The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Skyfall

Reviewed by Jim Holden.

Director Sam Mendes
Length 143 mins
Certificate 12A / PG-13
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article Trailer.

In an attempt to flush away memories of Quantum of Solace (2008) after the promising and lucrative Casino Royale (2006), Skyfall has been marketed as yet another reimagining - a franchise reboot with an auteur director. The film itself - the 23rd bond - is in fact mainly a playful, nostalgic and finally endearing tribute to the Bond franchise’s fifty-year history.

When Skyfall works, which it largely does, it is primarily thanks to its balancing of a more personal story against extreme action set pieces and, crucially, a memorable villain. The pre-credits sequence is simply joyous. Bond breathlessly chases a rival spy, who has stolen a drive with the identity of most of MI6’s agents, through the streets of Turkey - firstly on motorbike then on a train, flanked by Naomi Harris’ field agent. Bond ends the prologue having been accidentally shot and left for dead. The narrative then shifts (leaving behind the plots of the previous two films all but entirely) to focus on M (Judi Dench) and the fallout from the stolen drive. Bond returns home, but as a broken soul, and he finds MI6 in crisis. M’s authority is being tested and England is under attack from cyber terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem), a man with a serious investment in Bond, M, MI6 and a new world order.

Despite its relatively unconventional opening, the film is ultimately committed to telling a relatively standard Bond plot: quips and explosions do feature. But they are executed by a better-than-needed cast and, probably most importantly, a director with ambitions who is simply letting rip. Mendes, certainly a left-field choice for the series, brings to the film a pathos and warmth - still lacking in even Casino Royale - but also delivers the satisfaction of spectacle in spades. Aided by cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film’s aesthetic has a self-control throughout, and this is both what allows the film to flow as well as it does, and what makes it inarguably the most beautiful Bond since the gloriously bright outings of the late sixties.

There are undoubtedly flaws. While some slightly stilted dialogue and a too-long climax might be forgivable forgivable, more troubling are the insistent reminders of the real roles of spies and MI6 in today’s interconnected global politics. This theme and its emphasis sit uncomfortably with the nostalgic feel of so many other aspects of the film - something I will expand on in my Alternate Take.

Yet there is also a great deal to recommend. Once again the series benefits from a winning performance by Craig, who here finds a pitch of humour that was largely lacking from his previous outings as 007. We are also treated to scene-stealing support from Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes and, especially, a lascivious Bardem. Despite its length the film roars along furiously and, above all - unlike its predecessor - is never dull. Skyfall is a fine ride.

This review was published on November 19, 2012.

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