Skyfall: A Triumphant Return to Form for James Bond
by Alex Antonetz | The Ohio State University
There’s a line in Skyfall, the 23rd entry in the James Bond franchise, about old dogs and new tricks. Skyfall, which marks the series’ 50th anniversary, is largely a course on just that: It is a film that is self-aware of its franchise’s past, yet doesn’t quite throw away those same old tricks that made James Bond the lingering icon he is.
Indeed, Skyfall is a triumphant return to form for 007, whose momentum came to a screeching halt with 2008’s bleak successor to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace. Rather, Skyfall is a perfect storm; a blend of the new ingredients of Daniel Craig’s run as 007 with the old, campier flavors of Bonds forgone.
Yet, quite a lot has been made about the film’s apparent piggy-backing on Christopher Nolan’s Batman films – an observation that is fundamentally hard-headed. Silva (Javier Bardem) has a lot in common with Heath Ledger’s Joker – his mannerisms, his disfiguration, his plan – and Thomas Newman’s score, at times, hearkens back to Hans Zimmer’s Batman work, but other than that, it’s a bit unfair to draw any further comparison.
Alas, director Sam Mendes did say he was inspired by The Dark Knight, but such a parallel can only be drawn to Skyfall in the most meager and superficial of terms: neither Skyfall nor The Dark Knight are particularly stupid, they look pretty (though Roger Deakins’ work on Skyfall runs circles around Nolan’s epileptic action direction) and they are dominated by their baddies.
Skyfall is its own entity, not only alongside other contemporary blockbusters, but in the Bond canon itself; a movie that is able to combine a couple different directions without ever feeling overcrowded or like it doesn’t really know who it is.
In fact, it was entirely plausible for Skyfall to suffer from an identity crisis — a lethal cocktail combining the grittiness™ of Bond’s presumed death and an attack on MI6 with the camp of Bardem’s Silva, the in-jokes with the Aston Martin from Goldfinger and a deadly Komodo dragon – but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s able to take that formula that’s worked for Bond for 50 years and keep it contemporary without throwing away the staples that got lost in Quantum of Solace.
Skyfall is indeed the sum of a lot of good parts. Bardem is a scene-stealer; a force to be reckoned with as one of the first truly memorable Bond villains in a generation. Silva doesn’t just have an underground lair, he has an entire island to himself, where he plays target practice with the sultry Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) after an uncomfortable first meeting with Bond. His motivations aren’t anything particularly new, sure, and at times, it’s as if he’s recalling Ledger’s Joker a bit too much, but the reveal of his disfigurement is a treat, almost as much so as the reveal of one of the iconic old Bond gadgets.
Deakins’ cinematography is breathtaking, highlighted by a swanky, neon-lit fight atop a Shanghai skyscraper. Dench and Craig in top form as always, albeit with a welcome addition of actual humor, as are newcomers Ralph Fiennes as Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory, Ben Whishaw as the snarky new Q, and Albert Finney as Kincade, the guardian of Bond’s old family home.
Mendes’ real triumph on Skyfall is that he was able to take what worked for Casino Royale and made it better. Skyfall isn’t quite as one-note as either Casino Royale, as good as it was, or Quantum of Solace. Rather, it’s able to take those more grounded arcs – Bond’s resurrection, M’s past – and weld them together with bits of fun, classic Bond formula to make a contemporary classic that never feels as if it’s got a foot stuck somewhere it shouldn’t.
Grade: A-Alex Antonetz is a senior Journalism major at The Ohio State University.