Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Impressions: Skyfall

Slick, sexy and stunning. All three words describe the most recent installment in the James Bond franchise. Daniel Craig reprises his role as Agent 007 in “Skyfall,” facing down death, destruction and the newest (and arguably best) villain since Goldfinger in Javier Bardem’s cyber-savvy terrorist, Silva.

“Skyfall” is like several Bond movies in one, hitting all the high notes and plunging Her Majesty’s finest agent to new lows, all the while feeling fresh and uncontrived. The premise of the plot is built around MI6 losing an important hard drive identifying their agents undercover in terrorist organizations around the world. The film begins with Bond and new field agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), attempting to recover the lost hard drive. Their chase plunges the audience immediately into the slick, brutally efficient action that has come to identify the Daniel Craig Bond films. The globe-trotting of the plot, from Istanbul to the Scottish Highlands, feels natural and the twists and turns associated with espionage films is neither forced or confusing.

Craig’s 007 is tough, cunning, and charming when he needs to be, but “Skyfall” reveals the cracks in his armor. James Bond is MI6’s best agent, but his age is starting to tell. Director Sam Mendes relies on this flaw a bit too much throughout the film, but it doesn’t come anywhere near ruining the movie. Instead, it does a lot for Bond’s character, following the precedent set in “Casino Royale” by showing the audience the person with the all-too-human vulnerabilities behind the infallible secret agent.

“Skyfall” pushes the envelope while remaining faithful to the franchise. Bond does drink a Heineken, but does so during his time away from the service. When he returns, it’s back to the martini, shaken not stirred. Mendes pays tribute to previous films through various homages that will make Bond aficionados giddy with pleasure. Though not as iconic as Sean Connery, there is another cameo that’s just as good (Hint: It’s not a person).

Part of the success of “Skyfall” isn’t just Bond’s resurrection, but also the introduction of a villain equal to the task. He’s not a mustache-twirling bad guy bent on world domination either – rather, his motivations are darkly personal, almost simple: revenge. Add in a pinch of mental instability coupled with a genius intellect (Silva outwits almost the entirety of MI6), and just a little bit of gruesome mutilation, and voila! In fact, Bardem’s Silva is hauntingly similar in characterization and effect upon the audience to Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

The parallels between “Skyfall” and Christopher Nolan’s crème de la crème of a film don’t just stop at the starring villain. Both films explore the depths of the hero’s character, in the case of “Skyfall,” even going into the Bond’s origin story, and rely chiefly on character development and the nuanced performances of the actors to drive the film, rather than contrived plot devices. This doesn’t mean “Skyfall” is just copying “The Dark Knight,” however. “Skyfall” is still a Bond film, both in spirit and execution.

Visually, “Skyfall” is a masterpiece. Cinematographer Roger Deakins deserves every award and accolade for the stunningly shot scenes in the film. From the Shanghai scene, shot against the blue backdrop of an advertising screen, to the final showdown at the titular Skyfall grounds in Scotland, the latest Bond film is a treat for the senses.

Masterfully balancing between staying true to the franchise’s roots and simultaneously driving forward, pushing 007 to new edges, “Skyfall” will be remembered as one of the best James Bond movies to date.

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