**** (out of 5)
November 9, 2012
Daniel Craig as JAMES BOND
Judi Dench as M
Javier Bardem as SILVA
Ralph Fiennes as GARETH MALLORY
Naomie Harris as EVE
Directed by: Sam Mendes
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Before you proceed with this review, you have to realize that I am a huge James Bond fan. I enjoyed the movies as a kid, but as I grew older, I grew to love them even more. By the time I was in my 30s, I considered myself to be a die-hard fan. I tend to re-watch them all every ten years or so, and this past summer, I spent six days doing a 22-film James Bond marathon with my kids.
I like the franchise so much that even the films that are my least favorite (being “Diamonds Are Forever” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) still rank as a respectable 2 1/2 stars out of my five-star scale. The rest are what I consider three stars and above.
In short, if you’re looking for an unbiased, taken-at-face-value look at “Skyfall,” you won’t find it here. I’m not saying that someone couldn’t ruin a Bond movie (because those who believe that only have to consider the following phrase: “Tim Burton to direct the next Bond film.”). Rather, I realize that after fifty years of making movies, those in charge of the franchise have been able to preserve the formula enough that even when changes are made (as we saw in “Quantum of Solace” and earlier in “Licence to Kill”), it’s still a lot of fun.
In this respect, “Skyfall” does divert a bit from the traditional Bond formula. But it is also quite derivative of many of the other films in the series. (For a quick accounting of how “Skyfall” draws from earlier Bond films, check out my article on FilmSchoolRejects.com here.)
The new film, directed by Sam Mendes, finds James Bond (Daniel Craig) literally caught in MI-6’s crosshairs. He’s shot on a mission to retrieve a list of embedded British Intelligence agents. Of course, Bond doesn’t stay down for long and reappears for field duty. While struggling to meet the physical and psychological requirements for the job, he finds the entirety of MI-6 a target of a mysterious computer genius villain. Bond must go to new lengths to protect himself, Britain and his estranged boss M (Judi Dench).
Some critics out there are falling into the dreaded hyperbole that is present in today’s movie blogosphere by calling this the greatest Bond film ever made. That’s a tall statement, considering the franchise spans half a century. I tend to look at Bond movies in terms of eras (Connery Era, Moore Era, Brosnan Era, etc.), but even then I wouldn’t call “Skyfall” the best of the Craig Bonds. That title is still reserved for the quite excellent “Casino Royale.”
But “Skyfall” is at least as good as “Quantum of Solace” (which I liked a lot more than most critics). It had the elements you need for a Bond film – Bond girls, a great villain, international locations and plenty of action. This makes it exciting and fun to watch. The action set pieces look great and work exceptionally on the big screen. A lot of this is due to the brilliant cinematography of Roger Deakins.
“Skyfall” also cuts closer to Bond’s bones than many of the previous films. It’s not that things have never got personal for Bond. It’s been happening since Blofeld killed his wife in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and later a drug dealer fed his friend Felix Leiter to sharks in “Licence to Kill.” Even Craig’s Bond has seen a personal touch, with his falling in love with and suffering the betrayal of Vesper in “Casino Royale.”
But things get really, really personal in “Skyfall.” This adds to the drama and lets you see a deeper, more emotional side of Bond. The converse effect is that the story seems less big. The drive of all the MI-6 agents that Bond is chasing becomes a pointless MacGuffin rather than the focus of the film. And as things roll into the impressive climax, the films is less about saving the world and more about saving just a few people.
The other problem with “Skyfall” is that it’s become almost too modernized, and there’s less of a unique look and feel to the MI-6 elements. Sure, a new Q is a great thing (though I am still itching to see some more creative gadgets), but the look and feel of British Intelligence looks like just another BBC miniseries. When Bond’s in the field, it’s great. When we’re back home, it loses some punch.
Still, “Skyfall” is a great movie. It’s a welcome sight to see it bring the franchise into modern filmmaking. It also helps close the book on some of the rebooting angle. After years of rights wrangling, it’s nice to see the series looking ahead to the future with a return to some of the more fun elements that were lost when they brought the series back down to earth in 2006.