Reel Talk

Skyfall and the Dark Knight

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I feel like a lot of people take the James Bond franchise for granted. It’s something that’s been around for fifty-five years, and it’s becomes a serious mainstay in Hollywood. We’re probably always going to get Bond movies. They aren’t really a big deal anymore. But, occasionally, something happens that suddenly brings Bond back to the forefront of the film discussion. Every now and then a Bond movie arrives that suddenly dominates the box office, does something new and different, and basically forces the world to remember that the Bond franchise is still relevant. And, in recent memory, the biggest Bond film to accomplish this was probably Skyfall. Casino Royale obviously got people talking about Bond again, new actors will always do that, but not to the extent of Skyfall. Because Skyfall was massive. When it came out everyone was talking about Skyfall. It was a massively successful film, the continuation of Daniel Craig’s stellar tenure as James Bond, and became one of the highest regarded Bond films of them all. Those opinions may have changed a bit in the proceeding years, but at the time Skyfall was a revelation. It reinvigorated the franchise and made Skyfall one of the biggest films of that year. I remember seeing Skyfall and being utterly blown away. Everything about it worked wonders on me, and Skyfall became one of my absolute favorite films of the whole franchise. And, upon revisiting the film after quite a while, I’ll say that those opinions have not held up. This is not a bad Bond film. Far from it. It’s still one of my favorites, and still on the higher end of the spectrum, but some of the luster has faded, the flaws have become apparent, and some of it’s strongest features in 2012 have becomes some of its strongest weaknesses in 2017.

It was very clear from the beginning that something different was happening with Skyfall. The film was released on the 50th anniversary of the franchise, and unlike Die Another Day they wanted to put their best foot forward and remind the world of the greatness that the franchise could accomplish. I obviously mean no disrespect to any of the other terrific directors that have helmed Bond films, but seeing an Oscar winner like Sam Mendes certainly made people realize that they were going in a different direction with this film. And adding in the director of photography Roger Deakins is certainly never going to hurt, because the man can shoot the hell out of a film. And as soon as a trailer was released for this film, all of these things clearly showed us that things were going to be different. The film looked gorgeous, unlike a typical Bond film, and seemed to be taking things in a far more character driven direction. It looked mysterious. And things were helped even more when it was announced that Adele would be handling the theme song, which when released became an instant radio hit, and one of the most beloved songs in the franchise’s history. Plus, in honor of the Golden Jubilee for the franchise they were advancing the timeline of the reboot and bringing us new versions of Q and Moneypenny, finally putting Daniel Craig’s James Bond back in the familiar settings of the rest of the franchise. And, for any of the reasons and more, it worked. Skyfall dominated the box office, and became the most financially successful Bond film of the whole franchise, even adjusted for inflation, and in the world of superhero movies we got to witness James Bond becomes bigger and better than he’d ever been before. But is it aging well?

 

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Skyfall opens up with James Bond in the middle of a mission in Istanbul. A mysterious assassin has killed an MI6 agent and stolen a hard-drive loaded with information about undercover agents all around the world. So Bond chases the assassin through the streets of Istanbul, aided by a fledgling agent who we learn much later is Eve Moneypenny. Bond eventually confronts the assassin atop a train, and after having to make a tough decision Moneypenny fires a shot at the two, hitting Bond by accident. Bond falls from the train, and is presumed dead. But in actuality he survives and decides to take a much needed break, living a drunken life on a beach somewhere for many months. But he’s dragged back to England when he gets word that MI6 has been attacked by a terrorist. M, already dealing with some government pressure to shut down the double-oh program, is suddenly attacked by a mysterious figure who seems to have a personal grudge with her. And, to make matters worse, this person is leaking the identities of undercover agents from the stolen hard drive. But luckily Bond is back and ready to rejoin MI6 and be of any assistance he can. Unfortunately he’s not in the  best shape, physically or mentally. In fact, he’s doing so poorly that a new colleague of M’s, Gareth Mallory, insists that Bond not be put on active duty. But they put Bond through the wringer and give him a battery of tests, which eventually prove that he’s ready to be back in the field. Well, actually no, M fudged the number because she’s convinced that this sink or swim mission will prove Bond is in good enough shape. So Bond meets with his new Q, gets a gun and a radio transmitter, and decides to go after his only lead, the assassin he fought in Istanbul.

So Bond heads out to Shanghai where the assassin is ready to perform another hit. He and Bond fight atop a skyscraper, and the assassin ends up falling to his death before giving Bond any information about his employer. Although, he does leave his payment, which was in the form of a gambling chip from a casino in Macau. So Bond gets into a tux and heads to the fancy casino, with Moneypenny, to do some reconnaissance. He cashes in the chip, and is given a substantial amount of money, along with the attention of a woman named Severine. She works for the man who hired the assassin, and presumably the man who is behind the attacks, and she and Bond flirt a bit before she tells him that there will be some men coming to kill him. Bond fights them off in the casino and meets back up with Severine, as the two sail to meet the man behind it all. He’s living on an abandoned island and has set it up as his own personal fortress. His men capture Bond and he’s then introduced to Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who was left for dead and now harbors a deep hatred for MI6, and M in particular. Silva has become a cyber-terrorist, and encourages Bond to leave the service and become a freelance spy like him, while also goading Bond into doing something foolish. Silva kills Severine in front of Bond, which spurs him on to capture the terrorist, before calling in reinforcements to the island. Silva is then arrested and brought back to MI6, where he yells at M for abandoning him. But M has bigger fish to fry, such as a hearing about her actions and the possibility to terminate the double-oh program. However, while Bond and Q are examining Silva’s belongings and hacking into his computer, they find that they’ve been played. Silva programmed some sort of virus to attack MI6, and manages to escape his cell, and heads off into the city to kill M.

