We review Skyfall – Something old, something new…

Most ardent cinema fans have an allergic reaction to the dreaded “R” word, but I’m here to tell you that Skyfall, the latest cinematic adventure featuring everybody’s favourite martini beer swilling British spy, is easily one of the best reboots of a classic franchise.

“But Kervyn,” I hear you say, “Skyfall isn’t a reboot. Have you gone off your meds again?” And while my medical condition is a subject for another day, I can say right now that you’d be right: Skyfall is not a reboot. But it kind of also is.

Let’s backtrack a bit to Casino Royale, where the Bond franchise gets it’s official reboot with Daniel Craig in the superspy shoes. Not only a thrill a minute action fest, it weaved in a love story that gave us the first attempts since Her Majesty’s Secret Service to flesh out the character of James Bond from a death- and quip-dealing caricature to a fully realized person. Who just so happens to still kill people and make snarky remarks about it afterwards.

That film was so good that it left Bond fans dancing in the streets. Unfortunately, they were so busy reveling that they didn’t watch where they were going and stepped right into a giant, steaming pile of Quantum of Solace. Dour, incomprehensibly shot and featuring a lame duck villain that’s barely equipped to terrorize a kindergarten much less the world’s greatest spy, most fans simply like to pretend that Quantum doesn’t exist.

Apparently Sam Mendes feels the same way. The Academy Award winning director has produced a film in Skyfall that – barring some Casino story elements that were wrapped up in the beginning of Quantum – feels like it could have been the natural successor to Craig’s first outing as 007. Together, the two films only tell a combined and compelling rebooted origin story for the world’s most well known, spy.

This time around we find Bond on the trail of a stolen computer hard drive that contains the names of every NATO deep-cover agent in the world. Naturally, whomever’s stolen the hard disk is out for a little chaos by releasing these names to the public but he also appears to have a very special interest in MI6 and its boss, M, played wonderfully once again with a motherly, steely resolution by Dame Judi Dench. She’s become the heart of the franchise, and it’s only fitting that in its 50th Anniversary year, that it’s her story that takes centre stage.

The film kicks off with a breathless chase through and on top of the streets of Istanbul that has it’s foot firmly planted on the accelerator from the word go, and promptly smashes any lingering doubts about the usually more dramatically inclined Mendes’ capabilities as an action director. The sequence culminates in a train top battle that ends with a botched mission, a broken Bond and M having to “please explain” to the powers that be. It also introduces a new field agent in the form of Eve ( Naomie Harris), a character who is not only one of the few females in Bond’s pantheon to hold her own against the legendary 007, but who also presents a very sly twist that I certainly won’t spoil here.

With a Bond that’s definitely not at the top of his game and needing to pick up the sometimes very real and physical pieces, Craig once again turns in an admirable performance as we see all these layers of superspydom peeled back to reveal the man beneath; a process that began back in Casino Royale with his romance with Vesper Lynd. It would seem that humanity really is a sexually transmitted disease.

And when M is dragged “into the stocks” by bureaucrat Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to defend her actions, the film also has her character offer up a meta-commentary on the necessity of the type of heroes like James Bond, and how the old ways can still work very well today, with just a little bit of tweaking here and there. And that is the basic philosophy behind this film.

If you were one of those decrying the Bourne-ification of James Bond with Casino Royale, then this movie is for you. This is easily feels the most like a classic James Bond since Daniel Craig first took over, and that’s no accident. Mendes fills it with (often rather humurous) homages and throwbacks to the franchise’s history, but does it in such a way that you don’t feel like it’s just 2.5 hours of fan service. Instead it proved that certain classic Bond tropes can still work very well, even when combined with modern sensibilities.

And there are very few classic Bond tropes as memorable as a good villain. It may take more than an hour before we first meet him, but Raul Silva (Javier Bardiem) certainly makes an entrance. Pulling a page out the SPECTRE Handbook for Great Villains, Silva shows up complete with a secret base, a maniacal laugh and a bad haircut. Bardiem is most famous for his sphincter clenching turn as the hitman Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, but whereas that was all seriousness and tension, here he knows full well that he is in a James Bond film and just runs with it. Slightly ridiculous, sometimes homoerotic, he is nevertheless always terrifying, especially when a peculiar physical deformity is revealed during his origin story. Trust me, this is way scarier than just having a third nipple.

