Skyfall (2012) – Sam Mendes

 

By the end of Skyfall there are some very familiar pieces returned to the board that is the James Bond playing field, which leads us to a bit of a cross-roads for the next Bond film (would you believe the story is already in development?!), I quite enjoy the grit and feel of Craig’s Bond, and hope they don’t drift to far from it with the reintroduction of some of the traditional Bond accoutrements.

It’s been 4 years since Daniel Craig graced the screen as Ian fleming’s James Bond in Quantum of Solace (the shortest of all the Bond films). So I was more than ready for the return of 007 to the big screen November 9th with the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall.

People are hailing this as the best Bond ever. I’m not sure about that. Is it an awesome Bond film? Undeniably. It’s also not only one of the best of the series, it’s also a brilliant film in it’s own right.

Sam Mendes, as the film’s director, who brought us American Beauty and The Road To Perdition has crafted a beautiful looking film, capturing all the flavor of the locales, the beauty of Shanghai, and Macau, the unique pulse of Istanbul, the bustle of London, and the stark beauty of Scotland.

Scripted by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, I knew I was in for something a little different, for this the 50th anniversary of 007, when, the film didn’t open with the traditional gun barrel sequence, just a familiar opening note, as Bond steps into silhouette in Istanbul.

There are a lot of silhouette shots through the course of the film, creating, and adding to the lexicon of iconic images that are inherent in the Bond films. My favorite being the fight in Shanghai in a towering skyscraper, occasionally punctuated by the flare of a gunshot, and all backlit by giant screens.

The film is packed full with gorgeous imagery, colors, designs, framing, lighting, it’s simply beautiful to watch.

The film is a bit of a different tale, there’s no plans for global domination, this is a tale of revenge, the last time the series tackled this kind of idea was in Licence To Kill. This time, it’s turned around, the villain, Mr.Silva, played gleefully by Javier Bardem, is seeking revenge on his former employer, his station chief while serving in Hong Kong before it was returned to the Chinese in 1997, M (Judi Dench).

Craig’s Bond, this time around, is a bit of a broken man, during the pre-credit sequence (which features a kick ass song by Adele, and the fantastic work of Daniel Kleinman) in Istanbul, he is left for dead. When MI6 comes under attack by Silva, Bond resurfaces, and is nowhere near the man he was, shakey, and shaken.

Silva and Bond (who have some wonderfully playful dialogue together, and makes you wonder what James has and hasn’t done for Queen and country) are mirror reflections of one another, 007 could very well go the way of Silva in terms of motivation, but for his loyalty not only to country, but his unspoken loyalty to M, despite the fact that he refers to her less than kindly. Or perhaps brothers may be more apt. Silva even refers to M as their mother. Either way they are more alike than not, Silva being M’s previous favorite, now replaced by Bond years later.

Bond is grizzled, and hurt, physically and emotionally. You can see in his eyes, that he’s not the man he was at the end of Quantum of Solace. He’s unsure of himself. It’s thanks to M’s faith in him by reinstating him, believing in him more than in the results of his examinations at the hands of MI6, despite the fact that the new MI6 oversight, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) thinks he’s less than capable, and thinks he could have, and perhaps should have, stayed dead. He knows however, that she’s lying when he asks her if there’s anything else she wanted to tell him in regards to his reinstatment.

Fiennes, along with the gravitas brought by Craig, and the dignity brought by Dench, brings his welcome presence to the film, which in my opinion has the strongest and best casting of all the films. Bond is joined by Albert Finney as Kincade, lovely Naomie Harris as Eve, Berenice Marlohe as Severine, and Ben Whishaw in the anticipated return of the quartermaster, more commonly known as Q (and Bond and Q’s scenes together are a delight, they have a nice repartee and for the first time, Bond is older than Q).

The cinematography is gorgeous, this is undeniably the best looking of all the Bond films, and the film eschews the shakey, whip pan shots that seem to characterize action movies today, even Quantum of Solace. Instead, Mendes makes sure to show you the action sequences, wide shots framing all of it, medium and close-ups are all used, but you never lose the geography of the sequence, the pace of the film, or its feel.

Undeniably a Bond film, it balances the action sequences with character exploration, especially for M, and the weight the of the decsions she must make daily, Judi Dench has more to do, and as expected, is fantastic. While Bernard Lee may have originally essayed the role, Dench is by far my favorite M.

I like the time spent with the characters, seeing how Bond is spending his death, and then his resurrection (including his initial interactions with M on his return to London), as well as the plethora of character moments, Kincade referring to M as Emma, Mallory discovering how Q and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are aiding Bond. Even with a run time of 143 minutes, there’s not a wasted moment, Newman has crafted a tight, fast moving film that rockets from the epic to the personal.

The film starts big, the opening sequence in Istanbul is brilliant, and I love it, yet the further into the film you get, the smaller the scope seems to get, funneling us down to one small, final confrontation in the barrens of Scotland, as Silva’s revenge upon M consumes him, and we realize that he’s a step ahead of Bond and MI6 every step of the way, because he used to be one of them.

Being the 50th anniversary of the film’s series there are little nods throughout the film to the series history, the most notable of which are Q’s offhand remark about not going in for exploding pens anymore, the wonderful, and applause-filled appearance of the Aston Martin DB5, kitted out just the way you remember her from Goldfinger.

Thomas Newman’s score, which I’ve spent the last few days getting to know services the film perfectly, and while I miss David Arnold’s work, Newman’s score is as sweeping and thrilling as you would expect it to be (and is on repeat on my ipod).

I have lots of moments in this film that I just love, but there is one that stands out for me… There’s a fight sequence in Macau, which sees Bond and his opponent tumble over a bridge into a cave-like area, on which a club is built, these caves are inhabited by komodo dragons, there for the club-goers amusement. There’s a small throwaway moment when Bond realizes where they are, and sees one of the giant beasts lumbering out of the shadows and his face is absolutely gobsmacked, it’s good to know that there are things that can still take James by surprise.

This film I think will do the same with the audience, it’s undeniably Bond, but it’s a different sort of animal to those that have gone before, and it’ll be interested to see where we are with the series by the time the 60th anniversary rolls around.

Did you see it? What did you think?

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