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Monday, April 22, 2013

Film Review: Skyfall (Through the eyes of a Bond fanatic)

 
 The very first Bond film I ever saw was GoldenEye and I enjoyed it even before I knew it was part of an over 30 year franchise at the time. Having seen every single Bond film numerous times since then, I fell in love with every aspect of it: The cars, the girls, the action, the gadgets. It was all just pure escapist entertainment at its finest and I still love every ludicrous minute of them. Then I heard that Pierce Brosnan was stepping down/being booted from the role of Bond, and my heart was crushed. I didn't think anyone could replace him, because he embodied everything that I had viewed Bond as: suave, sophisticated, lethal, even funny when the time came. I'll openly admit that I thought Daniel Craig was completely wrong for the part. I was hating on the blonde hair too and I was afraid that the franchise would fade into obscurity because of it. Then I saw Casino Royale, and I, along with many others, were absolutely wrong. I was blown away by everything in it. Almost immediately I thought Daniel Craig succeeded more in portraying Bond in one movie than many others had in 4-7. I won't go so far as to say he's better than Connery, but he's definitely up there with him.


As much as I grew up with Pierce as Bond, Craig has easily surpassed him because he's not only the most three dimensional Bond, he knows where this character has been and what is going on in his head, and that, to me, deserves the ultimate praise. Now that you know my affinity for Bond, let's talk about Skyfall, shall we? I went in with average expectations after Quantum of Solace, which was mildly underwhelming. However, I'm proud to say that Skyfall is the antithesis of that movie. It's an amalgamation of everything the Bond franchise represents and then some. There are many subtle references to the previous films done much better than in Die Another Day where they just put them in there to serve no purpose to the story whatsoever, but this one goes beyond just pleasing the fans. It tells a compelling and sometimes even heartbreaking story as well. The basic plot of it is that Bond and fellow Agent Eve (Naomi Harris) are after a man who stole a hard drive in Istanbul which contains information on the whereabouts of every agent embedded in terrorist organizations around the globe. Bond gets shot in the field and is presumed dead. (You Only Live Twice anyone?) We are then treated to one of the best opening numbers I've ever heard for the series. Adele was a great choice and Skyfall the song is right up there with Live and Let Die. You know you have a good Bond tune when you keep playing it on your car radio. Much praise must also go to Daniel Klienman for creating such a striking set of visuals to complement the film and the song. From there, M is under heavy scrutiny from her superior Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) for her handling of the operation that went awry three months earlier and is in danger of being forced to step down. Immediately after MI6 falls under attack and several agents are killed. This forces Bond to come back and hunt down whoever is responsible. This leads Bond to Shanghai, Macau, and eventually right back to London, where the movie stays from the remainder of the film. The cost of Bond protecting M and the rest of the country from the bad guys eventually becomes quite personal, which leads to some of the most interesting twists in the story towards the end. The finale is easily the best part of the film, mainly because it's a great 180 on the way Bond films usually end. That's all I can say for now, because otherwise I'd reveal some really juicy plot details that make the film that much better. It's an easy to follow plot and it takes liberties with the Bond formula as well. It's not afraid to follow the rules, but at the same time break them as well. Many of the classic elements that were sorely missed in Quantum of Solace return here, such as Q played wonderfully by Ben Wishaw. I love his scenes with Daniel Craig and it's also a nice change having Q younger than Bond himself. He's a bit of a smart ass, but he can back it up as he's also essential to the plot as well. The gadgets are minimal here, but they are practical and make sense within the boundaries of reality. (Sorry fans of watch lasers.) One gadget even lends for a fairly funny crack at the villain. Q also makes a great, nearly 4th wall joke about a previous memorable gadget. Bond in a casino, sleeps with women, his introduction; all those things are present here. The Bond girls themselves are ok here, but I wouldn't go so far as to call them unimportant to the story. Eve is more of a supporting character than an actual Bond girl, but she does serve the plot importantly enough for my eyes at least. Bernice Marlohe as Severine is interesting as well. She kind of reminds me of a cross between Xenia Onatopp from Goldeneye, but that seems to be her exterior, as underneath there's more of the damsel in distress from the Roger Moore era of Bond girls. The real credit here must go to Dame Judi Dench as M. She IS M and her relationship with Bond is one of the most intriguing elements of Skyfall. I know it's been addressed before in the Craig films, but it's really pushed to center stage here. She also delivers the first audible F-Bomb in the Bond series. That is the only spoiler I will give away, because it doesn't reveal too much. As for Craig, it's easily his best performance as Bond yet. He goes through so much here and you can see that he's a man who is at odds with what he does for a living, and yet he still would "give his life for queen and country" as he puts it. He even jokes about it to the villain at one point. Which is a device that is taken straight out of the Fleming novels. The bad guy's goal for world domination here is less elaborate, and makes perfect sense for this day in age. As one of the major points of this movie is the relevance of Bond and the entire 00 section, but by the end of the movie, you're convinced that this world needs a man to do the job that a computer can't do, particularly in this line of work.

