Skyfall – five star movie review


Yes, the title of this post does rather give things away – I loved the new Bond movie. Have you been to see Skyfall yet? You really should. In the UK the new 007 adventure, the first in 4 years, came out on Friday. In the US however it is not due to be released (in Imax) until 8 November and Australia is going to have to wait another month (for the full schedule of its international roll out, click here). Well, I went to see it yesterday at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in the heart of London’s West End, which is where the Bond premieres were always held when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. In fact I went to see Moonraker there in the Summer of 1979 amid gigantic crowds. Well, 33 years later and the crowds were still heaving and thronging very excitedly (took 20 minutes of queuing just to get it into the auditorium) but with my intrepid crime-busting friends Nick and Nora (cover names, of course) I eventually made it through security and the assigned seating. And what did we find? Well, avoiding any major spoilers, here’s what …

“Take the bloody shot!”

The pre-credits teaser is the hallmark of any Bond Movie for most viewers (let’s face, it informs the taxonomy for most appraisals i.e. ‘remember the one with the bungee jump?’ or the ‘when he skis off a cliff?’ or, well, you know what I mean). Here we get a really extended sequence in Turkey, one that will have ramifications for the entire plot. Bond is on the hunt for a stolen hard-drive which holds details of undercover NATO agents. The pursuit will be on foot, by car, train and motorbike with the aid of agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and is wonderfully dynamic and impressive and has several wonderful moments though the use of CGI to make the stunt drivers look more like Craig is not entirely successful. Bond is relentlessly on the case but, in what will prove to be the first of many echoes of The World is Not Enough (TWINE), his employers lose faith in our hero ensuring that the mission fails and he is left for dead – cue the title song by Adele, easily the most memorable tune since the mid 90s (and the longest) and great graphic titles by Daniel Kleinman, who once again is tasked with resurrecting the spirit of Maurice Binder.

Given that this is the 50th anniversary of the film series it would have been strange had there not been some nods to the past and there is definitely a retro vibe here, which is very welcome. Indeed there is quite a Cold War and grungy, low-tech feel to the ambience with MI6 relocating to an underground bunker built in Churchill’s time. Bond was seemingly killed of in the teaser of several titles in the 60s including From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967) so it isn’t much of a surprise that we are given no details on quite how he survived his ‘death’.  But he decides to remain out of the game feeling betrayed – or at least until MI6 is blown up and M herself becomes the target of revenge from a previous associate with a grudge (again, all seen in one of the better Brosnan films, TWINE). Of the several nods to the past, the most notable is the return of Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, which is heralded with a musical sting from John Barry’s score for Goldfinger (1964) and which got a round of applause at my screening – and rightly so, it’s a lovely moment when the vehicle is pulled out of retirement.

But this is definitely a Bond for the modern era, certainly one that belong to the post 9/11 and 7/7 era (the latter is evoked with a stunning setpiece in the London Underground). And there remain plenty of nods to the Jason Bourne films (Bond is frequently seen with an earpiece in constant contact with mission control), though much less frantically than in Quantum of Solace thankfully, while Bardem’s nihilistic blonde villain owes more than a little to the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But this is none the less a traditional Bond movie, first and foremost, in the sense that the main character and the traditions that have grown up with him, from the books and the films and the supporting cast of characters, are centre stage throughout. The personal revenge storyline is fairly linear, and one assumes derives from the input of co-writer John Logan, while the nods to the original Fleming novels more probably come from Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (who have co-written all the Bond films since TWINE and are well versed in the content of the books).

I mentioned in a previous post, Fifty Shades of James Bond, that my favourite Bond films, the ones that seem to resonate the most and last the longest, are the ones with the strongest female characters. In Skyfall, despite the enticing presence of a couple of two stunning ladies in shapely forms of accident prone agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and the genuinely exotic temptress Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), the villain’s main squeeze, the real ‘Bond girl’ is Judi Dench, here making her seventh consecutive appearance as M. She gets a lot of screen time as she, and MI6, are literally put on trial by both the government and Silva (Bardem), the psychologically and physically scarred antagonist who knows a bit too much about M. Like the British bulldog figurine we see on M’s desk, Bond is daringly presented here as a slightly aging man, truly the last bastion of the British Empire, an outmoded idea here given more than just a new lick of paint for the new Millennium. In a world couched in the shadows, his straightforward devotion to duty is the only thing that can save us. The villains scoff at this and ridicule our hero’s belief in Queen and country, which is represented by Dench who of course has played more than one British monarch onscreen. So, along with fantastic (in every sense) action scenes and splendid production design, we also get much more character development than we have been used to, though well in line with the bildungsroman that is the resurrected early Bond played by Craig.

Does this Bond movie get it at all right? No, of course not. The back-to-basics poster is pretty naff and unoriginal for one thing; the mighty Albert Finney appears in the concluding part of the film but is given far too little to do; Thomas Newman’s score is absolutely fine but is less adept at using the Monty Norman theme than usual composer David Arnold; not enough is made of the foreign locations (especially the section in Shanghai, which could almost have been in any modern city); and the film is probably a smidgen too long and could have been snipped here and there. Having said that, I love the fact that the most important scenes are allowed to develop in quite a deliberate fashion and at length with plenty of good dialogue, such as the meeting between Bond and Severine. This approach is seen at its best in a fight filmed entirely in silhouette and in one shot too with no cuts – unexpected and brilliantly executed and one assumes very much down to the presence of theatre director Sam Mendes.  On the other hand, at 143 minutes it really should have been pruned a bit.

But these are mere nitpicks. Director Sam Mendes has given his excellent cast of actors plenty of room to explore their roles, with Ben Whishaw doing very well as the new Q (and smartly reversing the series tradition by being much younger than 007); Ralph Fiennes also gets a nice role as the bureaucrat sent in to get M to put her house in order; Bardem is a wonderful, unexpectedly campy but sinister and vulnerable villain, a truly damaged evil mastermind; and then there is Craig who remains a stunning Bond, whether wearing a Tom Ford retro tux or unexpectedly sporting a scraggy beard tinged with white (just like mine in fact ) as great at the love scenes as in the fights. After the uncertainly of Quantum of Solace (a film I none the less liked) in which our grieving hero was turned into a mere shell of his former self, Bond is really, finally, definitely back.  Good.

The official Skyfall website can be accessed at: www.007.com/skyfall/

***** (5 fedora tips out of 5)

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40 Responses to Skyfall – five star movie review

  1. Patrick says:

    Thanks for the review, Sergio. I look forward to this one. I remember the last Bond film as a massive missed opportunity — still have no idea just what happened in the dogfight — and this is just the second Bond film that I’ll be able to see in theatres. So this isn’t a tradition for me… yet… But I certainly hope it will become one!

    • Cheers Patrick – I rather like Quantum of Solace actually, though I know that puts me in a minority – it mostly functions as Casino Royale part 2. Really hope you enjoy this one – I think is stands out as one of the best Bond movies of any era.

  2. Sergio – I’m glad you liked this film as much as you did. I like Daniel Craig well enough as Bond. But I really do miss Sean Connery in that role – such a great blend of suave, irony, humour and so on.

    • Connery’s films came first and I think are unavoidable in their place in pop culture and his sheer animal magnetism is quite amazing. Craig is his own man though and in this film you almost feel as though the character has truly dies and then been reborn in a new incarnation – he is really superb in it and it has a remarkably emotional core. Hope you see it and enjoy it.

  3. Colin says:

    I just skimmed this since I won’t be seeing it till it opens here next weekend. Generally, the feedback seems to have been positive so far – fingers crossed. I really disliked Quantum of Solace so I’m hoping for better things here.

    • I promise I didn’t give anything away – I couldn’t have faced myself in the mirror in the morning (though enough proposition at the best of times). I know you really hated Quantum but there is a lot on it I rally enjoyed like the the opera sequence – and Craig is always superb. Skyfall is much better though, no question about it in my mind (and I hope yours – after all, we all want good Bond movies, right?) Even the reveal on the meaning of the film’s title is handled with surprising subtlety (and no it’s not a codename or a secret weapon or anything like that).

      • Colin says:

        Definitely, a poor Bond movie is particularly disappointing. I’m pleased to hear so many enthusiastic reviews – can’t wait to see it myself actually.
        Got to see Dominik and Pitt’s Killing Them Softly last night by the way. Excellent stuff.

        • Glad you liked that – it has its faults (the political commentary is very unsubtly inserted, sometimes literally), but that last speech is a real killer, isn’t it?

          • Colin says:

            Yes, the news bites are kind of crowbarred in. Otherwise, it’s an excellent adult crime tale, very refreshing. And I certainly agree, the last scene packs a wallop.

          • I love that shot where they attached the camera to the car door – must be a name for that (“get me a door cam anyone” sound plausible?). It is also a very impressive novel, well worth reading even if the second half is simplified quite a lot.

  4. Jeff Flugel says:

    Really enjoyed your early review, Sergio, and am positively green with envy that you’ve gotten to see SKYFALL already. Per usual, Japan is the last place for a major film to open…won’t be able to see this one until the end of December. Still, glad to hear so much advance buzz. I didn’t find your review too spoilery and am glad to hear such a rave from a true Bond connoisseur such as yourself. Like Colin, I was none too thrilled with QUANTUM, to say the least, so it’s nice to hear that SKYFALL seems to be getting the series back on track.

    • Thanks Jeff – yeah, that really is a long wait, especially in the age of digital release. Why are Hollywood titles always left last for release in Japan? I hope You Only Live Twice got shown a bit in advance at least! It’s a terrific movie – given how much you like OHMSS (as do I), I think you’ll love it.

  5. vinnieh says:

    Great post, I’m a huge Bond fan and I can’t wait to see this one.

  6. A fine review,Sergio. I’m waiting to see the new Bond flick slated for a November 2 release in India. I think Craig, in spite his 5’9″ height, makes a good Bond though I thought he lacks the capacity for humour that Brosnan had in fair measure. Elsewhere, Dench never seems to age and I do feel she is the perfect foil for her favourite MI6 agent. I watched the last five to six Bond movies on television and it never occurred to me that it might be fun to see them on the big screen. So I hope to catch this one in a cinema hall, preferably on a week.day when the auditorium is less crowded, which would be about a week after the release.

  7. Rod Croft says:

    “Skyfall” release day here in Australia is November 22, and I find it difficult to wait. Thanks for the review; so pleased that you enjoyed “Skyfall”. Have seen all of the Bond movies in cinemas with the exception of “Die Another Day” and finally caught up with it on TV. Sharing Bond movies with other fans in a theatre, is an exhilarating experience, and, to my mind, heightens the enjoyment.

    I well recall the release of “Doctor No” and the pre- Australian release stories from the UK that this was “something new, different and exciting; little did I expect, in 1962, that I would be experiencing yet another Bond adventure 50 years later.

    p.s. Must say that I too enjoyed Part 2 of “Casino Royale” – “Quantum of Solace” and happily accepted it as a continuation of the former film.

    • Thanks very much Rod – it does seem extraordinary that the series has managed to sustain itself that long. My Dad certainly remembers the excitement over the first Bond (he lost interest after Connery however). One could argue that along with Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and maybe Doctor Who, these are now truly indelible pop culture icons (and mostly in a good way). Good!

    • PS glad it’s not just me that liked Quantum – I do understand why the frenzied pace and shattered hero were not to everybody’s liking but there is a hell of a lot to enjoy there!

  8. Aidan Brack says:

    Thanks for this excellent review – definitely makes me even more excited for its November 9th US release date. :)

  9. TracyK says:

    Glad to hear you liked this movie so much. I liked the first Craig, not the 2nd one so much. Not sure how the rest of my family felt about that. Definitely like Craig as Bond.

    We won’t be watching it until it comes out on DVD at a reasonable price, but I have been thinking about cycling through a lot of the older ones. When I have time.

    • Shame you won’t be seeing Skyfall at the cinema but I think you will like it – they seem to have looked very closely at what worked in Casino Royale and used it as a template, avoiding the frenzied approach of Quantum. Very clever bit of precision engineering in terms of plot and structure but with real heart somewhat unexpectedly – try and avoid spoilers if you can!

      • TracyK says:

        That is the hard part about waiting to see movies on DVD, avoiding spoilers.

        • Definitely – and the sheer power of the media juggernaut surrounding this release will make spoilers very hard to ignore very soon I fear.

          • TracyK says:

            Skyfall came out on DVD/ Blue Ray last Tuesday here and we finally saw it tonight. Really enjoyed it, and I want to see it again right away. Just blown away by the ending, so glad it never was spoiled. I guess I don’t like it that everyone is getting so old, since I am getting so old too. (I know, getting old is betting than the alternative, altho in some cases I would argue that is not true.)

          • So glad it went down well TracyK – I think your reaction is a lot like mine was. indeed, i was just shocked by the colour of Bond’s beard! But Craig is in fact my age and mine looks like that too and given the theme of the film it was a bold move and thankfully one that paid off. They can’t do it again though and I doubt they will even try, making Skyfall really one to treasure. Hopefully my copy of the Blu-ray will arrive this week!

  10. le0pard13 says:

    So looking forward to this. Great review.

    • Thanks very much – it’s such a relief to have an insanely hyped movie actually deliver the goods for a change! Now seen it a second time and will be taking my Mum and Dad to see it next week – yes, I am bragging …

  11. Rod Croft says:

    Hi Sergio,
    Will be interested to hear whether your Dad, has regained interest in the series now that Daniel Craig has donned Bond’s tuxedo.

    • Thanks Rod. We are off to see it next week so I’ll let you know – they have seen Casino Royale but I’m not sure what my parents thought – probably in the wrong language …

  12. Glad we are going this coming week, Sergio – can’t wait to see it!

  13. Pingback: Buon Natale 2012 | Tipping My Fedora

  14. Jeff Cordell says:

    Yep. Great Bond film. My son and I went to see it at the theater last November. This last July I had to have major surgery and spent several days in hospital. That’s a very unusual occurrence anymore so it should tell you something. this was one of my movies that I brought with me to watch on my laptop. One of the nurses watched it with me for a few minutes until called away by another patient who seemed to think his problem was more important than her being able to watch 007’s latest adventure. She snuck back later to watch the last fifteen minutes. Great movie. Like you I’ve been a fan of James Bond since I was a child in the seventies.

    • Hope you are well and truly recovered Jeff – and Skyfall of course truly is about Bond dying and coming back to life and by the end becoming the character we know and love – the design of M’s office at the conclusion is essentially a replica of the one from Dr No, which I thought was a wonderful touch.

  15. Jeff Cordell says:

    Sorry. One last thing. I got a real kick that the bulk of Bond’s adventure takes place in London and Scotland. The man is always somewhere else so it was fun seeing him do a little Homeland Security – so to speak. I liked seeing him in the Tube during rush-hour. I’m with Q. It’s good for him to see how the average people live. The people he protects. Nice touch.

    • Absolutely Jeff – as a Londoner I got a huge kick out of that sequence and I thought it was very, very well handled. I always like it when we get some European locations as that usually means that the style will be a bit more Cold War and not too exotic, which I do often prefer.

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