A (very belated) Skyfall review

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image

Back in November, HMSS intended to put out a “best of” issue that included reviews for Skyfall. For real-life reasons, that didn’t occur. This is one of the reviews intended for that never-produced issue, written shortly after release. After the review, there’s an epilogue.

One of the most satisfying moments of Skyfall makes no sense from a logical standpoint.

Daniel Craig’s James Bond whisks Judi Dench’s M from an assassination attempt by Silva (Javier Bardem), the film’s villain. Bond takes his superior to some sort of storage facility where an Aston Martin DB5 awaits.

That moment gets a big rise from theater audiences (at least the three times I saw it). But is this the same car that Craig-Bond won in a poker game in Casino Royale? Was it subsequently outfitted with the exact same gadgets (at least the machine guns and ejector seat) the car had in Goldfinger?

Ehhh, forgettaboutit. At least, if you do, Skyfall is a fun ride.

The 23rd James Bond movie comes four years after Quantum of Solace, its predecessor. During Quantum’s production, Eon Productions was *way too serious* about why that movie was important. We were told that 2006’s Casino Royale had such a compelling story the filmmakers had no choice except to begin the next 007 movie immediately thereafter. Thus, Quantum began two minutes or two hours (Eon wasn’t consistent on this point) from the end of Casino. Thus, Eon, in effect, asked the audience to compare Quantum to its predecessor. Except that M had totally redecorated her office and Mathis had gone from being interrogated in two minutes/two hours to again being Bond’s ally. Oops.

Skyfall and its director Sam Mendes don’t invite any comparisons to earlier Daniel Craig 007 movies. Bond was a rookie and now he’s older and seemingly washed up? Forgetaboutit. Don’t worry about the past and take Skyfall on its own terms. On that basis, the new Bond movie is satisfying.

Skyfall isn’t perfect. Bond recruits Severine (Berenice Marlohe) to help him meet Silva. To say he lets her down is an understatement. These things happen but it would have helped to have one shot — just ONE SHOT — of Craig-Bond showing some remorse after Severine ends up dead. You know, like Sean Connery’s Bond with Tilly in Goldfinger or his Bond with Paula in Thunderball. Instead, he displays no reaction but has a chest-thumping, moment of gloating when U.K. holicopters show up over Silva’s headquarters. Meanwhile, Severine’s corpse is slumped over while Bond gloats.

The movie has some first-time 007 contributors. Roger Deakins’s photography is a big plus. The director of photography produces a number of striking images (particularly in the Shanghai sequence) but his best work highlights every wrinkle on the face of Dench’s aging M, making clear that the character has seen too much, done too much and is quite tired and exhausted.

Thomas Newman, not know for doing scores to action movies, moves things along. Newman occasionally evokes both John Barry and the Batman triology directed by Christopher Nolan, which featured music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Newman, though, is a pro and his score reflects that. Once again, the Bond filmmakers felt they couldn’t put the famous 007 gunbarrel logo at the start of the movie. Newman, though, pulls a musical trick that reminds us of the sequence. There was no good reason not to include the logo at the start of the movie but Newman does enough that the lack of the logo isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Bardem as Skyfall’s villain is mostly a plus but, near the end, goes the proverbial Bridge Too Far. In the climatic sequence, where he has his final confrontation with M, it’s as if Bardem wants to tell the audience, “Look! I’m acting!” We get it that Silva is on the edge. But Bardem just goes too far. He’s like Paul Newman in 1974’s The Towering Inferno where the actor wants to assure his fans he’s not just cashing a big paycheck. In the climatic scene, Bardem should have dialed it back a bit.

The end of the movie, with a new M (Ralph Fiennes) and a new Moneypenny sets up the series to continue while evoking the earlier Bond films. We’ll see what the future has in store but Skyfall works well enough. GRADE: B-Plus.

Anything change after watching it on home video? Not that much. A friend who doesn’t like the movie commented how, in the old Bond movies, the titles would have started almost immediately after Bond hit the water near the end of the pre-titles sequence. Instead, we get a couple of minutes of a morose M, Tanner and other MI6 employees. That’s still not enough and we’re taken to an MI6 window and see it has started raining.

“Cue the rain?” the friend said. “Cue the rain?” He had a point but I could overlook it. But, as posted here before, there are other things that are best to overlook to enjoy the movie. If don’t want to overlook such issues, like the Aston Martin DB5, you’re going to rate it lower, in some cases much lower.