 

Which brings me to one of the best elements of this film. Javier Bardem as Silva. We all know he can play a bad guy, but here he does it both stylishly and originally, at least as far as Bond goes. He's definitely alongside the likes of Goldfinger, Bloefeld, and Trevelyan. There's a creepiness that he brings a la Anton, but in a much different way. He's also one of the only villains who has an interesting back story, and there's a few moments that will send chills down your spine with him, both good and bad. You know what he's after, and his intentions are crystal clear. He has the best chemistry with Daniel Craig than any of Craig's other villains have had thus far, and his introduction is incredibly memorable as well, for a lot of reasons. Lots of people so far have compared him to the Joker, even in the trailer, and for good reason too. Sam Mendes has cited The Dark Knight as inspiration for this film, and it shows in both Bardem and the plot, and it's not a bad thing here. It might even do one better, because there's even some elements to Bond's story here that parallels The Dark Knight Rises, so you could call this one Bond Rises in a sense. I just remember being overwhelmed by Dark Knight in 2008 and somewhat let down by Quantum of Solace that same year. This year it was the opposite with both franchises. Skyfall came out on top this year, and for good reason. Sam Mendes was the perfect choice to direct this film, and I'd be sad if he didn't return in the future for more installments. He knows what he's doing behind the camera and he's had the luxury of directing Daniel Craig before in Road to Perdition. He has great style and knack for character, which is what any movie needs, and cinema is great because of directors like him. The action scenes are much better choreographed than the last time around. There's even one fight where it's shot all in one take without a single edit whatsoever, which I found fascinating. There are also a great number of silhouette shots in the film and the visual elements of each location are completely eye popping. It's easily the most beautifully shot Bond film I've ever seen. Stuard Baird is a masterful editor and he gives the film much needed pacing where it is needed. He was one of the main reasons I was hopeful this one would be good, because his work on Casino Royalewas stunning. The camera is also pulled far enough back from the action shots so the viewer can actually tell what is happening this time around, and the action is never just for the sake of a cheap thrill. It always serves the story, which is what makes Skyfall a great film to behold overall. The music this time around is a little more techno-ey, but it works all right. Also, there are enough "reflective" moments that helps the pace of the film overall, such as Bond by the swimming pool just thinking for a brief moment. It doesn't really serve any purpose to the plot whatsoever, but it doesn't detract from the film either. And for people saying Casino Royale was too sluggish and didn't have enough action, look what happened when they tried to "fix" that with Quantum. 'Nuff Said. I'll admit the first hour of the film does drag a little in order to set things up properly, but honestly, so did The Avengers, and that's the 3rd highest grossing film of all time. Overall, Skyfall is a true gem in this franchise and is a perfect way to commemorate a 50 year old film franchise much better than Die Another Day tried to do ten years ago for the 40th. At that point Bond may have been aging quite poorly, but this film ages just as well as a 55' Bollinger, which is one of Bond's main drinks of choice. It easily is as good as, if not better than Casino Royale and possibly even Goldfinger. Welcome back Mr. Bond. Here's to another 50. 5/5. Must see

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