A Totally Biased Review: Skyfall

Bond. James Bond. Better than ever.

Gunshots. And lots of ’em. High-speed chases. A Walther PPK. Shaken, not stirred. Perfunctory gadgets. M. Over-the-top villains with elaborate and exotic lairs. A theme song. A pit full of dangerous animals. Q wants those gadgets back. And, preferably, in one piece. Beautiful women. An Aston Martin. And, of course… Bond. James Bond.

All things you’ve come to expect from a 007 flick. And they’re all here, but not a single one of them is like you’ve ever seen it before. In fact, if there was ever any doubt as to this style of film, this franchise, this character, being totally and completely redefined ever since the release of Casino Royale, let it be tossed out the window on one of the high-speed chases that populate this film. Daniel Craig, the latest Bond to don the moniker of 007, has grown into the role more fully than any other actor to ever use their license to kill. He embodies Bond in such pure, unadulterated quintessence that he will be the new standard for every Bond that follows. Slick, suave, sexy, smart, stoic, and stalwart with steely-blue eyes, he’s just as much Jason Bourne as James Bond, and every bit as tough and tenacious as any other super-spy in the history of super-spies. This is such a catastrophically successful film in so many ways, that it’s not simply one of the best James Bond films of this generation, that it’s not simply one of the best action movies of the year, it challenges even the Mighty Connery at his most magnificent for being the best James Bond film ever made, it’s plain and simply one of the best action movies of all-time.

From the get-go, this film is an absolute masterpiece with it’s perfectly balanced, paradoxical juxtaposition: at once, it works diligently and urgently to distance itself from the campy iterations of 007 in the past, but pays loving, careful attention to them by fondly paying homage to them. It’s both cold, calculated and utterly efficient with its invigorating action, and thoughtful with the treatment of the film’s many exceedingly complex characters. The movie is a perfect, and I cannot stress it enough, PERFECT balance of all the elements that have made James Bond films what they are. It’s like the filmmakers went back and watched every Bond movie ever, took the best parts of every one, updated and adapted them to the times, and tweaked and tweaked and tweaked and tweaked some more to get the flow and pacing as perfect as possible. Even at well over 2 hours long, the film never drags or slows, and it works well to punctuate the breath-taking action set-pieces between the quieter, more subtle moments where the characters truly shine. In fact, character is quite important to the film, even more so than those dazzling action sequences I already mentioned. The characters we’ve grown to know and love over the years are shown in a light we would’ve never see them in otherwise, and it gives the film a strong emotional gravity that would’ve otherwise been missing.

The film opens unlike almost any other Bond flick before it: a quiet, out-of-focus shot of a dark hallway, with 007 slowly moving into focus. The differences are apparent from the start, but they move the film past the tired conventions of its genre. Bond is searching for someone that has something very important to M16, someone who’s killed some of his fellow agents and has temporarily disappeared, but after an absolutely exhilarating chase through a Turkish bazaar, he finds himself struggling to gain the upper hand in combat, and in a moment of desperation, M orders Bond’s partner, Eve, to take a shot that isn’t clean, and Bond pays the ultimate price… apparently. Cue the movie’s theme song!

It’s worth taking a moment, while we’re on the subject, to speak on how effective Adele was in this number, having a deep, resonating voice absolutely bursting with soul, hitting just the right note of melancholy and sadness. It permeates the rest of the film from there on out, giving the film the perfect atmosphere, one of up-front, visceral action laced with wonderful emotional depth. The forgettable song by Jack White and Alicia Keys from Quantum of Solace, and even the catchy tune crooned by Chris Cornell, both pale feebly in comparison to the power of Adele’s lush voice and the raw emotion she’s able to muster through it. The movie, without a doubt, starts off with a bang and never eases off the gas for a minute.

As I said before, the “gas” isn’t the “action-button.” There is simply always something moving the plot forward effectively, not the least of which are the spectacular performances by the numerous cast members. Of obvious and particular note is Daniel Craig’s return as the world’s most famous super-spy, a role he’s now fully grown into and owns with such ease and such overwhelming power that it seems as though he were born for it. I’ll argue it to the death: Daniel Craig will usurp Connery as the greatest Bond of all-time, if he hasn’t already. Cool, calm and collected with the perfect amount of daring, dashing, debonaire charm, Craig embodies all of the qualities 007 is most-known for, while easily being the most talented actor to ever portray Bond. He makes Bond more complex, more deeply scarred, more tormented behind those amazing, ice-blue eyes than Connery ever did and Craig breathes life into a dark side of the character that makes us question whether or not he’s really a good guy or just a bad guy on the good side. But, such questions are meaningless when the villains are given such powerfully empathic meaning as Raoul Silva, a somewhat, but not outwardly or directly, unhinged, brilliant villain that harkens back to the most classic of all Bond villains, and even outdoes them. Silva is actually the perfect microcosm of the film’s “balance,” because he is at once an intimidating, ruthless, terrifying entity who kills without hesitation and enjoys it, a somewhat subtle nod to his Oscar-Winning role of Anton Chigurh, but he’s also, at the same time, very lighthearted, humorous, outlandish and flamboyant, bringing back fond memories of the best Bond has ever gone against. And what a testament to Daniel Craig’s performance, the finest ever as James Bond, that Bardem’s masterful portrayal of Silva never quite steals the show. Finally… A hero and a villain that actually stand toe-to-toe! God, even typing that gives me goosebumps!

