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SKYFALL REVIEW (GRADE: A)
SKYFALL REVIEW (GRADE: A)
One of the defining characteristics of James Bond through the 50 years of his cinematic existence is his enjoyable one-dimensionality. He’s an amalgam of macho characteristics onto whom men, in particular, can project themselves to vicariously live out their escapist fantasies. The films of the Daniel Craig era have taken a tremendous gamble in daring to do something other Bonds have barely hinted at; they’ve humanized 007, fleshing him out into a fully-realized, three-dimensional character. He’s complicated, he’s interesting, and yet somehow, he’s still 100% Bond.
This should come as no surprise in the era of Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, in which Bruce Wayne became, for the first time, a fascinating person in his own right, instead of a bland billionaire existing simply to fill a Batsuit. Oddly, the film that comes to mind when viewing Skyfall is Revenge of the Sith. The latest Bond film is by far more sophisticated, well-written, and well-acted than George Lucas’ third prequel, but just as Sith gathered all of the necessary ingredients together to give fans a “real” Star Wars film, here 007 enthusiasts are finally rewarded with an honest-to-goodness James Bond movie.
The film’s opening shot is, I believe, deliberately indicative of this. Bond runs down a hallway, gun in hand; he’s out-of-focus, but the closer he gets, the sharper his image becomes until he’s right up in frame. Similarly, the love-struck bruiser from Casino Royale who became the heartbroken avenger of Quantum of Solace has been shaped by the events of those films until finally, in Skyfall, James Bond comes clearly into focus. Craig is dynamite in this film, as tough and cool under pressure as Bond is supposed to be. He also gets to be quite witty, and although he’s capable (as 007 always has been) of being a cold-blooded killer when the mission requires, there’s a strong undercurrent of compassion and patriotism here that serve to make him more heroic, and human, than ever.
The rest of the cast is terrific as well, from Dame Judi Dench’s best-ever portrayal of M to Ralph Fiennes’ surprising turn as a bureaucrat, from Naomi Harris’ captivating performance as female operative Eve to Ben Wishaw’s delightfully younger and nerdier take on Q, everyone is given meaty, well-written roles to sink their teeth into.
Javier Bardem has the most fun as the flamboyant-but-ruthless villain Silva. He’s one part vicious menace, one part heartbroken rage, and two parts ambiguous sexuality: a humorously uncomfortable moment finds Silva flirting with Bond, whether sincerely or simply in an attempt to rattle the spy’s cage is left open for interpretation. For the first time in years we’re given an iconic Bond villain. It’s a performance that’s both funny and tragic, crazy yet genius.
In that way Bardem’s performance is representative of the film as a whole: it manages to be many things at once. It’s definitely the most artistic of the 007 movies: the cinematography is gorgeous, while the opening credits mostly avoid female silhouettes in favor of of something more hypnotic and creative. Skyfall is among the smartest of the series, yet simultaneously it’s plenty of fun. By the end it’s even, dare I say, moving? Of course, it doesn’t skimp on fights and stunts, cool cars, and loads of style, but even these seem more organically woven into the story than ever before. Even Bond’s womanizing, in at least one of its two instances, is indicative of the emptiness he feels.
That Skyfall tries, and succeeds, to be so many things at once is one of its greatest strengths, but it’s also the reason it doesn’t quite take the top spot among 007 movies (read my “Best of Bond” list here). By doing so many things very, very well, it doesn’t focus on any of them enough to do it better than has been done before. Is it dramatically engaging? Absolutely, but not as much as Casino Royale. Does it have great action? Certainly, albeit not quite as jaw-dropping as that in GoldenEye. Is it fun? Definitely, though maybe not as much as The Spy Who Loved Me or Goldfinger. What it does do that the others didn’t is combine all of the best elements of previous Bond movies into one terrifically engaging cocktail that feels much shorter than its two and a half hours. In that respect, it’s the perfect film to represent the character for his 50th anniversary. Sam Mendes was a perfect choice as director, and this Yankee’s hat is off to him for this excellent depiction of the definitive British icon.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Skyfall is rated PG-13. It has a handful of moderate profanities and one barely-understandable f-word. There is plenty of action violence, with shootings, stabbings, and fistfights. A man reveals a disfigured face. Bond sleeps with two women. In the first instance we find him kissing a woman against a wall; they are in deep shadow but don’t appear to be clothed, and they later lie clothed in bed together. In the second instance he joins a woman in the shower, kisses her shoulder, then kisses her on the lips (the fog on the shower glass obscures any nudity). There’s one or two innuendos.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Even as the world changes dramatically, sometimes the old, traditional ways are best (2 Thessalonians 2:15). With years can come wisdom, strength, and understanding (Job 12:12-13).