Blofeld, Scaramanga, Goldfinger, Red Grant, Jaws, Oddjob; Silva now easily takes his place in the upper echelons of these most iconic of Bond villains.

The return of great villains is also matched by the return of great allies in the form of Q (Ben Wishaw). Look, lets just get straight to it: There will never be another Desmond Llewellyn. This is something that Skyfall realizes, so it doesn’t even try to replicate him. Instead we get the 32-year old Wishaw, who plays a far more in-the-field, hands on role than Llewellyn ever did, and except for the sharing of a name (well, title really) and doling out of gadgets (yes gadgets are back! though still kept very small and realistic), it is a completely different character and a welcome addition to the cast at that.

Bérénice Marlohe also turns in a surprisingly engaging performance as the curvaceous and duplicitous Sévérine. Her character appears to have a lot more to it than the basic sexual conquest Bond girl we normally see, so it’s a bit of a shame that we don’t see more of her. Well, we actually see quite a lot of her, but that’s not what I mean. And talking of things that are easy on the eye…

Let’s not beat around the bush here, Skyfall is simply the most beautiful looking Bond film ever. From the terracota rooftops of Istanbul, to the glass and steel neon skyscrapers of Shangai, to a fantastical casino of light and sound in Macau and eventually to the mist-shrouded highlands of Scotland, Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins manipulates colour and shadow to turn every setting into a cinematic work of art. Art which, in one case, they then blow up in the most spectacular of fashions (Michael Bay must be proud).

And that same eye for aesthetics is also applied to the film’s several hand-to-hand fight scenes. Which is a major boon, as not only are they visually spectacular (especially one in Shanghai which is shot completely in silhouette) but the fight choreography is easily some of the best I’ve ever seen in the franchise. I noticed this choreography because Mendes also employed this rather revolutionary technique called “not letting the cameraman have a seizure” when filming. It’s a novel idea that I hope catches on.


For all the amazing things that Mendes and his cast and crew have done though, the film does unfortunately have a few missteps. For one, like any other 50-year old the pacing gets rather glacial in places and it feels a bit bloated around the middle. Also, for all of Silva’s insane brilliance, his “great plan” is not only shockingly small minded, but actually – given his apparent skill with all things technological -rather dumb in it’s execution. The final act of the film, where Silva and his henchmen face off against Bond and M, may also be a bit too “Home Alone” as some have proclaimed it on the internet, but I appreciated it especially as a homage to famous last stands in movies. In the case it actually reminded me the most of Outland (a sci-fi homage to the classic western High Noon) which starred none other than the very first cinematic Bond, Sean Connery.

But even with that, what Skyfall has done is amazingly finish off what Casino Royale started. Whereas Casino began the process of rebooting James Bond the character for a modern era, Skyfall not only completes that task, but also revitalizes Bond’s environment and supporting cast by reintroducing some classic elements with a fresh new spin. By the end of it, the world of Bond looks far more familiar to longtime fans since Craig first took over the role, but with a fresh faced vigour to it that leaves me excited for what’s to come.

Is it the very best Bond film ever made, as some have proclaimed? Not quite, I’d say, there are just a few niggles that keeps it from that title. But when Bond’s 100 year anniversary eventually rolls around (hopefully I’m still be here to see that), I expect you’ll find it quite high up on the inevitable lists of Bond’s greatest cinematic adventures.

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  • DarthofZA

    Interesting read. My better half and I watched it on the weekend, and we thought quite the opposite. We felt the movie had traded its “Bond” feel for generic action movie, and in doing so not only cheapened itself, but came off second best to all the other action films that have come out recently. We felt that this was one of the worse “bond” movies in the series. I left disappointed and felt I had wasted my time. Different strokes for different folks I guess, but I wouldn’t give this movie more than 3.

    • StrawDog

      Which action films? I can’t think of a recent one that can compete with Skyfall just measured on the photography or the composition of the action scenes.

