Review: Skyfall

 

When asked who a dream director for the longest franchise in film history might be, the producers of the James Bond films immediately answered, “Christopher Nolan.” Well, with all due respect to Mr. Nolan, fellow Brit Sam Mendes may have beaten him to the punch at making a Nolan Bond. After staring at the chasm of near bankruptcy, MGM has emerged with a new certified classic in its long standing film series. Skyfall is without question a thoroughly classy affair and, for the exception of a minor narrative gap, an artfully made and thematically relevant action film. One hopes that it may very well be a high watermark for not only future Bond films, but for all of action cinema.

As is the case with all Bond films, Skyfall throws us into the thick of conflict from the start, as our seemingly indestructible protagonist (the once again steely Daniel Craig) is on the chase for a hard drive containing the true identities of all MI6 agents embedded in global terrorist organizations. Clearly, the stakes are ridiculously high, but in this case the consequences hit closer to home. After an opening chase sequence shifting from motorcycles to a fight on top of a train, Bond seemingly loses his life, plunging from a bridge into a river and cascading unconscious down a waterfall. He isn’t dead, of course, but the film fails to offer any explanation of how he survived. The oft added rhetoric “He’s James Bond,” would fail to suffice, given the wonderful intricacy detailing the rest of the film. However, we and James are briefly presented with the idea of a life away from the duties of serving country, but the film barely lingers on it. With the hard drive lost, M on the verge of retirement, and a threat from within MI6 itself, Bond has no choice but to take upon his responsibilities, despite his age slowing him down. Bond’s ventures take him to Shanghai and Macau, back to the bowels of MI6 and Skyfall, the location of which holds deep secrets from Bond’s past. Though some may be opposed to the exploration of Bond’s personal history, Skyfall simply offers hints, and no certainties. In any case, it adds layers to his character that were simply absent from all other films.

Craig continues to wear the suit well, and gives Bond a slightly more playful tone lacking in the previous two films. There is still plenty of brooding to go around, of course, and he takes plenty of doses when the identity of the chief villain turns out to be a man by the name of Silva (a devilishly fun Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent thought to be long dead. Bardem’s Silva is one of the most memorable screen villains the franchise has yet seen, whose quips are as funny as they are sexually ambiguous. Among the newcomers are Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), due to take usurp M’s command over MI6, and Q (Ben Winshaw), the boyish technology wizard whose intellectual wit matches Bond’s brute strength. Judi Dench’s M also plays a pivotal role in the proceedings of Skyfall as MI6 is brought under investigation.

As mentioned earlier, director Sam Mendes brings a near Chris Nolan edge to this fifty year franchise, and the results are often glorious. Before mentioning anything else, if one person on this entire enterprise deserves to be singled out it is master cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose second digital effort supplies truly jaw dropping photography. From the earthy grounded hues of Istanbul, the neon orange and blues of Shanghai, and the murky greys of London, Deakins’ framing and colors have rarely been this sumptuous, and makes this Bond the most visual feast of all the pictures. Additionally, the action sequences in this film are executed largely with great efficiency, with a near constant sense of orientation between the viewer and action on screen. Witness a gorgeous hand to hand combat scene inside a Shanghai skyscraper, as Bond and his foe duke it out fist to foot in a single, backlit take. More than just editorial efficiency, however, the construction of many of these set pieces recall Nolan’s The Dark Knight. With the multilayered intricacies, to the crosscutting on multiple lines of action, it is clear Mendes took notes from Nolan’s cinema when crafting his Bond.

While the names of the MI6 agents become increasingly known to the public, M and the entire organization are faced with the viability of Britain’s intelligence gathering in a radical 21st century. The old school clashes with the new, and the entire fate of Britain’s international standing is put on the line. This is what truly distinguishes this picture from not only its predecessors but from many action films overall. Sure, James Bond has dealt with threats of all kinds over the decades, but the reputation of his own country gives the stakes of Skyfall surprising contemporary relevance in a post-9/11 world. The James Bond franchise is no stranger to overblown stakes, but here they feel true and vital to the narrative. With these real world, grounded consequences coupled with many perfectly executed elements from the cinematography, the action scenes, and especially the subtle deepening of Bond himself, Skyfall ensures that such a thing as the sky falling is surely a long way off from happening to this legendary series.

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~ by romancinema on November 12, 2012.

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