Friday, November 9, 2012

Film Review: Sam Mendes' Skyfall

I suppose every red blooded American boy or Union Jack flying British lad has a sort of man love for the high-flying, death-defying exploits of James Bond and his 007 adventures tucked away somewhere in his DNA.  The chase scenes that range from car to train to motorcycle to construction equipment to speed boat to alpine skiing; the beautiful and often exotic women that have peppered the series with their Bond girl goodness; the fun and always dangerous doodads and gadgets from Department Q; the explosive, cliffhangery moments made true courtesy of whichever particular maniacal villain was cast as Bond's ultimately defeated foe.  Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Bond film series, the second most successful franchise in film history (Harry Potter being the first for those who need to know just everything) and the fifty-ninth anniversary if one were so inclined to venture back to Ian Fleming's original literary creation of the iconic spy with a license to kill, Skyfall, incidentally the twenty-third film in the official canon (just to toss another big number your way), should keep much of that man love seething around in a young boy's heart.

Now I must admit, red blooded American boy or not, that I have never been the most overzealous of a Bond fan.  To be honest, I can take him or leave him really.   But even with this being so, there is inherent fun to be had in the Bond series, and said series has handed us a few very good, perhaps even great romps (most notably Goldfinger, Thunderball and Dr. No, all more than incidentally featuring Sean Connery as our intrepid hero, as well as George Lazenby's one hit wonder, On Her Majesty's Secret Service) amongst a slew of films that are, for the most part (and I am sure all the Bond purists out there will scoff at such an indictment), completely and utterly interchangeable.  Now, of course, no one is trying to reinvent the so-called wheel with each successive film, so much as merely adding (or in the worst case scenarios of films like those two most often maligned installments, Octopussy and A View to A Kill, vainly attempting to) just another cog to the factory farm industry known as James Bond, so one should not really expect something truly great, truly magnificent out of such a series.  One should just sit back and let the damn things do what they do best, even in the lesser chapters of the series, which is to get every red blooded American boy and Union Jack waving British lad (and all their ladies and lasses too I suppose) onto the edge of their seats in mindless but totally enjoyable explosive fun.

When they rebooted the series (again!) in 2006, with Daniel Craig becoming the sixth official Commander Bond and after a quartet of well received but extremely interchangeable, even by Bond standards, films starring Pierce Brosnan (no fault of the actor by the way), this edge of your seat, explosive fun, is just what was re-injected into the veins of the overblown and ultimately sagging series.  The first of these films, Casino Royale, can be proudly included in that upper echelon of Bond films listed earlier, while the second, Quantum of Solace can be inserted somewhere just above those worst case scenario mentions above.  With Skyfall, Craig's third excursion as the world's most famous spy (doesn't the fame kind of preclude the idea of a secret agent?  But that is another argument for another day), that so-called magic is back.  I would not classify this new installment with the aforementioned upper echelon, but it certainly comes a lot closer to those films than that batch of rather ugly worst case scenario films that can be extended to included things like Moonraker and License to Kill.  Is this because of Sam Mendes' direction?  Maybe the suave gravitas of a relatively uncheeky, but still quite charming Craig.  Perhaps it is due to the stunning cinematography of Roger Deakins whose credit I must admit came as a surprise to this usually well-informed critic.  Maybe it is all of these things...and perhaps more.

Of course, all hype and wonderment aside, it could always be the hilariously perverse performance of Javier Bardem as not only one of the best Bond villains to come down the pike in a long long time (at least as good as Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale and Christopher Walken in the otherwise quite atrocious A View to a Kill, and possibly the best since Blofeld took his last breath), but also a real live candidate, though a dark horse indeed, to become the first acting nominee from a Bond film.  No matter the Bond (Craig is second to Connery, third to he and Moore if one picks and chooses their Moores), no matter the Bond girl (sadly, 28 Days Later alum Naomie Harris and French actress Bérénice Marlohe are given very little to do here), no matter the theme (done well here by the throatier Shirley Bassey-esque Adele) a Bond film is only as good as its villain - and that works in favour of Skyfall.  By the time we get to the Scotland-set climax (funny enough, Fleming never bothered to give his creation much of a backstory until You Only Live Twice, the last novel published during the author's lifetime and the first one to be written after the screen debut of Dr. No, which went over so well with Fleming, that he gave his spy Sean Connery's ancestral background) we are completely swept away in the tense grandeur that is James Bond at, if not his best, at least his most entertaining - if one can even differentiate between the two.  Overall, this installment would make a list of my personal ten favourites (if I were to make such a list) and is a welcome addition to the uneven collection that is the world of James Bond.

And since there was mention above of my favourite Bond films, here is a list of all twenty-three official EON productions, in order from best to worst.  The Mason-Dixon as it were, is somewhere between numbers fourteen and fifteen.  Notice of course, the heavy Connery-laden top five.

1) Goldfinger
2) Thunderball
3) On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4) Dr. No
5) From Russia With Love
6) Casino Royal
7) The Spy Who Loved Me
8) You Only Live Twice
9) Skyfall
10) Live and Let Die
11) Diamonds are Forever
12) Goldeneye
13) The Man With the Golden Gun
14) The Living Daylights
15) For Your Eyes Only
16) A View to a Kill - its ridiculousness is almost winning
17) License to Kill
18) Tomorrow Never Dies
19) The World is Not Enough
20) Moonraker
21) Quantum of Solace
22) Die Another Day
23) Octopussy


Dan O. said...

Nice review Kevyn. I had a great time with this movie but I didn’t fall in love with it as much as I have with the older ones and Casino Royale as well. Still, a great Bond movie that has me excited for what’s to come next for our favorite spy.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. Yes, I quite enjoyed it but it certainly ain't no Casino Royale.

film said...

Quantam of Solace was not a bad movie but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Skyfall represents maturity and growth and we all know that with age, comes wisdom. In SKYFALL that wisdom lends its weight to what is without question one of the most exciting and emotionally charged adventures the series has ever seen.

Kid said...

It would take too long to type my thoughts on the film here, but if you're interested, you can read my views on Skyfall at:

They're not exactly in accord with yours. Incidentally, you won't find too many British lads waving Union Flags (apparently it's only called a Union Jack when flying from a ship's mast) in Britain these days. Maybe in the '50s...