Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review: "Skyfall" (2012)

Skyfall will make you forget the disappointment of Quantum of Solace (2008) as it fulfills the thrilling potential that Casino Royale (2006) presented of a new kind of Bond, and Daniel Craig blows away any lingering doubts that he is the best Bond since the iconic Sean Connery.  Moreover, Skyfall - a movie that was almost never made as critics wondered if the Bond genre had gone extinct - is a triumph that, despite some flaws, resurrects Bond in glory as the box office celebrated.  This is Bond wrapped in elegiac themes and gorgeous visual artistry, Bond a galaxy away from the self-parodic wisecracks of the past, Bond that plumbs the depths and doubts of being Bond.  It is also, as the Cine-Sib said, "a reboot without being a reboot," and the result is riveting. The full review is after the jump, but if you're in a hurry and can't engage right now, at least take a look at the spectacular music video of Grammy-winning Adele (!) singing the Skyfall theme:

From the first frame you know you're in a different kind of Bond movie.  The opening sequence in Istanbul is virtually a movie in miniature all by itself, and the way it ends is calculated to startle - and it does.  This isn't your usual opening with Bond swanning in to tease the audience with a bit of derring-do before zooming off in cocky triumph to shoot his trademark shot down the gun barrel.  No, this opening is a different animal entirely, and you know it the minute you see blood on a spotless suit and realize that both are Bond's (this is in the trailer, but it's not a spoiler, OK?).  Adele's justly celebrated vocals follow through with a theme song more haunting than brassy, more poignant than cheeky, and you realize this is not your usual Bond. Not by a long shot.
I have to say that this is the most visually striking Bond film I've ever seen - in fact, one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen, period.  It contains scenes of such artistry that they will take your breath away.  There's one sequence with water and lanterns in Shanghai that stood out in particular for its use of color and shape and movement. The art direction in Skyfall is quite frankly astonishing, and it is Oscar-caliber. Well, Sam Mendes is directing.
Let's talk about themes.  I don't want to spoil the storyline (much), so I'll just ask you to keep an eye out for these overarching ideas:
  • Judgment calls and their consequences.
  • Senescence and obsolescence.
  • Human intelligence and/versus technology.
  • Past, present, and future.
  • "Operating in the shadows."
Now that I've raved for paragraphs on end, let's talk about a few problems.  I didn't think Bérénice Marloheb as Bond girl Sévérine had enough to do.  The flick could have done much more with her. More importantly, Javier Bardem as the villain Silva is a great choice, but in the end I don't think his character was as developed as it could have been and so eventually turned into yet another cardboard figure. He potentially could have been so much more.  In his vengeance fixation against M, he's reminiscent of Elektra King of The World Is Not Enough (1999), but his animus is about more than just M, though this (and its implications for MI6) is never fully explored ... and this ultimately undercut the otherwise effective theme of past mistakes returning to haunt the present and color the future.  There are also a few lapses in logic and a few plot holes, but I can't really discuss those without spoiling the movie.  The problems of the movie, though, can't detract much from what it does do right, and in my opinion Skyfall ranks as one of the best Bond movies in years.
Oh, one more thing: Q is back and better than ever in an incarnation as surprising as it is arresting. It is a Q for the 21st century, and "geek chic" has never been so appropriate a term.
Mad Minerva gives Skyfall a grade of A-.
RottenTomatoes gives this flick a bona fide Fresh rating of 92%.
Skyfall runs for 143 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, sexual situations, and some language.
OK, now for everyone who's already seen this movie, let's chat. SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven't seen it!
M.  Casting Dame Judi Dench was one of the best things the Bond franchise ever did, and almost presciently a friend and I were wondering who could possibly be as good an M if Dench decided to step down (since she's been M so very long).  Well, Skyfall answered that question and answered it well.  I approve of the new M.  I think he'll be a good one - even a great one. Ralph Fiennes made me forget he was Voldemort in his arc as Gareth Mallory (nice touch, filmmakers, for giving him a name that began with M - a detail I didn't fully appreciate until later), who first appeared as yet another clueless government bureaucrat but turned out to be far more in the crucial inquiry-shootout scene and afterwards.  Welcome back, Ralph.  I could never buy your scenery-chewing performance as Voldemort, but I am all eager attention now to see what you do as M. It will certainly bring a new dynamic into play: where Dench's clearly older M and Bond carried on an engagingly crabby relationship that seemed almost reminiscent of a stern, exasperated mother and a wayward son, the new M and Bond as age-mates will ... what, I wonder? And no, I didn't see Dench's departure coming.  That actually surprised me.
Moneypenny.  HOLY CRAP, MONEYPENNY.  We haven't really had a Moneypenny since Samantha Bond (what a great name) of the Pierce Brosnan era, and I wondered if we were going to have one again or if the Craig era had elided her out.  She is back with a vengeance and a backstory of her own, and none of us will ever quite look at Moneypenny in the MI6 office in the same way again.  She has become a badass in her own right, and even if "field work isn't for everyone," she's been there, done that, and moved on.  She might sit behind a desk now, but you can bet she's got a firearm in that desk and that she knows how to use it.  The Cine-Sib also pointed out that this is the first Moneypenny who is a black woman, but I actually didn't even really notice until he said so.  I was thinking, "Wow, that Naomie Harris chick is awesome as a Bond girl that Bond can't get ... OMG, SHE'S MONEYPENNY!"  Still, kudos, Bond franchise, for more diversity.
On the idea of grandstanding politicians versus the intelligence/anti-terrorism community.  This comes to a  head in the inquiry scene, and it's symbolized in the face-off between M and clearly hostile MP Clair Dowar (Helen McCrory), who is busy soapboxing to such a ridiculous extent that everyone is pleased to see Mallory tell her, with exquisitely cutting politeness (SO BRITISH), that perhaps she might want to give M an actual chance to speak at her own inquiry.  At the same time that Dowar is mouthing off about the uselessness of MI6, Bond is sending frantic messages to M's assistant Tanner to get her to safety as Silva's assault is coming.  And when it finally does and the bad guys arrive and proceed to shoot down all the official security guards, who's left to shoot back - and protect Dowar and company in the process - but the much-maligned members of MI6?  It's the folks who work in the shadows who do the heavy lifting when the villains burst into the daylight: it's Bond.  It's Eve/Moneypenny. It's Mallory, who in that moment comes into his own and becomes a worthy M.  Dowar can only hide behind her desk.
And in the end, despite advances in technology and whatnot, there remains the truth that tech cannot in the end substitute for the human element, and we still need difficult men to do difficult things.  Sometimes, as Bond says, old ways are best ... and Bond at 50 is better than ever.

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