Skyfall review

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ETERNAL BOND: Daniel Craig returns as the unstoppable British secret agent James Bond in his 23rd screen mission, Skyfall.

Bond should have been dead.

One year after his last (and considerably disappointing) adventure Quantum of Solace, the owner of the British spy's film saga, MGM, had US$3.7 billion in debt, with interest payments alone totalling $250 million a year. By the end of 2009, 16 companies had expressed interest in purchasing all or parts of what used to be one of the largest and most glamorous film studios in history. In November 2010, MGM filed for bankruptcy.

Then, a month later, the studio emerged from the depths of bankruptcy. Ann Mather, Pixar's former CFO, was announced as the head of MGM's new board of directors. Columbia eventually became the co-production partner of the series and in 2010, MGM finalised a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to handle the distribution of Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film, to be released on the 50th anniversary year of Dr. No's release.

It is perhaps serendipitous that reel-life should imitate real-life, as Bond pulls a Lazarus-style resurrection in his cinematic Golden Jubilee. It's not the first time he's been presumed to be K.I.A. on-screen though. Sean Connery's Bond already did that in his staged execution in You Only Live Twice. But Daniel Craig, in his third film as the immortal secret agent, is not only accidentally "killed" by his colleague Eve (Naomi Harris), but abandoned by the very agency he devoted his life to, in the breath-taking opening chase sequence, the best since The World Is Not Enough.

It's hard to stay underground, though, when your beloved country comes under attack. After losing Bond and a hard-drive containing a list of NATO spies, M (Judi Dench) is summoned for an inquisition, with Chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) and other government bigwigs baying for her "voluntary retirement". But M's impending removal pales in significance when her own office (and the entire MI6 headquarters) is blown to smithereens, thanks to the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyber-terrorist who taunts her through her laptop with cryptic pop-ups and e-mail messages.

Naturally, Bond is not going to take this lying down. After breaking into M's house (a nice callback to their first encounter in Casino Royale) and being cleared for duty, he's back in the game of global hopscotch - from a duel with an assassin above the ethereal lights of Shanghai to running through the catacombs of London's Tube network. Naturally, he gets to play with gadgets – in more understated form and function courtesy of the new Q (Ben Whishaw) – and seduce attractive ladies – Eve, as well as the enigmatic Severine (Berenice Marlohe). The film also both mocks and pays tribute to the series' history – When Bond remarks that his weaponry is "hardly Christmas", Q retorts by asking whether the spy was expecting an exploding pen. Much later, Bond's DB5, that he won from a poker match in Casino Royale, makes a reappearance and he informs his passenger that they're "going back in time".

With the passage of time, it is in this adventure that Bond finally comes of age. If we were to go with an analogy of Craig's trilogy as phases of life, Casino Royale would be Bond's childhood – naïve, impulsive, and by its end, the loss of his innocence. Quantum of Solace would be his teenage years – rebellious, Byronic and driven by passion. In Skyfall, Bond is in his prime – with both the wisdom and knowledge gained from his years of experience. Unfortunately, he is also suffering a mid-life crisis, as evident from his greying stubbles and diminishing stamina. Bond has lost his mojo, or as Mallory tells him: "It's a young man's game."

M also has her own inner demons to battle, as she shares a terrible past with Silva, played with gleeful nihilism by Bardem. Without giving too much away, Silva shares a kindred spirit with Bond in terms of "mummy issues", as hinted at in the trailer. Bardem's antagonist will probably go down as one of the series' most memorable villains – his compelling motivation, nonchalant ruthlessness, a single-take monologue about rats and coconuts, and a homoerotic moment with our hero being several of his highlights (besides the ones on his bleached hair).

Bond's own history as an orphan is also expanded from the glimpses seen in Casino Royale. In a way, it's Bond's toughest mission ever, as he has to confront not only his loyalty to M and MI6, but the tragic childhood which led to his present. The final showdown in his ancestral home of Scotland is illuminating, in more ways than one, as Silva lays fiery siege to Bond's mansion in a clever reversal of the standard villain's lair climax.

It is also fitting that Harris' character shares the same name as the title protagonist's love interest in Wall-E. This is because the composer of the Pixar animated film, Thomas Newman, also scores the soundtrack to accompany Bond on his journey. There's touches of Wall-E's brand of electronica in "Shanghai Drive", which pulsates with robotic beeps and boops. "Grand Bazaar, Istanbul" sits along nicely with John Powell's "Tangiers" from The Bourne Ultimatum, with its Middle Eastern-inspired percussions and strings, while "She's Mine" heaves and roils with sturm und drang. Also, Roger Deakins, a visual consultant on Wall-E, brings his cinematic flair to some of Bond's proceedings, from the neon-bathed highways of Shanghai to a magnificent fireworks display over a floating casino in Macau.

I can't really think of anything to criticise about this film. At 2 hours, 22 minutes (the second-longest runtime in the saga's history), it might stretch audience's bladders a little, but other than that, this is a perfect Bond film. In fact, I might even go so far as to say it is right up there with Goldfinger, Licence to Kill, Goldeneye and Casino Royale as my top favourites, and most definitely the best film of the year so far. Skyfall, as described in Adele's gorgeous theme and opening credits (now becoming one of my favourite Bond themes period), is a tale of coming to terms with one's finite mortality – and enduring legacy in rising against all odds. It would even pass off as a swansong for the legendary spy – if this should be his last film.

But, as we all know, there will always be those four words at the end: "James Bond will return."

He's immortal like that.
This is my review of Skyfall, which I saw at the Singapore gala premiere a fortnight ago (which in itself deserves its own review). I think it is one of the best Bond films of the 15 I've seen so far, and hands-down best film of the year (unless Wreck-It-Ralph surprises me next month). Everyone is at their A-game here (I forgot to mention Sam Mendes' excellent direction in the review), and quite frankly, this would have been a very beautiful swansong to the franchise if it weren't for the fact that the bigwigs have announced two more films in the wings. I don't know how they're going to top this one, but I guess more adventures for the world's greatest spy can't be a bad thing!
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celaya4ever's avatar
I loved Skyfall too! =) (Smile)

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