Silva and some goons arrive at M’s hearing and almost succeed in killing her, before Bond, Moneypenny, and Gareth Mallory succeed in fighting him off. Bond then decides that he needs to get M off the grid, and essentially kidnaps her. The two then drive off to Bond’s ancestral home in rural Scotland, a mansion called Skyfall. They get into the mansion, meet with Bond’s caretaker Kincade, and the three begin planning for Silva’s imminent arrival. They place boobytraps all around and just generally fortify themselves for the impending attack. Which arrives rather quickly, as a wave of mercenaries flood Skyfall, trying to kill Bond and M. However they’re pretty easily able to kill these soldiers, as Kincade and M flee through a secret tunnel towards a chapel that’s on the Skyfall property for some reason. However, once these soldiers are taken care of another group arrives, flown in with Silva in a helicopter. Bond manages to fight off this second wave, and in the process destroys his ancestral home, while Silva spots M and Kincade fleeing to the chapel and follows after them. Bond and Silva eventually get to the chapel at roughly the same time, and Silva realizes that M caught some shrapnel in the fighting and is about to bleed out. He thinks about killing M and himself to end this whole process, until Bond arrives and stabs him in the back. Bond then holds M as she dies, and returns to England. Gareth Mallory has now become the new M, he’s becoming convinced that the double-oh program is still necessary, and Moneypenny is set up as his assistant, and Bond is ready to continue his life as 007.

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As much as my opinions regarding this film have fluctuated in the last couple of years, it’s still a very enjoyable experience. When I first saw it I was utterly blown away, and considered it one of my favorite entries of the franchise. And that certainly isn’t the case any more, but it’s still a lot of fun. Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins, and the whole crew created a shockingly beautiful Bond film, making it one of the more artfully directed films of the whole series. Some of the effects haven’t aged that well, especially some of the digital bobble-head effects that come from CGI-ing Daniel Craig’s face over a stuntman’s body, but overall it still looks pretty great. And beyond the look of the film, the acting in this film is largely pretty great. Daniel Craig continues to put in a hell of a performance, nailing the bedraggled and beaten Bond that the script needed him to be. Javier Bardem is putting in a fascinating performance, that certainly gets a little too hammy at parts, but is somehow still containing a lot of the dread and menace that he perfected with Anton Chigurh while also remaining flamboyant and odd. Although, he does get a tad stereotypical at times, falling in that old trope of villains being kind of silly and full of gay stereotypes. The rest of the supporting cast also delivers terrific performances. Ben Wishaw is a little more twee than I would have gone with, but he’s a really fun new Q, and his dynamic with Craig is a lot of fun. Naomie Harris is always a terrific actress, and while I’m not super fond of the idea of a Moneypenny who has slept with Bond, the two have terrific chemistry, and I think she’ll handle to role terrifically. Likewise, Ralph Fiennes is a brilliant choice for the new M, and his camaraderie with Bond throughout the film sets up a great dynamic for the future movies. But the real powerhouse performance for the film comes from Judi Dench in her farewell performance as M. She’s been great in these movies ever since GoldenEye, but this movie lets her really swing for the fences, and she nail it. Hell, for all intents and purposes she’s the Bond girl of the film. I feel like if we’d seen any of the previous M’s die in a Bond movie it wouldn’t have been that much of an emotional ordeal, but seeing Judi Dench’s M die in Bond’s arms is still an incredibly emotionally affecting scene.

But despite all of that, there’s something about this movie that really felt strange to me on this rewatch. And I think I figured it out. Skyfall is so utterly 2012. The best Bond movies manage to transcend time, and just tell fun and exciting stories that take on a timeless quality. However, there are also Bond movies that for one reason or another lack that timeless feeling, and get weighted down to the specific time they were made. Maybe it was a directing style, a musical choice, or any number of reasons, but the film just feel anchored to the year it was made and ends up becoming a weird little time capsule. And I think Skyfall is destined to become such a film. And the reason that I believe that goes back to the primary influence this film seems to have had. Superhero movies were becoming massively popular around the time that these Craig films were coming out. That’s probably  one of the reasons why Casino Royale became an origin story. The superhero films were finding new ways for the action movie to remain relevant. And, to make things better, they were occasionally transcending the superhero genre, and become something “better.” And if there’s one film that people associate the transcendence of the superhero genre it’s the Dark Knight. Now, I also feel like that film has kind of fallen off in my esteem, but for the longest time the Dark Knight was considered the film to emulate when it came to high quality action films. And the creators of this film really seemed to take that to heart, because this film is shockingly similar to the Dark Knight. A lot of movies that came out after the Dark Knight featured some version of the incredibly overly complicated villain plan that involves them purposefully getting caught. But beyond that, this film was loaded with cliches from the couple years after the Dark Knight. Silva and Bond get to have an intense discussion while Silva is inside a glass cage. Silva gets caught on purpose and then infiltrates the heroes base. Hell, if Silva’s hair was green his performance would feel incredibly similar to Heath Ledger from the Dark Knight. So while I still enjoy Skyfall quite a bit, I feel like it’s not going to age as well as Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace. Both of those films feel like they’ll have that timeless quality that will make them evergreen, while Skyfall is going to dip in a bit. It’ll have a period of time where people will mock it for feeling so incredibly 2012, and then eventually it’ll become a silly little time capsule like Diamonds Are Forever. It’ll be a weird trip, and I’ll be really interested to see how it ages.

 

Skyfall was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, directed by Sam Mendes, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and Columbia Pictures, 2012.

 

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