MCN Columnists

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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DEADLINE: How does a visualist feel about people watching your films on a phone or VOD?
REFN: It depends on what kind of movie you make. We had great success with Only God Forgives on multiple platforms in the U.S. Young people will decide how they see it, when they want to see it. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. That’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re at the most exciting time since the invention of the wheel, in terms of creativity because distribution and accessibility have changed everything. A camera is still a camera whether it’s digital or not; there’s still sound; an actor is an actor. Ninety-nine percent of what you do is going to be seen on a smart phone – I know this is the greatest thing ever made because it allows people to choose, watching what you do on this format or go into a theater and see it on a screen. That means more people than ever will see what I do, which is personally satisfying in terms of vanity. But you have to be able to adapt, to accept things in different order and length than we’re used to. We are in a very, very exciting time.
~ Nic Refn to Jen Yamato

DEADLINE: You mention Tarantino, who with Christopher Nolan and a few other giants, saved film stock from extinction. To him, showing a digital film in a theater is the equivalent of watching TV in public. Make an argument for why digital is a good film making canvas.
REFN: Costwise, it’s a very effective way for young people to start making movies. You can make your movie on an iPhone. It’s wonderful seeing how my own children use technology to enhance creativity. For me it’s a wonderful canvas. Sure, I love grain in film. I love celluloid. But I also like creativity. I like crayons, I like pencils, I like paint. It’s all relative. Technology is more inclusive. A hundred years ago when film was invented, it was an elitist club. Very few people got to make it, very few people controlled it and very few people owned it. A hundred years later, storytelling through images is everyone’s domain. It’s ultimate capitalism. There are no rules, and no barriers and no Hays Code. Where does this go in another hundred years? I don’t know but I would love to see it.
~ Nic Refn To Jen Yamato