'Skyfall' Review: The Inevitability of Time
(This review was previously published on April 19, 2015)
For this week in Reader Submission month, I got to watch Skyfall, suggested by Emil Dides, the most recent entry in the Daniel Craig Bond films. I grew up watching various movies featuring the world's greatest spy, so the franchise is no stranger to me. Unfortunately the movies have experienced a tonal shift in with the emergence of modern Hollywood film makers.
The first thing that must be mentioned is the change in ambiance of the franchise. Old school Bond films used to be relatively fun features, with explosions, sex, and the prerequisite espionage. That is, until the success of The Dark Knight, at which point the world fell in love with the dark and gritty. While this approach to film-making certainly makes entertaining and successful movies, it alters the fundamental being of James Bond. This in no way means that I do not enjoy Daniel Craig's Bond. Daniel Craig is perfect for the more serious version of the franchise. His somber, gadget-lacking special agent is an action packed thrill ride of kicks, explosions, and gunshots. Just don't expect him to wear a space suit and shoot lasers at bad guys like Bond did in Moonraker. There are a few moments in which Skyfall provides a few small nods to the old school style, such as Bond using an Aston Martin, complete with ejector seat, in order to ferry M to a secret location. Unfortunately it isn't enough to bring back the old school feel of the series, so be warned.
The opening credit sequence is, as always, a feast for both the eyes and ears, with a haunting tune over a disorienting display of digital animation, which comes the closest of any part of the film to reaching the sensation of the classic Bond movies. The action scenes are intense and fast paced, with mostly practical stunts merged gently with CGI. The colors and textures of the scenes change from location to location, creating new and different environments for the key plot points of the movies to take place in. The soundtrack of the film is full of throbbing bass and lilting rhythms that help to maintain the tense and fast paced nature of many of the more compelling scenes. The special effects are excellent, with cars flipping over, Daniel Craig performing many of his own stunts, and one particularly disturbing use of make up and CGI showing the audience what it might look like if a man used a hydrogen cyanide pill on himself but failed to die.
The acting in the film is nearly impeccable. Daniel Craig has already been discussed, but the supporting cast members gathered around him are equally talented. Judi Dench plays the calculating "M", who provides both an admirable character and a character who is understandably hated by the villain. Javier Bardem portrays one Mister Silva, a man betrayed by his country, disfigured by faulty equipment, and left to die in a Chinese prison. His meticulously thought out plot is so perfectly timed that it is mildly unbelievable, but a modicum of suspension for one's disbelief is always necessary when watching a spy film, and it is, by no means, so blunt as to be distracting. A young Ben Whishaw plays the role of Q for the first time in the Daniel Craig films. While his youth was initially a point of discomfort when compared with the old Q that once was so entertaining in the old style franchise, his performance was both witty and dry while maintaining a level of severity that does a great service to Desmond Llewelyn and his iconic role as the gadget building quartermaster.
The general content of the film is also an interesting seperation from the classical Bond style. In Skyfall, Bond deals more intensely with the moral cost of working in the business of espionage. The film deals with the regular use of betrayale and deception, even against an agency's own assets. It show's Bond as he deals with the post traumatic stress of being fired on by his own allies. The piece also covers the topic of governmental oversight making it more difficult to operate in the shadows of the world, a point I agree with in theory, but find disturbing when used in the real world. The plot follows Silva as he attempts to get revenge on M for selling him out to the Chinese in exchange for six other agents. It culminates in climactic fight scene at Bond's own family home, where he takes M for a last stand against Silva and his mercenaries. The action is over the top and entertaining, with Silva bringing an attack helicopter to a gun fight and Bond killing it with an exploding house.
Overall the movie is an entertaining piece of modern cinema, clearly themed after the now popular style of dark and gritty action. It is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight, and in fact was intentionally themed that way. The film won two Oscars and five Academy Awards. It's a film that should be included in any list of films that best depict the new age of cinema that seems to be sticking around, and it should certainly be watched by fans of the more serious brand of action movie. That being said, there is a certain sense of loss that I feel while watching Skyfall. It fails to maintain the feel of the films that I grew up watching with my dad in the living room, and it's more adult themes of moral uncertainty make the material itself less entertaining. Similarly, while I enjoyed many of the special effects, I feel in my gut that the days of 360 degree car spin from The Man with the Golden Gun are long gone. Fortunately the more lighthearted spy comedy feel survives in many recent films, such as John Travolta's From Paris with Love and the upcoming Henry Cavill vehicle The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Until the Bond series decides to turn away from the somber tonal path they are currently on, I'll have to get my happy go lucky spy violence from those. Till then, Skyfall is an acceptable way to spend two and a half hours.