As the title of this review implies, there are zero spoilers lurking in this review. And when I say ‘zero spoilers’, man, do I mean it. I take my James Bond seriously, so much so, that when I went up to Essex Junction last night (a 40 minute drive) to catch the 0:07 hrs showing of Skyfall, as I stood in the lobby of the cinema and they were showing previews on a huge flat screen TV over the concession stand, when they played one for Skyfall, I refused to let my eyes even glance at the screen.
Before going to see the film, I had seen only the first international trailer. I had seen none of the TV spots and none of the additional trailers. That was by design. I wanted no spoilers. I take them more seriously with Bond than with anything else.
Before I get to talking about the film, without actually talking about it, I want to mention the cinema. I went to a midnight showing, yes. But I might not have done so if it wasn’t for this particular cinema. Essex Cinemas has what they are calling a T-REX cinema. 400 seats of extra-wide, leather-clad, memory-foam, rocking goodness with the required drink holder built into the arms. A 60-foot curved screen with digital projection. 18 amplifiers and 124 speakers (typical cinema has around 1/3rd of those). This place was serious about their movies. As a special midnight showing, the auditorium was thankfully not packed. But then again, this is Vermont, where sidewalks roll up promptly at 6pm. I was able to grab a seat just about in the center of the terraced auditorium. Perfect. If that all doesn’t sound amazing, just remember the running time of the film is 2 hours 40 minutes. Then I had the 40-minute drive home to look forward to. That’s right. No sleep til 4am. So those features were worth the loss of sleep for me.
The ads were minimal. For International readers, many US cinemas have a brief slideshow of static ads followed by a few irritatingly repeated video ads before the previews. The static ads are shown repeatedly until the video starts. Once video begins, the ads run usually no more than about 10 minutes or so. By contrast for US readers, when I watched The Two Towers in a cinema in Dublin, the video ads ran for nearly 40 minutes before the previews began! The previews of coming films last night were instantly forgettable, so they must not have been anything too special. I think there were only two of them. Then the main attraction began.
The opening 5 seconds of the film (after the gun barrel scene, which is a given) lets you know you are watching a Bond film. How about that? It was simple, but clever. It set the tone for the pre-credits sequence, which unsurprisingly had a long chase scene in it. I always enjoy the pre-credits scenes in Bond films, and this one was a great example. In fact, it was so entertaining, and managed to pack in character development in the middle of all the action for not just Bond, but for many of the supporting characters, that I honestly felt at the end of it that I had watched a mini-Bond film. It was great. It had action, humor, character focus, and twists—even in those few minutes, that seemed unlike anything I had seen in a Bond film yet. I knew I was in for a true treat with this movie. It also seemed far longer than a typical Bond pre-credits sequence. I have no idea if it really was, but it felt that way. I wasn’t uncomfortable with the length of it—just impressed. The end of the scene was fabulous and bled seamlessly into the credits sequence.
Because I was avoiding the actual pre-release hoopla, I did not even hear the opening song by Adele before last night. I hadn’t heard any of her other music either. But I have to say that she performed a great Bond song with “Skyfall” and the quality of her voice in it was very reminiscent of Shirley Bassey for me. The song fit Bond perfectly (unlike some other clunkers over the years). It also fit the credits sequence perfectly (and not all of the songs do that either).
The credits sequence itself was marvelous. Most of them are, but this one especially was very well executed, with a thrilling bleed from the pre-credits sequence. All the hallmarks of every Bond film pre-credits sequence are here: guns and knives, silhouettes, women, Bond shooting, and so forth. There are also plenty of things connected to the pre-credits scene you just saw and the upcoming film as well. The video style was obviously a modern CGI at times, but at other times the look was so smooth that it made me recall the sequences from the late seventies and early eighties. Which is to say, the mix of old and new looks was very good and made this perhaps one of my favorite credit sequences.
Now we come to the film. I already mentioned it was long. However, I never felt it was too long at any time. The story moves nicely from scene to scene and nothing feels like it’s dragging—which is really impressive considering the raw number of slow scenes where the camera is simply zooming or lolling about in an establishing shot. The trick, you see, is what the best Bonds have always had—spectacle. The amazing on-location establishing shots were impressive because they were either locales we don’t see much of in film, or they were showing us aspects of locales or angles of locales we don’t normally see in other films. Very nice. Even the slow shots of Bond simply moving (and not at a run) from point A to point B, tended to show lots of visually dynamic spectacle in every scene, whether it be color, lights, or just arrangement on the sets. So yes, the long running time was well used. Even the slower scenes each had something to show you. Bond films are usually eye-candy in the sense of the cast and the action, but with this film, I really noticed and felt appreciative of the eye-candy of things like sets and costume. Even make up. Very impressive.
Acting was incredibly good from nearly all concerned. I felt one supporting actress’s performance was a bit stiff. But even that seemingly insignificant detail I learned by the end, was part of a great design. The main cast were all very good. We see Craig give us more of Bond in this film than we saw in the last two. Far more range. All very well executed. The villain is engaging and really eats up the screen when he’s on it. On some level you feel he’s saying “I’m a Bond Villain! See me be over the top!” but on the other hand, he’s so blisteringly good at being over the top, that you are loving every second of it, and finding it quite believable that a man such as he would be that far gone. I was fascinated by the choices of actress for the different female parts in this film. Yes, sure, beautiful Bond girls. But also atypical types of beauty. For example, one woman has so much makeup on her face that the makeup is practically a character. It’s Kabuki-esque, and the effect, clearly intentional, is to make her less attractive. It works very well for the scene and the character. By contrast, another actress is very plain with regards to make-up. Again, intentional and works very well.
Next, we come to the plot. Does it work on a broad range? Yes. It’s complex within a framework of a simple story. It has enough elements and twists to last through the film’s running time. Motivations for each character are believable, even if the resources are not always—but that’s the essence of Bond: making the unfathomable seem possible. The story goes to many places you simply won’t be expecting. Once those things happen though, you realize how very right they were, and how utterly perfect they were for both the film and the franchise. I was just as pleased with the end scene as I was with the beginning.
The tone of the film is also dead on. I say that with considered care too. Many Bond films in the past devolved into ridiculous festivals of corny and cliché one-liners. Skyfall doesn’t fall victim to that approach. There are many humorous lines and scenes, but they all arise naturally from the story, and are funnier for that fact. There’s a particular line Bond gives that made me think of the one-liners of old, but it isn’t a groaner, and really, neither is it terrible funny. In keeping with Craig’s general performance of Bond, the line comes out more acerbically and impatiently than you might expect. That’s good writing. Besides the humor aspect, the range of emotions is all over the place, and we see a lot of range from most of the cast.
Overall, I would say this film has been instantly catapulted to a tie for me with Casino Royale as to which is my favorite Bond film. That’s saying something. I’ve seen all 23 (and 25 if you count the original Casino and the film that shall Never be named). I saw my first Bond picture in a cinema in Lahore, Pakistan in 1980. I was nine years old and Live and Let Die was nearly that old, but I got the sense it was being first-run in Pakistan. I loved it. As a pre-teen, my favorite Bond was Roger Moore. As a college kid, it was Sean Connery. When Timothy Dalton was Bond, I watched both films in the cinema and thought he was the best Bond ever. In retrospect, I changed my mind, but at the time, he was the best. When Pierce Brosnan finally got his turn, I thought he was fabulous in Goldeneye. He became a little clownish by the end of his run, but I enjoyed him. I’ll even throw George Lazenby a bone and say that there have been times when I have wondered what could have been, if he’d had more time (‘all the time in the world’ was clearly not enough).
When Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond, I had severe misgivings. I didn’t think he could act the part, and I was sure he didn’t look the part. When Casino Royale was released, I was stunned that the producers and director didn’t even have him dye his hair (Bond’s hair is black in the novels). But could he act the part? Oh yes. I think we all saw that with Casino. That film reassured us that Bond was still relevant in the 21st century and that an excellent Bond picture could still be made. It’s a shame that Quantum of Stinkitude was so terrible. But Skyfall redeems the actor, the creators, and the entire franchise in one go. Was it an all-around excellent cinematic experience? Yes, it was. Who is the best Bond? Everyone has their own answers for that. I like them all, but Craig is my current favorite. Which is the best Bond picture? For me, this one is right up there at the top. Is this film worth going to see at the cinema? Absolutely, and more so if you are a Bond fan. If you are a Bond fan, I make my way to the cinema, pronto.