26 October 2012

SKYFALL- Review

This review isn't going to contain any spoilers- that comes next week, when I write up my BlogalongaBond entry, and I've had a little more time to let Skyfall settle. I wouldn't dream of spoiling any of its myriad surprises anyway, but as I'm writing this shortly after my first viewing, the thing that strikes me about the film, which is released in the film series' 50th anniversary year, is that it's a film about the old world versus the new, that seamlessly and joyfully integrates both.

In a typically vigorous opening sequence, M makes a judgement call that sees Bond become a victim of friendly fire. He's missing, presumed dead, and M is in deep shit over the information that was lost in this incident- a hard drive packed with details that could endanger undercover operatives all over the world. Three months later, with M and MI6 under scrutiny from the government, and under attack from their enemies, Bond re-surfaces. Unaccustomed to action, he struggles to find the knack again, as he's pitched against the fearsome Raoul Silva.

The allegations against Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace have been based on a perceived debt to the Bourne movies, with their elaborate chases and kinetic camerawork. The comparison that is already being made for Skyfall is with Christopher Nolan's Batman films, and it's not hard to see why- there are parts of that summary I made that sound an awful lot like The Dark Knight Rises, without me trying to align the two. It's oddly circular, as Nolan's films have so obviously been influenced by a childhood of watching Bond movies, but Sam Mendes breaks the cycle by having some of the fun that people have missed in the previous two instalments.

The contrast between the old and the new is never so obvious as to suddenly plunge Daniel Craig's emotionally vulnerable hard-man into a world filled with gadgets, exotic villains and physics-defying stunts. It's mostly set in Britain, and the idea is thematically woven into the story too. M has a bigger role here, giving the superb Judi Dench a lot more to do, and she actually represents what Bond's foes are trying to destroy in this outing. She gets a superb monologue in front of a government inquiry, which is superbly edited alongside the carnage that is unfolding elsewhere, and underscoring her defence of methods that might seem obsolete. The theme is a crucial part of the story, but that will be up for further exploration in next week's post.

Like Nolan, Mendes seizes upon a theme and carries it throughout, but unlike Nolan, his interpretation of this film's iconic character is not so serious as to bypass the more fun parts. There are a lot of nods to previous Bond films, and some finessed reinvention of certain tropes that will delight long-time fans. And of course, there are some new interpretations of familiar characters, including Ben Whishaw as Q, in a performance that felt more reminiscent of Doctor Who than Desmond Llewellyn. This, more than most things about the film, points the way forward- rather than repeat the elderly inventor character that Llewellyn mastered, we have a more relevant and modern Q.

Whishaw's geeky quartermaster is just one of a number of new principal roles, in which the acting is routinely excellent. Naomie Harris is far from the usual Bond love interest, with a surprisingly small, yet integral role throughout, and on the other hand, Ralph Fiennes gets a lot more to do than I had expected. Craig and Dench are excellent, working with a plot that capitalises on the strong relationship between Bond and M, especially when they're placed against Javier Bardem's Silva. He's another aspect that I want to save for a more spoiler-y discussion, but suffice to say, I consider him no less than the greatest Bond villain since Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love.

On a technical level, it's all as marvellous as expected from the calibre of the crew. Sam Mendes' approach packs more forward motion and character development into the first ten minutes than Quantum of Solace managed in its entire running time, and it doesn't stop there either. The stunts are all superbly executed, but the real hero this time around has to be cinematographer Roger Deakins. After the shakycam nightmare of the last instalment, there's not a single shot in the film that looks askew, or uninteresting. Without hyperbole, it has to be the most gorgeous Bond movie ever made. Deakins has long been nominated at each year's Oscars ceremony, but has never won anything- if they have to give him belated recognition for Best Cinematography, I would love it to be for his work here.

Skyfall is the James Bond movie that we all hoped to see after Casino Royale, and six years down the line, it still has plenty of surprises in store. The comparisons to Nolan are justified this time around, and that's only a bad thing when it re-uses a certain plot sequence from one of those films, which was also present in The Avengers, earlier this year. This is just about the only weak point in the film, and Daniel Craig comes into his own in the same way as so many of their predecessors absolutely nailed it on their third outing. He's signed up for at least two more, and this one serves as a palate-cleanser, holding onto the past with one hand, and uses the other to point to the future of a series in rude health, even after half a century.

Skyfall is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen
Skyfall, why not share your comments below? Come back next week for the full BlogalongaBond review, but in the meantime, just go and see it already!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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