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Review: Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall

Rating

Director
Sam Mendes
Screenplay
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Length
143 min.
Starring
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking

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Review
50 years ago, a Cold War spy become synonymous with film history's definition of espionage. Skyfall is the twenty-third entry in the franchise and after a disappointing second outing as superspy James Bond, Daniel Craig has found a more lively and captivating vehicle in which to thrive.

Rising from the dead like a phoenix, Bond emerges from his self-imposed "vacation" when a bomb is detonated in MI:6 headquarters. Duty to country brings him back into the fold where his perceived death carries with it added burdens: fitness exams, mental exams and director approval. M (Judi Dench) knows Bond's strengths and even though she realizes Agent 007 may not be ready for the field again, yet sends him off with the understanding that the field will help him get back into the game better than endless training.

Behind the cyber attacks on M and the agency is a charismatic former agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who's vendetta against M hinges on a surprisingly revelation that resulted from one of her bad calls. Bardem is menacing in a role that's only slightly altered from his stoic, grim Oscar-winning portrayal in No Country for Old Men. One of the first scenes between Silva and Bond occurs in an abandoned village where the filmmakers decide to jab the audience with gay innuendo. Ably retorted, but designed to make the audience uncomfortable, the scene frustrated a movie that had, up until that point been suitably thrilling.

From that point forward, the film still manages to excite the audience. By the time the final encounter at the titular Skyfall estate unwinds, much of the misgivings from earlier scenes melt away. Then the actual finale hits and a missed opportunity ruins a film that had built almost spectacularly to that point. The final twenty minutes are filled with spoilers that might ruin one's appreciation of the film.

However, knowing that the team of screenwriters missed an excellent opportunity to create a cunning parallel to Bond's beach-bound retreat in the post-credits scenes was completely missed and one of my personal favorite characters was horrificly treated brings about serious questions revolving around producers' ability to fairly treat everyone in the film, not just its lead character.

Craig has always been one of the more fascinating Bonds and here he showcases just what makes him such a personable and relatable actor. Dench is one of the best unifying forces the franchise has had in the modern era. Ben Whishaw's sudden appearance as gadgeteer, and now hacker extraordinaire, is welcome, though a bit confusing; his character seems to have been introduced only to highlight that the franchise is trying to make itself a viable representative of the present technologically. It's these scenes that showcase just how misguided such ideas can be employed and doesn't really set the franchise going in a new direction.

Naomie Harris as fellow field agent Eve is an compelling addition to the cast and her continued participation in the series will be welcome. Harris pairs physical capability with emotional vulnerability handily, making me wonder how this performance might have fit in Star Trek better than Zoe Saldana's. It works incredibly well here and for all the flaws and frustrations I have with the film, this isn't one of them. On the other side of that coin is Ralph Fiennes whose initial, combative presence in the film as Intelligence and Security Committee chairman Gareth Mallory is questionable and whose ultimate evolution is not only ill-fitting, but ultimately unwanted. I am not looking forward to his future participation in the franchise.

Director Sam Mendes has had a spotty career at the helm in Hollywood. His films have spanned the cravasse of quality too frequently to count. And while he guides Skyfall to an appealing, yet conflicted conclusion, I wouldn't say the film's success stands on his shoulders. On the contrary, his work is among many directors who could have handled the material affably and capably. Bringing the brilliant cinematography of Roger Deakins on board was one of his finest decisions and the studio choosing Adele to voice the new title track was inspirational, as was the opening sequence.

Ultimately, this is a film that so exceeded the quality level of the prior outing that it seems significantly impressive. However, as a whole the first film in the Craig series remains more riveting and involving. That the makers decided to end it as they did only cements my choice to rank it below Casino Royale. The franchise is in a better place to remain viable for the future than it was five years ago and its ultimate success should enhance its long-term viability even with new characters coming on board of which I wholly disapprove.
Review Written
March 13, 2013

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