I’ve been a Bond movie fan since I first saw The Spy Who Loved Me when I was a kid. I’ve stuck with the franchise, even when it was long in the tooth and stinking (Octopussy and A View to a Kill) and when it was excelling (For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale). I’m glad to say that Skyfall drops itself comfortably into the latter. While I’m not as aggressively hateful toward muddled, frenetic Quantum of Solace as many folks — I had no trouble following the plot, but spent most of the movie thinking about how I could have fixed it — I think that the filmmakers knew they had a lot to make up for.
Sam Mendes directs the movie and brings a slick, stylish flavor to the movie. The action sequences don’t get stuck in the Bourne-esque flashy edits that make it seem like there’s more going on than there is; the initial chase sequence through Istanbul is fast, furious, and for a motorcyclist very exciting. The technical proficiency to pull off the stunts is mind-boggling to me. The fight scenes are not overly complicated and flashy, but they use their surroundings to create atmosphere and advance the plot. In particular, there is a fantastic sequence in Shanghai that could have been ripped out of a science fiction movie – all shadows and neon. The character reveals are superb, from Bond walking out of shadows to have only his eyes highlighted, to the villain Silva’s monologuing while walking toward the viewer from a distance, the character slowly resolving in speech and focus. Brilliant.
The music is not by Bond alumni David Arnold, (and it shows) but Thomas Newman, who scored The Shawshank Redemption and Wall-E, just for example pulls off a sleek, modern sound while keeping many of the classic queues. Adele’s title theme is fantastic and she Basseys the hell out of it.
The cast is solid: Craig owns the role now, and manages to make a broken, violent killer sympathetic. Javier Bardem is by turns creepy scary, creepy funny, and just plain old creepy…but there is a scene between he and Judy Dench’s M that also makes him sympathetic. Like Bond, he was a fragile creature emotionally and M used the weaknesses to craft a model agent. The scene is, for my money, that best in the entire film. Naomie Harris is probably the weak link, here; she’s adequate in the role, but there’s a forced quality to her flirting with Bond, and a restraint that characterizes a lot of her work I’ve seen. Ralph Fiennes is..well, Ralph Fiennes. Even if he were phoning it in, you’d get a good performance.
Did I mention the old Aston-Martin DB5 tuns up? We’re talking the Goldfinger DB5 — fully loaded. Well, it does. Speaking of — there’s a lot of complaints about product placement in the new movies, to which my response is there always was. Bond movies are expensive and you need the financial support to make ’em. Also Bond is — much like Miami Vice was in the ’80s — about the lifestyle, as much as the character and plot: the Walther PPK (gag!), the Aston Martins or Lotuses or BMWs, the Brioni suits, British Airways, the places he goes (a travel agent’s dream ad), etc. etc. Just enjoy it and lust after the stuff you can’t have.
Had this not been a Bond movie, it would still have been a great thriller, and that makes it a top-notch Bond flick.
Style: 5 out of 5, Substance: 5 out of 5. Go see it. Now.