HST…Film Review: Skyfall

Zac: Craig is back as Bond with possibly the best director yet to work on the series in Sam Mendes, and the results are sure to please Bond fanatics who have felt the series has gotten away from its roots, while not alienating those that don’t mind the new face of Bond.

Lauren:  You sure about that?  As someone who can only vaguely recollect bits and pieces of the Brosnan entries, I can say that I have definitely thought more highly of where the series has come over what my dad thinks of it, thanks in large part to the lack of gadget use. It’s not the Bond he knew, and though he could still get behind Skyfall, this portion of the series continues to refuse to be what it used to be.

Or maybe he just refuses to accept that Bond has changed.  As far as my thoughts on the man are concerned, Bond has always been placed on a pretty high pedestal because of the iconic heights he has reached, becoming the idea of the perfect operative.  Just give him a golden gun and watch him go!  But with the return to the series with Daniel Craig in the tux, this idea was forever morphed into a flawed individual who survives it all because he figured out a way to do so.  He had to.

Skyfall continues to build on the goal of creating a human version of the man capable of carrying his own theme song, and though it isn’t perfect, it continues to meet expectations time and time again.

Zac: There has been a lot of energy spent complaining over how un-Bond Craig’s version of the character has been, especially in Quantum of Solace, and this film feels desperate to replant its roots in the series cannon.  What about those of us that could care less about all of those Bond trademarks?  I am all for the re-establishing of some familiar characters (and I feel like they handled that the best of all the re-Bond-ing in Skyfall) and bringing MI6 to the forefront of the narrative, which Skyfall does, but I really could have done without all of the “hey look at that” moments laid throughout the film; too much fan service lead to a lot of eye rolling. (I am not a Bond fanatic and never have seen any pre-Brosnan films in their entirety, so take my opinion for what you will.)

I love the Craig Bond and after this film I am pretty sure I like him mostly because they have chosen to stay away from all those things that make a Bond film a Bond film for the most part.  Bond is a great spy and ultimately I want a great spy movie surrounding cinema’s most famous protagonist in the genre.  The Bond genre is not something that does anything for me, and Skyfall’s almost desperate need to fit into that mold at times is often distracting.  They handle the nudges and winks to the series roots without going too over the top with it, but every time they reference the films preceding this it feels like, “Hey, look, this is still a Bond movie guys! Don’t get mad.”

Lauren:  I am kind of at a loss for all of this desperation you talk about since I didn’t see this while watching Skyfall at all, though this could just be that I don’t know enough about the previous Bonds and their films to be able to make the observations you did.  Or you’re full of BS.  [Third party players weigh in!]  On the contrary, I felt like there were moments I was watching Bond do things completely out of nature, especially when he McGyvered his way through a portion of the third act.  This was my favorite action sequence, but all the typical scenes in which he barrels through the chases to the end were just as entertaining for me.  Not quite on par with the chase ending in the embassy from Casino Royale, but I doubt they’ll ever be able to top that.

The only distracting Bond trait for me was his interactions with the ladies, but you can’t have the man without his blatant ownership of the opposite sex.  Seriously dude, you just brought up the painful past of this woman and then take advantage of her in the exact same way that she was used before?  All kinds of male dominance issues right there… though at least she did actually serve a purpose in the film beyond sex.

And then there are the cheesy villains.  Javier Bardem can definitely be seen as such, but his creepiness and pleasure at the most random things, even when something surprised him in an antagonistic sort of way, made him awkwardly endearing.  Granted he was also both disturbed and disturbing, with that blonde hair and look like his face was taped back, making for a mixture that provided some rather interesting moments on screen, to say the least.

Zac: Bardem was walking a fine line of being cartoonishly over the top and thankfully he never strays into that territory too far.  The laughable villain is another one of those Bond staples I was worried we might lose Bardem too, but he is whacked out and fun far more than being ridiculous.  Ben Whishaw is also great as another newcomer to the series playing Q, and his cocksure demeanor provides more than a few laughs. Naomie Harris is also playful against Craig as Eve, and she is threaded in and out of the film in a convincing arc before her predictable reveal in the end.  Ralph Fiennes is also present as the PM’s staff liaison to MI6 and he makes the most out of his brief screen time, leaving you wishing he got to show off a bit more.

All of those guys play second fiddle to Bond and M though, as the film dives deep into their relationship and how far they will go for one another.

