Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Man on Film: Skyfall

Just as with the Anna Karenina review, I'm putting this one out there in a most triumphantly half-assed manner. Enjoy if you can. 

For the most part, I think I get what they are trying to do with the rebooted Daniel Craig and beyond James Bond franchise. To their (in this case, "their" is a vague person/entity that I don't really care to look deeper into, but surely it's some genius at Sony Pictures) credit, I can sort of get behind the choice to try to make James Bond a more human character with a backstory that builds some emotional capital in the audience. The James Bond of old seemed content to peddle sex and gadgets with little concern for grounding the series in something resembling the real world.

In Skyfall, the powers that be brought in a bona fide director to man the helm of what one assumes (and again, maybe I'm wrong, as I don't care to get too bogged down in the details of what is going on with this franchise) to be the final of the origin trilogy for the character. I think it's safe to say that Sam Mendes is the most esteemed director* to take on the character, and there is definitely a visual sophistication here that was absent in Casino Royale or especially anything that preceded the most recent three films.

*Though Lewis Gilbert did direct the original Alfie, Roger Spottiswoode did Air America, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Turner & Hooch, and The Best of Times, Michael Apted was responsible for Gorillas in the Mist and The Coal Miner's Daughter, Lee Tamahori directed Next, and Marc Forster was the man behind the wheel for Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball.

Unfortunately, even when blessed with the presence of the inestimable Javier Bardem as the villain, Skyfall just doesn't quite accomplish what it seems to attempt. For starters, the film is overlong. I don't have a problem with a film running long if it doesn't feel long. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was 130 minutes and clipped right along. Skyfall felt long. It plodded along for much of the film's latter half. And while it does the admirable thing in trying to extricate the films from the gadget-fetishism that made them camp and thus relics from a bygone era and gives the franchise a new great Quartermaster in the form of Ben Whishaw,  it still feels just a little less contemporary than it's trying to be.

To its credit, Skyfall does spend much of its downtime building emotional backstory, giving weight to the third act and finally allowing Judi Dench to feel like her presence isn't merely a squandered luxury. I suppose it seems a bit two-faced to complain about the film's run-time while at the same time crediting Mendes & Co. for infusing an emotional weight largely absent from the previous incarnation of the franchise, but you can have a film with a little less wasted screen time.

I've already prattled on far longer than I had intended, so I'm going to wrap things up here. I will say that Skyfall was significantly better than Casino Royale, which was so bad that I refused to even bother with Quantum of Solace. It is very far from the best thing I've seen this year, but there were plenty of worse films. Mendes showed he could do the massive action film with Skyfall. Hopefully this gives him the latitude to be able to do whatever he wants after this, damn the consequences, even if it's a follow-up to the criminally underrated Away We Go.

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