Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Film Review | Skyfall (2012)

The four year gap between the release of Bonds 22 and 23 - namely Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall - was anything but a quiet bit of downtime for the franchise. At one point, it looked like a very real possibility that the latest installment in the long-running spy series might never see completion, with fears surfacing that the MGM lion may have roared his last after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Thankfully, the financial issues were eventually resolved and Bond was once again on track to return for the 50th anniversary of his time on the big screen. With many being (or convincing themselves they had been) disappointed by Quantum Of Solace, hopes were high for Skyfall to bring Craig's tenure as Bond back to the perfection seen in his inaugural outing, 2006's Casino Royale. And after his patriotic appearance alongside Queen Elizabeth II herself during the opening ceremony of London 2012, many hoped that the latest entry into the long-running franchise would continue the nostalgia, paying tribute to 007's half century on film. On pretty much all of these counts, Skyfall does not disappoint.

Taking place some time after the events of Quantum Of Solace, the film catches up with James Bond (Craig) using a botched mission - after which he was presumed dead - to spend time away from his duties at MI6. However, after learning of an attack against the agency itself, with M (Judi Dench) seemingly a specific target, Bond chooses to return to London to help track down those responsible.

Surely the most pleasing aspect about Skyfall is the amount of ambitious goals the film not only sets itself, but achieves with such success. The film is a roaring tribute to the previous fifty years and twenty-two films the double-0 agent has behind him; this never becomes a "greatest hits" compilation however, with none of the nods to Bond's heritage feeling awkward or ill-fitting. Every moment is knowingly and lovingly crafted, woven into the film's plot and universe seamlessly and purposefully.

The film is also packed with superb performances, with Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva likely to become a firm fixture on any list of Bond's ultimate adversaries. The character is brilliantly realised through the sharp script's most stark and unsettling moments, as well as Bardem's comprehensively excellent turn. Bérénice Marlohe also does well as the alluring Sévérine, undoubtedly the most classically archetypal Bond girl Craig has encountered in the role yet. Naomie Harris' Eve, Ralph Fiennes' Mallory and Ben Whishaw, taking on the role of Q for the first time since the reboot of the franchise, also offer plenty to enjoy.

It almost goes without saying that Daniel Craig is pitch perfect as Bond, but not to mention this would be to do a disservice to what Craig has brought to the role in his three films to date. The fact that Craig is now considered by many as the defining actor in the role ahead of much-loved and praised cinematic icons such as Roger Moore and even the originator of the role on screen, Sean Connery, speaks volumes about the way in which Craig has genuinely taken ownership of Bond.

But perhaps the defining performance of Skyfall comes from Judi Dench. The Dame's unique honour as the only cast member to be carried over from the original timeline of Bond films always felt like one of the best decisions made when rebooting the timeline, and Dench shows just how seriously talented she is here, being given the greatest scope to truly flesh out the character since she took on the role some sixteen years ago as GoldenEye's "evil queen of numbers".

Director Sam Mendes barely puts a foot out of place, making sure that Skyfall's plot moves at a satisfying pace throughout, whilst producing some breathtaking cinematography. Bond's tracking of an assassin through the upper floors of an empty Shanghai skyscraper is one of the most beautifully and masterfully shot pieces of cinema you will see this year. Things threaten to become a little too outlandish for the rebooted Bond universe for a beat or so in Skyfall's final act, but the film soon recovers thanks to some of the most exciting and emotional scenes witnessed in a Bond film for some time, if ever.

Skyfall therefore is a near-comprehensive triumph. Superior to Quantum Of Solace, but marginally off the perfection seen in Casino Royale, this is almost certainly the most likely Craig outing so far to please fans of the classic Bond films of the '60s and '70s. It pays homage to the franchise's origins, as well as its most beloved attributes, whilst managing to remain contemporary, refined, and a superb film in its own right. Skyfall asks and answers the question of whether Bond has a place in the modern world in the same breath, leaving you in genuine anticipation for Bond 24 even before the credits begin to roll.


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