Read Time 11 Minutes
Release Date November 9, 2012 Eon® Productions & Danjaq® LLC
Distributed By MGM® & Columbia Pictures®
© Copyright November 12-18, 2012 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
“Sometimes the old ways are the best”. That hallmark line of dialogue, uttered twice in “Skyfall” proves more than telling and prophetic.
007 returns in this 23rd James Bond film, just in time to celebrate the 50th golden anniversary of the silver screen’s longest running (and one of its most iconic and successful), motion picture franchises. Bond has never been more gritty, raw, and soul searching in what is perhaps the darkest, and most epic Bond film ever.
“Skyfall’s” lofty, compelling, and cerebral storyline pulls no punches in deeply probing and questioning the relevance, usefulness, and even abilities of the old order of the spy world of MI6 and an aging, world weary Bond, pitted against a post 911 technological world amped up beyond light speed, where war is now waged, and exceedingly surpassed by, the formidable faceless evils of terrorism in the very unlevel playing fields of the virtual netherworld of cyberspace…rendering the human element that is that of the field agent, seemingly archaic and obsolete.
What good can our hero, James Bond, possibly instill among all this? The answer to that is very much indeed.
After Daniel Craig’s superb debut as Bond in 2006’s outstanding James Bond motion picture reboot “Casino Royale”, and then reprising his role in the convoluted, lackluster follow-up misfire that was 2008’s “Quantum Of Solace”, Craig hits his target point blank with astonishing form, depth, and gravitas in “Skyfall”. Craig portrays Bond with much intensity, as a grizzled, long in the tooth, aging, wounded warrior who ponders to M, “So this is it? We’re both played out”?
It’s all very heady stuff addressing the fundamental realities of mortality as Bond faces down with perhaps his most ominous nemesis yet, the advancing of time, age, and the technological “brave new world” that Bond begrudgingly must welcome and negotiate détente with. Craig supremely endows Bond with an uncanny vulnerability, introspection, and reflectiveness, yet it is these very sensibilities that inform and shore up Bond’s invincible resolve and valor in the catastrophic hour at hand.
The mission at hand this time involves Bond’s attempts to recover a stolen hard drive containing the names of every MI6 agent embedded in terrorist organizations throughout the globe. After the pre-credit sequence momentarily suggests that Bond has been killed (a wonderful nod to Sean Connery’s similar pre-credit fate in 1967’s “You Only Live Twice”), MI6 Headquarters suffers a devastating attack by a mysterious, unknown assailant, killing and wounding many.
Bond quickly returns from a self imposed respite on a tropical island, very much alive as he heeds the call to arms valiantly seeking to solve and stop the assassin. Only Bond soon finds that it is M who is the assassin’s actual target, that of a very personal vengeful vendetta by cyber terrorist Raoul Silva (Oscar® winner Javier Bardem doing a remarkable update on Christopher Walken ‘s Max Zorin in 1985’s “A View To A Kill” with full on peroxide haired, flamboyant psychopath mode).
After M crustily grouses “Where the hell have you been?” in her relief that Bond is alive and ready to serve and protect, it is through the series of field tests that she instructs Bond that he must pass in order to be fit for duty where we see Bond as we never have before.
Out of shape, breath, and form on his physical tests, missing his target with bleary eyed, shaking hand on his marksmanship, and shutting down and becoming confrontational in his psychological evaluation, Bond flunks all of his field tests.
But the resolve of Bond’s sense of duty and honor, his resilience, courage, and the unbreakable integrity and strength of his moral tack and fiber has never been more impeccable and unstoppable, especially when protecting M, or Mum as Bond refers to her. “Skyfall” delicately explores and examines the quiet, reserved, unspoken regard and affection and the somewhat mother-son relationship dynamic that M has with Bond, with tender respect and fondness.
I must say that after enjoying the performances of the wonderful, late Bernard Lee, who originated the role of M in the first eleven Bond films, my worries about who might fill his shoes, one very tall order, (actor Robert Brown’s portrayal of M in four Bond films after Lee’s passing, notwithstanding), were thankfully very much put to rest with the now, nearly two decade long, bravura tenure of the brilliant, Dame Judi Dench as M.
Dench’s debut as M, dishing out the now legendary ball busting tongue lashing and calling out of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in 1995’s “Goldeneye”, coining Bond a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War” were spot on, and assured us that she was in no uncertain terms, a force to be reckoned with and never to be trifled with…and moreover, that a woman could brilliantly run MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, one of the most powerful espionage and intelligence organizations in the world, with strategic intelligence, courage, resourcefulness, and strength.
But while most of M’s turns in previous Bond films saw her in brief appearances, momentarily giving directives to Bond from the sidelines, in “Skyfall’s” dire portrait of a nation and its security in crisis, we see M, emerge as a true leader.
