Skyfall ★★★

Vladimir Putin (errr, I mean Daniel Craig) comes back and plays Bond a third time, making the most financially successful film in the series.

SKYFALL feels like a more organic continuation of CASINO ROYALE, so much so that it actually makes sense to pretend QUANTUM OF SOLACE never happened. Bond continues to rise in the ranks and MI6 is better developed, finally giving us new versions of Q and Moneypenny. Sam Mendes is a good choice for director as, like Martin Campbell, he goes in his own direction while still homaging what came before and he is aided by the Oscar-worthy cinematography of Roger Deakins. This is probably the best-shot film of the entire series.

The most unique element of the story is how much it is about M (Judi Dench). In some ways it’s more about her than Bond, or it at least makes her this film’s Bond girl. The mother/son dynamic that QUANTUM OF SOLACE began to put in place is developed more organically here. Judi Dench had been playing this role for 17 years and this film gives her a dignified farewell, probably the first time since Desmond Llewelyn that a character gets such a strong exit.

The villain, Raoul Silva, portrayed by Javier Bardem, has also grown on me over time. At first I felt Bardem was just recreating his NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN character, and there still is an element of that, but he also adds a perversity to the character. Silva’s introduction, in which he gives a monologue about catching rats while walking towards Bond, captured over a nearly two-minute long unbroken master-shot that slowly becomes a closeup, is great filmmaking, courtesy of Deakins. There is a moment, when he asks M to say his real name, where I assumed they were going to reveal he was M’s biological son, which would have been a great revelation. When he turns out not to be, I thought it was a major missed opportunity. He feels more like a comic book villain than a Bond villain to me and is just a little too invincible to be serious. When it comes to villains who are dopplegangers to Bond, I think GOLDENEYE pulled this off better.

I also agree with the frequent criticism that the final showdown, involving preparing a house with snares and booby-traps, feels too much like HOME ALONE instead of what you would expect an espionage story to have. And while it’s always nice to see Albert Finney (in his final performance), his character feels shoehorned into the story, wasting a great talent. However, Ralph Fiennes is great as the ambiguous bureaucrat who eventually becomes the new M (his demeanor is reminiscent of Robert Brown in the role) and Ben Whishaw is a fun new take on Q. It makes sense that instead of a crackpot inventor, this generation’s Q would be a whiz-kid millennial.

But Moneypenny is a little bit of a different story. Throughout the entire movie, we see this unnamed character played by Naomie Harris. She is a field agent alongside Bond who accidentally shoots him, is moved to administration, the two share several more dialog scenes, and then finally, at the very end, just as she becomes secretary to the new M, she says: “We’ve never really been properly introduced. My name is Moneypenny.” This is such a fanservice moment, meant to make everyone in the audience squee and go “Oh, snap, this was Moneypenny’s origin story!” First off, I have a hard time buying that Bond and this woman were out in the field together, going on a life-or-death mission in Istanbul, and never once exchanged their names. Unless he only knew her by a codename, but even so, this was not specified and feels unclear. Second, I just don’t buy that the Miss Moneypenny we all loved was a former secret agent. Yes, I know this is an alternate continuity from the classic films, but it just didn’t work for me. I miss Lois Maxwell.

COLD OPENING: A lengthy action extravaganza that’s only one minute short of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH’s epic cold opening. Bond and Moneypenny chase a mercenary down in Istanbul, resulting in a ridiculous scene that is first a car chase, then a motorcycle chase (how convenient that two available motorcycles would just happen to be there once their cars crashed), breaking through buildings and destroying train cars, and finally ending in a fistfight atop the still-moving train, all while Bond barely flinches or shows any sign of being exhausted. Despite so much action, the most memorable part of this over-long sequence is the final two minutes in which Moneypenny debates over taking the shot and, following M’s orders, takes it and ends up shooting Bond. Of course we know Bond isn’t really dead, but it still is an effective moment because of how much build-up it has, much better than when YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE attempted the same thing.

THEME SONG: “Skyfall” by Adele is another one of the Top Five of the entire series. This is a song I had heard multiple times before even seeing the film and, after winning the Oscar, I think it’s safe to say that it’s become an instant-classic.

THE FILM ITSELF: Vladimir Putin (I mean Daniel Craig, dammit) gives his most nuanced performance here, by now having fully embraced the role of Bond. Judi Dench is the heart and main reason to see the film. Mendes is a director who truly understands the franchise and does a great job blending the old with the modern. I think the film falls short of greatness, but I would rank it as tied with the latest film, SPECTRE.

Part of Gabe's Review of Every James Bond Film

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