by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Daniel Craig's Hot "Skyfall" Opens with Kinetic Action Sequence then Slows
When Daniel Craig burst onto the scene as the new James Bond back in 2006, he ended up making one hell of a debut with “Casino Royale,” a film that many consider to be the best of the franchise. It was the perfect blend of suspense, action, and drama, containing a story that was riveting every step of the way. Craig’s second outing as the super spy, “Quantum of Solace,” was far less successful. It was a mess of badly-shot action scenes that featured one of the puniest villains of the entire franchise. This immediately led to hopes that, after taking a little time to do some retooling and figuring out where things went wrong, the series would come back with a bang in its next entry. This brings us to the 23rd adventure in the longest running film series of all time, “Skyfall.”
The film starts with James Bond (Craig) on a mission in Istanbul where he is trying to recover a hard drive containing a list of undercover agents. This leads him on a chase across the city where he eventually ends up on top of a train fighting the man who has stolen the drive. Without much time to decide what to do, Bond’s fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to risk taking a shot at the thief. Unfortunately, the shot hits Bond instead, sending him falling to the water far below. This being a Bond film, it wouldn’t do very well to have Bond actually die, so after having a little time to enjoy his death, he returns when he discovers that MI6 headquarters has been attacked. At the same time, names from the list are being leaked onto the internet, making it an even more pressing matter that they recover the drive. Despite Bond not being up to full strength, he begins his search, which eventually leads him to Silva (Javier Bardem), a computer genius that has ties to M’s past, ties that have him playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with her life. I went into this screening with incredibly high hopes, especially after how disappointing the previous film turned out to be (I had been very lenient towards it in my review, but subsequent viewings only uncovered more problems). “Skyfall” starts off with a bang, featuring an amazing, kinetic action sequence that is right up there with those featured in “Casino Royale.” There are parts of it that are incredibly absurd, such as Bond being a master motorcycle rider who can glide along rooftops with narrow tops or when he uses a construction machine to rip open the back of a train, but that’s all part of the fun. After this, we get an adequate credit sequence with a Bond theme that harkens back to the older songs of the franchise. Then an odd thing happened. After several minutes of nothing happening, I began to wonder if the story would begin to pick up sometime soon. This feeling carried on for several more minutes. The halfway mark was reached, and still nothing particularly interesting had happened. The film eventually comes around to its conclusion with a decent action sequence, but the story had still left me feeling somewhat indifferent. After all the hopes that I had for this film being the return to greatness for the franchise, I am sad to report that Bond has once again misfired. I’ve already mentioned how “Quantum of Solace” had been a big disappointment for being a mess of action sequences, but now the franchise has unfortunately swung the other way. “Skyfall” ends up being a rather (and forgive me for having to bring out the “B” word) boring entry in the franchise, but for different reasons. After an amazing opening sequence that felt like it was setting the tone for the entire movie, it merely turns out to be a misrepresentation of how exciting the film will be. This is a film that fails to utilize the suspense and action that had made “Casino Royale” one of the best entries in the Bond franchise. What we get is a movie that shuts down for most of its runtime. As a general rule for this series, a Bond film should never be this dull. That’s not to say that there weren’t some things to like about it, such as that outstanding opening. Aside from that, you have a delightful performance from Javier Bardem as the villain, though the filmmakers make a dreadful mistake of not introducing him until over half the movie is over. When you have someone as great as Bardem as your villain, you’re not doing yourself any favors by waiting that long to bring him into the story. He does a great job with the part despite it not being particularly well-written, though he’s easily a step up from the previous film’s Mr. Greene. You also get the introduction of a new Q (Ben Whishaw), who is a little stiff and overly-serious, but gets the job done. There are moments that will make Bond fans giddy with delight, such as when Q hands James a Walther PPK or when an Aston Martin with ejector seats and machine guns in the front is revealed. While these do provide brief moments of fun, they don’t help make up for the sagging storyline. What makes this even more of a surprise is that the screenplay was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. The first two were co-writers for “Casino Royale” while Logan is an Oscar-nominated writer who has written/co-written the screenplays for such great films as “Gladiator,” “The Last Samurai,” “Hugo,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “The Aviator.” The film is directed well by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, though he doesn’t really have much to work with here. However, he does show a great ability for directing action, something he proves with the opening, which is amazing given that he is known mainly for directing dramas like “American Beauty.” I had heard rumors that this film was much closer to “From Russia with Love” than “Goldfinger,” which I was hoping was untrue as I’ve always found the former to be one of the weaker entries in the franchise, with the latter being one of the best. That is not the direction this series should be taking. Bond is by no means an action star, but the films certainly need to be more exciting than this. This doesn’t mean that they need to have a plethora of action scenes, though they should certainly have a decent amount, but rather that there needs to be a better mix when it comes to drama, action, and a compelling storyline. “Casino Royale” proved that that’s the perfect formula for a Bond film. Why not go back to what made this series great? 2.5/4 stars.