Fallin' For SKYFALL (Or Not): The ScreenAnarchy Review Roundup
Skyfall is now out worldwide and after an impressive opening weekend in the U.S., we at ScreenAnarchy HQ thought we'd pass the mic around for insights into the latest Bond film. What follows are a few hundred words from several of our global voices critics which ranged from ecstatic to mild disappointment, to bafflement at some of the decisions that made their way past the script stage.
So who loved it? Who hated it? Read on to find out...
First up, Asian Editor James Marsh was (mostly) impressed with director Sam Mendes' first outing in the franchise action movie game:
Sam Mendes delivers breathless action, character driven drama and epic grandstanding in his 50th Anniversary James Bond special, while picking at the battle-hardened scabs of 007's psyche to a degree not seen since On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Daniel Craig adds real substance to his campaign to be Best Bond Ever with a vulnerable yet grisled display, and Javier Bardem's wildly over-the-top performance papers over the many cracks in his arch villain's logic and scheming. Perhaps the best-looking Bond film to-date, thanks in large part to Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography, and certainly the most beautiful depiction of 21st century Shanghai ever filmed, Skyfall also boasts palm-sweating stunt sequences, a stellar supporting cast, and a knockout theme song from Adele. I predict a first-ever Bond film Best Picture nomination come Oscar time, along with nods for Cinematography, Song, Screenplay and perhaps even a Supporting nomination for Judy Dench.
Next up, our man in the Netherlands Ard Vijn was impressed with many of the technical aspects of Skyfall while finding it a mess when taken together as a whole (he offers a more comprehensive assessment here):
To me, watching this film turned out to be very frustrating indeed. I love how Skyfall builds a bridge between the James Bond origin story of the past two films on one side, and the serial super-agent films we've been enjoying for decades on the other side. It is the longest Bond film and most of its running time is spent on character development. The cinematography is gorgeous and may even pick up an Oscar in a few months. Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem and Dame Judi Dench are excellent and every scene with two or three of them in it shines. And I love how Skyfall incorporates stuff from Bond's private life hinted at in the Ian Fleming novels but (so far) carefully kept out of the films.
BUT... after the incredible pre-title sequence all the action becomes rather lackluster. There isn't a single set piece, stunt or fight in the final two hours which is memorable.
Worse, there are several logic gaps which hurt the gritty realism and believable (or at least well-thought-out) characters. Bond and his friends for no reason whatsoever become at times excruciatingly stupid when the plot asks for it, and that took me out of the film.
In the end I liked Skyfall, but could not shake the feeling that with just some slight changes it would have been my movie of the year. As it is now it won't even make my top 10. However, I'm glad it doesn't derail the franchise and I do hope Daniel Craig will return for another few.
Likewise, longtime Bond fan Peter Gutierrez was both entertained by the excellent performances and direction and frustrated by the lapses in logic in Bond 23:
Two words sum up why Skyfall should be seen, words that should also unite its detractors and champions: Roger Deakins. His work as DP is breathtaking every step of the way, and not just in the showy parts (Shanghai); he makes locations characters, which is significant in a series that's often relied on superficial exoticism. And though I'm not a huge admirer of director Sam Mendes, I must give him credit, especially for the opening set piece and the smooth, dreamy transition to the title sequence. Indeed, for what felt like half the movie, up until around Javier Bardem's long-delayed entrance (loved that menace-filled build-up), I thought, "This is how you do Bond. You get world-class talent, and you keep things smart." Unfortunately, as the plot contrivances accumulated and an air of self-satisfaction increasingly made it hard to breathe, that "smart" eventually vanished.
(SPOILERS AHEAD) The head of MI6 can't tell a gameskeeper (with 50 years' worth of intimacy with Skyfall's grounds) not to use his torch/flashlight while being pursued by a ruthless genius? And a finale to an action thriller, a Bond film no less, that climaxes with our hero throwing a knife into the villain's back? That's it? Bond's big fight is with some nameless dude underwater for a few seconds? Sorry, but again--a knife in the back? That sort of ending annoyed me in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and is harder to swallow here. Oh, and if this sounds like snobbish nit-picking, please know that I've been a Bond fan for 40 years, and viewed Skyfall as a fan on my own dime--that I was cheering for it to work before it began... and yet it was all I could do to stop from tearing my hair out by the time it was over.
Andrew Mack couldn't help thinking about Skyfall as another movie like The Dark Knight Rises with an implausible bomb problem (mild spoilers for a mid-film sequence):
No no no. I don't care how long you plan for it. I don't care how many years Q assumed Silva was planning his revenge. This part of the film was just, just... well, I just could not suspend my disbelief. Imagine if you will the following conversation between two Tube workers doing a tunnel inspection...
"Oi, Mickey! Come take a look at this".
"What's that Roger".
"Mick, my old chum, that looks like a bomb".
"Coo, right. You serious mate?"
"And it looks like there are a lot more strategically place along this Tube tunnel".
