“Skyfall” – A Flickcharter’s Review
“Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways.”
This is the thesis of Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film released in this 50th Anniversary year of the franchise. The point is articulated by different characters in the context of shaving and in planning for an assault, but it’s all over the film even when it goes unspoken. If Casino Royale was a deconstruction of 007, then Skyfall is the reconstruction. It’s not about reinstating the classic Bond Formula, though, nearly as much as it is finding a place in the modern era for the elements that helped to make Bond, Bond.
There have been several This-Time-It’s-Personal Bond movies, dating to 1989’s Licence to Kill, in which 007 sets out to avenge his maimed pal Felix Leiter. Skyfall is the most personal to date, not only in terms of the stakes and relationships of the characters, but in terms of delving into the characters – particularly Bond (Daniel Craig) and “M.” (Judi Dench). It’s terrific to see how their relationship has evolved over these past three films. Even as Silva (Javier Bardem) brings the world down around them, Bond and “M.” unite without making a big deal out of it. No exposition is needed between them, or for our benefit. They know how the other feels, and so do we. Director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan were all smart enough to get out of the way and allow Craig and Dench to sell the relationship without any clunky dialog.
This isn’t to say that Skyfall is purely a character study. There’s action a-plenty, including two separate pieces involving trains – both featured prominently in the film’s marketing campaign. Producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli subscribed to the filmmaking mantra, “Put the money on the screen” and his heirs Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have done just that, beautifully captured on screen by Roger Deakins’s cinematography. That train we’ve seen crashing in the trailers? It isn’t even important. It would be the climax for most films, but it’s a throwaway moment in Skyfall. That’s just how big the scale is.
Yet, for all the grandeur of the sets and action, Skyfall ultimately is a very personal, intimate film. Silva, we learn, is an embittered former MI-6 agent with a grudge against “M.” We see him as a mirror of Bond, a man who zigged when our hero zagged. What makes Bond tick? What brings him back to service after being written off as dead after the film’s opening sequence? “A laughable love of country”? Bond doesn’t say, but we know. It’s in his character.
It’s his duty. It’s who he is, because that’s how Ian Fleming wrote him.
Bérénice Marlohe is captivating and exotic as Sévérine, though she isn’t in the film nearly long enough. We learn more about Sévérine from Marlohe’s shaking right hand than through anything the character actually says, another testament to the film’s willingness to get out of the way of the performances. Bond supposes things about her, and her reactions are much more compelling than we would have found her telling Bond (and us by proxy) these things about herself.
Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are all solid and each has strong chemistry with Craig. That bodes well for the franchise as all of their characters are certain to be part of future Bond films. Each touches on a longstanding part of the James Bond mythos, but re-imagined for the modern era – an affirmation that sometimes, the old ways are still the best ways.
How Skyfall Entered My Flickchart
Skyfall > X-Men: The Last Stand
Both featured some true surprises, though I’ve been far more invested in Bond over the years so the surprises here meant more to me. Also, Skyfall has a lot more substance.
Skyfall > Spanglish
I actually liked James L. Brooks’s domestic dramedy (I’m a sucker for Tea Leoni), but it doesn’t satisfy me at all the way that a good Bond movie does.
Skyfall > Grumpy Old Men
My friend and I pretty much adopted Grumpy Old Men as the template for our golden years. In fact, my ringtone for him is a sound clip from that film. Personal favorite or not, it isn’t a strong enough film to best Skyfall.
Skyfall > Tropic Thunder
I had to stop and think about this one for a moment. Tropic Thunder works on several levels, and it’s a lot of fun. Skyfall takes itself more seriously than does Tropic Thunder, but it still has a sense of humor and personality. It isn’t as unique as the meta-fiction of Tropic Thunder, but it’s rock solid all the same. It wins.
Skyfall < Toy Story
Skyfall is a very strong and satisfying James Bond film, and I love me some 007…but Toy Story is an old friend. Maybe after Skyfall has set with me longer it might win this match, but not within 24 hours of my first viewing.
Skyfall < The Departed
I don’t quite know why, but I feel that I found The Departed just a shade more satisfying. I’ve also had six years to reflect on it and re-watch it. Skyfall will almost certainly beat The Departed in the future, but as with Toy Story, it’s not quite there right now for me.
Skyfall < Dances with Wolves
I know Dances with Wolves takes a lot of heat for being so ham-fisted about its ecological message, but you know what? It’s still a powerful film. Even if you don’t feel some kind of inherited guilt for how Americans have run roughshod over the land, it’s almost impossible to not identify with Dunbar’s and Stands with a Fist’s desire to live peacefully together, away from everyone else. There’s no shame in losing to a Best Picture winner.
Skyfall > Wild Things
Plot-wise, I have to actually give this one to Wild Things. The constant twists and turns of that film are dizzying, and it strikes a perfect balance between suspense and (very, very dark) humor. Skyfall gets the nod, however, for its depth of characters and for my pro-Bond bias.
Skyfall < The Lion King
UGH. I may feel differently the next time this match rolls around, but during the ranking process I just can’t quite bring myself to pick Skyfall over what is still the greatest Disney film of the last 20-ish years. Maybe if there’d been more Marlohe.
Skyfall < Alice in Wonderland (1951)
As much as I love Bond, I’ve loved Alice in Wonderland even longer – particularly Disney’s animated adaptation. I don’t even know that more Marlohe would have helped Skyfall here.
Skyfall > Black Swan
Objectively, Black Swan is the stronger film. It’s tauter and more captivating emotionally and intellectually. However, Skyfall has an emotional payoff that taps into an investment I began making 17 years ago and I can’t isolate that. Now that I think about it, though, someone needs to get Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis into a Bond film.
Skyfall entered my Flickchart at #83/1444.
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