It’s disheartening to know within the first five minutes of a movie that it’s going to be a mundane experience. The opening sequence of a James Bond flick is often a good indicator of how the rest of the film will follow. Casino Royale gave us a calm and smoldering secret agent at the genesis of his career intercut with a violent and ferocious bathroom brawl. Quantum of Solace rattled the audience with jarring shaky-cam and vigorous editing. Skyfall opens with a languid car chase that immediately threatens to induce audience narcolepsy. Meet James Bland.
At some point, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson must realize that prestige directors with Academy Award pedigree are not necessarily the best candidates to helm the longest running action movie series in film history. They may be able to handle drama but they’re adrift when it comes to staging action sequences.
Certainly James Bond can do with some backstory and unresolved angst, but director Sam Mendes thinks he’s making Oscar bait, which would be fine if he had the script to back it. Instead we’re given a rudimentary revenge story with glaring lapses in logic that goes on at least four scenes longer than it should, most of them involving Bond’s boss.
If there’s a drawback to casting Judi Dench as M, it’s that she’s such a commanding presence the filmmakers keep wanting to put her front and center, necessitating whole subplots to accommodate her. Unfortunately, here the character is portrayed as completely inept at her job and can’t even exercise enough common sense to save her own skin. For the head of British Intelligence, she shows an astonishing lack of it.
The performances all around are stilted. They feel like blocking rehearsals. Javier Bardem’s entrance, in particular, is less like a menacing monologue than it is an actor attempting to hit his mark on the proper line, and while his villainous Silva certainly enlivens things whenever he’s onscreen, it’s not enough to give the film a pulse. Daniel Craig, who so superbly established his character in the previous two films, looks as though he’s already had enough and is ready to move on.
As expected, the bright spot of the film is its gorgeous cinematography. Roger Deakins is often cited as the primary draw to Skyfall, and deservedly so. It’s a beautiful series of postcards, but sadly insufficient to salvage the whole.
See instead: Casino Royale (2006): Craig is positively magnetic in his first outing as Bond when director Martin Campbell swoops in to save the series for the second time. Will someone just pay him what he wants to keep directing these films, please?
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