Movies: Skyfall

Don’t read this review if you intend to see Skyfall but haven’t seen it yet.

I will talk about plot points during this review, some of which aren’t in the preview below. You might want to keep a few surprises in store.

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Let’s imagine 5 stars out of 5 represents the perfect film. Silence of the Lambs was pretty much the perfect film. Pulp Fiction was very, very close. The Matrix left a very strong first impression, but has faded on subsequent viewings. The Godfather, both parts 1 and 2, endure to this day.

Casino Royale was extremely close. I’d give it 4.5 stars because it held my interest all the way through with classic Bond traits, characters you could really engage with and a fantastic, twisting plot all the way to the final scene.

Skyfall?

Let’s start at 5 and work back from there.

I’ll start at 5 because Skyfall is genuinely good. The initial story builds nicely thanks to great action sequences and a modern threat to MI6, levelled in quite a personal way at Judy Dench’s “M”.

The visuals are stunning, filmed on location in Turkey, China and the United Kingdom. The opening sequence through Turkey is the usual Bond fare – chases, guns, architectural destruction and plenty of near misses from people who really ought to be able to shoot better. There’s action a-plenty right up until the time when Bond is the victim of friendly fire, fighting our first protagonist to regain a lost computer drive containing the names of undercover agents around the world.

That first guy is formidable, but of course he’s just the entree. We don’t meet Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva until we are well into the film – from Turkey to England to mainland China and then Macau. When we do meet him, however, it’s riveting.

Bardem is fantastic as the psychologically complex Silva, but the first points are shaved from my rating because the writers simply didn’t allow the character to grow beyond that initial impact into the legend that precedes him. Bond is told early in the film that he’s never met evil like Silva, that he doesn’t know fear the way Silva can instil it. I wish there’d been something big, something truly catastrophic in the film to demonstrate this. Bardem does make Silva light up the screen when he first meets Bond, but as the film progresses, it turns out he’s just a guy with a vendetta against M. He also dies too quickly.

Other marks off for:

A lack of global annihilation drama. The movie does cross some very nice international borders and uses a variety of locations to visually stunning effect. But there’s no sense that something bad’s going to happen to a big group of people if Silva isn’t stopped. As I said, our #1 target is just a former agent with a grudge. He knows how to make an entrance, but still…..

A lack of currency. One of the things I’ve liked about many Bond films is that they use current trends or world storylines to good effect. Casino Royale was a classic case in point, decorating its terrorism funding plotline with the use of both parkour and poker, one of which was emerging and the other at the height of its popularity at the time. Other Bond films have used conflicts in Africa, North Korea, Eastern Europe and Russia. Even the environment has had its 15 minutes of Bond fame. I didn’t feel any such cultural congruency with Skyfall.

And here’s a question – when are the people behind Bond going to make a genuine go of a plot involving the middle east and the ideological clash with the west?

Predictability. One of the guys I saw the film with was able to call several of the major character developments of the film with remarkable accuracy. Stu’s got a good mind for such things but the story was laid out in such a way as to make his job easier than it should have been.

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This film bookmarks a Bond world that’s in a state of transition. Those character developments, which will play out further in Daniel Craig’s next two Bond films, mark a changing of the guard. I think it’s a change for the better, too. As wonderful as some of MI6’s main characters have been in recent years, it’ll be refreshing to see how a new MI6 unfolds.

Judy Dench, as always, was remarkable. Kudos to Albert Finney and Ralph Fiennes for fantastic performances in their supporting roles. I fear we’ll only see one of them in future Bond films but I hope we see both. Kudos also to Sam Mendes, the director, who did a wonderful job with the story he was given.

For me, Skyfall needs some time to settle in a little bit more. I may need to see it again to fully appreciate it. Right now, it still lives in the shadow of Casino Royale in my mind and it’s from there that I have to take my measure.

If Casino Royale warranted a solid 4.5 stars – which it did – then I have a hard time giving Skyfall any more than 3.5 stars (Note: in our post-movie debrief I gave it 3.75, but going to quarter points just doesn’t seem right).

Skyfall’s big scenes were very big indeed, but to me, it just lacked too many of the important things that make a Bond film, a Bond film.

I reserve the right to upgrade Skyfall to 4 stars at a later date but right now – 3.5 stars it is.

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19 Comments

  1. I like Bond films but have never been enamored. While it would have been nice to see the Silva character explored more deeply, I did find myself thoroughly enjoying Craig as a very imperfect–flawed even–dark and brooding Bond. That complexity, even amidst the predictability of the plot and formulaic action scenes, and the re-imagined and vulnerable MI6, made this a Bond film quite to my liking.

    Question to any/everyone–having a number of Scottish friends, I was fascinated to see that Bond was a Scotsman. I suggested that this could be added to the list of why Scotland is so wonderful; maybe it could fall between hagus and William Wallace. Is this a new twist or is there a basis for this from other movies or novels?

    1. I think I have read that he was of scottish ancestry long ago. But I can’t remember where. One of the books, perhaps???
      Does somebody else know?

      By the way, I hold this Bond-movie quite high. As I do Casino Royale. And Quantum of Solace is not as bad as some people say, it’s just not as good as Craig’s other Bond films. 😉

  2. Look, it was a movie that, if you’re going to love it, then you’d better love it – because the things that are good, are so good. If you want to find faults, they sure were there, like you said. The character development of Bond, and re-introducing the UK into the picture, now in a globalized version. The starting to find real trouble within the UK and even MI6. That was good, and made it so much more pertinent. And the visuals. Poor car.

  3. I really enjoyed the movie, but it was different. The formula was there, the girls, the Astin Martin, the gadgets, the Martini (shaken of course) the action and that music, but (as I read in another review) there were times that you felt this isn’t a Bond movie. The action would be rolling along then suddenly you’d hear that music and go, “Ah thats right, its Bond!” Is that a bad thing?, I don’t think so. 4 out of 5 from me.

  4. 3.5 out of 5… I could agree to that, seems like it translates into the 7 I gave it on IMDB. Skyfall was entertaining and I will happily buy the DVD, if only to keep my Bond collection complete. Acting was fine throughout, while the photography by Roger Deakins was at times nothing short of brilliant. But like you say Steven, it has some serious issues, the biggest issue being the scenario. It just doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. To name a few elements:

    – Fully agree with your description of how Silva is oversold as unprecedented evil. Not only has Bardem looked rather closely at Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, he also is somewhat cartoonish in his behaviour. Yes, he has a certain coolness over him, but like you say, in the end he is merely a madman with a grudge. (Kudos though for the scene introducing him, where he comes down the elevator and walks up while telling the story about the rats in the barrel. Including the subsequent homo-erotic part, probably the best scene of the whole film if you ask me).

    – Silva’s so-called master plan is over-elaborate. I especially have issues with the second act, where Silva lets himself be captured in order to get to London and attack M in the parliamentary hearing. This is where the scenario REALLY stops making sense. First of all, why does he needs to get caught, infect MI6’s IT system and then escape through the subway network? Since his real aim was to get to M, he could just as well have taken a week off, then book the next charter flight into London, dress up like a policeman and subsequently walk into that hearing room. It just DOES NOT make sense. Remember the scene where Bond chases Silva through the tunnels and then almost gets squashed by a subway train? That whole event COMPLETELY hinges on Bond being in the right place in the right time. Of course, this whole second act is merely put into the scenario in order to create some decent set pieces, but big set pieces hardly make a good film. Merely an entertaining one.

    – To nag a bit further on this elaborate master plan: we already know by this time that it’s easy as hell to get into M’s residence. After all, we’ve seen Bond enter her house early in the film and awaiting her arrival at home. Are we supposed to believe that a Bond who has been spit out by MI6 and is in poor shape can easily enter M’s house, whereas a supposed mastermind who can enter MI6 HQ and set off a bomb at M’s desk has to rely on an elaborate masterplan to get to her? Come on.

    – When Silva eventually ends up in the hearing room, after escaping from MI6’s captivity room, he clearly has no plan other than to start shooting like he is at Columbine High School. He just starts shooting like a madman, and that’s it. A simple smoke screen eventually thwarts his plan. Hardly the approach of a supposed mastermind, is it?

    – The same problem surfaces again in the third act, when Bond is holed up in his childhood home and Silva arrives by helicopter. Silva’s ‘plan’ here is walking around the house and throw hand grenades. That’s it. He has no back-up plan. None. If he would have done a BIT of planning, he could have found out that there might be a connection between the main house and the parish some two to three hundred yards away.

    Bottom line: Skyfall was entertaining, but hardly the masterpiece it is made out to be by many. Within the James Bond canon, it’s one of the better ones. Within Sam Mendes’ career, it is merely mediocre. And within the IMDB Top 250? Please.

    Final note: I will just forget the last two minutes of the film and its supposedly ‘fun’ references to older Bond films and characters. Otherwise I might have ended up with a 5 out of pure frustration.

    1. I figured you’d have some thoughts to contribute, Jeroen, and you haven’t disappointed. I agree with all of them and would add that when in the tunnel, with Silva stopped on the ladder, why not just shoot him?

      The technical answer might be that Bond’s not supposed to kill on British soil (a point noted in Carte Blanche, which I’m reading at the moment) but still….. why?

      A good film, but a Bond film? Just.

      I’ll try and see it again soon and hopefully I’ll just sit back an enjoy this time.

      1. I’m eager to please 😉

        The ladder point: very true. The not killing on British soil: he kills in Gibraltar in The Living Daylights, which is also British soil.

        Like I said: I was entertained and I really enjoyed it, I just take issue with the ‘masterpiece’ crowd’s judgment of the film.

  5. I can now weigh in here.

    I disagree with the lack of currency comment: what I saw here is that the only exotica around this film was in China. Depicted rightly as the current centre of excess. In contrast UK is depicted as being under seige and in a space of uncertainty. Back to basics is necessary fro survival.

    Maybe inadvertantly, the other sign of the times is that many of the Brand UK products, the cars, are from Indian owned JLR. The old Aston was a nod to times past when it was produced in UK under UK ownership.

    Brilliant team effort and important acknowledgement that Bond is enduring and therefore has time to develop plot across episodes rather than make each a discrete bubble.

    Lots more to write but no time, lets say we settle this over dinner.

      1. The initial plan by Silva, to release the names of MI6 operatives via the internet, of course has Wikileaks written all over it (even Silva’s hairstyle is somewhat Assange-like). You could see that as a nod to current affairs.

        1. Drawing a long bow, Jeroen. It’d be good to see a story line like that, though, but with an evil Assange. Along Richo’s lines, he should have a shark tank somewhere.

  6. SkyFall is Sky-Fail.

    I don’t know where to start. The script was child like, the actors had almost no rapport, there were no girls, no gadgets, no witty Bond comments – “Do you expect me to talk?”, “No Mr Bond, I expect you to DIE!”, the screenplay was 2nd to a Bourne film – I mean why would you blow up an tunnel to use a train to kill Bond??? What sort of evil genius who can control EVERYTHING in the world comes up with that stupid plan? Who uses a flash light to get away in the dark? Who cares about M? Who cares about a big talking Scottish wimp who craps his pants when the guns start-a-firing? And please, how many more scenes do we have to have, and how many more angles do we need to see – I mean the guy HAS a body, we ALL KNOW IT! Booooring!

    Bond is WAY too serious, lighten up freak! You don’t have to go to the Schwarzenegger level (True Lies, the bad guy hanging from the missile on the jet. “You’re Fired”), but hey Connery has it all over you (“That’s a nice nothing you’re almost wearing”). Be smart, witty, charming, but strong, solid, and reliable. Hey! That’s ME! But you all already knew that, especially you Swade xxx

  7. I liked it quite a bit. All of the complaints above are nit-picks, IMHO. I mean, really, who can complain that a villian — in a James Bond film! — has an unrealistically elaborate plan for revenge. Yes, rendering all the gold in Fort Knox useless by making it radioactive is totally realistic in comparison.

    These complaints are actually a back-handed compliment to the emotional realism of the film. James Bond in the old films is a cardboard cutout of a character; in this one, he is flesh-and-blood — and as a result we expect greater realism out of the plot as well.

    The fact that the film eschews both the high-tech fantasies and the excessive womanizing also sets the stage for a grittier, more realistic Bond. Stripped to his essence, Bond is a hired killer with a gun, a radio, and some clever friends.

    Judy Dench and Daniel Craig have some decent, professional chemisty. In the end, you get why 007 is her favorite agent.

    Skyfall is the best movie of the Bond films. It may not be the best Bond film, but it is the best movie.

    1. Greg’s comment is the (white) cat’s whiskers. I couldn’t agree more.

      From the content of most of the criticism above I am puzzled as to why you would even go and see such a film since the nit-picking could be applied to pretty much any film in this genre, not just Bond films.

      Skyfall is a great operatic action thriller; a compelling slice of fantasy realism. I found it exciting, contemporary and not at all predictable.

      And yet for me it was rooted very firmly in the history of Bond, but not in the naff way that so many of the Moore and Brosnan-era films were.

      Skyfall gives the whole franchise the whiff of a fine, 50-year-old malt whisky, improving with age. After all, a strong palate cleanser is needed after so much fromage fort like Moonraker and Die Another Day.

      The only things stopping Skyfall and Casino Royale being the best Bonds of all, in my opinion, are the three dazzling films from the early 60s that set the whole thing in motion.

  8. I am very sorry to hear that the two of you apply such low standards of expectation towards an action/spy film. As if every action/spy film is defined by a poor scenario. “Nit-picking” could not be applied to Die Hard 1 and 3 and pretty much the whole Bourne Trilogy, just to name a few examples.

    Also, I would like you to read better: I am not saying that Silva’s plan is unrealistically elaborate, I am saying that his plan is non-sensical and over-elaborate and that the scenario is made to serve set-pieces, rather than the other way around. I tend to be allergic to that, and since my cinema here in Gothenburg charged me 140 SEK to see Skyfall, I would say that amount entitles me to “nit-pick” as much as I want.

    Funnily enough, in the end, our final conclusion is the same: Skyfall is among the best films within the Bond canon and it was very enjoyable. The only difference is that I recognise the weaknesses in the scenario, whereas you two seem to accept anything since it’s “a genre film”.

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