By Al Lim, Yale-NUS ’19 – See bio
“Though much is taken, much abides…” Ulysses, Lord Alfred Tennyson
“The old ways are sometimes the best.” Only, of course, if they include a spin, a train crash and large explosions. Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) has taken on a big mantle in continuing the James Bond franchise and has received a mixture of criticism ranging from great to fantastic. Skyfall is a sleek and classic “50th edition”, lined with cheek and wit, that embraces old-fashioned virtues while throwing modern gadgetry at the audience.
The film itself is nigh on poetic. Roger Deakins juxtaposes going “back in time” to rural Scotland with the metropolitan streets of Shanghai, together with the hustle and bustle of downtown London.. I could breathe the cold mists of Scotland and yet feel like my hair was singed after every explosion. The haunting soundtrack and the brilliant screenwriting complemented the traditional Bondian tenets of sex, death, and girls. As in all great movies, the audience gets to live a visceral and fleeting existence, and such is so with Bond.
But before we get to Bond, James Bond … let’s start with his entourage, a vital part of any Bond film: a rookie MI6 field agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), adds a level of sass and character. Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) presents a femme fatale visage, putting a pretty face on the villain’s operation. M (Judi Dench) is absolutely phenomenal in her role as the Director of MI6, an unyielding figure suitable for the pressures of her position. Not surprisingly, Mendes tints the movie with irony by making the seemingly centenarian M the real Bond girl. How often do you get a strong female character these days with more wrinkles than an elephant’s … well you get the point. This absolute irony is just a gem sparkling among many in the crown-worthy cast.
No matter how good Bond is, Bond could never be Bond without a worthy adversary. The villain comes in the form of a disturbingly bleached blonde Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). He verges on a mentally unstable Hannibal on the loose. The pinnacle of his acting was a “Saturn Devouring His Son” (Francisco Goya) moment, when creepy went to a whole new level seeing Silva cooped up in a stereotypical, apparently cutting-edge glass case in MI6.
Daniel Craig does not portray Bond as an untouchable Agent 007. At times, I even questioned his agility, capability and sanity. He is a middle-aged government agent employed to kill, not a perfect killing machine like Jason Bourne. This makes him seem like one of us, someone we can relate to.
The movie moved with breakneck speed whilst simultaneously preserving not only James Bond (literally and metaphorically), but also the three-dimensionality of its characters. There were no flat heroics, but a complex tandem of ultimatums, one after another, that drove each character. Each character had their own motives, vibrating the web and disturbing the shadows.
The thematic emphasis on the intertwining of the shadows of espionage and the world today was incorporated to a great extent in the movie. The actions of insolent youngster computer genius, Q (Ben Whishaw) and properly strict government official, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) alluded to the question: Why would we need the old-fashioned MI6 and covert operations when there are all the marvels of modern technology? In that vein, why would we need the blood and sweat of agents like 007 in the field when there’s technology capable of doing almost anything?
But if you don’t take care of the Shadows, the Shadows are very capable of wreaking havoc in the form of crashed trains or a bombed MI6 facility. The unknown is so much scarier than the known and preventable.
The expectations are high now… “What are you expecting, an exploding pen?” You, my friend, shall get much more than that.
PG-13; 145 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, 8.3/10; IMDB: 8.1/10
(Ratings accurate as of 11/08/12)
My rating: 8.5/10 (Ain’t one of those just “Netflix” or “DVD” moments)
 This is a quotation from Eve, a rookie MI6 field agent in Skyfall.
 This refers to the 50 year anniversary of the Bond franchise.
 This is a quotation from Q during Skyfall.