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By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

The Torontonian Reviews: Skyfall

More than making up for the dog’s breakfast that was 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Skyfall–James Bond’s 23rd film adventure–sets the bar high: not only is it 2012’s best blockbuster screened thus far, but it is also one of the strongest films in Bond history.

Director Sam Mendes knows what makes a great Bond movie: take two pints of fast cars and a gallon of sex appeal; shake, don’t stir. Add thrilling action and a delightfully sinister villain as garnish. Recipe serves millions. Skyfall takes these truths and runs with them, weaving all of Bond’s tropes into a movie that’s as slick as the series’ protagonist. If there is one major criticism, it’s the running time: Skyfall clocks in at a sprawling two-and-a-half hours, a length to test the bladder and the attention span.

Shouldering on the role for a third time, Daniel Craig returns as Bond, who survives a botched mission that leaves him seriously wounded. However, as modern politics would have it, the analog spy is struggling to stay afloat in a world of cyberterrorism and computer hacking. It would appear traditional espionage is out of place in the virtual world, and MI6, feeling similarly obsolete, is under intense criticism from the Prime Minister’s office for endangering national security. To make matters worse, a rampaging Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), an ex-MI6 operative, is seeking revenge on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, starting with M, the head of MI6 (Judi Dench). The stage is set.

For better or for worse, Skyfall will be (and has already been) compared to The Dark Knight Rises. This is the case for two reasons: one, they are Herculean cash cows with internationally beloved characters; two, they are explosive motion pictures with a dark, pessimistic philosophy of crime in contemporary society. That being said, the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy–exciting as it was–was a grammatical mess; the finished product riddled with flaws, holes, and annoyances. Skyfall, almost in direct response—Bond even says “There’s a storm coming”—delivers on the promises the Batman hype instilled, giving fans and laypeople alike a flick that has the polish and intelligence that “summer” films often lack. It’s what we wanted in July, but are still fortunate to have it now.

Skyfall gets a lot of things right, and series staples are the most satisfying they’ve been in a long time. The “Bond girl” (Bérénice Marlohe) is gorgeous and mysterious, and Raoul Silva is now a series-favorite villain: his excruciating backstory is shocking; his laughing, laissez-faire approach to evil is chaotic and entertaining. While his character feels cribbed from the Joker in The Dark Knight, Bardem’s take on the archetype is unique and memorable in his own way. (The homoeroticism helps.)

Indeed, the first time we see Silva–introducing himself with an excellent, single-take monologue–is simply a pleasure to watch. Meanwhile, scenes like these remind us the power of a director who actually pays attention to necessities like staging and blocking and choreography. What a thought. Mendes gives his audience a chance to actually see what is going on: the action isn’t muddled (hello, The Hunger Games); fist-fights are given breathing room and perspective. Skyfall’s many players have plenty of time and space to develop their characters, and the story unwinds logically with plenty of intrigue and twists to keep things humming.

In short, Skyfall is a top-notch action movie that doesn’t neglect the fundamentals of filmmaking. Given how mediocre the Brosnan-era Bonds were (save for 1995’s GoldenEye), it’s amazing to see Skyfall work so very well. Believe the hype: this film is a mythical creature; a movie that exists in the sweet spot of strong cinema and exciting Hollywood kabooms. We wait patiently for chapter 24, because as the end credits promise: “James Bond will return.”

5 Responses to “The Torontonian Reviews: Skyfall”

  1. Matt says:

    This film is terrible, qos was even much better! You can tell they had a massive budget cut and the film was most definatly mediocre

  2. Rick UK says:

    When some random anonymous person like Matt claims that the unwatchable QoS was a better film, it’s best to think he hasn’t seen Skyfall at all.

  3. Patrick IRE says:

    Matt are you being serious? He must be a troller?! Skyfall was quality.

  4. Stephen in UK says:

    Saw it last night with my wife (not an action film lover) and our hard to impress 24 year son – and we all enjoyed it immensely.

    Pick a Cinema with comfy seats though, at 2 and 1/2 hours it is quite long.

  5. Chris says:

    So pumped. Can’t wait for NA release!

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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