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Skyfall (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

SKYFALL (2012)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes

Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan Directed By: Sam Mendes

The Short Version

Skyfall is James Bond in transition.

The focus is on characters and on the franchise; the standalone movie goes along for the ride.

Because of how well everyone plays, this happens to work.

One spoiler: the Goldfinger Aston Martin returns, complete with guns and ejector seat!

Skyfall is likely not quite what you’re expecting and not quite standalone, but it is damn good.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


It’s about flavor.  This cheese may not stand alone, but it is tasty.

Pairs Well With...


James Bond doesn’t always drink Scotch, but when he does, he apparently prefers The Macallan.  Okay; I’m down with that.

“What did you expect, an exploding pen?”

Once upon a time, an exploding pen or a laser beam wristwatch or some other such thing was exactly what viewers could expect from a James Bond film.  Come the advent of the rebooted Daniel Craig era, however, that expectation changed, with neither of his first two films featuring any “gadget” more exotic than a cel phone.   Instead of the over the top stuff that had defined the 007 franchise for much of its history, the movies of this era have thus far played it relatively straight, to the point of near-plausibility.  (To be fair, so did the first two Connery flicks, but everyone seems to forget that.)  They’re not about the gadgets or even the baddies so much as they are character studies of those working on the side of the angels.  (Okay, that doesn’t describe the first two Connery flicks.)

Skyfall is the Daniel Craig era in transition.  It retains the emphasis on character that was present for his first two films – indeed, it can be argued that this emphasis only deepens – while at the same time steering his incarnation of Bond and the franchise as a whole closer to the norm established by the majority of the classic era of the series.  With that said, the actual standalone story of the film – you know, the whole “bad guy with an evil plot” thing – tends to feel like something left simmering on the back burner; it’s there and it’s adequate, but really, it’s a sideshow whose primary purpose is to give the character play and franchise forwarding a vehicle from which to operate.  For many films, this would be a recipe for disaster, but in the case of Skyfall, it happens to work.  Are the results perfect?  No.  Does the film stand by itself without the framework of the franchise to prop it up?  Not a chance.  Could the “central plot” portion of the screenplay have used another pass?  Probably.  Is the movie damn good anyway?  Yes.  Yes it is.

Part of the reason that Skyfall works as it does is because it is extremely reasonable to assume that for most members of the audience, this will not be their first James Bond movie experience, or even their first Daniel Craig James Bond movie experience.  (Nor should it be; one should at the very least have seen Craig’s first film before this, if not both, and the more other 007 films one has watched aside from those, the more flavor this one will have.)  The audience can be expected to know the basic players and the basic dynamics, and the majority can also be expected to know the differences between “classic Bond” and “new Bond,” and therefore be savvy when the transitions are set up.  It is fair to say that over 98% of the audience will get the exploding pen joke, for example, and that a smaller but significant majority will recognize as certain Aston Martin DB5 when it makes an appearance.

Yes, it’s that Aston Martin.  The filmmakers may have teased with the car during Craig’s first go-round, but this time, it’s the Goldfinger car, complete with ejector seat control and headlight machine guns, and it gets used.  I admit it; I cheered out loud when the car showed up.  Nor is that the only reference to the franchise’s filmed or literary past here; observant viewers will catch the very obvious shade of You Only Live Twice and flashes of GoldenEye, along with other elements that I’m going to let sit as surprises.  However, unlike Die Another Day, which disastrously sacrifices being its own film for the sake of being a constant stream of references and inside jokes, Skyfall uses these elements to help clue the audience in on what’s going on, paying homage to what came before in a way that’s completely unobnoxious and that serves to indicate the real purpose of the action: to move the franchise forward.

The people at Eon Productions have stated that they deliberately chose not to focus on the evil organization that pulled the strings (first secretly, and then revealed) during Daniel Craig’s first two films because they did not want to present the appearance of a trilogy; however, that’s exactly what Skyfall is: the third part of a trilogy defining James Bond’s relationship with M.  The phenomenal chemistry between Daniel Craig and Judi Dench is what truly drives and defines this film, and it really is marvelous to behold.  To call what happens here “powerful” is an understatement; I’m not going to spoil it for you, though, because you do need to experience it.  Skyfall also delves into James Bond’s past before joining Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and while it tweaks Ian Fleming’s established canon slightly, it’s not a jarring tweak; indeed, it adds richness and resonance to both character and film.  If you have seen what came before, then by the time Skyfall is over, you will know the character of James Bond as a complete person.

This also means that by the time Skyfall is over, the franchise is ready to move on to becoming what it was before: a series of standalone spy thrillers in which the only surprises come from the villains and not the heroes.

During Skyfall, however, the villain is simply a plot device who doesn’t even make a personal appearance until almost an hour and a half into the picture.  His real purpose is to tweak the characters of Bond and M; to be honest, his dastardly scheme (which has some shades of Mission: Impossible) has more than a bit of Rube Goldberg-ishness to it, and the (very tired) device of “the villain who has figured out every move and counter move years in advance” thing that has become popular in Hollywood really would be eye-rollingly stupid here if the audience bothered to pause and think about it.  But since the plot is back burner stuff, it doesn’t matter; it makes just enough sense to fly on Suspension of Disbelief Airlines, therefore it works.  It’s also helped by the performance of Javier Bardem, who plays the villain’s role not as an evil stereotype, but rather, as the character is written: he’s certifiably insane, but not batshit insane, and that difference is important.  The villain’s plot doesn’t have to make quite so much sense when he himself is clearly off his rocker, and the fact that he is believably crazy automatically makes his scheme more acceptably believable by association.

But again, it’s not about him.  It’s about the other stuff.

It’s about opening with a truly great chase scene through one of the world’s great locations.  It’s about introducing the classic character of Q into the mix, reimagining him to fit the times and doing a bang-up job of it.  It’s about Adele singing one of the best James Bond themes in years: one that actually sounds like a proper James Bond theme (and which tells more of the film’s story than you might think at first).  It’s about gorgeous Bond girls – hel-lo, Berenice Marlohe, and kudos to the folks in costume and makeup – and fights that happen in komodo dragon pits.  It’s about the Aston Martin.  And to top it off…

It’s about stuff that I’m not going to spoil for you.  You’re just going to have to see it for yourself.

Bottom line, Skyfall is not the standalone film that Eon Productions suggested it would be, nor is it likely what most people are expecting.  Taken by itself, the plot is sketchy , but when looked at from the perspective of being a piece the James Bond franchise as a whole and the closing chapter of a trilogy, Skyfall becomes a wonderfully executed, very personal, and just damn good 007 movie.  Essential viewing/ownership?  Yes, but only after seeing Daniel Craig’s previous films first.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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