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Skyfall Reviewed

Rachel Winterbottom likes Bond but would prefer Bardem to be even stranger

Published on October 29th 2012.

Skyfall Reviewed

WE ARE 50 years on from Dr No, the first movie outing of Ian Fleming’s MI6 agent, James Bond – AKA 007 – who likes his martinis a particular way, his women easy and his surname so much he says it twice.

Craig displays an emotional profundity and internal struggle in his icy blues that allows the audience to see beneath the suit (sometimes literally, but who’s complaining?).

After the writers’ strike turned out a disappointingly limp second outing for Daniel Craig's Bond in Quantum of Solace, expectations are set so high for Skyfall that meeting them could be Bond’s biggest challenge yet.

When the details of every NATO agent are stolen, M (Judi Dench) makes the tactical decision to force field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) to take a shot to stop the thief. Unfortunately, Eve accidentally hits Bond instead, the thug gets away and 007 is announced missing, presumed dead.   

Dench is being huntedDench is being hunted

A terrorist attack on MI6 leaves more agents dead and the villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), reveals himself to be the same cyber-terrorist that stole the NATO details. He begins to release the names of five agents every week along with videos of their deaths, but his motives are seemingly ambiguous.

This forces Bond, who has been spending his death drinking scorpion chasers and popping pills against the pain of his injuries and hurt pride, to return to London to offer his help in catching Silva. Meanwhile, new Chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is holding M to account for her decisions and wants her – and Bond - to retire early. When it appears that M is the subject of the terrorist’s plot, it becomes a race against time for Bond to find Silva – but is he still up to the task?

If Casino Royale (2006) brought us a post-Bourne version of Bond, Skyfall pays homage to a Nolan-era-Batman. The Bond formula now contains a mix of gritty, dark interpretations of characters, ambiguous villains and conflicted heroes. However, Bond is a franchise like no other – no matter how much it reinvents itself, there is a series of targets the filmmakers have to hit: explosions, car chases, gadgets, beautiful women and memorable villains. The trick is keeping it all fresh.

Eve takes the wrong shotEve (Naomie Harris) takes the wrong shot

So for Bond’s twenty-third outing, there is a theme of out with the old, in with the new. Fiennes’ Mallory is there to point out how M and Bond are getting on a bit and the shiny new Q (Ben Whishaw) is a whippersnapper bent on bringing Bond back to basics with more realistic gadgetry.

The experienced Bond scriptwriters have even allowed humour back into the fray, without resorting to the cheese ball puns of old. This all works well, but the storyline feels recycled. There is a hint of The Dark Knight, but without the exhilarating anarchy, and a rehash of GoldenEye (but thankfully without the space weaponry). 

Skyfall is a no-holds-barred visual feast. The opener is a stunner and ticks all the right boxes. There’s a rooftop motorbike chase, the obligatory puns and Bond shaking off a gunshot wound like it’s a mere paper cut so he can carry on a pursuit involving a digger on a train. It’s everything you could want from a Bond film. Similarly, the scenes in Shanghai are a sumptuous eye banquet and the London underground set piece gleams with improbable lustre.  

But this all comes as standard with Bond.

Director Sam Mendes’ polished touch is more apparent in the details – as it was in the beautiful Away We Go (2009) and the harrowing but no less beautiful Revolutionary Road (2008). Mendes knows he can allow M and Bond to be the stoic characters they need to be amongst all of the huge, IMAX-enhanced action, and say very little while their performances speak volumes.

Craig is as craggy as ever in his third outing as the globe-trotting spy. Another, less confident actor might have struggled with a character that has very little to say when he isn’t delivering a pun. Craig, however, displays an emotional profundity and internal struggle in his icy blues that allows the audience to see beneath the suit (sometimes literally, but who’s complaining?).

Blonde big guyBlonde big guy

Dame Dench’s M is another character that could be guilty of being a one-dimensional archetype. But in Dench’s experienced hands M becomes a master class in subtly and exquisite clothing. This is her seventh outing as the Head of MI6 and her transition from office ‘ma’am’ to being in the thick of the action couldn’t be more welcome or well played.  

The Bond women are less exciting. Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine is fine as Bond women go – sexy, vulnerable, dangerous – but doesn’t really stand out against the plethora of Bond women past. Eve is much more of a hands-on Bond woman (although not as literally as Sévérine). Unfortunately, the conclusion to her storyline is little more than a patriarchal pat on the head for a job well done.  

Severine, champagne on ice and just about to have a showerSeverine, champagne on ice and just about to have a shower

In No Country for Old Men Bardem was terrifying, yet instead of utilising his knee-quaking abilities, Mendes has camped out Bardem with a distractingly bouffant blond hair style that severely hinders his capacity to instil fear.

When Silva ties Bond to a chair at his first opportunity and gently caresses the spy’s collarbone, there’s a brief inkling that this could be a villain to remember. Unfortunately, the murderous diva is quashed for the remainder of the film into the forgettable mould of your average, unstable Bond villain and you’re left wondering what’s in it for his cannon fodder minions.   

The thin plot and backcombed villain almost result in Skyfall being a dissatisfying addition to the series. Thankfully, Craig is still ensuring that audiences can find new depths to an old favourite and Mendes’ daringly low tech and emotional climax guarantees that this is a Bond to remember.

Rating: 6.5/10

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DavidOctober 29th 2012.

The hair was Bardem's idea. He turned the role down at first, saying he didn't like the character, so Mendes let him pretty much rewrite it after a screen test.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Pedro1874October 30th 2012.

Big mistake! imho

Pedro1874October 29th 2012.

Good point about the difference in villainousness between Bardem's No Country and Skyfall. Saw it yesterday and disappointed after all the hype. Started looking at my watch after and hour or so - way too long, silly and very bitty. I do admit to a little lump in my throat when the old Aston is revealed! 6/10

Poster BoyOctober 29th 2012.

At last! -a review that doesn't give this decidedly ordinary Bond film a sycophantic five star or 10/10 rating.

A review doesn't have to recount the plot line ad verbatim however. A review should be more about opinion and not fact...

1 Response: Reply To This...
the Whalley RangerOctober 29th 2012.

should it not read 'spoiler warning' in the headline? thanx

anneiaOctober 30th 2012.

Well all i can say is it was very fiery lots of action and blowing things up the lads loved it and the audience clapped when it finished. I think at times i was away with the fairies. I still feel it was one of the best and i saw the first bond in the sixties. Need to see more of Craig literally and as the strong person he perceives to be an action self confident man etc etc.

AnonymousOctober 30th 2012.

Jesus, I was looking forward to seeing this but now I don't need to bother, cheers...

1 Response: Reply To This...
Pedro1874October 30th 2012.

lol - still definitely worth watching if you are a Bond fan if only to marvel at the action scenes and Bardem's hair in the knowledge that he chose the style himself as we have learned from above!

GordoOctober 30th 2012.

anon, don't worry, there's a lot more there than the reviewer gives away here, go. It's a treat

Steven ManginiNovember 1st 2012.

I was taken in by the hype too. It was certainly not the best bond movie of all time. A decent enough romp with an opening sequence to get the bond lovers excited but it went down hill from there. May be it is a generational thing but I like the glamour, cool sophistication and slight tongue in cheek bond of Connery and Moore's era. There was very little of this in Skyfall. And as wonderful an actor(ess) Dame Judy is she is most definitely not a 'Bond Girl'. Less trying to catch up to the Bourne films and more Bond of old please!

As for Bardam's baddie let's just say that I won't be able to watch No Country For Old Men any more without picturing him on a dodgy Boris Johnson(esq) wig, stroking my inner thighs........ Shudders at the thought!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Poster BoyNovember 16th 2012.

Your critique of Skyfall, and the Bond franchise is correct.

Regretfully film audiences and time has moved on...

DaveNovember 23rd 2012.

FAO ANONYMOUS who posted on Tuesday, October 30th. I hope your eyes managed to see the film, it is rather good.

I'd give it an excellent 7.5/10

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