Skyfall Review

BY MICHAEL CHRISTLER

The latest installment in the James Bond series, Skyfall marks the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary, and the twenty-second sequel to 1962’s Dr. No. For fifty years, the Bond films have been entertaining cinema fans with their thrills of excellently-orchestrated action set pieces, sensuous escapades with voluptuous women, and Bond’s unprecedented use of quirky gadgets. Though Skyfall utilizes and pays homage to the traditional elements associated with the 007 franchise, it is undoubtedly a master of its own game and transcends these more well-known aspects to inject a sense of freshness and nostalgia into a genre trite with over-exaggerated complexity and style.

The story catapults from a frantic chase scene in Istanbul, Turkey, and sets the stage for the film’s well-executed pacing and coordination of action moments. During a mission to capture a stolen computer hard drive containing a list of NATO operatives embedded in terrorist organizations, Bond is shot by fellow operative Eve (Naomie Harris) and is presumed dead. Almost immediately after 007’s disappearance, MI6 headquarters suffers an attack from a cyber-terrorist, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), an ex-agent who had previously worked for M. (Judi Dench) during her work in Shanghai. Bond, “resurrected” from his temporary absence, is then brought back into the agency and assigned to continue his undercover work by protecting his employer from Silva’s attacks.

The plotline of Skyfall is relatively simple, straying from the rather abstruse layers of exposition that permeate its dire predecessor, Quantum of Solace. Director Sam Mendes, a veteran of dramatic character-study films such as American Beauty and Road to Perdition, executes a unique rendition of the British secret agent as an aging, weakening man, comparable to M.’s previous references to Craig’s Bond as a “misogynist dinosaur” and a “relic of the Cold War era.” Mendes also gives the character something previous installments have failed to address: a sense of humanity and identity. Near the film’s climax, the audience learns about Bond’s origins and the home in which he was raised. This supplement to the standing narrative establishes a touching, emotional, connection between the audience and a generally reserved character, and gives depth to the strained mother-son relationship established between M and Bond.

In fact, for all the seething sexuality that Bond indulges in with the love interests of Bérénice Marlohe and Naomie Harris (who give decent but forgettable performances), his real relationship lies with M., and the sky-high questions of loyalty and honor he must address with her and his country. Of course, these doubts are brought on by the film’s primary antagonist: Raoul Silva, the enigmatic but terrifyingly evil cyber-terrorist responsible who serves as a foil to Daniel Craig’s stoic but endearing Bond. Javier Bardem gives a fantastic performance as the villainous hacker, infusing a comic, manic feel of psychopathic violence into the character, and ranks considerably high in the list of memorable Bond villains. Ralph Fiennes also performs well as Gareth Mallory, a government official pleading for M.’s resignation,  as does Ben Whishaw, who in an inspired performance, breathes new life into an established bond character with his depiction of  a young, witty version of MI6’s Quartermaster or “Q”.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins should be commended for his work here, a display of cinematic bravado consisting of shots of Shanghai skyscrapers ablaze with gorgeous neon graffiti and lavish casinos lush with sumptuous, golden lighting. Composer Thomas Newman adds a musical orchestration that molds together the film’s action thrills and daring espionage with touches of the original theme and fresh compositions, giving a general air of nostalgia to a film that refers to its previous counterparts with respect but creates its own realistic take on the iconic character.

Ultimately, the film comes off with a message that reverberates quite frequently in the film: the old-fashioned way is the only way to go. Despite the ability of modern technology to bring down airplanes, crash vehicles, and deploy long-range missiles, Skyfall shows that that there not only needs to be a man pulling the trigger, but that the decades-old Bond franchise is far from extinction in contemporary entertainment, and certainly demands for further installments. Four out of five paws.