The following article is resolutely spoiler free.
My spoiler-filled review/commentary is here.
Bond is back, and you’ve surely seen the torrent of 4- and 5-star reviews (and the insignificant handful of dissenting voices). I’m pleased to report that the consensus is correct: Skyfall is Bond at his best.
There’s also a lot of potentially interesting stuff to discuss from it, which is why I’m throwing this out now and will try to be more considered in a full review later. I read someone on the ‘net this week express surprise that anyone would be concerned about being spoilered for a Bond film, because “no one” watches them for the plot. Well, that person was clearly a first-degree idiot anyway, but of all the Bonds I think Skyfall offers something different. The climax, for instance, which is stunningly brilliant in all sorts of ways, is not one you could picture occurring in any other Bond film. Aside from that, there are themes and subplots that are, more than ever, best experienced in the film and discussed after.
So leaving that to a later, spoiler-y review, a few thoughts I might return to later. Firstly, this is in many respects Judi Dench’s film. Nothing against Daniel Craig — he’s great too — but she has surely the largest part ever afforded to M; even more so than her featured role in The World Is Not Enough and her increased importance through the previous two Craig outings. She’s given some relatively meaty stuff to play and, of course, Dench is more than up to the task. Plus Javier Bardem makes for a great villain. Some have compared him to Heath Ledger’s Joker, but that undersells it — he’s camp, but nowhere near that over the top.
Technically speaking, the film looks gorgeous thanks to Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Best looking Bond ever? There’s little I can think of to dispute that. Obviously it could be said to lack some of that ’60s glamour, but from a purely photographic perspective, it shines. (Incidentally, this shot isn’t actually in the film.) I’m less sold on Thomas Newman’s score. While in no way bad, and with undoubted sparing but precise use of the Bond theme, it didn’t always click for me. The fact I at times felt like I was listening to cues from Lemony Snicket did it no favours. I love that film and I love its score, but it has no place here.
Daniel Kleinman is back on title sequence duties, and the work he’s delivered is second to none. Familiar yet also innovative, whatever you think of Adele’s Skyfoal theme, Kleinman has delivered an instant-classic sequence to go with it.
The action sequences are well done, which can be a worry when you hire a more dramatically-minded director, but there’s some stunning stuff. Nonetheless it’s to the writers’ and director’s credit that people are more likely to come away talking about events in the plot than “wasn’t it cool when X exploded, or when A did B to C?” But there are some cool bits, and even stuff you’ve seen in the trailers has a better or different impact in the film itself. One stunt, just part of the familiar montage seen in most of the trailers, even drew a laugh at my screening (in a good way).
This is the 50th anniversary and Skyfall has acknowledgements of that. This, for fans, would be even worse spoiler territory than the plot — honestly, there perhaps aren’t as many twists as you might expect in that department, but the ways they’ve nodded to the franchise’s history are sublime. Die Another Day was ever so conscious it was the 20th film and was stuffed with blatant callbacks throughout. It’s kind of fun, but a bit on the nose. Skyfall is more subtle and therefore more effective. But, as noted, those would perhaps be the worst things to spoil, so I’ll tally my favourites later.
In closing, I’m not sure that Skyfall is, as some have claimed, the best Bond ever. It is, perhaps, too atypical for that. But then so are From Russia With Love and Casino Royale, to one degree or another, and I’d have no problem placing those at the top of such a list. No, what’s really required before such a decree is multiple viewings — Die Another Day was well-received on release but is now widely derided; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service suffered years of neglect before its relatively-recent re-assessment (Quantum of Solace, conversely, is still waiting for such a re-evaluation). In short, Skyfall may well be the best Bond film ever made, but only time will tell that. Until then, you can be certain that it’s bloody brilliant.