With a bullet – Skyfall review

Skyfall – Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, and Judi Dench. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

There are good Bond films. There are bad Bond films. They’re all ‘Bond’ films, however, and that is both their best attribute and a burden. The much-vaunted reboot Casino Royale jettisoned a lot of the series’ tiresome habits, and its gritty style and star Daniel Craig‘s dark sense of humour won plenty of new fans. Nonetheless, the picture still succumbed to an overblown theme song, cheesy animated title sequence, and a parade of strategically placed products. Sure, there was no Madonna cameo nor a melting ice palace, but clearly some of Bond’s bad habits had lived to, ahem, die another day.

Skyfall is Craig’s third go-round as the blonde Bond, and the first to be helmed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes. A remarkable improvement upon the inept Quantum of Solace, it retains the grit of Royale while still honouring the saga’s 50-year history, specifically by re-introducing some lost traditions (notably, a quartermaster, as well as a certain saucy secretary). Some tacky customs remain, though. When Adele’s mind-numbingly overproduced title track kicked in and the silly opening credits began, I briefly considered a brighter future in which these movies weren’t beholden to this routine. But then, what would be left? This franchise is all about the tradition, and it’s now the only thing that separates it from the Bournes and the Takens of the world. Skyfall isn’t hindered by the legacy of previous 007 flicks, so much as it stands tallest when considered alongside them.

After those annoying opening credits have rolled, we learn that Bond is dead, having wound up at the wrong end of MI6 agent Eve’s (Naomie Harris) rifle. Her bullet was intended for a wily terrorist and not Britain’s finest secret agent, but thems the breaks. M (Judi Dench) mournfully pens his obituary, likely feeling at least a little guilt for ordering Eve to take the shot. Little does she know that James survived, and he’s “enjoying death” with some babes, brews, and bruises. The holiday is short-lived, sadly, when an attack on MI6 nearly kills his mentor. Bond returns, not-quite-ready for service, pledging to fight for Queen and country. A trip to Shanghai sheds some light on his target: M’s former “favourite” spy and facially deformed cyberhacker Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). In typical Bardem fashion, his hair-cut is spectacular.

Bardem’s peculiar touches to the role will live on as Skyfall’s signature. It’s hard to tell if the decision to make this evil mastermind flamboyantly gay belongs to the actor, or screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. My initial impression – that the choice was an uncomfortable, homophobic one – was dissuaded soon after the character’s introduction. He slowly advances on Bond, relaying a story about rats “eating” one another, and then erotically runs his hands across our hero’s legs. Instead of squirming away, Bond suggests this isn’t his first time in such a pickle. Suddenly we see how far Bond might be willing to go to get his man; it’s not limited to bedding the most stunning of women. And we also glimpse Silva for what he truly is: the funhouse mirror version of Bond. He’s blonde-haired, impeccably dressed, a tremendous flirt, and, just like James, has a complicated, maternal relationship with M. What better adversary to face off against than the demented version of yourself? I would hazard claims of “misogyny” are more warranted than “homophobia” in Skyfall, as both characters treat poor, second-rung Bond girl Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) with disturbing callousness. Ugly habits die hard.

Whether or not this is the absolute finest Bond feature is a debate reserved for those who have seen all 23 entries, but I’d be willing to take a punt and declare this the finest looking of them all. Perpetual Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakins steps in as cinematographer, and breathes life into the gray London landscapes, and, in the final act, Scotland’s moors. One hand-to-hand fight atop a Shanghai skyscraper sees both combatants battle entirely in silhouette, and it’s a showstopper. Mendes proves himself to be a rather lithe action director (more so than Marc Forster), and even if his filmography suggests otherwise, the Brit is a fine fit for this particularly dramatic entry.

Craig and Dench, while still retaining their comic chemistry, dig deep in Skyfall, and in the final act they hole up in a notable location against Silva (using some tricks they must have learnt from Home Alone to keep him at bay). It’s a satisfying finale to a muted movie that hints at finality from the opening frame. Of course, we know Bond is far from finished. The introduction of promising newcomers to this particular cycle – Harris, Ben Whishaw (as the aforementioned, and very young, Q), and Ralph Fiennes (playing Gareth Mallory, incoming MI6 director) – proves there is still plenty of ground to cover. From this point onwards, we will either see the saga improve upon what’s come before, or regress and retreat into its own legacy, requiring further rebooting down the round. Skyfall might stand as the lone example of a satisfying, standalone narrative blending with all those tried-and-true Bond tropes. Adele tune aside, Mendes makes nary a misstep.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Skyfall arrives in Australian cinemas November 22, 2012.

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