This review will be quite different to my typical reviews: I'm going to spend a lot of screen space comparing the latest Bond flick, Skyfall, with Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Because of this, there will be spoilers and lots of them. So, if you haven't seen Skyfall nor the full Dark Knight trilogy, don't read this review. If you have, then I have some interesting and surprising points to bring up.
When reviews of Pierce Brosnan's later Bond films started to turn sour, EON productions looked at the market and what was successful at the time for inspiration to reinvent Bond. What they looked to was the Bourne franchise: a realistic, exposed-wires world of espionage where the hero needs to really work hard to make things go his way. Bourne was often a vulnerable character, often in serious peril and would need to literally fight his way out using his fists, walking away with bruises and a split lip. When this filmmaking sensibility was ported into the James Bond franchise, the result was Daniel Craig's parkour-proficient, poker-playing Bond, and what has been called a 'renaissance' in the franchise. Many are calling Daniel Craig the best Bond ever.
As the Bourne franchise winds down, the producers have decided not to rely on their own creativity, but to look elsewhere, and after having seen Skyfall, it's clear to me exactly where they took their inspiration: Christopher Nolan. Released only months apart, Nolan's The Dark Knight and the Bond installment Quantum of Solace shared strong opening weekends, but TDK went on to Gross more than three times the amount QOS was able to bring in. Clearly, the EON interpretation of this was that Bond was no longer at the cutting edge of action cinema, and that for the next installment, Nolan's narrative style should be mimicked as closely as possible.
|Who's a pretty boy?|
First, we see bond even more weakened and even more vulnerable, and spending a long period in such a state, not at all dissimilar to the period of dark brooding Bruce Wayne experienced in The Dark Knight Rises. This genuine period of angst and dishevelment gives so much more weight to the Batman and Bond characters when they finally do return to full flight. The villains are created with the same purpose in mind: to make the audience feel a little unsettled and a little creeped out by them. While Nolan and Australia's late Heath Ledger made The Joker the epitome of 'unsettling villain', the team behind Skyfall looked to another unsettling villain: Javier Bardem's Anton from No Country for Old Men. In all three films, our villain is a single-minded weirdo with funny hair who can, with as little as a glance, creep us out.
So aside from Silva our single-minded weirdo villain with funny hair, and Bond our angsty, brooding, play-by his own rules hero, we also have Sévérine a love interest who will die when the villain plays a cruel game with her, Kincade a quick-witted quip-spouting father figure, Q a gadget man who can see the universe from above using technology and communicate with the hero during chase scenes, and Eve a loyal sidekick whose full name reveal at the very end will give them an important place in the story's canon.
|Oh... what was your name again...?|
Then there is the role of the two organizations: MI6 and The League of Shadows. Equating the two puts M in the role of Ra's Al Ghul. They are of course, differently aligned organizations, but the consistency lies in the fact that in both franchises, our main hero and our main villain both spring from the same place. Both Bruce Wayne and Bane come from the same shadowy organization and both climbed out of the same 'pit' (dungeon or bat-infested well), similarly, both Bond and Silva come from the same shadowy organization, and both have been left for dead by it. It is how these four deal with the pathos of this origin and this treatment which determines their alignment to either good or evil.
Essentially, Skyfall is The Dark Knight trilogy condensed to a single movie.
That aside, is it an enjoyable movie to watch? I think so. More is asked of Craig this time around than in any previous outing, and the same is true of Dame Judi Dench; both actors fulfill this calling and make it look easy in the process. Mendes successfully creates a series of suspenseful action sequences, which are entertaining and kept my attention. There is a dry British wit which is (and should be) associated with Bond films, added in the right doses, and the set design (particularly the Macau casino sequence) planted the story in a truly gorgeous setting, befitting a franchise audiences historically associate with beautiful, exotic locations.
The team behind Skyfall have made an entertaining film which will stand up beside its peers in Bond's 50 year (and counting) history. They've done it, though, by being lazy and derivative. How forgivable is that sort of laziness when the audience is still thoroughly entertained? That question can only be answered by you the individual. I'm giving it three stars.