Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Helen McCrory, Ola Rapace, Tonia Sotiropoulou
RunTime: 2 hrs 23 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Official Website: http://www.skyfall-movie.com/site/
Opening Day: 1 November 2012
Synopsis: Daniel Craig is back as James Bond 007 in Skyfall, the 23rd adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time. In Skyfall, Bond's loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
How many franchises do you know that have lasted 50 years? Indeed, for the words ‘Bond, James Bond’ to be heard in a movie today is in itself an achievement, a testament to the enduring popularity of Ian Fleming’s British secret agent. But that success didn’t happen by chance; through the years, several actors and even more directors have consistently needed to redefine the character to make it relevant for different generations of audiences, and ‘Skyfall’ – Bond’s 23rd canon outing and 50 years since his first – sees actor Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes do just that.
Yet to say that they have reinvented the wheel doesn’t quite do justice to what they have achieved – instead ‘Skyfall’ represents a remarkable high watermark for the series, a truly stunning masterpiece that counts as one of the best, if not the best, Bond films we’ve seen. It is also so because it is quite unlike any of the Bond films thus far, delving into his origins as well as his relationship with Moneypenny (or ‘M’ for short) for its most character-driven addition yet. The showy action and authentically British wit are as sharp as ever, but what makes ‘Skyfall’ stand out is how surprisingly riveting the drama is, a quality rarely associated with the Bond movies.
Kudos to returning writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, together with Oscar-winning scribe John Logan, who have expertly tapped into today’s real-world fears for a tense and thrilling story that spans three continents. Beginning in Istanbul, we are dropped into an operation that’s already unfolding – the recovery of a pilfered hard disk drive that contains the names of every single NATO-allied spy embedded in terrorist organisations around the world. Bond is on the chase, paired with fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), but predictably it goes south, leaving the disk in the wrong hands and Bond presumed dead by MI6.
Then without allowing you to catch your breath following that firecracker of an opening, the MI6 headquarters is rocked by an explosion, and M’s computer – presumed the safest in the whole of London – is hacked into with an ominous message ‘think on your sins’. Of course, ‘Skyfall’ isn’t the first to envision a scenario where our once hallowed security institutions are compromised from within, but that nightmarish ‘what-if’ is depicted so realistically here you can’t quite help but feel unnerved – especially as M’s veneer of cool control is suddenly replaced by a distinct and disquieting sense of insecurity.
His country and company under attack, Bond returns from seclusion to hunt down the perpetrator, a chase which leads him to Shanghai, then Macau, then a desolate island (not unlike that which Leonardo DiCaprio gets washed up on in ‘Inception’) and finally back to London. Halfway between that globe-trotting manhunt, Bond (and us) are finally acquainted with his nemesis, Silva (Javier Bardem), and one of the most iconic villains in the franchise’s history. Right from his superb one-take opening where he saunters up to Bond with an extended speech about cannibalistic rats and the inversion of the natural order, Silva proves to be smart, menacing and eerily unpredictable.
Unlike the caricatured Bond villains, Silva isn’t filled with delusions of grandeur to destroy the world – his purpose is as personal as it gets, involving a bit of nasty history with M, and not unlike that which Bond has to confront himself. Whereas previous instalments have largely relegated M to a flower vase role, ‘Skyfall’ is the first to allow Judi Dench to flex her acting chops - and the thespian seizes the opportunity to deliver a first-rate performance with dignity and poignancy as her character is thrust into reflecting on the difficult decisions (read: sacrifices) that come with her portfolio.
It’s not just M who needs to confront her demons; for the first time in the franchise’s history, its suave and confident character is made to confront his as well. Continuing with his grittier transformation that began with Martin Campbell’s notable ‘Casino Royale’ and subsequently Marc Forster’s underwhelming followup ‘Quantum of Solace’, Bond is here even more human than he has ever been. Not only is he physically wounded from the opening mission in Istanbul, that same operation also leaves him emotionally scarred – the near death encounter reopening wounds from his childhood that will no doubt be explored in greater depth in the next two films already announced.
And yet it is precisely this change that is likely to make Bond an even more convincing hero than he ever was to today’s audiences – as Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’ saga has shown, it’s not nearly enough that our big-screen heroes save the day, we need to know that they can bleed and hurt on the outside as much as inside. Bond’s struggle to find conviction, purpose and meaning allows his audience to develop a deep emotional investment with the character, and that additional element of vulnerability into his trademark combination of wit and muscle makes him even more mesmerising than before.
On a different level of mesmer (but one deserving of special mention) is Roger Deakins’ cinematography, easily the most beautiful in the franchise’s history. From the opening scene – Bond stepping into the frame along a dimly lit corridor - that cleverly plays on the franchise’s iconic preamble, Deakins’ play of tones and contrasts ensures that the entire movie is never less than visually impressive. In particular, Deakins captures the neon lights of Shanghai like never before, turning the city into something alluring and sexy. Just as breathtakingly shot is the film’s climax - set against the bleak countryside of Scotland - that truly gives the movie an appropriately apocalyptic look for a stunner of an ending befitting of its grandiose title.
Certainly, this is a film with big ambitions – it wants not only to pay tribute to the Bond films of the past, but also to rejuvenate the franchise for another jubilee. Thankfully, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes manages to balance the preservation of the Bond iconography with a redefinition of the franchise’s traits. After sitting out the last two movies, Q (or Quartermaster) is back, but in the form of a younger geek played by Ben Whishaw. Mendes also introduces what is likely to be a new recurring character in Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a bureaucrat brought in to make M accountable for MI6’s mistakes who later becomes a surprising ally. Even with the gadgets, Mendes shows he knows what to keep and what to relegate – outdated is the ‘exploding pen’; while recommissioned (if only for nostalgia) is the classic Aston Martin DB5 that appeared in the first Bond film.
Mendes too has made this an actor’s film, and nowhere in the history of the franchise will you find a better performed film. Every actor is perfectly cast, but two are especially worthy of singular mention. First is Javier Bardem, who injects pizzazz and menace into his villainous role that is showy without being cartoony and edgy without being over-the-top – comparisons have been made to Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in ‘The Dark Knight’ and it’s not hard to see why. And then of course there is Daniel Craig, who in his third outing, truly makes the character his very own. More assured than he has ever been, Craig brings class, style, grit, temperance, determination and courage to make his Bond the most complex and captivating one we’ve seen yet.
Even with the dramatic additions, Mendes knows the Bond fans need cool action – and just from the heart-stopping opening sequence in Istanbul, he lets you know that he is committed to the task. While its globe-trotting nature might invite similarities to ‘Bourne’, Mendes applies a much more expansive scope to the action without any of that shaky camerawork, so trust us when we say that the sequences here are simply exhilarating. In fact, the movie pulses with its own energy and momentum from start to finish, and despite running at more than two hours, you’d wish it could go on for longer.
That sentiment is also how you know that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have succeeded in transiting James Bond from an old-school action hero to a contemporary one. Not only does it mark a turning point for the character, it also is for the franchise as a whole – and ‘Skyfall’ couldn’t have arrived at a better time to breathe new life into 007. The wit, the action, the style are all as intact as ever after 50 years, but the drama is new, fresh and spellbinding - even if this Bond is older, he is also wiser and better than ever before.
(A perfectly timed high watermark for the series, ‘Skyfall’ ups the action, the drama, and the stakes for Bond to deliver a tense, thrilling and riveting entry that redefines the classic British super agent)
Review by Gabriel Chong