyline from the last two films and heading down a very familiar path as a more stand-alone feature. We see the re-integration of Bond staples such as Q (Ben Whishaw), the Bond gadgets and the return of other series favorites that would be spoiler-ish to mention here, but rest assured that by the time those end credits role any Bond faithfuls out there will feel very comfortable where this one leaves off.  If this new James Bond proves anything, it's that it isn't the typical outlandish Bond extravaganza you are likely used to and it is all the better for it.

"Skyfall" is a unique blend of those old school James Bond flicks and the ushering in of a new era. We get a new Q but we get an almost throwback villain. We say goodbye to some old friends while welcoming back some long gone compatriots. We even see the return of a famous prop from Bond's past that is beyond cool and then there is Mendes' direction and Deakins breathtaking cinematography which add a classical feel to the proceedings while Daniel Craig's Bond and the intense action set pieces keep it all firmly rooted in the modern era. This is a film that both James Bond fans and casual movie-goers alike will love. "Skyfall" doesn't exactly set out the re-invent the wheel, but how it brings old staples of the series back into the fold to satisfy longtime fans while still remaining newcomer friendly makes it one of the better Bond films to date, just not the best unfortunately.





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