Starring: Daniel Craig, Judie Dench, Ralph Fiennes
You may like this if you liked: That is irrelevant, this is a bond film!
After Bond’s latest assignment goes terribly wrong, a file exposing the identities of British secret agents is stolen. Bond is announced as ‘killed in action’ and M is regarded as responsible with her position as head of MI6 severely questioned. With the British secret service under attack by a cyber terrorist with a very personal vendetta, M has to rely on her one true ally, James Bond to come back from the dead and eliminate this threat.
For me personally Skyfall was one of my big (pleasant) surprises of 2012 and so after watching it for a second time after its blu-ray release I felt I should write a review on it and explain why. I have to state from the off that I was not a fan of Quantum of Solace (Marc Foster, 2008) or even Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006). Though they were both enjoyable enough with some good individual moments, they were instantly forgettable with generic plots and even more generic villains. They both had for me personally, very fractured narratives that were both frustrating and alienating, as well as being quite boringly predictable. Due to studio fires and financial problems there was doubt hanging over the franchise, after a break and in time for the 50th anniversary, Skyfall was announced. They were certainly pulling out the stops by getting some serious heavyweights such as Sam Mendes, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Javier Bardem. Despite all this the film itself is far less ambitious in scale than previous efforts and has a much more intimate character driven narrative, and this is at the heart of why in my view Skyfall is not only an exceptional Bond film, but also an excellent stand alone mature action thriller. Christopher Nolan has proved you can combine brain and brawn with an action franchise, and Skyfall is further proof of this. Makers of Taken 2, A Good Day to Die Hard and The Bourne Legacy take note!
When making a bond film it is basically an intense game of juggling, you have to please so many groups of people without alienating the other, but also get enough bums on seats to justify the inevitable huge budget. It is necessary to respect the heritage of the franchise, but not revel in it or become over nostalgic. Sam Mendes, and let’s not forget the three writers, Heal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan in my view manage this balance perfectly. There are nods and winks to Bond heritage, including excellent use of one of his iconic vehicles, but this keeps carefully away from over nostalgic self indulgence. It is especially important not to rely on the “well it is a James Bond film” excuse too much. This does happen occasionally as there are of course some excruciatingly corny lines, especially the constant flirts between Bond and a female colleague, and plenty of “would he really survive that?” moments, but this is just about forgivable.
To compare Skyfall to any of Connery’s or Moore’s outings would be like trying to compare Fernando Alonso to Juan Manuel Fangio, different eras and different places in time. I personally feel that the older Bond films have not aged very well at all, but are still very entertaining and were good for their time. What makes Skyfall such an intelligent thriller is very much the self awareness of its place in time and therefore posing the ultimate question: Is there a need for old fashioned agents like James bond anymore? Is there even a need for MI6 or even M? It is these questions which at the very heart of Skyfall’s story. Even Bardem’s villain is motivated by personal vendettas, not simply world domination or blowing up America. There is a moment when Bardem’s villain states that how easy he can do whatever he wanted simply by pressing a few buttons, so why do we need people like Bond in a world of cyber terrorism? Skyfall not only constantly poses this question, but also gives very satisfying answers in an excellent old school style finale.
The entire cast give excellent performances. Despite Berenice Marlohe and Naomie Harris appearing on all the posters, the bond girl here is M. Judi Dench gives a truly heartfelt performance, and the mother like relationship between M and Bond is explored with great emotional depth throughout and is one of the key ingredients that drives the plot. The action itself is very well directed and very bold and loud to keep action heads happy, but it is the genuine intelligence of what is in between that separates Skyfall from other action films as there is a perfect combination of style AND substance. The cinematography from Roger Deakins is sublime and it is a shamble that he did receive an Oscar nod for his work on Skyfall.
Is it perfect? Of course not, but by far Craig’s best outing as Bond but also for me one of the more intelligent and entertaining action thrillers of 2012.