      • DarthofZA

        As much as I don’t think all of these are amazing movies, Batman TDKR, Avengers, Spiderman, MIB 3, Expendables 2, Lockout, The Bourne Legacy and Total Recall are all better Action Movies than Skyfall. In fact, 2012 has had a huge amount of Action Movies, there have been plenty I haven’t even seen yet (and quite a few that I felt were also bad). Jack Reacher comes out soon which look incredible so far.

        • http://twitter.com/the_krans Lourens Corleone

          TDKR was a severaly flawed film. Good, but very flawed. Expendables 2 was pure action, the Bourne movies should have stopped after the first one…and Total Recall was pretty, but that’s it. Len Wiseman wouldn’t be able to craft a film as fine as Skyfall.

          • DarthofZA

            I agree, TDKR was severaly flawed, but was still a better ‘action movie’. Expendables was pure action, as well as corny, but still a better ‘action movie’. The new Bourne movie might not have been near as get as the original trilogy, but was a solid ‘action movie’. Total Recall had many many faults, but for all its faults, it was a solid ‘action movie’ that was well worth watching.
            Skyfall was a weak action movie, with serious pacing problems and a rather weak plot. If it wasn’t for the final showdown, I would rate Skyfall as a complete failure, and the final showdown wasn’t even slightly “Bond” like. It could of had Liam Neesom acting without changing a single thing, and it would of fit perfectly in Taken2.

          • StrawDog

            So are you criticising the presentation of the action or the amount of action? Because the photography, choreography, stunts, direction, just about any technical element of Skyfall is superior to the films you mentioned. It’s very well put together – there are even a few long tracking shots so that you always know what Bond is doing and why.
            Most of the films you mentioned, there’s no sense in the action at all. Take Bourne Legacy: there’s great shootout in Rachel Weisz’s house, but the last chase lasts forever and makes very little sense frame-to-frame. Or Total Recall, which is all fake-feeling CGI.

          • http://twitter.com/the_krans Lourens Corleone

            Or Spiderman, which was completely pointless and meh.

          • DarthofZA

            As probably the biggest Spider-Man fan who will ever read any of your comments you make… I completely disagree! Spider-Man was amazing and a love letter to fans. It was a great apology for what came before. It was beautiful. Then again, I am just a huge Spider-man fan :P

          • DarthofZA

            I’m criticising the parts between the action. The boring parts of the movie where you checked the time on your phone every 2 minutes hoping a magical 30 minutes had slipped past and the movie was about to end. To me, and a majority of the people I have spoken to, the movie didn’t feel like a Bond movie at all, but like an action movie. The parts between the action scenes was choppy and boring. I get that you like the movie, but as a big action movie fan, I was bored. And even though I’ve never been the biggest Bond fan, I’ve come to appreciate the cool, calm and collected super spy persona that is the Bond, James Bond, and that was non-existant.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kervyn-Cloete/610830836 Kervyn Cloete

            I agree that the film had some pacing problems, I even mentioned it in the review. However, most Bond films have never been non-stop explodey action. They’ve always had their dialogue heavy sections.

            As far as the super-spy persona you’re missing, this is going to come down purely to personal preference. What Mendes did was turn expectations on their head by having Bond not operating at 100% for a lot of it. The same can be said for the final act, where instead Bond getting to assault and blow up the villain’s base, the villains do the same to his.

            But for all of that it was the smaller touches: the return of the simple but effective gadgets, Moneypenny, the Aston Martin, the villain’s base, the sets complete with dangerous animals under a bridge, hell even the freaking hatstand and look of the door to M’s office. All of these things and more is what instantly reminded me of so many classic Bond moments.

          • http://twitter.com/the_krans Lourens Corleone

            Again disagreed. I fell asleep in TDKR. There. I said it. Skyfall – I was spellbound all the way through. Too each their own though! I mean, someone has to paying to see Len Wiseman films ;)

          • DarthofZA

            Disagree, I didn’t fall asleep in TDKR. As long as it felt, and as badly edited some parts were, I still managed to stay awake without any issue. Watching Skyfall, I haven’t wished to be alone in the cinima with by better half so much since G-Force (don’t mock, it was the only movie on that we hadn’t seen at the time). I was genuinly bored at multiple points.

