Anthony's Film Review
Skyfall is an undeniably incredible Bond movie and no doubt the best one to date...
For years, I've observed a pattern in the James Bond film series that I would jokingly call the "Third Bond Film Theory." Basically, whenever an actor plays Agent 007 in at least three movies, the third one ends up being better than the first two. For Sean Connery, Goldfinger soared above Dr. No and From Russia With Love. For Roger Moore, The Spy Who Loved Me delivered a real treat compared to Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. For Pierce Brosnan, The World Is Not Enough went above and beyond Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. And now, we have Daniel Craig, whose third Bond film Skyfall is a masterpiece compared to Casino Royale (which is still great) and Quantum of Solace (which is a huge letdown). At this point, I think I shall not call it a theory anymore. Rather, it's best to call it the "Law of Third Bond Films."
But it doesn't end there. Skyfall isn't just better than the last two predecessors. It's better than all 22 predecessors. That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I am proclaiming right now that Skyfall is the best James Bond movie of all, and its timing could not have been better given that its release marks the 50th anniversary of the entire film franchise. Why is it the best Bond ever? Well, if I have to sum it up in one sentence, it would be this: Skyfall delivers nail-biting suspense, explosive action, and an incredibly moving story while seamlessly mixing the realism of the new Bond and the classic elements of the old Bond. Basically, if each Bond movie were a mixed drink, Skyfall represents the perfectly blended formula that injects freshness into old ingredients without completely diluting that old flavor.
The Bond formula requires elements such as action, women, gadgets, and exotic locales, but for years, that formula was followed so rigidly that the core plot structure became sort of repetitive. Many prior Bond movies have a story that goes something like this: Bond gets a mission from M while greeting the secretary Miss Moneypenny, Bond follows a trail around the world while facing dangerous situations, Bond sleeps with a woman or two, Bond meets the villain and learns about his evil plot, Bond stops the evil plot and defeats the villain, and Bond sleeps with a woman one last time. Like anything in life, it can get stale when done so many times. Even Bond film producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson sensed this. As a result, Skyfall incorporates the most essential Bond formula elements into a wholly new plot structure.
The movie begins with excitement already cranked up to a high level. Bond, with the help of an agent named Eve (Naomie Harris), attempts to retrieve a computer hard drive that was just stolen by a man named Patrice (Ola Rapace). M (Judi Dench), while communicating remotely with Bond, hints that the drive contains an important list of some sort. Even with just a tidbit of info, that's enough to explain why the situation is critical. It also intensifies the action in this pre-credits sequence, which involves a car chase, a motorcycle chase, and a train fight, all very exciting to watch. But the real punch is when it ends, because the mission unfortunately fails.
As explained a little later, the stolen hard drive contains a list of undercover NATO operatives who have embedded themselves in terrorist organizations. And things suddenly get much worse, when a vicious cyber attack targets the headquarters of MI6. Two things are happening at this point. First, M is dealing with this crisis amidst talks with higher-level officials, including intelligence chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Second, Bond goes through a period of personal recuperation away from the rest of the world, until he sees a news report about the MI6 attack. Unlike the old formulaic scene where Bond routinely gets a new mission from M at the office, the two characters meet away from MI6 and discuss the next steps under pressing circumstances.
In a mission that spans the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, Bond follows the trail of Patrice and ultimately encounters the mastermind villain: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). This is where the new realistic Bond and the old comic fantasy Bond can be seen side by side. Silva has plenty of traits characteristic of Bond villains, namely a brilliant but psychopathic mind masked by outer charm. Also, the meeting between Bond and Silva occurs in a place that serves as a headquarters. But the realism is evident in the type of headquarter setting: a room full of computer servers, in an old building, on an abandoned island. This is a far cry from, let's say, Ernst Stavro Blofeld's lair hidden in a volcano in You Only Live Twice. In fact, Silva's plot is not grandiose, like Auric Goldfinger's Fort Knox raid, but he is still a frightening madman hellbent on revenge.
