Directing a James Bond movie must be the worst possible gig in Hollywood. I mean, why would you put yourself through that? Between the expectations of Ian Fleming's estate, the expectations of the fan base and the studio's pressure for you not to mishandle a cash cow, the wiggle room for creativity is almost nil. 2008's shaky-cam turd QUANTUM OF SOLACE is a good example of Bond-gone-wrong. But Sam Mendes was up for the job. The once acclaimed director of AMERICAN BEAUTY and ROAD TO PERDITION had nowhere else to go after his 2009 superturd AWAY WE GO. Verdict? Well, Sam Mendes can definitively shoot a movie. He has the technical proficiency, the boldness and the creativity to pull off whatever he wants. In this case, the identity of the movie was ready-made, so SKYFALL turned out to be really good, but not revolutionary. It's a great Bond movie (maybe one of the bests), but it's still a Bond movie. Nothing new on the horizon for the franchise.
So the movie opens during a mission in Turkey, where Bond (Craig) and his colleague (Naomie Harris), where they have to chase a strung-out looking dude named Patrice (Rapace) throughout Istambul. Due to a bad decision from M (Judi Dench), Bond ends up getting shot and left for dead. Fast forward a few months, the memory of Bond is buried in the U.K and M is slowly going towards retirement. Her plans go out the window when the MI6 headquarters are bombed. The attack has been timed, so she would be outside and watch. Bond, who spent the last few months drinking his life away and getting laid on an exotic looking beach, decide to come out of the woodwork because he's a patriot. When Bond goes after you, Bond usually gets you. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you Bond eventually reaches him, but this bad guys was well prepared and welcomed the confrontation with open arms.
SKYFALL oddly reminded me of Christopher Nolan's last two DARK KNIGHT movies. The cat-and-mouse chases through the urban sprawl, the villain hellbent on chaos, the high-profile crimes, I mean, they're two distinct movies but Sam Mendes and SKYFALL definitively learned from Nolan-school-of-filming-action. It's not a bad thing, because Nolan set the record straight on how it should be done, but I just wished its choices had more identity. For example, the tribunal shooting in SKYFALL really just echoes the bank shooting in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES or any of the Joker's public acts of violence in THE DARK KNIGHT. The scene is cool and all, but James Bond villains are usually not like that. They pull the strings from afar and are often mildly crippled or shun physical interaction. The most "Bondish" scene was the crazy motorcycle chase on rooftops of Istambul's bazaar. The scene in the desert city was also very cool and reminiscent of the Roger Moore era.
I know what you're all thinking. Does Javier Bardem kills or what? Yes, yes he does. In good Bardem fashion, he understands very well what makes a James Bond villain. They have to be mildly effeminate and gruesome. Bardem is a twisted ball of violent angst and despite having heavy handed dialogue to deliver, he nails it. Also, Mendes and his screenwriters took the very good decision to throw Bonds' newfound morals to the recycling bin. In CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Bond was a tad less flirty and hung up on Vesper Lynd, like all boring rugged heroes are always hung up on the woman they can't have. James Bond's never been that guy. In SKYFALL, he's back in his all-out-flirty-sex-machine-borderline-psychopath mode. You don't like it? You think it's sexist? Too bad, I guess you just don't like James Bond then. Plus, Mendes keeps it in good taste...most times *.
SKYFALL is an entertaining action movie and a great addition in the James Bond franchise. It's the best chapter yet, featuring Daniel Craig. It should be more than enough to pull Sam Mendes from the gutter. He took safe decisions and made a movie that had maximum chances to please everybody and he won his bet. Is it a sign of things to come? The patented Nolan-format to action movies? It would seem so and while Sam Mendes got away with it, because the world is still buzzing from the Batman hype, but that new way of filming action will survive if directors stray further and further from the original themes while keeping the crazy, blown-out-of-proportion structure. SKYFALL has crazy scope and ambitions, terrific characters, stunning visuals, but couldn't have benefited from a more cohesive script and fresher ideas (like CASINO ROYALE had, not so long ago). But still, by the standards of the James Bond franchise, it's still a terrific movie.
* There is one hilarious "Oh-my-god-it's-so-wrong" scene