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Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Skyfall

Skyfall (2012): Written by Neal Pervis, Robert Wade, and John Logan.  Directed by Sam Mendes.  Starring:  Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralpf Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Judi Dench, and Wolf Blitzer.  Rated PG-13 for: violence, language, drug use, and Bardem’s patent creepiness.  Running Time: 143 minutes.  Based on the graphic novel series by Yvorne Mollywobbles. 

Rating:  2.5/4 stars

    I am not, as the saying goes, a “Bond fan”, or a “Bondian," as it were (Bondonite?  Bonder?).  Nothing personal, I just don’t like the guy.  The whole Cold-War mentality that initially inspired much of his character ceased to be relevant while I was still in diapers, and on top of that, I think both he and the films as a whole are horrid to women (though I am told that that has varied from one incarnation to the other).  So as you can imagine, while drawing up my list of films to see this year, the latest Bond-venture “Skyfall” ranked slightly above the last Twilight movie on the list of films I simply couldn’t be bothered about.  However!  Never let it be said that I am not willing to give franchises second chances!  After repeated assurances that this one was, indeed, quite good (and some time spent silencing the voices in my head), I thought, “Why not,” and sat down to give Skyfall a chance to sell me on the latest Bond-jovi romp. 

    And after seeing it, have I been converted?  Was Skyfall so good that it completely whitewashed my earlier hesitations towards the franchise, and turn me into a......”fan?” 


    Well, was it a solid, entertaining action film with enough good bit roles to make it a fun watch?  Yes, very much so. 

    We open with (what else) an extended chase across the rooftops of Istanbul (literally).  Bond, aided by Calypso from Pirates III (no, I can’t bring myself to call her by her real name), tries to retake a chip containing the ID’s of every single undercover British agent in the world from...someone wielding a gun and shooting at Bond.  Making him evil.  Why MI-6 thought it was a good idea to amass such sensitive information in a single item is never answered.  Budget cuts, perhaps. 

    Anyway, during the whole scene, it is established that Bond is still tough as nails, but maybe starting to slow with age, Calypso is eager but possibly not meant for field service, and M (the head of MI-6, played by Judi Dench) is a frigidly cold person to work for.  Seriously, the main arcs of the film revolve primarily around how brutally and unflinchingly she will do whatever she personally deems necessary to carry out MI-6’s objectives, and also about how she (pretty much) never bothers to apologize, even when the result is devastating for people she clearly cares about. 

    This is actually a nice atmospheric change for the Bond franchise, openly acknowledging the gray moral middle-ground that all intelligence agencies are inevitably forced to occupy.  And, rather than absolving its characters of their sins, they are forced to confront them in painful ways, especially Dench.  Furthermore, Bond himself is no longer the untouchable, bullet-proof one man machine of old, getting shot twice in the very first scene (much to my joy).  The entire first act of the movie is essentially a Dark Knight Rises-esque “Bond is way out of shape and has to get back in the game” montage, one that I wished had gotten a little more attention than it ultimately received.  Nonetheless, I was impressed by how willingly the film aged Bond.  Craig is no longer as dapper as he used to be, his face deeply lined and looking like he’s missed an awful lot of sleep.  Although he ends up being as un-killable as ever, he is not spared some moments of frustration or humiliation.  My favorite scene in the entire film is when Albert Finney calls him a “little shit” his face. 

    The murkier tone of the film is further enhanced by the presence of the villain, Javier Bardem, proving once more that few actors can be as determinedly creepy as he can.  His character, rather than being a simple power/money-hungry baron or Communist spy or whatever, is instead a former MI-6 agent, describing himself as essentially an earlier James Bond, but even better.  However, hurt (in more ways than one) by Dench, and bitterly disillusioned, he hatches an elaborate but not overly excessive plot meant simply to personally injure Dench as much as he can. 

    As much as I enjoyed the individual performances of Craig, Dench, Fiennes, and Whishaw as the various members of MI-6, Bardem is easily the film’s defining presence.  His tortured and insane character bears plenty of shades of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but is enough of his own creation to avoid being a complete copy/paste.  The moment he first enters the film (which is actually pretty late), I ceased to wonder why people are already declaring him one of the best Bond villains of all time.  If nothing else moves you to see this film, seeing Javier Bardem do what he does best- namely, scaring the bejeezers out of you- is reason enough to check this one out. 

    So, on the whole, I heartily enjoyed Skyfall, my earlier misgivings aside.  It never pushes its moral ambiguity to the depths that I tend to prefer, and Bond is ultimately far less interesting than Bardem, but it already takes some fairly big steps away from many of the earlier Bond films.  For me, that’s an improvement, and I hope future films in the series continue that trend.  I’ve also warmed to Craig as Bond.  I think it’s the eyes.  Craig’s icy-blue eyes, so distant and calculating, strike me as perfect for a character like Bond.  And while I was initially indifferent when I heard Adele’s cover for the movie, it actually fits together quite well with the grim, murky opening credits, and the song has only grown on me since.  And who knows?  Maybe, just maybe, I won't dismiss the next Bond flick so readily.  

-Judge Richard

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