Since I attended the World Premiere of Skyfall at the Royal Albert Hall on October 23rd you may have expected me to write this review sooner, and in fact I had planned on producing something immediately after seeing the film. However, events worked out differently to planned and so it is only now, the day before Skyfall is released in IMAX theatres in the United States that I am able to get the job done.
First off I’ll start with lavish praise for Roger Deakin’s cinematography, which makes the film look superb. Sam Mendes also did a good job getting the best performances out of all the actors ever seen in a Bond movie; from that point he really has upped the standard a notch or two. The actors themselves too, obviously; Daniel Craig was once again superb as James Bond and the supporting cast all did a great job.
Also, the pre-titles sequence is fast, furious and exciting, and although I didn’t go much on the actual title sequence itself, Adele’s song fits well; and the humour is done well and will make you genuinely laugh.
However, after that first viewing I felt more disappointed in Skyfall than any previous James Bond film; that I did not expect.
The problem is, I didn’t really know why I felt so disappointed and therefore unable to write a review; I’ll do my best to express my feelings now, but I’m not entirely sure I can express myself fully.
Since then I’ve seen Skyfall a second time and did enjoy it more. But I still feel it is a long was from being anywhere near, as has been trumpeted by various reviewers, the best Bond film ever. I am in the extreme minority and so it is almost certain you will disagree with what I have to say. That’s okay, and I hope you enjoy it more than I have done so far; perhaps it will grow on me and I will only appreciate it on DVD release.
On a small level Skyfall failed for me by including a number of things I definitely did not want to see in a Bond movie. I’m on record as saying, before the press conference last November, that if they brought back Q he should be completely different to Desmond Llewelyn’s portrayal, and they got that right; but I also said that I didn’t want to learn the backstory of any of the secondary characters, and they failed there. Small matter, I can live with it.
Slightly more frustrating is the amount of screen time given to such secondary characters; M has been seen more and more in each of the Daniel Craig films, until Skyfall, in which she plays a major role instead. Q and other characters are also overused.
However, there are some larger issues, which are related to the story. First, with Bond drowning his sorrows in whisky and pills after going MIA I got little feeling for any kind of crisis in his life; the scenes moved too quickly as if they needed be be done and out the way. When he returned to London there was little evidence either beyond being shaky with his PPK; what was filmed showing Bond getting back into shape seems to have largely ended up on the cutting room floor.
Second is the villain. Although Javier Bardem is a good actor, his entrance is too late and when he is introduced it is as if Bardem arrived by accident on the set of an entirely different film; the film until this point has been fairly serious, but his character is not at all. I don’t really believe in his motivation either and when all is said and done he is more of a henchman figure than a true Bond villain anyway.
Third is the story structure. It feels like the filmmakers have gone back to creating a story out of a series of set action pieces with a thin story binding them together. At times this moves the story on well, such as when Bond goes to Shanghai and the Macau casino scenes with the komodo dragons (and a nice nod to Live And Let Die), but the London scenes in particular seemed to drag and not really what I want from a James Bond film. The scenes set in Scotland are good too, with the preparations done well.
There is also, for the second film running, no real Bond girl, although it has been pointed out that perhaps M is both Bond girl and villain in one package in Skyfall. And while one of the gadgets was applauded (including by me), its appearance in the film actually makes no sense at all when you consider the series has been rebooted. And, as is often the case when computers are shown in the movies, it just wasn’t done right.
Daniel Craig was quoted as saying that on the first day of filming he noticed it didn’t seem like a James Bond film, which he considered a benefit; to me it didn’t feel like a James Bond film either, but makes me fear for the direction of the series once again. After all, the series was radically reinvented with the Casino Royale reboot; the direction of the Bond films doesn’t, and shouldn’t, need to be reinvented with each film and I for one want to see Daniel Craig in a James Bond film in which he is sent on a mission and just gets on with it just like the good old days.
My sense of disappointment is relative to the massively positive reviews that were published when it was first screened; Skyfall does have some truly great moments but overall, for me at least, adds up to less than the sum of its parts.