Sky Falls. Bond Franchise Okay.
Skyfall -- Dir. Sam Mendes (MGM Studios) -- 4 Stars
As cyberterrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) boasts of his criminal exploits to James Bond (Daniel Craig), the MI6 agent—who is made subject to this sort of villainous braggadocio on a fairly regular basis—responds that everybody needs a hobby. “What’s yours?” Silva asks in response. “Resurrection.”
True enough, Mr. Bond. On several occasions in its 50-year history, the 007 film franchise has threatened to come to a close, only to make a sudden crowd-pleasing return. In recent years, financial troubles at MGM put the franchise in jeopardy again, but this film allows the serial to make yet another comeback. The narrativehas a few issues with unfulfilled story lines and navel-gazing, but thanks to a strong turn of performances from its principal actors as well as impressive visuals, “Skyfall” is a successful relaunch of the James Bond series.
“Skyfall” begins with Bond and a fellow MI6 operative by the name of Eve (Naomie Harris) in Turkey in pursuit of a stolen data drive that contains the identities of numerous undercover MI6 agents. When they fail to intercept the drive, it falls into the hands of Raoul Silva, an enigmatic figure who plans to use the information to enact a revenge on M (Dame Judi Dench), the head of MI6, against whom he holds an old grudge. At the same time, M and Bond have to contend with Gareth Malloy (Ralph Fiennes), a bureaucrat who arrives at MI6 in the wake of the failed mission and forces the two to evaluate the competency of the organization’s leadership.
With series veterans Craig and Dench alongside Bardem and Fiennes, there is no shortage of marquee actors in “Skyfall,” and they put their talents to good use. Although his Bond in this film is still the melancholic man he established over the last two films, Craig displayed a greater emotional range: he allows himself a wry smile as he engages in repartee with Eve or a look of exasperation when he realizes that he has to make a run from an exploding building. Bardem gives a memorable performance as Silva, the tortured villain of “Skyfall.” The role demands him to be at turns cold, manic, furious, and anguished, and Bardem embodies each of these moods effortlessly. Silva is a baddie who delights in rankling his foes, so his conflict with the characteristically calm, cool, and collected 007 is well-realized.
Dench’s M is another highlight of this film. She is still as cantankerous as she has been in her previous appearances, but she also shares some banter and moments of connection with Bond. Dench delivers her lines with a frankness that suggests something of M’s earnest conviction about her job and her principles. “To hell with dignity,” she says when Mallory suggests that she resign without seeing the Silva mission through. “I’ll leave when the job is done.” While Fiennes is unfortunately rather underused in the film, his role adds an extra layer of conflict between MI6 and Silva.
Apart from the high-quality acting, the movie looks and sounds beautiful. “Skyfall” takes place in a variety of locations, from sprawling open markets in Turkey to the misty hills of Scotland. Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ aerial shots of the locales help to orient the audience to each new environment that Bond must navigate. The action scenes in Skyfall are also pleasing to the eye. Early in the film, Bond gets into a motorcycle chase that escalates to him pursuing a villain down by riding across the roofs of Turkish houses. In another cleverly shot fight, Bond and an assassin tussle while lit only from behind by a giant LED display on a neighboring building so that the combatants can be seen only in silhouette. The orchestrations of Thomas Newman also serve to add suspense to the narrative, and Adele lends her voice to the movie’s main theme, a defiant anthem that sets the tone for a film that is a determined resurrection against the odds. All of these aesthetic elements of the film make it a satisfying spectacle.
Unfortunately, the film is so stuffed with action that it has difficulty devoting enough time to certain plot details. When at the beginning of the film Bond appears to be shot by a sniper’s bullet and is announced dead by MI6, it should surprise no one that he comes back. Still, it is anti-climactic when after a few MI6 expository scenes, the film abruptly cuts to a random scene of Bond and a woman on a beach—a disappointingly mundane reveal. Another issue comes up when towards the end of the movie, a bit of Bond’s family history and childhood experience is discussed. But only a bit. Bond’s backstory could potentially make for an interesting topic of exploration for a Bond film, but because it has little bearing on the overall plot of “Skyfall,” its presence here is confusing and somewhat distracting. If Skyfall had managed its 145 minutes of running time more efficiently, it could have accommodated these narrative details without them seeming abrupt or out-of-place.
One thing that could have been deleted to make room for these storylines is the heavy-handed emphasis on conveying the film’s relevance. The new Q (Ben Whishaw) reminds Bond that the sorts of gadgets that used to constitute his arsenal are no longer needed. Mallory asks M whether or not she is holding on to Bond because of sentimentality rather than evaluating his objective merit. Even Silva gets in on this act when he mocks, “Is there any of the old 007 left?” And on more than one occasion, the characters in the movie suggest an answer: yes, Bond may be old fashioned, but, as more than one character in the film reminds us, “sometimes the old ways are the best ways.” In this manner, the writers engage in a sort of meta-dialogue with the audience by making some unsubtle nods to the ways that new entries in the Bond series might be received. If this were something that happened only a few times, it might be a clever or endearing way to engage with the question of whether the franchise has maintained its relevancy. However, this dialogue rather quickly becomes so repetitive as to make the film appear desperate to justify its own existence. “Skyfall” is a good film, but if it did not waste so much time pleading its audience to believe that it can be a good film, it could be better.
Seeing Bond sporting a clean shave and preparing to go out to a casino, Eve remarks that he looks the very picture of an old dog with new tricks. The film could do without this clumsy posturing, but Eve is right to the extent that the film's relatively insubstantial flaws do not prevent the film from demonstrating that with some more modern trappings, a stellar cast, James Bond still has quite a bit to offer. If I am in as good shape at the age of 50 as 007’s franchise is, I should be very happy indeed.
—Staff writer C.E. Chiemeka Ezie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.