Lauren:  I always love these two playing off of each other because it is a very caring relationship, but at the same time M is going to do what needs to be done since she has a lot more weight on her shoulders than just being a mother figure for him.  Speaking of which, Skyfall does delve into Bond’s past slightly more, building off the brief mention of it in Casino Royale.  We’re not talking flashbacks or anything, but it does play into the whole “making him more human” line of story building by giving him more of a foundation.

Zac: Outside giving Bond a stronger foundation as a character, the character is being reestablished in many ways by the filmmakers as the movie goes along.  For all the crap I gave the film above for referencing the past, it is all a part of the process of trying to give Bond a more focused path for the films going forward.  They bring up all of these old tropes not just as knowing nods, but also to be put behind the character going forward which does make me happy for the franchise’s future.  Mendes not so subtly kills off all of these familiarities as the film goes along, but I have to ask why it was even necessary.  Craig’s films before this have mostly divorced themselves from these iconic connections already, why bring them all up again only to show we aren’t going to do this anymore?  I get giving the fans a bit of a passing the torch moment, but it all seems so redundant.

I’m also disappointed that Skyfall is a completely independent story from the world building of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.  Quantum ends on a note that sort of allows for this departure, and the setting up the world of MI6 in Skyfall mostly makes it worth it, but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Quantum and their world domination schemes.

Like Lauren said though, the continued evolution of Craig’s Bond is in full effect here and I do feel like they preserved the character arc they had been building over his previous two films. Focusing on the M/Bond relationship is essential here and it’s only at the end of Skyfall that Bond feels fully prepared to take on the evil of this world.

Lauren: I know I for one can’t wait for what is to come from Bond and if that includes throwback automobiles and computer generated komodo dragons then so be it.  Ok, so maybe I can kind of see what you’re talking about as they blend two different worlds together.  There were times while watching that I did feel as if he kind of seemed like a man removed from his world because there were just so many different looks when it came to location, which brings back another interesting dichotomy between past and present when it comes to this man.  To me, old Bond equals attempts at the future, with sleek, clean look-at-me aesthetics (though maybe I am just putting way too much stock in Die Another Day’s ice building), whereas Craig’s Bond doesn’t need this.  Drop him in a dirty third world country and he’s good to go, with only a gun at his side.  Or dress him up in a suit, but keep the look modernly classic, as opposed to the brightly lit skyscrapers of Japan where at any second Ethan Hunt could parachute past Bond, who is currently riding underneath an elevator car because he refuses to use it as was intended for fear of being found out.  You’re James Freakin’ Bond.  Just use the elevator like a normal man!

Zac: At least he looks great hanging below that elevator. The whole movie looks spectacular and that is due, in large part, to the great work of Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins.  The production design is also incredible (that island casino was on a soundstage!) and Deakins’ lens knows how to perfectly capture the gorgeous set and designs.  The stunts and action scenes are also assembled about as well as one could hope for, with a silhouetted fight in a high-rise probably being my favorite. Also, fans of The Dark Knight, don’t get mad at the bad guy’s plan.

Lauren:  Yeah, because once something is done it can never happen again, through completely different means, might I add.  At least Bardem wasn’t licking his lips a lot.  Just laughing to himself like any other conspicuous man walking down the street with a mop on his head.

With comparisons like these being made, it is going to be easy for people to continue to pick apart these newer entries into the Bond series because it isn’t completely different from everything else out there: “Oh no, whoever Quentin Tarantino copied is being copied in this silhouette fight sequence!”  “Oh no, not a man of greatness falling to depths in which he may never return to the man he once was story!”  Boo that.  Let’s not go looking for complaints.  Just sit back, relax, and enjoy whatever Bond has to offer you, shaken or stirred.

Zac: I agree, just go and watch the movie already. The future still looks bright after this film, I think they got all of the call back out of their system, and for all the complaining I am doing I had fun and was completely sucked in for more than a few scenes.  The movie does drag a bit as it slogs to and through the end, but I think most viewers will have quite a good time at the theater; Bond fans doubly so.  Craig is great, Bardem is great and the film is one of the most handsome of the year. I am even going to eagerly go back for more Skyfall and I am sure many of my qualms will subside, Casino Royale took time to grow on me as well.

Zac’s Final Grade: A- (Revised see P.S. below)
Lauren’s Final Grade: B+

Zac’s P.S. – Skyfall mea culpa; it’s great. I saw it a 2nd time, still don’t like fan service, but it’s barely there and I let that distract from a great movie. Thomas Newman’s score is also fantastic. Still think the final fight could be a smige tighter. Craig, so good, so much pain in his face.

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