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Skyfall (2012)

by on 2012/11/10

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

* * * *

As mentioned now ad nauseam, I’ve been a James Bond fan most of my life. It’s a significant part of my world, one I still feel compelled to indulge in, as a reader, viewer, listener, gamer, collector, and general participant. It’s nostalgic, a tie to the past, to my mother through the Ian Fleming books, to my family through the features, and to my friends for various reasons.

Thus, the fiftieth anniversary period was of special interest to me, with its Olympics introduction, promotional tours, feature documentary (Everything or Nothing), royal premiere, and 23rd official installment, Skyfall. Of the last it has been said, it’s not just a good Bond movie, it is simply a good movie, full stop.

I’m inclined to agree but am somewhat conflicted twice over. First, the Ellipsis-Quantum story wasn’t properly resolved. With it we had fresh, promising hope for a new SPECTRE equivalent. Second, in his two Bonds thus far, we’re intended to meet Daniel Craig as apprentice to spycraft, evolving through rash mistakes.

Now all of a sudden we’re expected to accept him as decrepit, as long in the tooth as suggested by the series’ history. It’s a leap but, fortunately, a fairly painless one. (You needn’t worry. Craig’s acting abilities help considerably.) While it’s not an exemplary entry, it might be the best overall.

Fans of the novels may find it reminiscent of Colonel Sun, the first post-Fleming in which M is a pawn and source of the central conflict. The Scottish property dubbed “Skyfall” stands in place of Messervy’s Quarterdeck. Similarly, Skyfall’s competency evaluations recall Fleming’s doctor, James Moloney, and the (non-canon) Thunderball update, Never Say Never Again. And I couldn’t help tracing a connection between the nationality of Bond’s mother, and the Swiss Family Robinson style denouement.

Of plot details, I won’t spoil many here. I’ll also resist the temptation to make comparisons to Avengers, Dark Knight, Silence of the Lambs, or the new Star Trek (2009). Suffice to say, it’s a bit like Mission: Impossible (1996) in a Bond context.

Such information can be readily found elsewhere. Let’s take as read the many common compliments . . . among them, Craig as Bond, Judi Dench as M, Roger Deakins’ photography, Sam Mendes’ direction, and the script work of Purvis, Wade, and Logan.

And, of course, Javier Bardem as Tiago “Raoul Silva” Rodriguez, although I would dispute what others have claimed, that he plays a gay character. Instead I’d propose he does whatever he believes will be most off-putting, any suggestion discomfiting to his victims. To borrow Bond’s word association response, he’s a skilled provocateur.

Also worthy of mention is Ben Whishaw as a reimagined Q. Rather than a quartermaster in the traditional sense, he’s a young consultant on information security. It’s only appropriate in this day and age, and a nice inversion to support the theme of aging. For those who remember Desmond Llewelyn, it’s also an interesting choice to have Bond be more intolerant of Q than the other way around.

I’ll finish this survey of the outstanding cast with a final “if only” comment. Meaning no disrespect to the considerable Albert Finney, the “Welcome to Scotland!” moment would have been worth any bribe to Sean Connery, and no more distracting than the Aston Martin gags.

Production details have likewise been covered exhaustively elsewhere, yet I’ve heard little feedback on the Thomas Newman score. Perhaps he can take as a compliment that it goes by oft-unnoticed, fitting appropriately, and never grating. I for one had serious concerns with the absence of David Arnold, who balances John Barry’s strengths with progressive touches. Frankly, I’ve rarely cared for the “oddball” composers. Nevertheless, I was very happy with the music here.

Newman balances action and romance, tension and levity, classic and modern. He weaves parts of Adele’s title song into the Macau scenes and ending credits. Other sections recalled prior outlier scores: the angst of Eric Serra’s GoldenEye in the “Skyfall” reveal, the percussion of Michel Legrand’s Never Say Never Again in the “Bloody Shot” scene, and Vic Flick’s Dr. No riff in the DB5 sequence. It seems to me Newman sometimes avoided repeating what worked before, and “corrected” things with promise which had not. (The Dirty Rotten Scoundrels school of thought.)

It all added up to an experience I enjoyed in my initial screening. I’ll need time and exposure to settle myself properly. Many feel this film was a set-up, and they’re anxious to see what’s next, though it’s really more world-building than cliff-hanging.

I have the sense that I have watched a phoenix being reborn, an ending and a beginning all at once. Skyfall draws upon fifty years for a near-perfect realization, respecting the established formula, and tweaking it to effect — shifting, inverting, and commenting — until we’re right back where we started. In fact, it doesn’t make me want more; it makes me want to go back, reviewing the series again from Dr. No on.

After all, what does one do next when nobody does it better?

* * * *

Rated PG

143 minutes

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