Theatrical Review: Skyfall
While it seems that the last three Batman films and Inception had been overwhelmingly influenced by the James Bond series that Christopher Nolan grew up with, it seems that now perhaps the opposite has happened: Bond writers are being influenced by the Nolan movies they grew up with. This is a good thing. As they say in the film “Almost Famous,” “If Bowie’s doing Lou (Reed), and Lou’s doing Bowie… Lou is still doing Lou.”
And if Bond is doing Nolan’s Batman, Bond is still doing Bond, baby! Only, once again, the rebooted Bond offers a darker, more stylistic approach to “Bond-ness,” while also retaining–perhaps more than ever–the spirit of the original films.
“Skyfall” is probably the best spy film since “The Good Shepherd” (which a lot of people hated, in my opinion, only because it was actually really really good) only it is a complete opposite of that film: The Good Shepherd was a complex film a lot of people did not understand, but Skyfall is very simple. It works with the basic premise of any hero film: there is a villain within, and the hero must find him and catch him. Only, the villain within was created by the system of justice that the MI6 put in place. If you go rogue, the MI6 abandons you–as it abandoned our aforementioned villain. Bond sees the villain’s old ways as a spy in himself, and after having taken literally a bullet for the greater good without the least bit of hesitation of command from his boss M, Bond perhaps wonders if he is just as expendable.
“Skyfall” finds Daniel Craig and Madame Judi Dench reprising their key roles as Bond and M respectively. But “Skyfall” also offers top-tier supporting cast members in Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The English Patient), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), and Naomie Harris (28 Days Later), as well as Ben Whishaw (I’m Not There) as a brand new Q. This gallery of characters, as well as others, create a decent sense of mystery about who the ultimate villain behind the inside jobs may be for the first hour. However close to the vest this is or is not played, it mostly just serves as a plot for Bond to get from exotic action scene A to exotic action scene B, and so on and so forth, but each one is spectacularly filmed and completely suspends one’s disbelief. And “Skyfall” does all of this, with a wink and a nod to both older Bond films and Bond films that are not really Bond films (enter Lucas/Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies, the Bourne movies, and especially Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy.)
For example, when we find out that Daniel Craig’s Bond is an orphan of two parents whose tragic deaths (we’re not sure what happened to them) force him to abandon an old mansion for the foster home (an old memory that haunts him to this day) and the end of the third Bond comes full circle to where his life began: that very mansion–complete with Alfred-type guardian, only Scottish–we know that Nolan’s Bond-ish Batman reboots have affected the Bond reboots themselves.
Skyfall even comes with its own laughing psychopathic villain. Again, a good thing. Javier Bardem’s Joker-like personality and seemingly chaotic but overall calculated and complex machinations (like wanting to get captured on purpose, a la “The Dark Knight”) put him near the top of the longest rolodex of quality villains in a cinema franchise.
But dare I say it, Skyfall is probably better than all of the Batmans. Why? Because this is James Bond, fools! And at the end of the day, Bond’s character is more complex because his lack of emotion actually is his mask… so when we see 007’s various reactions to all sorts of various emotional stimuli from his past and present render the same visage from Daniel Craig, we know that this guy is tough. But we wonder if he is even human. What would make him crack? Is there anyone he truly cares about? Or did he dispense with all that caring nonsense after exacting vengeance for the death of his love Vesper Lind in the last film?
Believe it or not there is an answer to that question, and that’s the brilliant thing about Skyfall. Wearing none of its themes on its sleeve, the Bond film that takes us to the evanescent heart of the character somehow is the most bombastic and stylistic of the most recent three, and also the most rewarding. While Nolan’s Batman films took the Bond-style film, Q (think Lucius Fox) and everything with it to new heights, it takes a Bond film itself to take Bond films where they need to go. Thus, as far as the spy-action-stop-terrorists genre goes, Skyfall is as good as it gets. It takes a formula that has been improved upon outside the franchise, and brings it back within, taking it again to the next level. Skyfall’s plot and intentions can often be predicted, but not it’s soul. And that is the beautiful and unexpected treat of 007’s latest adventure.
Yes, I do believe this is the best “Bond film” not directed by Christopher Nolan, and probably also the best “Bond film” including those directed by Christopher Nolan which (stay with me!) are not actually Bond franchise films. I cannot wait for the next Bond film, whether it is a 007 film or not (does that make sense?) It is going to have to beat “Skyfall,” the best of the ever-expanding lot.
[P.S. The film also looks great, with fantastic cinematography quite atypical of this genre. But if it has one weakness, it hits you if you’ve seen Taken 2, because it seems that the two films may have chosen the same Istanbul, Turkey locations for action and you’re seeing the same movie you just saw a few months ago–or maybe they just look the same to me, I’ve never been to Istanbul! Anyway, lucky for us, after the first ten minutes, the location is no longer important to the Bond film.]