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Ethan’s Rating: 8.5/10
Kieran’s Rating (Read his original review): 10/10
Fused Rating: 9.2/10
Despite the die-hard fans that insist Sean Connery is the end-all and be-all of the James Bond franchise, each actor who’s stepped into the role of 007 has brought his own spark to the series. Sure, Connery brought the suavity and the swagger, but Roger Moore gave a shot of self-conscious camp, Pierce Brosnan some sophisticated cool, and the unfairly maligned George Lazenby was the first to give Bond some real emotional complexity (let’s not talk about Timothy Dalton).
Before Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s contribution was a little harder to pin down. Casino Royale was gritty and sly, but Quantum of Solace was such a muddle (through no fault of Craig’s) that it was impossible to actually see much of a trend besides an increased physicality.
But now, thanks to Craig’s long-awaited third go-round as the British super-spy, we have a clearer picture. Skyfall, a first-rate thriller that can’t quite reach the series’ top tier, confirms that this is a more invested Bond than ever. Emotionally invested, physically invested and mentally invested, Craig’s Bond commits to his choices — and all the loyalties, romances and death-defying stunts that follow — with an unprecedented resolve.
That very determination is at the center of Skyfall. The film opens on a solid, throwback chase/fight sequence (where would this series be without trains?) with a shocking ending that challenges Bond’s allegiance to his employer, M (the always-sterling Judi Dench). When MI6 comes under a direct attack from a cyber-terrorist, Bond immediately joins the hunt, but his personal devotion to M has been shaken. More than that, his entire motivation has been called into question: what, exactly, keeps James Bond fighting?
It’s an intriguing question, spurred on by a wonderfully executed villain. Javier Bardem’s Silva is the series’ best bad guy since Alex Trevelyan in Goldeneye, and that’s not entirely a coincidence: Trevelyan, the traitorous MI6 agent, was the last villain to serve as a useful foil for Bond himself. Silva is what Bond could become if everything went horribly wrong, and Bardem plays him perfectly: on the one hand, he’s completely psychopathic, but there’s just a sliver of empathy to keep viewers on their toes.
Challenging 007’s loyalty to M is relatively unmatched stuff for the series, and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) is so eager to explore this tension (and focus on Craig’s brooding, stoic face) that he sometimes forgets to add a crucial element for any Bond film: fun.
Skyfall is one of the darkest, most dour entries in the entire series. There are enough one-liners and innuendos to keep the film from ever dragging (Ben Whishaw’s new take on gadget-master Q is a particular delight), but everything just feels so frightfully serious for a series with characters named things such as “Moneypenny.”
Mendes should be commended for assembling a wonderful cast to surround Craig. Bardem, Dench, Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe are all great, even with limited screen time or character development. Several of them also seem sure to return, a good sign that the series will continue to deliver on this same level.
This is also probably the best-looking Bond film ever, aesthetically. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has some fabulous set-pieces to work with, playing a lot with light and shadow to heighten the film’s mysterious, sinister atmosphere.
Skyfall is refreshing both for its unique take on the character and for a return to entertaining, competent action sequences after the confusing mess of Quantum of Solace. It doesn’t really belong in the same conversation as Goldfinger or Goldeneye, but it’s trying something almost completely different. The emphasis on moral ambiguity and psychological complexity makes Skyfall more like a Jason Bourne film in some ways.
But have no fear, Skyfall aims to appeal to fervent Bond fans as well as newcomers. There are plenty of references and homages to Bond’s storied history, and really it’s these little traditions that keeps us coming back for more. As long as that gorgeous little Aston Martin shows up again, Skyfall is golden. Rating: 8.5/10
Simon thought: “Surging with emotional potency that matches that of entire past eras of the character, James Bond’s latest is a stunningly rendered espionage epic both sparkling with creative action and smeared in gritty tragedy. Daniel Craig’s 007 has become the quintessential modern interpretation of the character and Skyfall’s simultaneous retreat back to the roots of the character and franchise as a whole, combine into something even more impressive. With a uniquely flamboyant villain in Javier Bardem, a significantly expanded role for Judi Dench’s M, and higher and more personal stakes than ever before, Skyfall is one of the very best Bond offerings of all time and perhaps the best film of 2012.” Rating: 9/10