Also, there’s no way the DB5 in Skyfall could have been the same car as in Casino Royale. The steering wheel was on the other side and you’d have to rebuild the car to switch the steering wheel from the left side to the right. The Skyfall DB5 is a tribute to Goldfinger, pure and simple.

UPDATE: Called as Aston Martin dealer. At least on a newer model, it’s possible to switch a steering wheel from the right to the left and vice versa. It would cost in excess of $40,000. Didn’t ask if that was specifically possible on a 1964 DB5.

The Dark Knight-Skyfall double feature

Skyfall's inspiration

Skyfall’s inspiration

Before home video, James Bond fans enjoyed double features of re-released 007 movies.

In 2013, thanks to said home video, you can create your own double and triple features. One appropriate double bill is 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s Skyfall, which is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download in the U.S.

First of all, Skyfall director Sam Mendes has said The Dark Knight was an inspiration in Skyfall’s development and he spoke admirably about director Christopher Nolan’s work on the 2008 film. Watching the two films back to back, Mendes certainly wasn’t kidding. While the two movies aren’t clones of each other, there are certainly a number of similarities:

The Dark Knight: The Joker has a complicated plan that relies on him being captured.

Skyfall: Villain Silva has a complicated plan that relies on him being captured.

The Dark Knight: A Hong Kong sequence has a darkly photographed action sequence in the foreground contrasted with bright exterior lights in the background as Batman (Christain Bale) captures a Chinese businessman-criminal who is laundering money for Gotham City’s mobs.

Skyfall: A Shanghai sequence has a darkly photographed action sequence in the foreground contrasted with bright exterior lights in the background as Bond (Daniel Craig) fights with an assassin.

The Dark Knight: The score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is often dark and foreboding, matching much of the mood of the film.

Skyfall: The score by Thomas Newman is often dark and foreboding, matching much of the mood of the film.

The Joker, err, Silva, attacks Skyfall manor

Silva attacks Wayne Skyfall Manor Lodge


The Dark Knight: Harvey Dent, transformed by the Joker into Two Face, considers committing suicide.

Skyfall: Silva considers committee suicide. In his case, he wants M (Judi Dench) to pull the trigger so they both die.

The Dark Knight: The Joker at times has a tenuous, at best, hold on reality.

Skyfall: Silva at times has a tenuous, at best, hold on reality.

The Dark Knight: Two Face has a facial deformity.

Skyfall: Silva has a facial deformity, though his is disguised most of the time.

It should be noted that Nolan evokes an early Bond movie in his 2008 movie. In the aforementioned Hong Kong action scene, Batman makes his escape with his prisoner by being reeled into a plane, similar to the way Bond and Domino were hoisted into an aircraft at the end of 1965’s Thunderball. Nolan even reworks the idea in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, except villain Bane is reeled into a plane after abducting a scientist.

007 homages in Angelina Solie’s Salt

The big movie opening this weekend is the U.S. is Salt with Angelina Jolie. We haven’t seen it yet, but those who have are noting various James Bond homages.

A.O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times (whose review you can read by CLICKING HERE) provides this comment:

Not that “Salt” matters much. Despite an overlay of geopolitics, the movie is as loud and empty as James Newton Howard’s score, which I don’t mean entirely in a bad way. The music does what it needs to do to amplify and inflect the action, while also paying subtle sonic homage to the brassy Bond-style soundtracks of the past.

Meanwhile, one Times readers posting comments to Scott’s review notes an early scene (Salt being tortured in North Korea) is similar to Pierce Brosnan’s 007 farewell Die Another Day. Another reader posted a comment that compared Salt and Bond in some detail.

And in the comments section of yesterday’s post on this weblog, Mark Henderson provides his own list of Salt-007 homages.

It should also be notes that Bond film veterans worked on the film. John Anderson’s review in The Wall Street Journal noted the work of one such crew member while not mentioning his work on 007 films:

Watching Ms. Jolie do her own acrobatics, under the direction of her longtime stunt coordinator Simon Crane, is a kick, especially in an era when our knowledge of special effects have so diluted the vicarious thrills of high-wire moviemaking.

Crane has done similar duties on Bond films and shows up in some of the documentaries on 007 film DVDs. You can read Anderson’s review by CLICKING HERE.

Salt was photographed by Robert Elswit, who performed the same duties on Tomorrow Never Dies and one of the editors is Stuart Baird, who edited 2006’s Casino Royale.