It’s a disappointment. There, I’ve said it. Oh, it’s better than “Quantum of Solace”(one of the weaker Bonds, as it seemed to serve mostly as epilogue to the one preceding it), but it’s no “Casino Royale”. “CR”, of course, served to successfully reboot the series 4 years after Pierce Brosnan wrapped up his 4-film run with the character(Brosnan’s greatest being 1995’s “Goldeneye”, which was also his first—a trend?). So good was “Casino”, that it’s the only Bond film to make my annual Top Ten list in my 27 years of compiling one. It’s one of the best. “Quantum” is one of the worst. And “Skyfall” is in that middle section somewhere. I don’t quite understand the rapturous praise that many top critics are bestowing upon it(although, as usual, Walter Chaw of filmfreakcentral.net is pretty solidly on the money with his analysis). I mean Bond used to be fun. It’s all brooding now…and just wait until they get into 007’s back story. I’m all for a little gravitas, but give me a break. If I want to watch the Dark Knight vs. Hannibal Lecter…well, I’ll simply pull one of those films off of my DVD shelf. I own them all. So, obviously I am fond of them. But enough is enough. Keep them away from my Bond! Well, at least I got to see the Aston-Martin again. But then its fiery demise(wipes away tear), as well.
Hey relax—it’s far from being all bad news. In fact, if you’re one of those 007 fans who judges their Bonds by the opening sequence—this one is a corker that includes a motorcycle chase across rooftops, and a fist fight atop a moving train. Then you get to the usual Bondian nonsense about “something vital” that has to be recovered(whether it be a chip or a disc, or a Faberge egg—you know how it works). The film almost never recovers from that rousing beginning, though. There’s a battle in a Shanghai skyscraper that’s pretty cool. And there’s a gorgeous African-American female agent introduced in the opening scenes. She(Eve as played by Naomie Harris)becomes an integral part of this particular adventure, and eventually has a stunning late-film reveal. Wait for it…wait for it…I KNEW IT! Enjoy. And Javier Bardem is an Academy Award-winning actor who milks every single flamboyant aspect of his character of main bad guy Raoul Silva. And although he’s pretty awesome and certainly up to the task, I do question a certain reveal of his character during his first meeting with 007. What’s the purpose? Oh well, it does set up a killer Bond comeback line at the end of that conversation. Which, btw, has me questioning whether or not that aspect of Silva’s character was created simply for the quip. Dame Judi Dench, in her 7th showing as M(dating back to the Brosnan days), gets her best written appearance in the series this time around. There are welcome homages to “Goldfinger”(the gold standard for many of us aficionados)and “Live and Let Die”(hint: it’s komodo dragons instead of alligators this time). So, it’s respectful of the Bond legend. And there’s even strong hints that the brooding Bond of the last two films will leave his depression behind next time. Hallelujah and amen to that!
So, what contributed to making “Skyfall” one of the “middle quality” Bond adventures? Maybe we begin with director Sam Mendes. He’s a theatre director. And the Oscar-winning helmer of 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty”. He is not an action film director. So, why is he here? Beats me. Also, are filmmakers aware that plunging uncontrollably into water from distances of a hundred feet or more is almost never survivable? It’s not a soft landing, folks. And the whole background info section of Bond’s tortured, orphaned past. Again, he’s not Batman. And if you don’t make a “Silence of the Lambs” connection involving a mid-film imprisonment and escape, I’d frankly be quite surprised. And there’s a level of misogyny a couple of times in this outing that gave me pause—even for a Bond film. Hey, 007’s sexual conquests are almost always given an artful, untimely demise. But allow James at least one second to grieve. That’s really all it takes. Plus, the film goes on FOREVER. Clocking in at 2 hours and 23 minutes, the lone lesson it could’ve learned from “Quantum of Solace” is brevity. I was really eager to report that the new 007 adventure was among the best. I’m certain that Daniel Craig is the finest Bond since Connery. It’s been a four-year wait for this one, and I hated to be let down. But I was. Maybe you won’t be. But, of course, “James Bond Will Return” as the credits say. So, alas…maybe the next one for me. Grade: B-