By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes,Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ola Rapace, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw
Let me begin this review of Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, with a bit of a symbolic metaphor. Pull up a chair and bear with me a second. I equate the changing of the guard from the Connery-Brosnan era of Bond through Craig’s take on the role to the difference between Van Halen’s two best known lead singers, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Whereas Roth was always one to tell us he was ‘Hot For Teacher’ and encouraging people to ‘Jump,’ Hagar had a sort of edge that went with his singing of hits like ‘Poundcake’ and ‘Right Now.’ No matter what, if you were a fan of the band, very rarely did you like both. What I mean is, there were people who were always fans of one or the other. For the record and sake of this review, I will reveal that I always preferred the Roth era of Van Halen myself. Now, why exactly is this the first thing I think of when I envision Craig in the role of Bond? Well, while everyone from Connery to Brosnan were quick with the one liners and suave smiles (Roth), Craig is taking it to whole new, edgier levels (Hagar). And, like the two Van Halen lead singers, there are fans of one. There are fans of the other. But, very few are fans of both. I, for one, thought Casino Royal was brilliant, yet Quantum of Solace wasn’t anything to write home about. However, along comes director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) to be the director of Skyfall, the first Bond film in four years, matching the second longest amount of time between films in the series (the first was the 7 year gap between 1988’s The Living Daylights and 1995’s Goldeneye). All the buzz surrounding this film was that it left even Casino Royal out in the dust, and it was by far the best of the series. Did it turn out that way in my eyes?
I don’t think it is any secret that the James Bond franchise has been chasing the Nolan era of Batman for the past seven years. Even within Skyfall, it is readily apparent where Mendes’ influence is, as the screen is sometimes engulfed in the same exact orange color scheme/pallet that Batman Begins was. There was even an instance where a house is burning behind Bond’s back that brought back memories of the Bat Symbol’s burning on the building from The Dark Knight Rises. Me, I have no problem with this, as there are definitely worse tails to chase (could be worse: this could have been the tribute to Berg’s Battleship). As a well established anti-fan of Mendes (both American Beauty and Road To Perdition swam in over-praised ilk), I had lots of reservations about if he could handle this $150 million production. And, truth be told, I will say that he handles the action scenes very well. The opening car chase, which ends up with our hero wrestling with a henchman on top of a train, was nothing short of exciting and gripping. He does good work within expertly staged shoot outs with humans and helicopters. But, eventually, his over-zealous art house chicanery came to the forefront with transitions like M going to the window and all of a sudden it starts raining as Mendes slowly cuts to Bond struggling in a river, which eventually transitions to the grand opening title sequence.
It’s hard not to notice what I feel to be the biggest difference between old Bonds and this: the lack of women and compromising situations involving them. Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful women here (more on them in a bit), but the main thing that was missing from the opening title sequence (accompanied by a magnificent Adele title song) was the presence of a beautiful woman or two. Everything pointed to the franchise going just as bleak as Nolan’s, and while it worked for me in great detail with Casino Royal, here it just doesn’t feel right. Returning screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (their 5th Bond film) and newcomer to the series John Logan (Gladiator) have crafted a story that swims away from the camp that the 40 year old franchise is known for and decides instead on depths of story involving relationships. No, not Bond’s constant relationships with his many women. Skyfall decides to shine the spotlight on Bond and M’s relationship. Does this work? Yes and no. I have always enjoyed Dench and Craig’s repore (although how many times are they going to pull the ‘M comes home and doesn’t realize Bond is there’ card?). And, the dynamic of M slyly letting Bond back on the field, even though he failed his physical and is doubting how much he has left psychologically as well, worked to Skyfall‘s storytelling advantage. The writing though, for the most part, is hit and miss. Where it excels is in grand moments of tension. Scenes such as in the Shanghai casino where Bond talks to Severine (Marlohe) and the back and forth between Mallory (Fiennes) and M are superb. Yet, Mendes once again can’t resist the urge to keep stylistically showing Bond coming out of shadows, which eventually leads to a lazier than lazy written reveal. It just seemed too artsy, and proves that Mendes cannot resist. And, Skyfall as a film suffers greatly as a result.
Again, I do not want to make it out like I am too negative on this film. In addition to being beautiful, Marlohe (who based her performance on Famke Janssen’s Onyx from Goldeneye) shines in the few moments that she has the light on her. I feel that she will be the next Marion Cotillard, and could be around for years to come. Craig, as straight-laced and Heineken beer drinkin’ (yep) that he is, comes out swinging and it is really hard to not like the guy. I was back and forth on Harris. While I have enjoyed her in things like 28 Days Later and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, here she had times that were flawless, others malaise. I could either take or leave her, and where she ends up had me scratching my head about where the series is going. The same could be said about the villain of Silva, as portrayed by Bardem. Armed with the worst blonde hair (wig?) I have ever seen, Bardem excels at times, but the writing gets sloppy when they introduce his characteristic of a false jaw, only to never bring it up again. Well then, why is he so hell-bent on revenge? It is times like these when producers’ intuition to make Bond a more serious entity of film gets them in trouble. They want to have a villain like Jaws. But, not TOO much. However, when talking about the possibility of recognition come award time, it would be hard to argue with Dench’s performance as M. Here, she brings out every amount of emotion she has in her arsenal. From mad, to sad, all the way to dry humored (even if I agreed with Bond in wishing that damn desk decoration would go away), and it would be a shame if her reputation as being an Oscar darling doesn’t at least get her recognized for her work here, an action/techno thriller with the most famous spy ever put to film.
Overall, I would say that any words you have heard about Skyfall being ‘the best Bond ever’ should be taken with a grain of salt. It is not. It definitely has its moments (with the tube and rooftop chases sticking out to me), and some interesting depth to go with its spectacular explosions. But, to me, it was mostly over-boarish and unsatisfying. Yes, i am intrigued at the prospect of where the series is going. And, yes I liked how the end of Skyfall got tied together as nicely as it did. But, no matter how hard-edged or Hannibal-esque you have your villain (armed with a boring first onscreen speech about rats and coconuts), it is tough to keep up with the people such as Nolan that you have inspired. Especially with an overpraised and overrated director such as Mendes at the helm. Is Skyfall good? Yes. Is it very good? No, and I would not go out of my way to see it. Wait for it to come to you on cable. But, the question remains: if Brosnan is Roth and Craig is Hagar, would that make Timothy Dalton Gary Cherone?
3.5 out of 5