James Bond – Skyfall (2012) REVIEW

James Bond – Skyfall (2012) REVIEW
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Broccoli
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Berenice Marlohe

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A reboot, a sequel, possible money problems and four years later brings us here, the highest grossing James Bond movie of all time (not adjusted for inflation). After Quantum Of Solace was released in late 2008, development began on Bond 23. However plans were quickly put on hold in 2010 when MGM, parent company of EON Productions, sustained financial set backs. Eventually the matters were resolved in January 2011 and production was back on.

Bond 23, as it was known, was given a release date of November 2012. This would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bond on-screen and would end the celebrations which would carry on for the entire year. Eventually the release date was brought forward by a few weeks for the UK, with the worldwide release being held in October of 2012, a full month or so before the rest of the world. Bond 23, now known as Skyfall, was originally intended to follow on from Quantum Of Solace with Bond chasing down the shadowy organisation and bringing it to an end. However plans were scraped in favour of a ‘stand alone’ outing for 007. Whether this was a choice to distance themselves from the lukewarm reception of Quantum Of Solace, or an effort to bring some of the more familiar trends back to the formula, is anyone’s guess.

50 Years of Bond

50 Years of Bond

Returning for his third outing as Bond is Daniel Craig. He is joined by series regular Judi Dench as M with hints that her character may retire. Also joining for the rebooted series is the character Q as played by Ben Whishaw. A vastly different incarnation, but not something too dissimilar to what audiences would expect from a computer and gadget geek of the 21st century. Naomi’s Harris joins the cast as MI6 Agent Eve. With her last name being unknown to the press, speculation instantly went to her playing Moneypenny, something the actress and producers quickly denied. Spanish actor Javier Bardem was cast as the main villain after Sam Mendes fought for him to take the role. Javier used different methods to get into character going so far as to dye his hair and gave himself a crazy look.

Although production was put on hold for the majority of 2010, Sam Mendes had actually been approached and hired as director following Quantum Of Solace. Even during MGM’s financial woes, he stayed on board as a consultant going over ideas and story elements with producers. Mendes wasn’t too excited at first when Craig approached him, but entertained the idea long enough to meet with Producers and hear their direction of the film.

Although being with the franchise for the past 21 years as musical composer, David Arnold wasn’t asked to return for Skyfall. Instead, Sam Mendes brought along his long time collaborator, Thomas Newman, into the fold. Numerous artists were rumoured to be in line for the new theme song, however British singer-songwriter, Adele preformed the Skyfall theme of the same name. It released to critical acclaim and high sales only helping to cement Bond’s place in pop culture during the 50th anniversary. All this paid off with Adele going on to win the Oscar for best original song.

The script was belted out by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with additional work done by John Logan. Mendes and producers wanted a more personal, stand alone instalment for Craig to tackle and the writers provided numerous drafts until the shooting script was finalised. Like always, a high level of secrecy was around the script and filming, especially with it being 50 years of Bond.

Action packed opening sequence

Action packed opening sequence

Skyfall begins with 007 and MI6 Agent Eve in Istanbul attempting to locate a computer hard drive with the names of undercover Agents place in terrorist group around the world. Patrice, a mercenary, has stolen the hard drive and manages to escape the agents after him. Bond finally gets him on top of a train, but is shot, and seemingly killed, by Eve in the middle of a struggle falling into the river currents below.

Some time passes and M’s actions are being called into question by Gareth Mallory. MI6 is attacked by a cyber terrorist and Bond, who has been in retirement, comes back to England in the wake of these events. He isn’t too fond of M, and only manages to pass his physical before being sent after Patrice and recovering the hard drive before more undercover agents are compromised.

Bond travels to Shanghai and kills Patrice who is without the hard drive and doesn’t get a name of his employer. However a lead brings Bond to a Casino in Macau where he meets with Severine, an accomplice in Patrice’s earlier mission, and demands to meet her boss. A small fight breaks out, but Bond wins and boards Severine’s boat to a small island where her boss resides. It’s here that Bond meets former MI6 agent, Raoul Silva, cyber terrorist and genius who had been behind all the attacks so far throughout the film in a plan to ruin M, who had previously destroyed him. Bond, finds out that he didn’t in fact pass his physical and that he was sent on the mission anyway. Silva attempts to win Bond over, but his loyalty to MI6 is unquestionable and with some backup, Silva is taken captive in England.

