Dir: Sam Mendes
Mendes Aims a Walther at Oscar
50 years after Dr. No was first released, and six James Bonds later, the James Bond Franchise is now going stronger than ever with the release of BOND 23 aka Skyfall. While this film featured an almost interminable wait while MGM reorganized under Chapter 11, director Sam Mendes, who was signed onto the project during the filming of Quantum of Solace, hung on quietly through the corporate bankruptcy process and did everything possible to make the film more than worth the wait. And it shows with beautiful colours.
His vision of a big money blockbuster action movie with a plot and story worthy of a real film was directly inspired by Christopher Nolan’s exciting work with the new Batman trilogy, and much as the that new trilogy has delighted audiences worldwide, Mendes work has been just as successful, managing to stand tall against other epic holiday releases such as the conclusion of the Twilight saga. The movie has something for everyone. I’ve seen it three times so it’s easily worth it for you, dear reader, to see once.
Let me start with the two biggest features of this film: Dench and Bardem. First off this is Dame Judi Dench’s 7th appearance as the staunch old grey lady at the head of Britain’s MI6. This is easily her (or any M’s) biggest role in the entire James Bond Franchise and she is glorious! Let me say right here, if nothing else, she deserves an Oscar for this this performance. As the only woman who Bond can relate to or respect, her role in his life and Bond’s role in hers is profoundly explored in beautiful twisted ways throughout the film. Such character development is almost rare in a Bond Movie, but as I’ve already mentioned this isn’t a movie, this is a film. Mendes directs her so well and explores her character so deeply and thoroughly it almost brings to mind the levels of stunning character development within his Oscar-winning American Beauty (of note: Skyfall is the first Bond ever to be directed by an Academy Award winning Director, and the Eon Productions staff should stick to hiring very good directors because—in truth—when you give a very good director a very large budget, there is a relatively high chance of them producing a film as enjoyable as Skyfall).
While there had been much speculation that BOND 23 would complete the Craig/Bond trilogy, and finally have Bond take down the evil organization known as Quantum, the producers announced during press conferences that in true Bond fashion the franchise would go new places, leaving this evil organization to be slain by Bond at a later date. As such there is no reference to Quantum and a new villain is brought to the silver screen and most certainly the history books in Raoul Silva.
Mendes had originally spoken with Kevin Spacey (who I have long thought would make a fantastic Bond villain) about taking the role of Silva, but after he refused talks turned to Javier Bardem. Bardem is only the second Oscar winner (having won for No Country For Old Men) ever to play a Bond villain (the first was Christopher Walken, fresh off of The Deer Hunter, in A View to a Kill ) and if I were part of the Academy I would make him the first Bond Villain to win an Oscar. He is outrageously good—sickeningly and scarily good! Bardem had the whole script translated into his native Spanish so as to be able to better understand the film and he worked extensively with Mendes on his character’s development. All of this sets the bar incredibly high for whoever accepts the role as the next Bond villain. I’ve seen all the Bond Films, and there have been a few weirder villains, but Bardem can easily stand toe-to-toe with the bests (worsts). I don’t want to give away any spoilers but Silva definitely made the audience collectively gasp at all of the screenings I attended.
As always this film features certain Bond staples such as beautiful women. And yes, women, as Skyfall is the first Bond ever in which all of the Bond Girls are referred to as Bond Women. First off there is Bond’s associate Eve (played magically by the inordinately beautiful Naomie Harris) who provides great assistance to Bond in the opening scene before things take an ugly turn. She returns later in the film to provide a few gasps of her own, but her beauty is stunning and her onscreen rapport with Craig is unmatched. Also of note is Silva’s henchwoman Severine, who is played by the stunning Berenice Lim Marlohe. I’ve always felt that the Bond franchise has chosen more “typically Asian” actresses, often to the detriment of the film, but Marlohe is radiant, effluent, and magical. She has also commented that she was surprised at Daniel Craig’s modesty when filming their shower scene, and that she demanded he lose his shorts and that she offered to do ANYTHING to make him more comfortable. Clearly, being James Bond has some perks even in real life.
Another Bond staple that returns in this film is Q and the Quartermaster Branch of MI6, which have both been revamped for the modern era. Instead of an armorer, Q is more of a super nerd, and is played excellently by the very believable Ben Whishaw, who I am told by numerous women is easily as “hunk-able” as Daniel Craig. Q plays one of his larger roles in the Canon, providing much assistance to Bond throughout the film even while the Franchise eschews more of the sillier Bond gadgets, in lieu of more realism. Q and Bond’s interactions throughout the film also always serve to enlighten the audience even more to the dark icy role of Craig’s (again marvelous performance as) Bond by using Whishaw’s delightful nerd as the perfect foil.
I couldn’t write this review without paying at least some mention to the action in this film. While the Bond Canon has always been known for its stupendous action sequences, Skyfall takes the franchise to an entirely new plateau. There are car chases, fist fights, assassinations, helicopters (which by the way, the helicopter featured in the film is the same exact helicopter from which Bond and Her Majesty the Queen jumped to open the 2012 London Olympics) train chases, scorpions, automatic weapons, motorcycle chases, and even an all-out gun battle in the middle of Parliament. Again I can’t stress how great of a plan it is to give a really good director a really big budget. The movies have always been about making “unreality” happen for the viewer and this Bond is heart-stopping (though hopefully it will not end your life).
Now that I’ve raved on for some time about what makes this film so delightful I would like to take a brief moment and discuss what I did not like, which luckily is extremely minor and should not detract very much at all from what is a great film. First off, the Adele theme song sucks. It has done well on the pop charts, and I know Adele is all the rage and probably the closest that the production staff could come in finding a new age Shirley Bassey, but the song is boring. It kind of gets stuck in your head in a way that I don’t like. To be honest, they should have had Adele record the song, and then let Kanye remix it a-la “Diamonds Are Forever.” This is obviously minor in the scope of the film, but I couldn’t let her off unscathed. The other factor I didn’t like about this movie (which is entirely personal) is that this film is really, really, really, really long. Like seriously, go to the bathroom before you sit down in the theater and only get the medium squishy because otherwise you are going to need a pee break. This is the second longest Bond film ever, only one minute shorter than Casino Royale and only one minute longer than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s long, I feel like it drags at points, but I doubt most critics would complain about this fact. Even though this film is long, it is very good, so as I said initially these two complaints are relatively minor.
Skyfall is an excellent film and Mendes definitely deserves a pat on the back. I doubt the Academy will even consider giving the film, Mendes, or Craig a nomination, let alone the prize, as they have always been notoriously unkind to franchise films. But it will be a crime against the art if Dench doesn’t at least get a nomination for her exquisite performance. Bardem also deserves an Oscar for his performance as he is quickly turning out to be one of the great evil genius actors in a generation or more. This film is wonderful, and I suggest seeing it more than once just to be able to appreciate the way the entire audience gasps and applauds at various moments.