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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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“By the time the draft was completed, and passed on to my frequent collaborator, director Kathryn Bigelow, I’d written something quite unlike the singular focus and sole protagonists of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. The effort to make Detroit a mirror of the chaotic times led to an ensemble piece, quickly shifting between characters in a nesting doll of movies within movies, a riot film that gives way to racial horror-crime that switches to a courtroom drama, with several detours along the way into a band’s journey, the miseducation of rookie cops and the adventures of a pair of young women experimenting with sexual freedom. It was, in short, a lot of ground to cover in a single picture. But Kathryn was encouraging, and over the proceeding draft we collaborated closely to hone the themes and scope, while attempting to keep alive the spirit of a tough and untamed narrative.”
~ Mark Boal on researching and writing Detroit

What are we doing wrong?
“Well, first of all, by “we” I assume you mean the public, the public approach or the public discourse, which means the discourse that takes place in the media. And for the purposes of this discussion, let us imagine that the media is white and thus approaches the topic of race as if they (the white people) were the answer and them (the black people) were the question. And so, in the interest of fairness, they take their turn (having first, of course, given it to themselves) and then invite comment by some different white people and some similar black people. They give what purports to be simply their point of view and then everyone else gives their beside-the-point of view.

“The customary way for white people to think about the topic of race—and it is only a topic to white people—is to ask, How would it be if I were black? But you can’t separate the “I” from being white. The “I” is so informed by the experience of being white that it is its very creation—it is this “I” in this context that is, in fact, the white man’s burden. People who think of themselves as well intentioned—which is, let’s face it, how people think of themselves—believe that the best, most compassionate, most American way to understand another person is to walk a mile in their shoes. And I think that’s conventionally the way this thing is approached. And that’s why the conversation never gets anywhere and that’s why the answers always come back wrong and the situation stays static—and worse than static.”
~ Fran Lebowitz, 1997