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Movie Review: Skyfall – Last Rat Standing

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In the world of James Bond, super-agent for the British government, we expect girls, guns, and gadgets galore, but what we do not usually expect is great depth. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead) and actor Daniel Craig are not opposed to this history; rather, they mine it for all it’s worth while extending the metaphor of “license to kill” to encompass so much more. In doing so, Skyfall may just be the best Bond movie ever, or at least one of the top two or three (my favorites being From Russia With Love and Goldfinger). This is because despite all the usual and expected trappings, we get more into Bond’s psyche and history, thus understanding him more than as a caricature of our imaginations.

The story once again takes place in exotic locations – Shanghai, Macau, and a smashing opening sequence in Turkey – but there is also much of the film taking place in England, London specifically, taking us into the Tube and the streets like no Bond has ever done before. When Bond complains about the crowds waiting on the platform to the new and much younger Q (Ben Wishaw), he gets the response that we would expect from a young guy, but also a truism because Bond has probably never been on a train as a passenger in the Underground before.

The story is basically typical Bond, except that in the beginning Bond is out of the game and living the good life, so to speak, playing drinking games with scorpions and spending time with a beautiful woman. Still, he gazes out the window, looks a bit lost, and we imagine he misses the old life. Only by chance does he hear a CNN broadcast about an attack of the MI6 headquarters in London, and thus he is motivated to get back in the action.

When he returns from the “dead” to meet M (Judi Dench) in her London flat, she is not that surprised to see him (even though she has recently written an obituary for him). Bond wants in but he has been out for so long that he must take a series of tests to be qualified as an agent again. Much is made of him being “old” and even M reminds him that he’s been in the game too long, and you get the feeling that time isn’t kind to secret agents either; but Bond wants to avenge the death of fellow Agent Ronson (Bill Buckhurst), who died in Istanbul and lost a list of embedded agents worldwide. Bond must find his killer Patrice (Ola Rapace), retrieve the list, and take him out to settle the score.

This is basically the simple plot, but there is much more going on too. There is a sexy and intelligent female agent Eve (Naoimi Harris), who challenges Bond perhaps as much as Vesper Lynd once did. Besides the new Q there is also Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a member of Parliament who may or may not be trustworthy. He is pressuring M to retire because he feels she bungled the retrieval of the list.

Bond heads to Shanghai to confront Patrice, and then on to Macau where he meets Severine (Berenice Marlohe), who joins the vast army of beautiful but deadly girls Bond takes to bed. The next morning they are off to villain Silva’s island hideaway (a Bond staple, of course). Silva is bleached blond and dentally challenged villain played by Javier Bardem with such glee and gusto that he may be the best Bond bad guy ever, or at least right up there with Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger.

Bond and Silva’s initial confrontation includes a chair, handcuffs, and Silva getting touchy-feely with 007. The scene involves rapid fire dialogue, with Silva revealing he was a former agent and has serious issues with M abandoning him in Hong Kong. He also tries to convince Bond that M has failed him as well, making it seem as if they are brothers with mommy problems. Silva tells Bond of an experiment he did with rats that involves the rats killing one another until just two remain. Silva says that they can either work together or fight until there will be one rat standing.

From this point forward there are too many spoilers that can be revealed, so let it suffice to say that Bond eventually gets back to London and has to find a way to protect M. The tension builds as he must spirit her away from the city to a remote location for the final confrontation, and here we encounter more of Bond’s past, including an old caretaker named Kincaid (Albert Finney) who for Bond is sort of like Alfred the butler to Batman’s Bruce Wayne.

In the final act there is a great battle sequence, as good as anything we have ever seen in a Bond movie. You get all the gunfire, the explosions, and the confrontation between good and evil you will want, but there is also an epiphany for Bond that has been 23 films in the making, and it is a brilliant moment. As he stands on a London rooftop with Union Jacks fluttering in the wind, there is an affirmation for all that Bond has done in the name of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and a promise that he is far from finished.

Those of you who are like me and have seen all of the Bond films (some at least five times) will find many little pleasures in the movie, with some nods to previous films that are all intentional. When Bond opens an old garage and reveals the famous Aston Martin from Goldfinger, you have to get a chill as you make the connection. There is also the collective weight of the character’s experience, so we do think we know Bond, but we have never known him so intimately as we will by the end of this film.

