BOND: Revisiting SKYFALL - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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BOND: Revisiting SKYFALL

Matthew Kresal says hold your breath and count to ten.
Despite its somewhat lukewarm critical reception, the box-office success of Quantum of Solace and praise for Daniel Craig's James Bond showed that the actor had firmly established himself in the role. All seemed set then, come early 2009, for work to start on Bond 23. Except history repeated itself as the series became caught up in issues with parent company MGM, leaving the future of Craig's 007 in doubt for some time. Thankfully, and in time for the franchise big 5-0 in 2012, a third Daniel Craig Bond film came to cinemas and did so packing quite the punch.

Something evident from its opening shot, with its use of shadows and sting of the James Bond Theme, is that Skyfall isn't your typical Bond film. Its director, Sam Mendes, was someone who, like Quantum of Solace's Marc Foster, wasn't known for doing any action-centric filmmaking, feels like Eon's answer to Christopher Nolan's Batman films. Namely, an attempt at bringing a more artistic and dramatic edge to something often seen as potential low brow. For Skyfall, it was a move that was to pay off handsomely with Mendes, along with cinematographer Roger Deakins, bringing a visual flair to the film that makes it both appealing while also anchoring it in something akin to reality. In some ways, it takes what Martin Campbell did with Craig's debut in Casino Royale and kicks it into high gear.
Something else Skyfall continues from its predecessor six years earlier lost in Quantum is the influence of Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. While it's true that Skyfall doesn't draw directly on any of the original Bond novels and short stories, it does find places to mine nuggets from them. In particular, its mood echoes the later Fleming novels such as You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun of a 007 worn down by events, thought dead before coming back in from the cold, and facing a do or die assignment. Arguably even its villain, Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva, echoes the latter novel's depiction of Scaramanga (with a dash of Christopher Lee's film version as the twisted mirror of Bond himself thrown in). All of which the film (and its script by Neil Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan, with early uncredited work by Peter Morgan) does while exploring questions of age, death, and legacy made all the more potent in what became an anniversary year film. What Skyfall lacks in specific usage and references it makes for by capturing a tone that suits the story it's telling well.

All of which help bring out the best in the film. It's something true of Craig's Bond, in particular. Perhaps having learned a lesson from Roger Moore visibly aging in his last couple of outings, Skyfall deals with Craig having aged in the four years between films head-on, both in dialogue but also with Craig's performance. The sense of the wounded, imperfect man beneath the tuxedo comes through as strongly as it did in Royale, perhaps no more so than in the final act, which brings Bond back to his roots. Skyfall also noticeably puts some humor back into Bond's character, missing to an extent from Quantum, something which Craig, for the most part, handles well. If Casino Royale was Craig's debut as an inexperienced Bond, then this is the film where he slides into the role of an experienced agent.

Of course, a Bond film is only as strong as its villain. In that case, Skyfall struck paydirt with Javier Bardem as Silva. As mentioned above, the echoes of both the novel and film versions of Scaramanga are there for knowing Bond fans to pick up on, with his twisted mirror version of Bond playing out across the 80 minutes or so of the running time where the character is present. More than that, he's a compelling figure in his own right and a villain that, for the first time in a while, rightfully fights with Bond for your attention whenever he's on-screen, adding to the sense of discomfort and menace.
It's a film that benefited from a solid cast, all told. Judi Dench's M is practically Skyfall's second lead at times, something which makes a change from the days of Bernard Lee and Robert Brown sitting behind their desks handing out assignments to previous Bonds. Indeed, like Craig's Bond, Dench's M faces questions of age and legacy that help sell the film's plot. There are also fine performances from Ralph Fiennes as Mallory, Ben Whishaw's excellent debut as Q, Rory Kinnear as Tanner, a cameo appearance from the now late Helen McCrory as an MP, and a welcome appearance in the last act by Albert Finney as Kincade. All of which helps make Skyfall one of the better cast Bond outings.

Though it's not perfect in terms of its cast, or, rather, in what it gives them to do as characters. That's something true of both of its notional female leads, in the form of Naomie Harris as Eve and Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine. Harris was arguably a little too old for the inexperienced agent that her character starts out as, for example, but her casting is one of many things that anchors the film. Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine, meanwhile, certainly fits much more into the traditional Bond female lead, but her mid-film story arc woefully underuses her. These are the blemishes, though got garish ones by any means, on an otherwise ripe cast.

The other blemish on Skyfall lies in its musical score. After five films, David Arnold's position as resident composer moved to Thomas Newman, a frequent collaborator of director Mendes. While there's no doubt that Newman is an accomplished composer, his work on Skyfall remains underwhelming, often producing generic suspense and action cues that wouldn't be out of place in any number of other films. Newman's score has moments where it shines, particularly in the latter part of the film's London section and, of course, when he makes use of the James Bond Theme. Ironically, the best use of the latter comes from a re-recording of Arnold's cue that closed Casino Royale, perhaps speaking to the strengths and deficiencies of individual Bond composers. Skyfall, though, does benefit from having one hell of a title song, co-written and performed by Adele, combining a classic Bond sound over a moody Daniel Kleinman title sequence that nearly banishes the self-parody of Quantum of Solace's opening titles.

For some of its comparatively minor faults, Skyfall remains one of the shining crowns of the Craig era. If Die Another Day a decade earlier was a film that celebrated the excesses of the Bond franchise, Skyfall highlights its strengths all in one place. One that proved a hit with audiences, unseating even an inflation-adjusted Thunderball to become the most successful Bond outing at the box office, and critics, winning two Oscars in early 2013. Not to mention helping the Craig era find its feet again, at least for a moment.

Previous "BOND: Revisiting..." articles
Dr. No - From Russia With Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - You Only Live Twice - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Diamonds Are Forever - Live And Let Die - The Man With The Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy - A View To A Kill - The Living Daylights - Licence To Kill - Goldeneye - Tomorrow Never Dies - The World Is Not Enough - Die Another Day - Casino Royale - Quantum of Solace -

Never Say Never Again - The Other Casino Royals - Quentin Tarantino's Casino Royale

The James Bond Films That Never Were: The 50s & 60s - The 70s & 80s - The 90s to Today

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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