I know it has been out for a week, but I here is a review of Skyfall since I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Like Spider-Man 2, Skyfall rises above being a great franchise film into being a great film.
This will be a spoiler-free review, but anything that has been in the trailers is fair game.
Is this a sequel to A Quantum of Solace?
Bond films exist in a loose continuity. No film affects another, with the exception of For Your Eyes Only where Bond (Rogers Moore) lays flowers on his wife’s grave whom he married in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (when played by George Lazenby). And, of course, A Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale.
Skyfall is its own film with no references to Quantum or Vesper.
Rather, we revisit themes from Goldeneye where Bond is viewed as a relic—an agent operating in outdated ways. And like The Dark Knight Rises, Bond’s age does come into play as someone who may have lost a step. This idea suggests a lot of time has passed since Casino Royale / A Quantum of Solace where Bond was a newly minted double-0. Or, perhaps this film is its own continuity. Either way, M and Bond have a history of bitter, but mutual, trust. What’s more, we have echoes of The World Is Not Enough where M finds herself under fire from politicians for how she runs MI6. For both her and Bond, the days of dirty deeds done in the shadows are over. They don’t trust her and demand transparency.
It’s themes of trust and history that fuel Skyfall.
So what’s it about and is it any good?
From the trailers we know the basic story: on a mission, Bond is left for dead. Surviving, he indulges his pleasures somewhere that’s not England, but is pulled back when MI6 is attacked. The conflict is caused by something from M’s past, a sin she has not yet atoned for. Not to give anything away, but this sin will wrap around Bond in both plot and theme. It reflects the grudging respect M and Bond have, knowing they understand each other and will do what needs to be done to accomplish the mission, including sacrificing Bond.
Yet it is Bond’s past that is on display in Skyfall. Not since Lazenby’s turn in a kilt have we acknowledged Bond is Scottish, not English. (And, of course, casting Connery.) We also take on the fact that Bond is an orphan whose parents were killed when he was still young. And M admits she exploited this in recruiting him.
I won’t say who or what Skyfall is, but he/she/it is something or someone in Bond’s past he has not dealt with. He will (almost) literally have to go through Hell to be free from. And when I say “Hell”, watch for how many times characters descend—both physically going lower as well as becoming more primitive—once Skyfall is revealed. How much fire there is. And it’s only Bond that we see physically ascend out of that Hell in a transformative moment of putting Skyfall behind him. Water and religious references also figure into this scene.
Put another way, when Bond finally deals with Skyfall—his past—he is re-born and baptized in water, fire and blood.
And even the name “Skyfall” as a metaphor for the perceived end of the world (“the sky is falling!”) is appropriate.
Craig as Bond
Daniel Craig is great as Bond. Under Sam Mendes’ direction, we have buried the charming and suave (and well-adjusted) Bond. Craig portrays a creature of id, of both pathos and eros, engaging in physical pleasure and danger. It was under M that he found an outlet for this rage. She gave him free rein, knowing his cold brutality could do what others couldn’t. When he is left for dead, Bond tries to put it all behind him, but (unlike Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum) still must indulge in sex, booze and danger. But it is a meaningless life. When MI6 is attacked, Bond can’t help but come back out of loyalty to M.
In putting his past to rest, Bond emerges at the end of the film fully-formed. Focused, determined, loyal and driven. When Bond reports for his next mission in the last scene, it’s almost a cliffhanger because you want to see him unleashed.
Is this the best Bond film?
This is a great Bond film, with fights, gadgets, the return of Q and an over-the-top villian. Where Casino Royale and A Quantum of Solace showed the influence of the Bourne films’ realism, Skyfall returns to larger-than-life themes, but staying within our post-modern demand for realism. The villain’s lair is the best since Blofeld’s volcano hide-out, grandiose but believable. The fights are just this side of unbelievable, but still brutal. Ralph Fiennes and Judi Dench are superb as kindred souls with opposing goals. And the cinematography is gorgeous.
Unfortunately, the film is not perfect. The villain’s scheme is straight out 80s and 90s hacker films and just as (im)plausible. Where you could get away with some stuff when computers were still a mystery, today I cringed at lines like “We tried to hack him, but that let him hack us!” or “There’s only 6 people in the world who could have programmed that!” And while Javier Bardem chews the scenery, he reminds me of Jack Nicholson as the Joker—you are aware you are seeing an actor give a performance, not an actor inhabit another person (like Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker).
Quibbles, though. Skyfall is a fabulous film that has elevated the game.