    • Scrum9

      I agree, didnt fell like a bond movie to me, more of a tribute to M and the classics…. missed the gadgets, missed the car, missed the bond girl and missed more regular intensity… the last battle was an anticlimax for me.. for me it was one to forget..

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kervyn-Cloete/610830836 Kervyn Cloete

        Here’s the thing though, Casino Royale was very much less of a Bond film than this one. It had virtually no gadgets (unless you count a defibrilator), the car was only used to crash, and the Bond girl wasn’t very Bond girlish.

        So I’m struggling to see how this film, which reintroduces those very same elements plus more that had been removed during the reboot feels like a less of Bond movie.

        I will agree with you that the film had a lot more deliberate pace than I expected, but not so much that I felt it hampered the film too much.

        • Scrum9

          look I feel that bond should grow as we grow… as technology grows etc agreed it felt like some of the old bonds but I dont believe thats the direction that bond should go… the idea to me will get very stale… without giving any spoilers away the way the villian died was an anti climax ( repeating it I know, but they built him up so much, never showed physically that he was as good as bond).. also some really obviously stupid things were done in the movie that annoyed me, how can the head of MI6 give her position away so easily at the end knowing shes being chased after??

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kervyn-Cloete/610830836 Kervyn Cloete

            If you’re referring to Silva’s men tracking Bond and M, they explicitly say that they need to make the trail good enough so that only somebody with Silva’s expertise could follow. So she didn’t give anything away, it was done very deliberately and carefully.

          • Scrum9

            no im not talking about that…not trying to give away spoilers… im talking about when they in the dark trying to escape and they use the torch..

      • Scrum9

        look I feel that bond should grow as we grow… as technology grows etc agreed it felt like some of the old bonds but I dont believe thats the direction that bond should go… the idea to me will get very stale… without giving any spoilers away the way the villian died was an anti climax (repeating it I know, but they built him up so much, never showed physically that he was as good as bond).. also some really obviously stupid things were done in the movie that annoyed me, how can the head of MI6 give her position away so easily at the end knowing shes being chased after??

        • Scrum9

          annoying tried to delete this comment so that it came under a reply to kervyn… all it did was remove me as the user and replaced it with guest?? weird

    • http://twitter.com/the_krans Lourens Corleone

      I have to disagree with you. For the first time in a long time I felt that Bond was back… this is possibly even better than Casino Royale. Totally worth the wait.

    • http://twitter.com/blahsum James Francis

      Totally agree. It was shot nicely and such, but it really felt flat and overlong. There was also a real sense of me-too, plus they could not help blasting the Bond theme whenever they thought we forgot what we were watching. Ultimately I was really disappointed and this fell far from being the best Bond. It doesn’t hold a candle to Goldeneye, Casino Royale or Goldfinger.

  • StrawDog

    Come on, dude. You’re movie literate enough not to fall for the glib Home Alone comparisons that silly kids on Twitter are making. The film is channeling Straw Dogs, the Clive Owen/ Matt Damon showdown in The Bourne Identity, and especially – with Bond being an old gunslinger in the dying days of the West – any number of Westerns that end with a siege scenario. But Home Alone has nothing to do with it – the tone is completely different.

    Sorry for the rant but these Home Alone comparisons have been annoying me for weeks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kervyn-Cloete/610830836 Kervyn Cloete

      I didn’t fall for it. i appreciated it, but like I said, some might see it that way.

  • Darryn_Bonthuys

    I’ve got to say, I came out of Skyfall pretty happy. Great action, beautiful visuals, a respect for the past 50 years of Bond and a groundwork laid for the future.

    For the first time since Craig took over, I felt as if I had watched a Bond movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bradford-Eckersall/610711437 Bradford Eckersall

    Glad you enjoyed it so much, just cant bring myself to agree with your “Blofeld, Scaramanga, Goldfinger, Red Grant, Jaws, Oddjob; Silva now easily takes his place in the upper echelons of these most iconic of Bond villains.” though.
    am with DarthofZA on this one. A decent action film with some good parts and homages but overall just above average on my radar.

  • http://twitter.com/the_krans Lourens Corleone

    Raul Silva is the best Bond villian in the last two decades. That is all.