Daniel Craig has really slipped into the character’s skin now, seeming as comfortable there as Sean Connery once was (before he became restless and unhappy with the role). While for me Connery felt just right as 007, the other Bonds never were. Roger Moore was way too glib; George Lazenby was too dull; Timothy Dalton was too stiff, and Pierce Brosnan was way too pretty. Craig is a more physically sculpted Bond, yet he wears a designer suit just as well as Connery. He also is a stronger actor than any of the others, delving into the motivation for Bond’s actions in ways none of them could. Mendes has allowed Craig to make that exploration here, and it pays off very well considering the heft of the storyline.

I really enjoyed every moment of this film and, for a movie coming in at two hours and twenty-three minutes, I can honestly say I never once looked at my watch. I must also note that the theme song “Skyfall,” as performed by Adele, is perhaps the most perfectly suited song in Bond movie history. It is also one terrific song, with Adele’s powerful vocal making it all the more memorable. I think it ranks right up there with Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” and that is indeed the highest praise I can give it.

In the end there is a hint that we should expect more from Mr. Bond, and hopefully with Daniel Craig in the role. He plays the character like he owns it now, and when he says the famous line, “Bond, James Bond,” the line is resonant because you really believe Craig is Bond. Skyfall is truly not just a great Bond movie but also a great film. As you watch it you may be thinking that it is not your father’s Bond movie, but you’ll realize that it is what a Bond movie needs to be now.

Photo Credits: guardian.co.uk

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • buckaroo

    Somethings are very wrong with this recent 007 segas. Foremost, he does not drink martini anymore; he drink beers!!! His female companions could barely make it ( to think Calypso is his new playmate just make me feel sick sea on top of the Flying Dutchman). To make things worst, he lacks the killer gadgets to play with (to think a finger-print recognition pistol is hype is like saying intel 4 is still today’s technology standards). He seems to have totally swopped time era with his predecessors like Roger Moore and Sean Connery. They had better gadgets than him. His other supporting artists didn’t help much either. M&Q makes me think M&M chocolates last longer and more effective. The new Q seems to be a deliberate lure to get Facebook to sponsor the next episode. And M dropped dead just because of a bullet scratched wound. Come on! She hardly put up a fight. And the enemies? You dont call them villains; calling them jokers would have been an over-statement. In conclusion, Skyfall, just like Quantum of Solace, is literally like having the Sky falling down on all die-hard 007 fans. Advice: Skip so that you may keep the 007 dream alive.

  • Rich Fernandes

    Contrary to the Victor Lana’s gushing review, Skyfall was a pure fail.

    First and foremost, the reduced role of the “Bond Girl” is such an enormously brain dead oversight. Bond is supposed to catch her, rescue her and run off into the sunset with her after he saves the world. The Bond Girl is definitely NOT supposed to be a limited role, where Bond promises to save her and watches her take a bullet to the head.
    Secondly, “M” is as cold a calculating bitch as they come. Her decision to order a sniper shot (while on the phone) at Bond and the man he’s fighting with makes no sense and total lack of trust in 007 whom she’s seen save the world many times over before…because she’s not there to visualize the circumstances. The outcome has the bullet hit Bond instead.

    Lastly, the fact that “M” is so cold and calculating leaves us with little empathy for her. We’re feeling more badly for the Villain (ex agent) who sacrificed himself through tremendous torture and whom “M” left without any commitment to a rescue attempt. How do we feel for M, who is then being hunted down.

    Another stupidly retarded scene has M and an old Man navigating through a field with a flash light trying to get away from the villain. Only, to be seen in the night because of the dam flash light.

  • Aaron Vandegriff

    SPOILER ALERT

    “What do you expect from a Bond movie?”, is what I keep hearing when I complain that this movie is crap for plot and sequence even though every actor is exemplary. I love Ben Whishaw as Q and even Ralph Fiennes is perfect as the hard-nosed MI6 controller. Eve is a little distracting, but it’s the writing, not her acting. I like the back story on Moneypenny, but they even screwed that up. Daniel Craig couldn’t have done a better job with what he was given, but it was a load of crap.

