Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review - Skyfall

December 29, 2012

Skyfall – UK, 2012
For fun, let’s run through the features that audiences have come to expect in a Bond film. First, a slightly mad villain with a doozy of an evil plan. Check. The standard Bond girls – beautiful, sexy, smart (at least later Bond girls), perhaps even good with guns. Double check. Sensational action scenes. Multiple checks with special kudos going to an amazing fight on top of a moving train and the unexpected sight of a subway train barreling down into an underground tunnel. Scene in which Bond is captured but not killed. A regrettable check. Disagreements between Bond and his supervisors. Check. And last but not least, gadgets. Only a partial check. More on that later.

Given all of the similarities listed above, it might seem at first glance as if the latest James Bond film were nothing new, just a mere carbon copy of previous films with little new to offer the spy genre. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, for with Skyfall, the Bond series finally steps out of the shadow of the pre-Daniel Craig films and announces its intention to go in a new uncharted direction. And if Skyfall is any indication of later films, the Bond series has a very promising future.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Skyfall places Bond in an entirely new universe, one that he can hardly relate to. It is a universe that I sarcastically call the CSI/24 universe produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. In such a universe, there’s always an older character surrounded by people who appear far too young to be experts in their field. Principal among this new cast of characters is the character of Quartermaster, or, as he is more affectionately known, Q. Q is of course not a person but a job title, so it stands to reason that the person in the job would change over the years, but there’s not doubt that he’s gotten progressively younger recently. Here, he’s played by Ben Whishaw, who is just 32, yet looks a bit younger. Q, perhaps more than any other character, announces Bond’s brave new world by staring straight at the camera and declaring that they don’t do exploding pens anymore.

The film starts out in much the same way as previous films, with a thrilling chase, and as people familiar with the film’s trailer no doubt already know, the scene ends with Bond (Daniel Craig) having been accidentally shot by a fellow agent on the orders of his superior, M, again played by Dame Judy Dench. The villain Bond had been trying to catch escapes with a copy of MI6’s most sensitive information, including the identities of every 00. After brooding for three months, Bond returns from the grave after a shadow group with a personal vendetta with M blows up part of MI6 headquarters. However, Bond is not quite the same man skill-wise. In just three films, this Bond has aged in a way that no previous Bond has. His knees are not as good as they once were, and his hair has a tint of gray in it. From this, we are meant to see Bond as a more mortal figure, as someone for whom death and injury are real possibilities.

The film is directed by Sam Mendes, a director more known for making dramatic, character-driven films than action films. His presence as a director is felt throughout the film, and key characters seem much more fleshed out than in previous films. In addition to the film’s acknowledgement of Father Time, Dench’s M is given a depth that she did not have in previous films. She is a character making tough decisions, and not all of them are the correct ones. Even the film’s chief villain, Silva (played by Javier Barden) comes across as a well-rounded character. I feel like I could describe this character in a way that I never could Ernst Blofeld.

Sadly, one can also detect the influence of the superhero genre on the Bond universe. While it’s likely the script for Skyfall was written some time ago, its similarities to The Avengers are unmistakable, and in hindsight, they work better in The Avengers. This is not a knock against the film’s screenwriters, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. However, it would take a lot of luck and happenstance for a plan of this scale to come to fruition as neatly as it does. However, this is not the film’s only resemblance to recent superhero films. More problematic is the decision to make Bond an orphan, a la Bruce Wayne. Bond is even given his own run down version of Wayne Manor equipped with its own version of Alfred, a rough full-bearded man named Kincade (Albert Finney) who from the looks of the place doesn’t appear to have been doing his job very well. It’s an unfortunate decision, but at least it figures into the plot in a surprisingly pertinent way.

Skyfall is not my favorite Bond film, but it ranks up there with the best of them. It is a smart film that does not telegraph its movements, and it contains a few surprises that will make even the hardest of Bond purists smile. In one of the film’s most important moments, M explains the need for the 00s in this highly computerized world. It is one of the film’s best moments, and it provides a justification for setting the reboot of the Bond franchise in the present day instead of in the days of the Cold War. In short, the world has changed, and with change has come a darker world, one in which our enemies move about in the shadows. To get them, we need people who can also move around in the shadows, who can be the world’s eyes and ears to a world that thieves are desperate to remain unseen. Bond can do this, but not the Bond that cracked jokes and went around in invisible cars. These times call for a serious, more dangerous Bond, and that Bond is not the Bond that Sean Connery played. In other words, Craig’s Bond is a Bond for this generation, and there’s really no going back. (in theatres)

3 and a half stars

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