The one, and I stress this immensely, the SINGULAR complaint I have with Bardem’s performance is the fucking hair. It’s hideous. He’s actually a rather handsome, rugged looking dude, with a nice, full head of dark locks, and why they turned his hair into that blond, stiff, straw-like fucking mess… Seriously. They should feel lucky that Javier turned in such a powerful performance, because that hair almost ruined it for me. The one miscalculation they made. And it was a big one.

I could spend the entire review talking about the performances, which are fantastic and redefine their respective characters with every turn, but the only other two I’m going to muse on are Q and M. We’ll start with Q, short for Quartermaster, who has been redefined from the warm, funny, inventive old guy to a prodigious young tech expert. He’s the perfect counterpoint to the aging Bond, whose world-weariness has brought on untold experience, with Q being arrogant and even somewhat foolhardy, and the first time they meet will go down as not only one of the most memorable moments in the movie, but of Bond history. There can’t be enough said of the fantastic writing done by the films three scribes.

Which brings us to M. Oh, M… The lovely, world-class talent of Dame Judi Dench has been a rock, an anchor for these films for nearly two decades, and continues in a role for which she seemed born to play. Powerful, strong, assertive, unflappable… even being legally blind, Judi Dench makes M a complete badass and the ultimate iron-willed woman, despite not being an action icon or even doing action-y things, she rivals Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in pure badassery. M is the absolute epitome of girl-power, and plays a much larger role in this story. Without giving too much away, let me just saying that the back-story for certain characters is VERY WISELY explored, with Bond and M’s relationship being very nearly fully-exposed, as M is very much the only consistent relationship Bond has ever had, and even as that of a stern, no-nonsense boss, she is very critical of Bond but also very motherly to him, and loves him a way that I don’t feel any of us could ever comprehend. No, and even as we learn that 007 loves her, too, in a sort of unspoken, familial-type bond, we never stop to question it or wonder why or think about the emotions they’re both portraying. We forget we are watching actors, being recorded with a camera on a stage or set, surrounded by lights, tech hands, and crew members. These actors embody these characters so fully that we simply watch, silently and in awe, as their journey intertwines and interweaves. Absolutely, breathtakingly magnificent performances.

The only reason it’s an A is because I couldn’t find anything higher. The best Bond film ever. If you like action movies at all, you owe it to yourself to see it.

The film also harkens to dozens of other films, lovingly and adoringly, by taking bits and pieces of other scripts, other films’ cinematography, and other Bond films in general. In fact, this film feels, at times, like a deconstruction of the Bond-film in general, where the action, though wild and intense, feels a bit scaled back, where Bond isn’t just a one-man army. He’s one man. He can only do so much. And the slightly drawn-back scale gives the film gravity and levity it would NEVER have otherwise had. When Bond can slay 50 henchman without taking a hit, where does the tension go? In this film, Bond is beaten down, broken, almost killed over and over, and we feel the only thing saving him is that “Hollywood Luck” that saves every leading man from time-to-time. The Dark Knight, in particular, was a large proponent to the filmmakers taking the series in this direction, and the grittiness that Craig has injected as Bond, ever since Casino Royale, is enhanced to new levels, bringing the film along with it up into the stratosphere. There just aren’t enough good things to say about the risks this movies takes that pay off so tremendously. It’s also worth noting that, unlike Quantum of Solace, which was a direct sequel to Casino Royale, this film is designed to be much more of a “standalone,” meaning you aren’t required to have seen the previous two. Although, seeing them certainly does help to appreciate how good Craig has gotten at playing the eponymous superspy. Particularly when he’s tied down to a chair, he seems to conjure up some of the films best moments out of thin air, as was the case with Casino Royale.

This is Bond as you’ve always seen him, and never seen him before. More importantly, this is Bond, better than ever.

2 Responses to “A Totally Biased Review: Skyfall”
  1. Vivian Y. says:

    ABSOLUTELY, the BEST Bond film yet. Connery was always my fav until Craig! Love the writing, the cinematography, the music the directing EVERYTHING about this movie. Your review is “write” on! My only complaint, Silva’s hair! Horrible! Love the homage to the other movies, but this Bond they way Fleming meant him to be, cold and calculating yet still appealing and sensitive when need be! This is really a great write up, Justin. You hit everything right on the head!!!!!

    • Justin Yattaw says:

      Thanks. I agree, I think Craig has passed Connery because he’s just as watchable, but can be taken much, much more seriously.

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