A review by a Bond fan for Bond fans, kept spoiler-free
A over generous 2 stars out of 4. As a Bond Film no rating.
What a mess Mum.
Daniel Craig’s “Bond” returns for a third outing, and possibly the most uninspired. Here we have an older agent who is initially caught up in a uninvolving chase which results in him being left for dead. After taking an extended vacation as a dead man, “Bond” only returns after a series of attacks begin to be carried out upon MI6 and more specifically targeted against M as if there is someone with a personal motive for exacting revenge.
“Bond” follows loose plot strands that take him to Shanghai, Macau, an unnamed island, London and finally Scotland all in the pursuit of the film’s antagonist, cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who when actually onscreen easily steals the film. Silva orchestrates elaborate means to get at M (Judi Dench) for reasons as yet unknown.
This plot is rather stupidly simple once revealed and in the end leaves one wondering what exactly the point of it was since the objective was so obvious and delayed to fill a 143 minute runtime. From the opening pre-title sequence (still no gunbarrel opening) there is a stunning unwieldiness to the film that never lets up. This comes to a head during the film’s unwelcome third act which reeks far too much of some unnecessary bad pseudo-psychoanalysis of “Bond’s” childhood and a mixture of Straw Dogs (1971).
Dench is finally given something to do as M after seventeen uneventful years, and after only gradually getting increased roles as Purvis and Wade progressed through their tenure, now emerges as essentially the lead Bond girl. The two other female leads are merely tools plot advancement and quickly disappear with little or no consequence. Bardem is entertaining, fascinating and actually does recall some of Fleming’s villain style. His performance is effortless and one really wishes that he would have been onscreen far longer and actually developed far more than simply generalized Bond villain no. 5 plot structure. The introduction of a new Q (Ben Whishaw) is obviously well labored over though, he sadly becomes little more than the obligatory computer operator inside the HQ to forward the plot. Additionally the Mallory character (Ralph Fiennes) is similarly unfulfilled and is merely there to facilitate his character’s eventual placement. (which admittedly is something I actually look forward to in Bond 24.)
I have never faulted Daniel Craig as an actor for being in films that I so completely loathed as both a critic and lifelong Bond fan. The character became timeless long ago and is open to untold amounts of interpretations, much like Sherlock Holmes or Batman. The problem that began with the “reboot” of Casino Royale (2006) is that by taking “Bond” back to his beginnings most of the essential elements of his character that Ian Fleming created were left on the cutting room floor. With the successive entries there has been the sense of gaining back Bondian elements to eventually present the complete character once more several films down the road. In the ending of Skyfall, this idea is upheld to its maximum and essentially reveals the film to be little more than a bridging vehicle between the un-Bond of these films and a new hybrid in the classic mold to be presented in the two new film under Craig’s new contract.
In Skyfall, Craig presents a character who is both older and wiser in the ways of intelligence work. He is presented a the senior officer who knows the ropes all too well and after being knocked down must regain himself in both the eyes of MI6 and his own. With a steelier gaze, rough stubble and more thoughtful characterization, this is easily his best performance. For the first time there are glimpses of a 007 instead of an unnamed cheeky thug who happened to be promoted to the 00 section in a time of necessity. But these are few and far between, as this is not the adventures of a secret agent on his own but rather a intelligence operative who is constantly in contact with his superiors and bureaucracy at every turn. Since when does Bond need confirmation and inescapable guidance to complete a mission? The fantasy and adventure is all but gone in this new era of “007”, still in favor of Bourne flavored frenetic narrative juxtaposed with failed attempts at a sort of Bondian grandeur.
The execution of the film works against itself, especially in the direction which is virtually nonexistent. There is no real style evident, no defined pacing, and the acts merely bang together instead of being constructed into a well flowing narrative. With Quantum of Solace I has become worried that they were attempting to spruce up the opinion of the Bond film by having relatively art house directors make Bonds, and Sam Mendes does absolutely nothing of worth here to warrant his winning of the reins. Skyfall is just as cold and unmoving as Mendes’ previous film with Craig, Road to Perdition (2002). The best of the Bond directors have a tight grip despite whatever their leanings may be, and this is almost completely overlooked by general reviewers who instead focus on the lead actor. What is so sorely needed is the guiding force of a Terrence Young, Guy Hamilton, Peter Hunt, hell even another John Glen.
The much written about cinematography is uninspired, though filling the scope frame out nicely. Composition is certainly there, but lacking in definition and polish. This partially comes from shooting on the Arri Alexa camera with a maximum resolution far short of 4K resolution. For a series that has always had capable and clear cinematography as a part of its arsenal, this was a major disappointment. And I cannot think as to what people will be seeing in IMAX, blown up from such a small source. Color is blown up in select sequences to enhance the setting and overall an effect is made to heighten the visual look to achieve a sense of depth to create flair with both modern and “classic” sensibilities. It fails to do this. Primarily the film looks flat, dull and washed out.
The sound mix is completely uninvolving, with the banal score even drowning out most effects that are badly mixed. Surround usage is virtually nonexistent, and the Dolby presentation as always far too polite and restrained. Long gone are the days of even the Brosnan era with pulverizing mindblowing 5.1 tracks that defy all logic.
The score is forgettable and even manages to somehow out-monotonize David Arnold. It could belong in any other film save for the requisite Bond theme placements to remind the audience that thy are actually watching a Bond film. Adele’s title song is equally forgettable and sleep inducing, despite finally having a throwback touch to the choice of performer that isn’t merely a throwaway. The title sequence is too literal and badly cut to the song itself.
With the film’s ending (featuring a Dark Knight Rises-style facepalm inducing character reveal) being a heavily classicized variant on the exact same scene that came about halfway through Die Another Day (2002) there is a sense of regaining the classic elements of the series that have been lost over time. This is certainly a step in the right direction, especially with the loss of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as screenwriters, but it also underlines the fact that Bond hasn’t truly been Bond in a very long time. 25 years in fact. Here Bond is still in the shadows of others, namely Jason Bourne, and is not yet himself again. At some point the producers will find the plot again and perhaps 007 will be both characteristically and cinematically unique onscreen as created 50 years ago.
Skyfall?……more like Skyfail.
Note: The added 50 years logo is a bit heavy handed in its placement. As is the now obligatory Bond product placement. The film even began with a Bond commercial for Omega in the trailers. Also, I write Bond and 007 in quotes as still despite having three films there has not yet been a true Bond character present in either Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace or Skyfall.