    How unbelievable and uninteresting is this plot; 20 years ago, a hot shot MI6 field agent was pushing the limits of his job for the benefit of his country and since he was creating such a problem, M decides to trade him for other agents’ lives causing him to go insane in the custody of terrorists who torture him for years. When he finds out he was betrayed, his one (insane) mission is to make M’s life miserable and eventually kill her. This is one of the few Bond movies where the evil villain makes his entire plan come to fruition. Lots of people die including M and we can have lots of crazy stunts and chase scenes along the way

    First, let’s get a computer and put the names of all undercover agents in terrorist organizations in one place and then take that computer to Turkey where someone steals it because they have inside information where it will be. That sounds even more stupid than attaching GPS devices to guns and giving them to the Mexican cartel and nobody thinks that makes a believable plot either. Next, put Bond on the trail of the guy 30 seconds after he steals it with a fresh-out field agent who drives poorly and eventually shoots and kills him. Bond will be patronizing, sexist and specifically tell her she’s not qualified for the job and that will be a funny love interest story because that’s what people do in real life; you’re sh1t, let’s have sex. Setting up the “running theme” of the whole movie, Bond wants to help one of the agents who is shot, but M orders him to leave the guy because the information is more important. Dumbing down for a “Bond audience” makes sense, but everything in this movie is patronizing and insulting. I should have watched Triple X or Fast and the Furious 6. Sam Mendes directed American Beauty, but must have either had hand cuffs for this or he’s phoning it in after being tortured by terrorists for years.

    To hint at the identity of the big bad guy, someone hacks into MI6 computers (easy for an agent that was in the field 20 years ago) and blows up M’s office to show whom he hates, but obviously he didn’t want to kill her yet. Everyone knows that if you blow up the MI6 building, they will just move underground where you’ve been waiting for them, because MI6 is predictable. He’s already hacked into the MI6 network including M’s laptop in the car and the computer on her desk is the source of the problem before the explosion. This will be important later.

    Now of course when everyone thinks Bond is dead, he decides to retire so we can see him drinking shirtless, having sex with beautiful native women, and the perquisite drinking game with a big scorpion, but luckily it’s somewhere with English CNN so he sees MI6 blown up and decides to go back to work. They have to make sure he’s fit to go back in the field, but he’s not, but they let him go anyway (why make him take the tests?), so M is betraying him by letting him work when he’s not ready? She’ll pay for her sins.

    In Shanghai the mercenary guy is on another mission and Bond accidentally kills him after letting him finish his assassination task. Why not stop him before? Oh, he’s probably killing another bad guy so it’s ok. Kill the assassin and find a clue to your next clue in Macau where you get hints about how crazy the big bad guy is from a scared prostitute. Kill some more bad guys and let the hook3r lead you to the big bad guy who owns an island presumably off the coast of China (where they are lax about that kind of thing) now an abandoned city. Crazy bad guy hits on Bond and there’s a little uncomfortable flirting back and forth. Promiscuous homosexual plot points are fine, but I have no idea why you would put this here. The point beaten into our heads is that Bond and the bad guy are the same at different stages and they were “brothers” or sympatico or maybe even Darth Vader and Luke, but this was like some anti-homophobic campaign to prove that JB is a modern guy which is blatantly more disgusting than the disgust they were going for in all the close-minded people.

    So, call in the cavalry and capture the bad guy, but make sure you let the wh0re die in a crazy gun game right before because her character has no arc in the plot (what plot?). Luckily you get the big bad guy’s laptop which has everything on it. That room full of servers didn’t have anything interesting, right? MI6 doesn’t have much experience with computers so they just take the bad guys computer and plug it into the network (the one already infected in an earlier scene) and it infects it again and opens all the doors. Why are all the doors connected to the network including the one holding the baddest of bad guys? So we can set up a chase scene, of course.

    So what does the bad guy do after escaping again? Try to destroy Bond with an empty tube train at rush hour. Then he goes to a meeting with the head of MI6 and the Prime Minister and walks in with two guys with guns. Why is security so lax in this country? Why not wait until she’s in her car or at home (where Bond can sneak right in)? Why get a whole island and plan all this stupid crap? If you waited until she was in her office for the bomb to go off, we could skip all this and it would have been a better movie.

    Where should we go next? The best thing to do is go some place remote and have an old lady and some new character old guy from Harry Potter help you defend the house where you grew up from an army of guys with guns, explosives and a helicopter. Destroy the house, a vintage car and talk about your childhood. Did this whole script get written because Judi Dench said she wouldn’t do any more Bond movies? Secret tunnels, frozen lochs, old church on the hill, dynamite, your dad’s hunting rifle, we need a lovable old butler like in the Batman movies. Is Sean Connery available? No? How about Albert Finney?

    Final fight; crazy bad guy decides to spare lovable old butler character, old mom embraces bad guy in death grip, bad guy about to destroy mortally wounded mom, Bond throws a knife to kill bad guy, bad guy makes funny face and noise (giggles from the audience), mom dies telling her favorite son she did something right. Happy ending because Ralph Fiennes can take over this end-of-career coast role. Time for another movie poster pose.

    Add a final scene for Bond to say more mean things to Moneypenny so she decides to be a secretary. Now there will be awkward banter whenever Bond visits M. Remember when I shaved you in Macau and you used your position of authority to break my spirit and destroy my soul? From now on I’ll ask you to marry me when you come visit.

    What a waste of a movie and I can’t believe I just wasted my time reviewing it. I didn’t think I could ever say this, but it competes with Diamonds Are Forever for worst Bond movie ever. Ugh.

  • Justin

    Aaron Vandegriff thank you so much. I should have walked out when the subway crashed through. I cannot believe this film had a ‘Home Alone’ sequence. What a mess of a film.

  • vincent reynolds

    The only good thing about this Bond movie is that Judi Dench’s appalling M character finally gets killed off — cause for celebration in itself. It barely qualifies as a Bond movie actually — where are the gadgets, the Bond girls, the comprehensible storyline and witty repartee? It’s a great film if you want to turn off your brain for a while and go along for the ride, and ignore the huge holes in the plot, but the script is so dumb you really have to wonder about the average age of the team that concocted this formulaic drivel. I went along expecting something fantastic, but it was an extreme disappointment. It is a very dire movie, just unbelievably bad, unless you’re about 8 years old

  • Muppetmaster

    Got to agree with Aaron Vandegriff on this one. What a messy plotless waste of effort. Watching the “establishment figures” roast M for her sins was a grim reminder of the reality – that MI6 is there to protect a bunch of parasitic expense-rorting shysters, so vile are they I found myself rooting for the big bad guy to avenge his betrayal and toast the lot of them! LMAO! Maybe the next Bond film will see 007 chasing down climate change deniers? Or smokers who refuse to quit? Oh boy.

  • George

    I’m surprised by how much hate this film is getting from some of the people here. As a fan of the series and the novels, I thought this was a terrific movie and easily one of the best so far. Some of the complaints here are just ridiculous, I doubt some of you have even seen the movie.

    Truth is, they still got your money, and as long as they will make more, you’ll keep on giving it to them. Keep whinging, I’m sure the filmmakers and everyone else with a pulse could care less.

  • Virgopunk

    Is it just me or does Silva’s plan seem a wee bit dumb. We’re supposed to believe that he’s been working on the plan for years(?). The computer coding must have taken that long. He’s apparently foreseen the effect that blowing up MI6 would have. He knew they’d retreat into exactly the right location, knew that Bond would return to hunt him down, that ‘M’ would have to appear at the enquiry, he even knew when and where the enquiry would take place (even down to having two pretend policemen hand him his uniform while he was fleeing through the tube system). He spent ages developing a mega-cryptic code (which Bond de-codes almost accidentally) and then the whole glorious construction rests on Silva and a few cronies barging into the court room and shooting the place up!?!? A plan he repeats again at Bond’s family seat (with a military helicopter that strangely doesn’t come equipped with any missiles! WTF? One other bit of goofballery was the classic Hollywood indestructible train that crashes down a huge hole at speed, demolishing solid pillars of brick without even breaking any of it’s own windows! What was it made from, titanium??

    I also have to say that rather than Nolan’s Dark Knight the film it reminded me more of the latter Harry Potter films, particularly The Deathly Hallows. Seriously, compare those two (or three) films and you start to see some startling similarities. Colour palettes, emotional tones, use of London locations, even the Dumbledore/’M’ thing. I’m sure if I thought it through a bit longer I could make even more comparisons.

    Because of those things I have to say I enjoyed Casino Royale more. I couldn’t get the feeling out of my head that Skyfall was indeed stitched together from Mendes and his writers’ cherry-picking of all the best bits. Geek-w@nkery at it’s highest execution perhaps? CR felt far more original and well paced to me. And personally I feel that if you took the more obvious geek-w@nkery out of Skyfall you’d have had a better film.

    Hopefully Skyfall was the final word on the stealing from older Bond movies and we’ll see the franchise hit it’s stride at it’s next outing. Having Fiennes as the new ‘M’ was certainly one of the better plot points.