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.
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.
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.
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.