“Skyfall”… Yesterday never dies

During the pre-credits action sequence in Skyfall, the new – and fitfully entertaining – James Bond movie, we witness in quick succession a car chase, a motorbike chase (on rooftops) that plays like the two-wheeler equivalent of the parkour stretch in Casino Royale, and just when we think nothing can top this, Bond and his quarry leap onto a train and undertake a series of maneuvers that incorporates a bulldozer, which, as we all know, every speeding train just happens to be equipped with. Faraway at her MI6 office, M (Judi Dench) demands an update. Eve (Naomie Harris), Bond’s colleague who’s racing alongside in a jeep, sighs, “It’s rather hard to explain, ma’am.” The audience is in complete agreement. Preposterousness at these levels cannot be explained – merely experienced. And from our experience of decades of Bond movies – the series turned 50 this year – we cluck contentedly and tighten our seatbelts. It’s time Daniel Craig’s Bond stopped brooding and trained his eyes on world-annihilating megalomaniacs.

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But the director Sam Mendes has other ideas. This action sequence ends shockingly – so shockingly that no other words could open Adele’s title song. (The accompanying visuals are astonishingly beautiful.) “This is the end,” she sings, in a soaring ballad that manages to be at once exalting and elegiac – and that’s the tone Mendes is after. He wants us as lusty spectators in the Bond circus. He also wants us to mourn for Bond. And Skyfall gets trapped in a limbo. Are we watching an action film laced with drama? Or a drama with occasional bursts of action? My guess is that Mendes was after the latter – his beats are those of a classical tragedy, whose flamboyantly melodramatic villain (Javier Bardem, playing up the mincing mannerisms so much that he forgets to be menacing) instructs M to “think on your sins,” and, by the end, pleads with her to “free” them both, as if they were mother and child with intertwined fates. Goldfinger, in comparison, had it easy. He just wanted to blow up Fort Knox.

Skyfall is very much of a piece with the other films of the Daniel Craig era. The superb Casino Royale birthed Bond as a “blunt instrument,” and proceeded to hone his surface as well as his soul. He fell in love, was betrayed, and learnt how to announce his name to the world, even while expressing disdain for the specifics of a vodka martini. The somewhat underwhelming Quantum of Solace dug deeper in the quest to turn Bond from cartoon to character, exorcising him of romantic ghosts from the earlier film – and now, we see the rest of the Bond universe being created, with a convincing case being made for Bond’s essentiality in this modern world. (We’re also left to wonder if the transactions between Bond and Miss Moneypenny were carried out strictly through bons mots by the hat stand outside M’s office, or if bodily fluids were involved.) But please, no more. Steven Spielberg dispensed with the backstory of his whip-cracking archeologist within the first half-hour of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Three entire movies in, we’re still getting to know this Bond. Just set a steel-toothed villain on him already.

But that doesn’t look likely, if Skyfall is anything to go by. Bond is assigned to track the men who’ve obtained a list of secret agents embedded in terrorist organisations worldwide, which instantly guarantees their death. The kicker comes later, when, in usual fashion, Q (Ben Whishaw) hands over Bond’s equipment – a Walther PPK and a radio transmitter; nothing more – and smirks, “Were you expecting an exploding pen?” But more pertinently, Bond is already ageing. Ethan Hunt showed signs of graying only in the fourth Mission: Impossible movie, but Bond’s unshaven chin is already a thicket of silver. Questioning Bond’s suitability to the task at hand, the senior intelligence officer named Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), remarks, “This is a young man’s game.” And then we have Mendes’s longueurs. The mid-section is especially bloated with “classy” considerations, like an ill-advised romance and a long walk-and-talk through which the villain introduces himself, speaking about his grandmother.