We see M resolute and unwavering in protecting her nation, the world, and the operatives of MI6, in an age where international atrocities can be orchestrated with the point and click of a mouse. And though M is still tough as nails, full of irascible spit and vinegar, we also see how very much she cares about Bond and the people around her.
In “Skyfall”, M also demands and commands the audience front and center, as a pivotal character alongside Bond for most of the film’s story. M and Bond share equal screen time as we also gain insight and understanding into Silva’s highly dysfunctional take on the surrogate maternal underpinnings of his relationship with M, which comes to a head when Bond and Silva do combat the old fashioned way, mano a mano in a searing, suspense laden, jaw dropping climax set in an old country manor house in Scotland.
Director Sam Mendes and his team of writers wisely know that like Bond’s quintessential martini, not to tamper with the classic Bond formula, paying reverence and regard to the previous Bond films’, source material. Back are Bond’s Walther PPK, the blood stained gun barrel credits, and numerous homages, inside references, and tips of the hat galore to past Bond films, (including an auspicious update on the infamous alligator farm scene from “Live And Let Die”), Bond’s gleaming Aston Martin DB5 with the same license plate affixed to it as when the car was first introduced in 1964’s “Goldfinger”, (which drew resounding cheers and applause when unveiled at the screening that I attended), and best of all the return of a young, cyber techno wiz version of Q, portrayed with witty banter and much warmth by the just wonderful Ben Whishaw.
“Skyfall” is more of an ensemble set piece than previous Bond films, and is rounded up by the many sterling talents of Berenice Lim Marlohe as the newest Bond girl, the sultry Severine, the always glowing Naomie Harris as MI6 Agent Eve, Rory Kinnear as MI5 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, Ralph Fiennes as Chairman Of The Intelligence and Security Committee Gareth Mallory, and the very welcome surprise appearance of the incomparable Albert Finney who all but steals the show as Kincaid, a very special person with links to Bond’s past.
Director Of Photography, Roger Deakins’ breathtakingly beautiful vistas of the glittering evening city skylines of Shanghai and Macau, his panoramic, expansive landscapes of the city streets and Grand Bazaar of Istanbul and of the rural highlands of Scotland, and his camera shots of the historic, glorious, and iconic architecture, landmarks, and structures of London, partnered with his astonishing use of silhouettes, light, and shadows creates some of the most phenomenally stunning visuals ever put to cinema.
Production Designer Dennis Gassner’s opulent, dazzling set designs convey an eye popping, spectacular visual splendor made even more spellbinding by the effects of the IMAX Digital theater in which I saw “Skyfall”. Bursts of fireworks rain over Bond’s nighttime journey by riverboat to a Macau waterside casino, showering him with light as his gondola passes through 300 luminous floating lanterns and two, thirty foot high crimson colored dragon heads. A cavernous WW2 makeshift bunker and underground tunnels serve as MI6’s new home after Silva sets off gas explosions destroying their headquarters. An imposing and ominous island whose inhabitants have deserted, sits in decaying ruins and disarray, a seaside ghost town now taken over by Silva and his henchmen.
Film Composer Thomas Newman, who has regularly collaborated with Sam Mendes on many film scores, rises to the occasion with an epic score, handsomely painted with unforgettable cues, motifs, and themes which resonate Newman’s own distinct and evocative stylings and voice. I particularly liked his oriental motif colored with ornate, indigenous instrumentation and nuances for the Shanghai and Macau scenes.
But Newman’s most memorable and resonant theme is his theme for M. This dignified, mournful, somber dirge, darkly colored with deeply emotional, resounding brass, cellos, and woodwinds, salutes and voices M in her most cataclysmic hour, as she proclaims, “We’re under attack”, seeing six of her own agents die in the explosion at MI6, the loss of the computer hard drive resulting in the death of three more agents, and her own abilities to protect England and its national security come under disciplinary fire from Mallory and the Prime Minister.
Newman’s other compelling motifs make brash use of bold, majestic fanfares comprised of the classic Bond horns and brass flourishes combine with an exciting and innovative infusion of guitar laden, techno electronica, perfectly voicing the storyline itself, a perfect blend of old and new.
Newman also throws in classic revisitations of themes from 1965’s “Thunderball” and of course, Monty Norman’s iconic, James Bond theme with its tuned down, reverbed, twangy, acid jazz guitar voicings. As edgy, ultra cool, and hip as the first time it was heard on screen in the very first Bond film, 1962’s “Dr No”, and this time, it makes its appearance at a very special moment.
The one major failing where “Skyfall” falls horrendously short, is in its offensive misogyny of women…not by the character of Bond….but in the story itself, directed towards the female characters by screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan and Director Sam Mendes (something also inherent in the off putting misogyny of Mendes’ Oscar® winning directorial turn, “American Beauty”), all who should know better with their credentialed pedigree. Of “Skyfall’s” three female characters, all three suffer dismal fates. It’s no secret by now that Severine suffers and dies, and that this is Judi Dench’s swan song as M, (and I must say I will miss Dame Judi’s commanding and emotionally resonant presence and gravitas very much in future Bond films).
