Saturday, 27 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

Rating: 12a
Duration: 143 min

There are several reasons why you can't not know about the release of the new Bond flick. Firstly, it coincides with the 50th anniversary since Connery wooed us with his suaveness in Dr. No, thus prompting the 'Bond 50' Blu-ray release. Secondly, you must be living in a batcave to have avoided the unbearable amount of tie-in advertising and promo; from watches, to beer, to cars, to computers, to aftershave, to... well, anything imaginable. Oh, I forgot Coke. And thirdly, because Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty; Jarhead) is taking control of the franchise for the first, and supposed, only time.

You'll have noticed a Batman reference within the first paragraph, and with just cause, because Skyfall boasts a story that attempt to express darker, similarly toned material, including character exposition, as Nolan's superhero epic. In truth, it's difficult to ignore the success of The Dark Knight, but it by no means encumbers or defines the film in question.

In construction alone, Mendes opts for a stripped down, simplistic plot in keeping with Daniel Craig's other notable depiction of the lothario spy in 2006's Casino Royale. Its goals remain focused and clearly plotted with occasional exposition, yet masses of subtext to feast on. Side characters offer what's required, and don't overexert or outstay their welcome. As per usual, the focus is Craig's mysteriously brooding 007. However, the sublime Dame Judi Dench's M is at the forefront of the story, along with newcomer Ralph Fiennes as MI6 operative Gareth Mallory. 

Javier Bardem assumes the role as rogue terrorist Silva, and offers up a most flamboyant turn that will remind Bondaphiles of villains gone by, yet situates himself in a starkly modern period. Not only is Bardem's reminiscent of characters of yesteryear, but the film, as a whole, teases and amuses with nods to the franchise in various subtle and not so subtle ways. What could easily turn into well matured Stilton is surprisingly the opposite: early Moore-era locales blend wonderfully with nostalgic touches that feel faithfully traditional to the franchise, yet mesh seamlessly with a consistent reminder of its edgy modernity.

Of course, it isn't all completely perfect. Craig asserts himself in typically awkward fashion that is both fitting to his character's persona, but also exposes a particular woodenness in his ability (noticeably when he runs/walks). It's not enough to dampen proceedings, because everything else sets the bar extremely high; set pieces are tense and utterly gripping, yet never overplayed: think the high-octane nature of Casino Royale's opening chase, and you'll have an idea of Skyfall's quality in both intro and subsequent action sequence.

To go with the raw nature of rebooted Bond is a brave poignancy Mendes generates thanks to specific plot devices. Using London as the centre of terrorism risks upsetting a lot of people, especially the unforgiving manner it expresses itself in. However, layered with an overwhelming sense of compassion and sentiment, it works both in the context of the film and as a fitting tribute to the atrocities of 7/7.

And all this is achieved with a sublime beauty courtesy of Roger Deakins, whose framing and sepia-toned lighting transforms each scene into a mouth-watering spectacle. Whether that Oscar will finally be delivered is anyone's guess, but there's surely no better platform to showcase his skills.

Skyfall is a welcomed return for the franchise. Far superior to Quantum of Solace, yet not quite on par with the superb Casino Royale for its subtlety and gritty nature, Mendes's effort compensates with juicer exposition, greater thematic passion, and a focused simplicity rarely seen in billion-dollar franchise blockbusters.