Sometimes, Mendes’s non-conformism is a plus. I enjoyed looking at a villain’s lair that isn’t a gleaming space-age fabrication but an expanse of deserted island resembling the site of the climactic battle in Saving Private Ryan. I also liked the throwaway shots, like the one where Bond, at a bar, entertains a rapt audience with a drinking game involving a scorpion. (What this has to do with anything is irrelevant. It beats sitting through another funereally paced dramatic scene.) It’s towards the end that Mendes’s controlled pacing really pays off, as Bond and his cohorts await the villain and his henchmen. This is where Mendes attains a perfect balance between emotional grandeur and blockbuster mayhem – the slight slog we’ve been through to get to this point is all but forgotten. And the finish is extraordinarily satisfying. But where next? Now that we even know where Bond’s parents are buried, can the forthcoming film do nothing but get him cracking on a high-octane mission? The exploding pen is optional.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2012 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

32 thoughts on ““Skyfall”… Yesterday never dies

  1. “and the finish is extraordinarily satisfying”. Surprised that you liked the ending. The last bit would have been more appropriate in Home Alone 3 i thought. Why did bond and M take on Siva and his gang all by themselves when they had the entire security establishment under their command. The movie was good but did not live up to the hype, IMHO.

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  2. I kept thinking about Chris Nolan throughout this film. Silva’s island looked like a set from Inception. His master-plan after getting caught felt like a discarded idea from TDK. The sentimental ending was just as cringeworthy as TDKR’s ending.

    This film is neither as radically anti-Bond as Casino Royale, nor as superficial and Bond-y as pre-Craig films. I think the intent may have been to please fans and non-fans alike.

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  3. It was a bloody good film, this review is a result because of expectation that certain films should remain in a certain way and that some hint of seriousness is always deemed as fake.

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  4. Mr. Raj Balakrishnan.

    For the ones who haven’t watched the film, *SPOILERS AHEAD*

    Imagine a hypothetical situation where a person whom you’ve gone to school with and knows everything there is to know about you ends up becoming your nemesis. He is now at the distinct advantage of knowing everything about you .What matters to you, what doesn’t. Humans generally tend to react in a similar fashion when in familiar surroundings. If you stayed at your home, you’d hide in certain places and if you nemesis already knows those places, then are you even hiding? The nemesis is at a distinct advantage. Silva had that distinct advantage over M.

    This nemesis of yours has only one agenda, to kill you and to do that he’s ready to kill everyone and destroy everything that you’ve built from the ground up. Would you rather isolate yourself and bring the nemesis to a position you have an advantage in or would you allow everything that matters to you go to the ground? I’d choose the former and so do M and Bond. At Skyfall, Bond is at an advantage. The concept of using a whole security establishment for the purpose would certainly alert Silva, who has access to MI6′s network and it would also raise attention. Espionage is all about subterfuge and if Bond doesn’t make use of it, who will? Everything falls into place because Bond goes solo.

    I found the movie to be the best Bond film. This wasn’t all about Bond looking sauve, stylish and mouthing off some great dialogues, romancing women and the gadgets making us go “Holy! That really is something!”. This is as brilliant as it can get and Mendes pulls off a wonderful show. Roger Deakins was brilliant. I for one am a huge fan of the great man and it was another movie that literally makes me say out loud, “If there is something like eyes of God, Roger Deakins is its owner.”

    Another good review Mr. Rangan. Sorry for butting in with this huge comment.

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  5. “What this has to do with anything is irrelevant. It beats sitting through another funereally paced dramatic scene”

    I’m pretty sure it has to do with Bond desperately looking for a substitute for that daily dose of adrenaline.

    About the film, I thought it was good the first time but loved it, the second. I think you, like me, made the mistake of expecting Sam Mendes caliber. Am I right in assuming so?

    What’d you think of Newman’s contribution? I think it’s unlike anything he’s ever done.

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  6. yet to see sky fall but i am a die hard fan of Daniel crag so it does not matter i will like it the season is too much of medical seminars so it is difficult to squeeze in the time

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  7. @lowlylaureate, regarding the “hint of seriousness…..”, this here is faux seriousness. I mean, it is self-congratulatory seriousness. So much so that Q says….

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  8. ” But please, no more”

    My sentiments exactly as the credits rolled around after a punishing 2 and a half hours. Enough with the excavation of Bond’s psychology and the Origins Tale (so, that’s how Bond developed his callous attitude to women, that’s who Moneypenny actually is, that’s how M came to be the one we know fom the Connery/Moore/Dalton era, that explains Q and Bond’s affectionate irritation with one another blah blah blah) and let’s get on with crafting the wild, preposterous and escapist thrill rides Bond movies once were.

    Skyfall is probably the most schizophrenic Bond movie I’ve seen in awhile. The 1st half was near vintage Bond with the over-the-top action scenes, the return of Bond’s suaveness, his signature introduction along with his shaken but not stirred choice of beverage and his casual seduction of women. Then after Silva’s capture it all goes deep into psychological drama and mommy issues . I would hardly recognize the second half as a Bond movie if it weren’t for the vintage Aston Martin and references to 007 and M.

    On the plus side, performances are top notch. Craig owns the role now, the casting decision to have Dench play M finally pays off as she gets to exercise her formidable acting muscles and even Fiennes and Wishaw were good, short though their roles were.

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  9. This movie served its purpose, the raging look on Bond’s face when his Aston Martin is destroyed says it all. Perfect tribute for the innovation, class and substance lasting for fifty years!

    In my opinion, THE best James Bond movie after the Connery wonders!

    Sincere admirations, from a bond fanatic!

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  10. Hithesh/ Raj Balakrishnan: There’s also the scene with Bond deciding not to put any more MI6 lives at risk. So it makes sense that he’d move someplace far away, with only M as bait.

    Rohit Ramachandran: “I think you, like me, made the mistake of expecting Sam Mendes caliber.” Actually, I’m not *that* much of a fan. I’ve liked his films, yes, but there’s a bit too much of “look what a great and classy director I am” straining in them. That straining can be seen here too.

    KayKay: “let’s get on with crafting the wild, preposterous and escapist thrill rides Bond movies once were.” Exactly. Or do something like “Casino Royale,” where you have a “serious” Bond, but also manage to do the must-haves. What an elegant movie that was. So stylish, so classy — and yet none of this “self-congratulatory seriousness” (to use Satish Naidu’s words).

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  11. That comment hit me like a hammer hits a nail. How’d you let Mysskin get away with that, but Sam Mendes… I don’t know how it comes off that way. Mind going in with a little more detail? Revolutionary Road was quite simplistically done. And American Beauty, not a fan? That’s the first great film I saw, changed the way I saw film.

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  12. Baradwaj/Hitesh, yes that makes sense. But somehow I felt that the climax did not fit the movie.

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  13. I need another Bond movie like I need Billa 3.It is now looking more like a cross between Mission Impossible and Bourne movies. No point in having a “serious” Bond. Bad idea. And if you want the casual Bond we have already been there and seen that. Bond for me will always be Moore battling metal-toothed giants and mouthing cheesy one-liners. This should be a dead franchise.

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  14. I’ve been digesting Skyfall for the past 2 hours. The conclusion I keep coming to is “meh”. As with most Mendes films its really nice to look at but the content is slightly less than satisfying. The product placement broke my heart, there is no need and I kept having flashbacks of Subhash Ghai’s Yaadein (or if you want to use its alternate title A-2-and-a-half-hour-coke-commercial).

    Through out the film I kept thinking of other films, like at the start of the title credits I thought of Uyirin Uyire from Kaakha Kaakha. And the climax reminded me of the brilliant climax in LA Confidential. Whenever Javier Bardem was on screen I was reminded of how brilliantly chilling he was in No Country For Old Men. And consistently through out I kept thinking how good the Connery films were.

    This is why I come to the conclusion of “meh”, because although this is a decent film which has good moments, I was reminded of other things which I personally think are better.

    I don’t agree with this general view that the old Bond doesn’t fit in the new world. I think it can as long as it was well written, well directed and well played. If you remember the last “old” Bond film – Die Another Day, it was none of the above. As a result we’ve ended up with a Bond that isn’t fun.

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  15. Mambazha Manidhan: “jameen kottai bangalaa” – hahahaha – but worth it just for the first few minutes. But that’s totally true, you know. Tamil mags and tv channels live under the constant fear that stars/filmmakers will no longer give them interviews and access if they give bad reviews. I’ve been shocked, sometimes, at how a journo will — in front of you — tear a film to pieces, but the version in print will be all vazha-vazha-kozha-kozha.

    Alpesh Patel: I too disagree that the old Bond doesn’t fit the new world. The USP of the series is the guns-girls-gadgets triumvirate, so the quest should be to deliver this in newer ways, instead of being sheepish and ashamed of it. I mean, everything that this film is being lauded for — for instance, showing M as an opportunist — has already been done before. We saw in “The World is not Enough,” that she wasn’t above using a young kidnapped girl (Electra King) as “bait.” But that film didn’t beat you over the head with its “seriousness.” Instead, it folded these revelations into a broader entertainment — included an all-time-great line about Christmas :-)

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  16. “I mean, everything that this film is being lauded for — for instance, showing M as an opportunist — has already been done before. We saw in “The World is not Enough,” that she wasn’t above using a young kidnapped girl (Electra King) as “bait”

    Ha! I was about to write about how the much derided Brosnan films actually sowed the seeds for quite a few approaches the Craig films are now being praised for when you hit the nail square on the head with the comment above

    A cut up and bleeding Bond looking like he’s actually been in a fight? Have people forgotten our first glimpse of that wasn’t in Casino Royale but in the credit sequence of Die Another Day?

    The first time we got a fully fleshed out Bond girl was in Eva Green’s Vesper in Casino Royale? Really??? A pity Sophie Marceau’s terrific, intriguing and complex Electra King from The World Is Not Enough ( a much underrated Brosnan entry IMHO) seems to have gone unnoticed.

    And as you said, M’s complex relationship with Bond was already there from Goldeneye onwards, where she first refers to him as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” but also mentions in The World Is Not Enough that “he’s one of the best she has, although it’s something she doesn’t tell him”

    See, I actually like Craig and I still put Casino Royale as one of the best Bond’s ever, but these critical plaudits his series’ seem to get often at the expense of the earlier movies strikes me as a case of notoriously short memories on the part of some critics.

    A dark, gritty and violent Bond ? Try License to Kill, which had a shark rip off half of Felix Leiter’s leg and his new bride raped and killed on their wedding night…within half an hour of the credits!!

    A Bond movie with a tragically touching ending where Bond loses someone close? Heard of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service…43 years ago?

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  17. “But that’s totally true, you know. Tamil mags and tv channels live under the constant fear that stars/filmmakers will no longer give them interviews and access if they give bad reviews. I’ve been shocked, sometimes, at how a journo will — in front of you — tear a film to pieces, but the version in print will be all vazha-vazha-kozha-kozha”

    Thing is this can happen only if we have a media house which is far more powerful than the stars. On second thoughts, we do have one of these – the all-powerful SUN network, but we all know how that worked out in terms of informed criticism.

    BTW, one of these days, this Balaji Patturaj is going to go mental on some big star’s movie and as a result, will be grounded. Just a matter of time.

    Remember how the Lollu Sabha gang was harassed for Bakery, a spoof of Youtthu Commander’s Pokkiri? The director had to basically grovel and the channel had to apologise unreservedly.

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  18. That is so spot on! Wonderful observations, Kay. Also, Brosnan does get the raw deal time and again despite being the most good looking Bond and also the most physically active? Goldeneye is an all time favorite of mine. And come to think of it, that too had an inside man turning against his ex-colleagues.

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  19. Yeah. That was the best part. Forget the stars and directors. As he said the Daniel Craig Rasigar Mandram will not call him and harass him everyday saying “Apologize !”. I can totally understand why it’s a big relief to review this movie.

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  20. Here is a question for everyone, because I haven’t been able to come up with an answer for this.

    If Casino Royale was a reboot, then why the constant reference that Bond has been around for a long time? (yes, I know its the 50th year, but that should be irrelevant)
    I also find myself thinking that the Austin Martin DB5 doesn’t make sense, if I apply that same logic.

    On a separate note, I want to remind people that the Timothy Dalton films were as gritty as these new films, except that they were poorly written (an extra reminder that License To Kill had a pre-titles sequence that wasn’t too different from the scene that introduced Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). What I personally find odd is that the Dalton films are no worse than the Brosnan films and as bad as the bad Moore films, yet the Dalton films always seem to be the forgotten films

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  21. The only way to make sense of the Craig films’ timelines is to disregard all the other Bond movies from the chronology. This was evident from the moment Judi Dench crossed over from the Brosnan to the Craig films (she’s a relatively new M in Goldeneye and yet is present for Casino Royale which is technically a Bond prequel?) And Skyfall’s ending simply reinforces the need to separate the Craig Bond flicks from the others else none of the timings make sense.

    Bond movies and chronology, you say? Well even in a 50 year series and across 20 films (minus CR, QoS and Skyfall) and 4 actors, Bond films did adhere to a certain linearity. For Your Eyes Only did open with a prologue where Bond places flowers at his wife’s grave and ends with Blofeld gettiung his comeuppance, drawing a direct link to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond’s wife was also refercned in License To Kill

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  22. Actually you’re forgetting a scene in OHMSS where Bond is in his office, clearing out his draws and he pulls out various items that were seen in the previous films.

    That aside, my questions are valid, if Casino Royale is the first story regarding Bond, how can he be considered old in his third outing and how did he get his hands on a DB5 which has gadgets on it?

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  23. Alpesh Patel/Kay Kay: While it makes sense to treat the Craig films as having their own timeline, it’s still all over the place for the simple reason that this Bond appears to have been “birthed” as an older man. He earned his striped in “Casino Royale” and he’s already telling M that maybe “we’re all played out.” And yet, Q refers to exploding pens and there’s that Aston Martin bit and so forth.

    The simple thing would be treat each film as “just an action movie” and forget about the rest of it — the trouble is that, with constant reminders, they don’t allow us to “forget about the rest of it” :-)

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  24. The movie was satisfying to me. I liked it that it was not mind-numbing action all the time. I know other may not prefer that, but I was okay with it. That said, I found so many parallels with the Bourne series.The agents being orphans, almost manipulated by M, seemed so much like Bourne and the operatives being managed as part of Treadstone. If you think about it, the Bourne films are as much brooding drama as they are action vehicles. So, I thought this film seemed more like one from that series…

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  25. Good but not great. Felt this was a bond in transition flick and they will return the franchise to its golden era inthe next one – by all the allusions, hints and not so subtle references to the classics (aka Sean Connery era Bond) sprinkled generously all over this one. And the end indeed was quite satisfying – end of Judi, the new ‘manly’, ahem, M, the Top Secret n classified new mission in a physical file! etc etc – loved it! The next ought to/better be a cracker of a movie – happy Diwali fellow movie buffs – may your Skyfall be less polluted this year!

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  26. BR said “Bond appears to have been “birthed” as an older man. He earned his striped in “Casino Royale” and he’s already telling M that maybe “we’re all played out.” And yet, Q refers to exploding pens and there’s that Aston Martin bit”

    And there’s the formal introduction to Moneypenny, who, we are told stuck to a secy job only after giving up a field agent’s life – when she’s been flirting with Bond all these years. This connecting Skyfall to the earliest Bond movies and yet hinting at the past – like a mobius strip that got even more twisted on its way back to the origin. Unlike the Star Wars franchise which did the origin-prequels, this is just confused – and confusing

    The ending really seemed like Bond was regressing into Macaulay Culkin, wasn’t it?

    The Bond franchise is all about high-tech and high-jinx – I felt this gritty-low-tech version was rather disappointing, such a banal beginning, given that Bond movies are characterized by dhamaal starts. Instead of that boring car chase through Istanbul, I could just see Connery or Brosnan having a blast on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia with those surreal stone formations in the backdrop.

    Anyway was anyone else reminded of Deewar? I couldn’t help seeing Dench as Nirupa Roy, sternly rejecting her bad son and yet feeling reluctant to kill him even when he begs her to, and even when she knows she’s about to cop it anyway. I thought Bond should’ve have told Silva “mere pas marm hai”.

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  27. Now this is a review. Exquisitely written:

    “Quantum of Solace (2008), directed by Marc Forster, seemed a bit stodgy, but thoroughly faithful to the old-new premise, the labours of the travelling, rough-’em-up bulldog. It was only when I saw it again a few weeks ago – since this is the Bond movies’ fiftieth anniversary year there are places in the world where you can’t see anything on television except Bond films – that I understood. Craig and his directors thought seriousness was a virtue. They had brought a Stanislavskian notion of intensity not just to acting but to fiction. The idea was for Craig to be James Bond and to show us he was no one else. It wasn’t just a matter of dropping the wisecracks and the various excesses of style, running from Connery to Moore via Dalton and Brosnan, or to put it too speedily, from sardonic to camp via brooding and flighty. It was the assumption, which we all half-fell for, that a real James Bond was a good idea. It wasn’t an idea at all, it was a delusion. Why would we want a real James Bond, and what did we want when we thought we wanted him?”

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  28. I saw the character of Silva developed by taking an aspiration of Julian Assange. From the leaks on the internet to the hairstyle, I was seeing effect of Assange on the plot of the movie.

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