Worst of all, is the revelation that Naomie Harris’s MI6 Agent Eve’s last name is Moneypenny who as we know from Bond lore, and are shown in “Skyfall”, becomes M’s secretary. Eve attempts to be Bond’s equal but is not up to the task and so she decides to leave the field and chooses to become a secretary.
Eve is bestowed with the highest rank of an MI6 Agent, the elite double 00 licence to kill. While it was insightful that she decided that the field was not for her, why didn’t she choose an important, decision making, powerful bureaucratic job like Mallory did when he retired from being a field agent?
Instead Eve chooses to be demoted and relegated to a secretary? Very disappointing thinking and writing on Mendes part and his team of screenwriters.
They also bring in another man to play M. Couldn’t they bring in another strong woman to play M? Why doesn’t Eve become the new M? Why doesn’t Eve take Mallory’s old job when he is promoted to become the new M or why not just develop Eve’s character in an intelligent, strong manner? Could they not have written a better back story for Moneypenny and a separate back story altogether for Eve (who did not have to be the same person, resulting in this terribly sexist, degrading, and insulting origins story) than this? What happened to the strong, brave, intelligent female spies who could more than hold their own with Bond such as “The Spy Who Loved Me’s” KGB Agent Anya Amasova, “Tomorrow Never Dies’” Colonel Wai Lin, and “Die Another Day’s” NSA Agent Jinx Johnson?
Are we to think that Mendes and his screenwriters have Eve fail as an Agent and demote herself to a mere secretary because she is a member of MI6, the same espionage organization as Bond, where if she were Bond’s equal, she would continue to work directly alongside him as his ongoing peer, unlike these three aforementioned strong women role models of past Bond films, who after their missions all went back to their own respective home countries’ spy organizations? It could have been so much more intriguing bringing Eve back as a recurring character in future Bond films as an MI6 Agent, (much like recurring Bond film friend and ally, Felix Leiter of the CIA), delightfully sparring off of Bond, rather than recurring as a mere secretary.
Furthermore, at the end of “Skyfall”, Bond’s espionage world is now completely run by men once again.
What a waste of potential and what a terrible message to send to people after seventeen years of a woman heading up MI6 and of many years of female super spies’ dispatching of baddies with equal gusto & skill alongside Bond.
Much has been made of “Skyfall’s” borrowing of elements from, and its similarities to, Director Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Well apparently not in Mendes’ disrespectful depiction of women and he could definitely take a cue from the much more forward thinking Nolan. In “The Dark Knight Rises, Selina Kyle is a brave heroine who doesn’t take crap from anyone, she easily dispatches of anyone who gives her any, and she excels in her stealth, skills, and prowess. She not only holds her own with Batman, she saves his life. Selina kills the villainous Bane, just when he is about to kill Batman, as well as fighting alongside Batman to save the people and city of Gotham from a deadly nuclear bomb. Selina is Batman’s peer and his equal on every level.
Save for this one gross misstep, in “Skyfall”, paints an emotionally complex and deeply resonant narrative steeped in richly drawn character development addressing iconic archetype themes, an enigmatic origins back story into Bond’s life shaping childhood and formative years and how they would later come to mold and inform his persona, and a highly affectionate paean to all things classic Bond. “Skyfall” is a fabulously stellar entry in the Bond canon, in which the scope of its story is far reaching in ambition and depth, and whose visuals, stunts, and set pieces are beyond stunning. But perhaps like Eve when taking and missing that all important shot in the film’s pre-credit sequence, “Skyfall” momentarily misses its mark by just a hairsbreadth, when it could have been, even more satisfying.
In “Skyfall”, Bond endures an odyssey, much like that of Ulysses, where everything that he has ever been taught, everything that he and the world as he knows it is founded on, will be put through a trial by fire.
We see that the greatest heroes are the ones who acknowledge and accept their mortal flaws, free of hubris (something the still wet behind the ears overconfident Q will be forced to come to grips with in one of “Skyfall’s” most crucial moments,). Significantly, it will be Silva’s own prideful arrogance which will come to rue his day of reckoning in the final battle between Silva and Bond. For Bond’s most powerful weapon, is his cathartic humility, grace, and acceptance of his own weaknesses, turning them into triumphant strengths.
Heroes remain steadfast and stalwart, railing against the tides with courage, perseverance, and indomitable spirit of the heart and mind, who “do not go gentle into that good night” to quote Dylan Thomas.
And so it is that in “Skyfall”, as the undaunted James Bond defiantly proclaims his resurrection to Silva’s nefarious, blustering braggart, thankfully for us, 007 is very much resurrected, always at the ready to save the world…..forever, “reporting for duty, with pleasure”.
© Copyright November 12-18, 2012 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved