Forgettable "Skyfall" Ignores Its Roots

Most critics will admit that it can be cathartic to pen a negative review – even enjoyable. But once in a while, it’s a bit heartbreaking, as is the case with “Skyfall.” Freed from a 50-year legacy, the film might have registered as a well-shot and easily digestible actioner. But this is hardly a Bond film, and director Sam Mendes and writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade have jettisoned the essence of 007 in favor of the occasional trite nod to the character’s past. Instead of sprawling, iconic setpieces, lethal quips, and villains with dreams of world (or at least local) domination, we’re given clumsy, unnecessary backstories and a villain whose only aim is to kill one character. James Bond has been relegated to cinematic stupidity before, but demoting the character to this degree of slightness is even more deflating.

Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road To Perdition”) is one of the better filmmakers working today, so his tone-deafness in relation to one of cinema’s great heroes is totally perplexing. The film opens with Bond (Daniel Craig, in his third 007 outing) trying to keep a valuable hard drive out of the hands of a criminal. When he becomes the victim of friendly fire at the hands of fellow MI6 agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), he’s declared dead by his boss, M (Judi Dench), and spends the next month lying low, enjoying his newfound anonymity. Soon, 007 returns and learns that the man with the hard drive has a vendetta against M and is attempting to exact revenge at any cost. Javier Bardem’s Silva is suitably creepy and he gets a few terrific scenes, but the role is so undersized that he only makes a dent when he should have made a crash landing.

For a 2 hour and 20 minute picture, the narrative is alarmingly thin. Later in the film, we get an entirely unwelcome look into Bond’s childhood, and Albert Finney’s role – as a bearded fellow with long-lost ties to the Bond family – is probably the most confusing of the bunch. Additionally, Ralph Fiennes’ impact is minimal, as is Ben Whishaw’s as the new Q (without any impressive gadgets in yet another bizarre decision), but both get obvious set-ups for expanded roles in future films. As for Bond himself, the character isn’t developed beyond Craig’s previous films aside from his relationship with M, which is the heart of the story. The intimacy of the script works within the context of certain scenes, but when the slow build of the first hour doesn’t go anywhere, things become tedious.

The cinematography, however, is striking and it goes a long way in making Bond’s globetrotting as immersive as it needs to be. Colors are vibrant, the framing is consistently impressive, and the movie is visually concise – much more so than “Casino Royale” or “Quantum Of Solace.” The best scene in the film is a terrific exercise in cross-cutting between exterior and interior shots that also features a pretty riveting chase scene between Bond and Silva. More impressively, each scene in “Skyfall” feels like a part of the same piece and the animation that accompanies Adele’s theme song ties everything together masterfully. Unfortunately, other comparisons to “Casino” or “Quantum” are less than favorable.

I can’t fault the filmmakers for not continuing the storyline of the previous films, but a self-contained Bond story has no business being so incongruous with the rest of the 007 canon. “Casino Royale” was beloved for its sweeping action and sharp sense of humor, while the underappreciated “Quantum Of Solace” was still praised for its sense of momentum and overall grittiness – all hallmarks of the series, albeit at different points in its history. “Skyfall” misses the boat on so much of what makes Bond Bond that it seems Mendes and company went out of their way to confound people’s expectations. This might have been less jarring in a reboot featuring a new lead actor, but audiences have responded well to both of Craig’s previous outings and such a sharp departure is both confusing and disheartening. “Skyfall” isn’t a bad movie, and it’s not even an unwatchable one. But, the stream of blank expressions on the faces of audience members exiting the theater let me I know that I wasn’t alone in my frustration.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: November 9, 2012
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony), MGM
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Helen McCrory, Ola Rapace, Tonia Sotiropoulou
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking)