Bond, 50 year old Bond: Skyfall

Bond films have a specific checklist that they must abide by. It’s why we go see them. Good looking actor in place- check. Action scenes- check. Beautiful locales- check. Etc. Etc. Bond has been with us on movie screens for 50 years now and Sam Mendes’ Skyfall tries to artfully acknowledge the franchise’s well-worn age while simultaneously giving it a top of the line sheen. Man, does this film look great. Roger Deakin’s cinematography solidifies this entry as the best looking Bond film ever. Adding to the film’s classical look is veteran editor Stuart Baird who lends a throwback pacing that works well. At the very least you will enjoy just looking at Skyfall but there are many elements that energize and carry this 2 1/2 hour picture across the finish line. Alas, there are also some inherent Bond tropes that weigh it down and depending on what level of fan you are will determine how much it works for you.

My complaints with the previous Craig-as-Bond films are still pretty much the same. There is a prevailing seriousness that permeates these last three films that, now, has become tedious. Judi Dench scowling out a window, having minimalist conversation with our hero has kinda run its course for me. They have tried to inject some humor and even some emotional pathos this time but it cannot loosen up the solemn tone that permeates. The action scenes are uneven but mostly solid. The big one that opens the film is also the one that loses steam and credibility quickly which worried me.  Thankfully,  Mendes gives later ones an exhilarating visual flair with memorable images. It’s here too, that Baird’s editing gives strong visual clarity.

Bond movies are only as good as the villain and Javier Bardem’ s Raoul Silva is memorable if a little derivative. There is a great build up to his appearance. One scene in particular that has his mistress (an excellent performance by Berenice Lim Marlohe) trying to warn Bond ratchets up the tension of the whole film. Bardem is a strong presence and he carries the film well but his overall appearance (is he required to have distracting, weird hair when he plays a heavy?) and the Hannibal Lecter-ness of one scene in particular distract from an otherwise effective performance.

There is a theme throughout the film that calls into question the relevance of MI6 and, in effect, M and Bond. Faceless enemies who steal/control information have taken the place of bad guys with guns. It’s a theme that works well and comes to a head when modern technology as a whole is confronted with a more primitive, old school retaliation. It also happens to work as a tip of the hat to the Bond of old and gives a satisfying conclusion to the film.

What can I say? It’s a very good Bond film. We want them to hit their marks and give us what we expect from a Bond film. We don’t want too many surprises.

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