But this isn't the end of the movie. Rather, it's the middle. I'm only going to say one thing about what happens from that point on: This is where the originality of the story really lies. Practically all of the events in the second half of Skyfall are things that have never occurred in previous Bond movies. I can't think of moments in earlier Bond flicks that are even remotely similar to what happens here. As a result, the story is incredibly fresh, not to mention mysterious because nothing is predictable this time around. It really enhances the suspense and sense of danger that reaches a high point and leads to a conclusion that is not just very emotional but also astonishingly unexpected.
What's just as amazing as the plot is the relationship between Bond and M. For the first time ever in Bond film history, M has a prominent role in the story. I am even going as far as to say that M is the second main character in Skyfall besides James Bond, not a minor character with a few scenes. With the two characters in the forefront, there is opportunity for the film to show their two-way relationship. On the one hand, it's a superior-subordinate relationship with M in charge. On the other hand, Bond is really the only one who can protect her, because unlike previous Bond movies, M is put into a very dangerous situation where even she has to shoot a firearm to defend herself.
Since I've spent a lot of time discussing the new Bond, let me talk a little about the familiar Bond elements in Skyfall. The opening credits sequence, featuring the title song sung by British singer Adele and visuals mostly related to water and graveyards, is pretty good. Besides Eve, the other Bond woman is Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), who is a mistress for the organization Bond is trying to infiltrate. Both Bond women do not have a major presence in the movie, but when they do appear, their dialogue with Bond is interesting to listen to. For Bond's car, the classic Aston Martin DB5, first seen in 1964's Goldfinger, makes an appearance, with one familiar feature serving a useful purpose for an action scene.
But perhaps my favorite Bond element of old that appears in Skyfall is the reintroduction of Q, the gadget specialist. Here, he is played by Ben Whishaw, an actor much younger than Desmond Llewelyn, the first and best known actor to play Q. The casting choice here is very wise, because the new Q is not just a gadget specialist but also a computer whiz. This is very essential for espionage in today's digital age. It's also great that Q is not as minor of a secondary character as in previous films, as illustrated by a chase scene where Bond really needs Q's assistance in surveillance.
Overall, Skyfall is undeniably a triumphant masterpiece in the Bond canon, thanks to people like director Sam Mendes. This is an action thriller that is grounded in reality, with old Bond formula ingredients included only to the extent that it makes sense in reality. There is suspense and sharp dialogue in non-action scenes, and when the tension reaches the breaking point, the action starts suddenly, moves quickly, hits hard, and stops just before it goes on too long. The film pays tribute to the new direction of the Bond franchise, to the formula established decades ago, and even to Ian Fleming, the novelist who created James Bond (by including references to Bond's childhood in Skyfall). And right before the final credits roll, we see the familiar gun barrel sequence (which traditionally began, rather than end, the first 20 Bond movies), followed by a commemorative "50 Years" stamp and the familiar message that "James Bond will return." This is like tying a bow around a gift that all Bond fans will surely love. The 143-minute running time of Skyfall is absolutely worth sitting through.
I shall conclude my review of Skyfall (apologies for its longer than usual length) with this interesting tidbit. On November 8, 2012, the day before Skyfall's theatrical release in the United States, the third actor to play James Bond, Sir Roger Moore, did an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show. Moore was there to promote his new book, Bond on Bond, about the Bond films over five decades. At the end of the interview, he said that he completed the book a few months before the release of Skyfall and that, if he had seen the movie at the time, he would've included another chapter in the book, pertaining to Skyfall. That's when he commented that Skyfall is the best Bond film ever made. When someone who has been a part of Bond history, not just an outside observer, makes this kind of endorsement, it says a whole lot. With all the great things in Skyfall I've mentioned above, James Bond 007 will not only return, but will live on for a long, LONG time.
For more information about Skyfall, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my reviews of the following:
Official James Bond Films
Unofficial James Bond Films