Beautiful shots not seen before in a Bond film

Beautiful shots not seen before in a Bond film

It’s here M reveals Silva once worked under her and was traded for the safe return of other agents after Silva had preformed some illegal hacking. He wasn’t a good agent and one agent for a handful of others was a good thing. Back in Q branch, Q begins hacking Silva’s computer but he is caught off guard by a virus which unlocks Silva’s cell and allows him to escape. Bond gives chase but Mallory and M are in the crossfire.

Seeing no other option, Bond takes M away in the hopes of isolating Silva and retreats to his childhood home, Skyfall, a place Bond never wanted to return to. It’s here that M breaks down and Bond prepares for Silva’s attack. The attack is drawn out, completely destroying Skyfall and Bond’s Aston Martin in the process, however Silva’s men all perish in the same battle.

Finally Silva confronts M in a small chapel claiming to want to die with her by her hand and holds a gun to their temples. But Bond arrives throwing a knife in Silva’s back killing him in the process. It’s here that M collapses from an earlier gunshot wound and dies in Bond’s arms. Now back at MI6, Bond is chatting with Eve who introduces herself by her full name, Eve Moneypenny. Bond then enters the office of the new M, as he prepares for his next mission.

My face when M dies

My face when M dies

This needs to be said right at the front, were the producers and Daniel Craig hinting this was going to be his final outing as James Bond, or were all the references to old vs new, just a sad coincidence of the fact that Craig himself is starting to show his age a little?

Through the majority of the film Bond’s health is constantly called into question by his superiors and co-workers. Jokes are made at times about his age and even a scene shared between Bond and Q, discusses this issue. There are plenty more times and bits of dialogue thrown around during the film which leads me to believe this was their way of giving Craig a way out if he choice not to return. In truth, all it does is ruin the film a little. But more on that down below.

Skyfall starts off strong with a fun action packed opening, commonplace in the 007 franchise by this point. What this opening does well is show the compassion Bond has for his fellow agents. It allows us to see the human side of Bond, something we’ve been getting plenty of with the Craig version. Quickly the action escalates until 007 is caught in the crossfire under orders from M. This instantly sets the tone of the film, and allows us to see just how tough the decisions made by M are.

Thankfully what this opening displays is the ability of director Sam Mendes. Apart from missing an opening gun barrel sequence, he appears to get the character from the get go. Some light humour, plenty of action and solid acting. We also get some dodgy green screen work, but that’s par for the course. Even some product placement. Thankfully, this level of quality continues on till the end and never falters. Some say the third act is a let down, but for how personal the story and motivations are, I think it’s rather fitting the end takes place at Skyfall.

The Bond theme kicks in just at the right moments

The Bond theme kicks in just at the right moments

Having never been much of a fan of what David Arnold brought to the films, I can thankfully say Thomas Newman does a much better job. Its original and fresh, which is only fair because it’s his first outing with the franchise, but it never feels like a simple rehash from a previous film. There are some standout tracks on the album, and especially get chills whenever Bond lifts the garage door to show his Aston Martin and the familiar tune kicks in. Its well done, and at times brings back a slight John Barry feel.

The script is well done for the most part. A few little bits here and there bug me, however it’s mostly down to the fact it keeps referring to Bond’s age and the franchise itself. Things get a little meta in that regard, and it begins dipping back into Die Another Day category with it being self referential to a detriment. For me anyway. I noticed parts where the dialogue felt really telling, and it had me cringing because of it.

“Cut-throat razor. How very traditional.”
“Well I like to do somethings the old-fashioned way.”
“Sometimes the old ways are the best.”

“You look the part now.”
“And what parts that?”
“Old dog. New tricks.”

“Sometimes the old ways are the best.”

