Review: Skyfall (2012)

After a four year hiatus, Britain’s most famous spy is back in his most personal and assured feature since Goldeneye. We review Skyfall.

There’s no denying the level of hype afforded to Skyfall. Despite being the latest Bond movie, a pedigree that garners it immediate blockbuster status, it also marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise as well as the super-spy’s return after a four year absence. With the general consensus that Quantum of Solace was a major disappointment, can Skyfall reignite the series?

Bond has now been in the business of espionage for many years and when his latest mission takes a turn for the worse, he is declared missing, presumed dead. Yet when M (Judi Dench) becomes the target of a mad man’s games, 007 returns to duty. However, M may be harbouring a few secrets of her own.

With Daniel Craig as Bond, there has always been an element of believability in the character that had been absent in all of his prior incarnations. Whilst there were many who longed for the return of the gadgets, fast cars and ludicrous set-pieces, Craig’s take has always perfectly managed the balance between the suave and the edgy, and, whilst Bond still has the urge to fuck anything female and shrug after committing murder, the coldness in his ability to do his job is just that; cold. There’s no wink at the camera, no sly smirk or quippy one-liners, he is a man you admire and fear in equal measure.

It’s a testament to how well Skyfall works that director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) brings back the familiar, like Q branch, stunning locales and the odd one-liner, yet retains the hard edge of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Mendes is clearly a man who loves the franchise and, rather than have Bond’s 50th be a retread of what has been seen before, he has crafted a near perfect spy thriller that delivers both spectacle and smarts in equal measure.

Yet the most interesting aspect of the film comes with the unravelling of Bond during the first half hour. Seeing him in his unhinged state in Quantum, it comes as no surprise to see the film-makers embracing the character’s darker side, yet we have seldom seen Bond so broken. Feeling betrayed by his peers (M’s orders to “take the bloody shot” prove particularly hard on our man) and without purpose, his only reason to return to the field is his desire to fight for Queen and country. Much like Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, it is quite a while before Bond returns to duty, his baggy eyes and five o’clock shadow emphasising just how close he his to the breaking point, such is the toll his job has taken on him.

This darker side of Bond, however, permeates through the rest of the film, as Mendes and co. turn the screws to such heights of palpable tension that the sheer jeopardy of the situation only becomes apparent with the introduction of Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, a man who should go down as one of the greatest Bond villains in history. It is a role that could have been a disaster, a camp, ham fisted mummy’s boy who should be laughed at, not lauded, yet in the hands of Bardem, he keeps Silva the right side of camp whilst retaining a terrifying sense of menace.

Silva’s plan may revolve around revenge, specifically directed at M, but he seeks to gain this vengeance by undermining and destroying everything that M and Bond stand for. He is also the yin to Bond’s yang, both of whom have been left for dead by their mentor, yet where 007 admits, however grudgingly, that these decisions are often made for the greater good, Silva takes a creepy Oedipus stand, where his betrayal at the hands of M turns to murderous obsession.

In the end, Skyfall retains the essence of the Bond name, yet twists it into its own viciously entertaining psychological thriller (the third act show down is so deliciously gothic that you often question whether you’ve stumbled into a different film entirely). There is action aplenty but it is never there for the sake of it, the set-pieces expertly woven into the fabric of the plot and paced to such perfection that at times it’s nauseating. It is such a cliché to say a film fires on all cylinders but Skyfall does and then some. It demonstrates that the franchise can be so much more than it has been in the last fifteen years and that, with the right team behind the camera (special mention to Roger Deakins and Stuart Baird, cinematographer and editor respectively), you can have a psychological study of a broken super-spy whilst retaining the core of what is expected from the franchise. With material of this calibre, there is literally no excuse to have an average Bond film ever again. They really should get Christopher Nolan to make the next installment.

The hyperbole surrounding Skyfall is correct: it quite possibly is the best James Bond film in history.

Best scene 1: Silva’s introduction. The dialogue between Craig and Bardem is electrifying.
Best scene 2: The London set-piece.
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