Written PostSpecial ADVANCE REVIEW of the New James Bond film: Skyfall!

Special ADVANCE REVIEW of the New James Bond film: Skyfall!

Guest-blogger Josh Lawrence lives in London, where the latest James Bond film Skyfall has already been released.  Josh submitted an advance review of Quantum of Solace back in 2008, and was kind enough this morning to send in his thoughts on Skyfall!  My own review will be up next week, after I see the film this weekend…  Take it away, Josh…

Skyfall, the 23rd installment of the Bond franchise, is an enjoyable action-packed movie that nonetheless will leave the avid Bond fan a bit disappointed.

After a rather tepid mission in Quantum of Solace, Bond is back to the darker, broodier character introduced in Casino Royale. But instead of the newly-minted “00” agent humbled and hardened by the loss of the love of his life, this time around Bond’s dark attitude stems from anger at M.i.6. for interfering with his current mission and, the movie hints, from some deeper secret.  Needless to say, this deep secret is connected to “Skyfall” — how else could one explain such a bizarre title.

For the old-school Bond fan, the movie follows a very familiar trope: Bond saves the world from say nuclear disaster—and is clearly the only agent capable of doing so—but M and his or her cohort and Q all treat Bond like some sort of a rakish self-centered idiot who can’t be trusted to do anything right.  Maybe it would be better for Bond to take a break and recover from his shoulder injury, his superiors suggest, as he is probably not fit for service?  Bond agrees but of course goes rogue — this time it’s personal — identifies the criminal gang behind the next threat, gets some grudging support from key people at headquarters, and then is welcomed back into the fold when he saves the day.

This time around the villain does not have a diabolical plot to radiate the gold supply or give racing horses steroids (phew!), but predictably has spent years developing a needlessly elaborate form of revenge for his grudge.  The story strains to make the point that non-state actors are the real risk in the modern world, and that the cloak-and-dagger services (and “00” agents specifically) are still relevant.

Of course the bigger challenge is in making the Bond films continue to be relevant, and this is where the movie was less successful.  As with Casino Royale, this movie owes a lot to the Bourne movies for its big action scenes, though director Sam Mendes is not as adept at using close-action cameras that lent Casino so much grit and brutalism.

The central problem is that the plot does not stand alone, or rather, could only be credible as a plot in a Bond movie as opposed to any other modern action film.  The writers, and director Sam Mendes, are well-versed in Bond lore, and so we get a lot of familiar sequences, plot-lines, etc., including the original Aston Martin DB5 which has more than a passing cameo.  But so many of the sub-plots and mini scenes are forced as if they had to stick to the Bond formula, and as a result there are too many disjointed scenes or story-lines.  These include a death and resurrection that is never explained, an odd binge-drinking sequence to show that Bond is mad at the world (also shown by Bond going unshaven for about a week), and a particularly hokey scene in which Bond battles an inept bodyguard in a pit that is also occupied by some sort of killer sloth.  Perhaps most troubling is that the “Skyfall” mystery — the theme that supposedly underpins everything that torments Bond —  is not fully explained, and not because it is being left for film #24.

What else is wrong with the movie?  The theme song is utterly predictable: the Bond theme forms the base of the song, the lyrics are nonsensical, and Adele is forced to belt out the film’s title in the chorus.  In other words, it is like most Bond songs, but not so bad as to be actually good.

The title sequence is OK, but hinges on a sequence reminiscent of the fun house in The Man with the Golden Gun, redeeming itself towards the end with some of the trademark outlines of shapely women that have titillated in so many openings.  Oh, and the movie does not begin with the Bond gunshot and dripping blood; for no other purpose than being a bit clever, this comes later in the movie.

And though there is about 5 seconds of steaminess, the Bond girls are a bit of a letdown, and without explanation Bond seems to lead a pretty chaste life in this movie.  Maybe that explains why Bond is back to being a hard-core drinker in this film, more like the Connery films, albeit this time he seems like less of a connoisseur and more of a depressed alcoholic.

Notwithstanding the disappointment in what the film could have been, the movie is a good shoot ‘em up action film, and the actors deserve special mention for great performances.  Daniel Craig performs his role expertly, and credibly delivers the essence of Bond: men want to be him, and women want to be with him.  Judi Dench as M is superb, and the headlines about her being a candidate for a supporting actress Oscar do not seem far-fetched.  Javier Bardem, cast as the eccentric baddie, was a bit of a letdown: he plays a somewhat campy caricature of a villain, and did not compare well to other eccentric megalomaniacs like Heath Ledger’s Joker or to his own performance in No Country for Old Men.

I would also be remiss not to note that even though this film lacks the exotic locations of other recent Bond movies—Istanbul and Shanghai playing only bit parts—London features rather heavily in the action scenes and the plot and proves a good setting for some of the mayhem that unfolds.

Overall, though, the franchise feels under siege, hampered by its own heritage but still yearning to break free into a new era.