"No Mick. Thems be terrorist's bombs".
"Now why would someone go through all the trouble to do this, Rog?"
"The way I see it Mick, terrorist comes along here, secret agent hot on his tail right, 'Es about to get caught and he triggers this one bomb with his phone, this bomb right here, so he can get away".
"Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to plan your escape a couple years from now, Rog".
"That's why the terrorists will never win, Mick".
Other than that, the rest of the movie is pretty good. Very good in fact.
Our European Editor Brian Clark offered this excerpt from his full review where he considers the perils of being Bond (and the fun of watching him in action):
Skyfall, like the previous entries in the rebooted Bond series, takes great pains to correct a myth perpetuated by the classics with Sean Connery and Roger Moore. To wit: You do not actually want to be James Bond. Being James Bond is hard. It is painful. It is exhausting. And it drives you to drink. Fortunately, unlike Casino Royale, which advanced this thesis with joyless, groin-hitting force, director Sam Mendes remembers that even if we don't necessarily want to fill Bond's shoes, there's still a hell of a lot of fun to be had watching him.
Indeed, for all the spectacular action set-pieces in the film - and there are some real jaw-droppers - perhaps the most impressive stunt that Mendes pulls off is the tonal tightrope the film walks. It keeps the harder-edged, conflicted character that Craig introduced five years ago without sacrificing the sense of fun and even nostalgia that makes the classic films so compulsively watchable. Yes, it is dark, serious, thrilling and surprisingly character-driven. At the same time, it's grimly funny, sexy, nostalgic and, on occasion, ridiculous.
It has some flaws, specifically in the plot/pacing department, but still, Skyfall does a better job than any previous Bond film of combining the conflicted sensibility of Fleming's original character with the cinematic spectacle we've come to expect from these films. As a bonus, it also contains some of the most-exciting, best-directed action sequences you'll find in any Bond film, or any film this year for that matter.
However, Jim Tudor, finds Skyfall to be just this side of perfect:
Despite a long history in a radically changing world, not to mention the recent financial ruin of his home studio MGM, James Bond has returned once more. 007 productions have been firing semi-regularly for fifty years now, occasionally resulting in a misfire (Moonraker), but most of the time at least hitting the target. Rarer still are the times when the target isn't just hit; it's annihilated (like so many high tech Bond villain lairs inevitably have been). Skyfall, the new Bond movie starring Daniel Craig in his third go as the secret agent may not be a perfectly clean kill, but it annihilates none the less.
Following a bravura prologue, we are treated to the best Bond song in over twenty-five years. Adele purrs "Skyfall", an old-school full-sounding powerhouse reminiscent of Shirley Bassey, the undisputed queen of James Bond tunes. This great song is a solid return to form... perhaps too much so. How? It doesn't take a master decrypter to hear that this otherwise perfect song actually references Monty Norman's iconic "James Bond Theme" in its orchestration.
It's just that kind of near-perfection-derailed-by-winking-nods that makes up the whole of Skyfall. Thanks to a lengthy production delay due to MGM's troubles, celebrated director Sam Mendes had plenty of time to get all his chess pieces into place for this can't-miss 007 epic. It was time well spent, as Mendes effectively gets to have his cake and eat it too, peppering the otherwise urgent and visceral action (consistent of the Daniel Craig era) with knowing references to well-established tropes of the series. Without violating the franchise's template, Skyfall manages to go lighter than Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but ultimately matters more personally to James Bond the character (twenty-plus movies in, he's still a tightly closed book) than most any of his films to date.
Finally, I've added my own two cents:
After catching the most recent Bond film in my neck of the woods this weekend, I came away thinking about broken down, worn out heroes. What have the Daniel Craig Bond movies done if not grind the hero down into an emotional pulp, thrown the world at him, beaten him down, and asked him to respond.
Casino Royale's opening asked what kind of price would killing exact on the rookie 00-agent. Quantum of Solace was ostensibly about the toll death would take on Bond; and here we have Skyfall, battering Bond down even more as he's (in both circumspect and direct ways) affected by hard choices. Who suffers when important people make difficult decisions? Bond does--repeatedly--because of M's judgment calls for the greater good. One thing I respect here: Bond doesn't "learn" anything by the end of the movie, so much as reach a kind of peace with his own choices.
Largely, I think Skyfall was wise in the way it revealed its hero in this context, while avoiding being too maudlin (actually to the detriment of the drama as Bond overcame to fairly significant deaths with aplomb). Bardem's injection of baroque psychodrama to the proceedings was a welcome counterpoint to Craig's well-acted suffering (nearly every performer is at the top of their game here), such that the villain's labyrinthine, nonsensical machinations were almost easy to ignore.
My one solid complaint: it feels that at the end of Skyfall, having exhausted the lengthy character-building arc of the last two movies, the franchise will embrace/retreat back to foundations of Bonds-past. I hope instead, if Mr. Craig does stick around for the next two movies in his contract, he'll be allowed to carry the character into uncharted territory.