Clearly with the reboot in Casino Royale, the producers wanted a clean slate for James Bond and needed to move away from the “stale” formula that had been every 007 film for 40 plus years. However as the Craig era progressed, they tried to bring a lot of the classic ways back. And for the record, I’m in no way complaining, I’m just saying that if you have the balls to reboot, stick to your guns and evolve the formula. The above pieces of dialogue are clearly taken in bite size, but they state exactly what my issues are with the script and with the aim of the producers.

Past his prime?

Past his prime?

But none of this is put against Daniel Craig, who again gives a phenomenal performance. He may be the best all round Bond up to this point. Not the best, but clearly one of the best. The thing I like about Craig, is he gets to show us a damaged James Bond. When have we had that before? Never. In Quantum Of Solace he was hurting from the death and betrayal of Vesper, and now here, the man is physically shot and wounded for the entire length of the film. It is a fantastic way to show an Agent not being what he once was, yet still trying to show his worth.

I briefly mentioned this in my Die Another Day review, how after being tortured, Brosnan’s Bond should’ve been feeling the effects, but he never is. Craig is damaged goods here and struggling to keep up. This in turn shows us a new type of Bond and one, quite frankly, I’m a fan of.

Naomie Harris joins the cast as new comer Eve. Before release, rumours began coming out the Naomie was actually playing Moneypenny, and although these rumours were often shut down, they proved to be correct and because of it, the eventual reveal in the film, is slightly ruined for me. Nevertheless, her character is very different from any incarnation of Moneypenny previous, and it a welcome change to see a woman often relegated to a desk job, out and about in the field. The usual flirting and sexual tension is at an all time high, with Moneypenny and Bond even sharing night of sexual passion together, off-screen of course. First time I’ve seen Naomie Harris in a film, and from what she offers here, I’m eager to see more.

M vs M

M vs M

Judi Dench is next and gives one of her most powerful performances as M. The writing is on the wall from the moment she meets up with Mallory, but the shock that M is being forced into retirement is a little jarring. Having her around for the better part of 20 years and to suddenly come to the realisation she’s leaving is hard. Thankfully, she’s given plenty to work with here and no matter how many times I see Skyfall, her death is always emotional and I personally get choked up every time. On a side note, I’m just thankful that Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes, takes over as the new M by films end. He easily proves himself as a worthy successor and wins Bond over. Mallory fits the role perfectly and I can honestly see myself watching this new M for the next 10 years without a problem.

Finally it’s time to talk about my favourite, yes you have read that correctly, favourite Bond villain, Raoul Silva played by the amazing Javier Bardem. The first hour and a bit is used to just mess with the audience, and Bond, by laying the ground work and what type of man Silva is. We see people cower in fear of his very mention, while seeing how he is able to cause havoc from across the planet by a computer. The flamboyant man is such a character that he simply chews up the screen and easily out does anyone else. The fact that he is so polite and caring of people he interacts with, makes Silva so scary. I honestly get chills, because I never know when he will just SNAP! You hear the stories of him from Severine and see her fear, that when he finally arrives, you’re nervously anticipating any sort of reaction.

Never has a better villain faced off against Bond

Never has a better villain faced off against Bond

Javier does such a brilliant job of playing a man so damaged and close to M, that he truly is the reverse side of the same coin as Bond. I love him at every point and never wish for more screen time, because I know that would only ruin his impact in the film. Silva lives up to the anticipation and he’s the only villain that manages to pull off having his own attack helicopter soundtrack.

The rest of the praise goes to the stunt work involved in Skyfall. Like always, James Bond franchise wouldn’t be anything without the stunt and fight choreography, and here is no different. The action may be a little light during the middle portion of the film, but it does nothing to make it any less enjoyable.

Released at the end of the 50th anniversary of Bond in cinema, Skyfall does an absolutely fantastic job of celebrating the character and everything that comes along with him. I’ve read criticism against the fact it takes places heavily in the UK, but I think the Bond franchise deserves the opportunity to show off its own for once after doing it so well for many other places around the world.

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Skyfall has everything one could want from a Bond film and everything one needs in a fun action/thriller story. Worth the watch and one that truly fills like an end to the Craig era.

James Bond will return in Spectre

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