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THE RUN UP TO SPECTRE: SKYFALL (2012) – A Retrospective

October 19th, 2015 by Phil Robinson Comments

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Well now, here we are, all but up to date with Daniel Craig’s Bond outings up until Spectre. There’s just the tiny matter of Skyfall to deal with first of all; the 50th anniversary of the character, and a pretty darn good demonstration that you can reference the old, while presenting something new (read our look at Casino Royale (here) and Quantum of Solace (here))

The intro to Skyfall, much like its two predecessors, drops us right in the action without much need to faff about. Bond is chasing someone. Who? Doesn’t matter. Why? Doesn’t matter. Where are they going? Doesn’t matter. Will Bond stick to the mission and thus solve this sticky situation with minimal bother? Probably not, but then this wouldn’t be the fun movie that it is if he did, would it? The rest you’ll pick up as we go along.

Bond’s chase of the mystery gentleman ends up on a train and perfectly exemplifies what Craig’s 007 does best; there’s the exhausting action hero way to deal with things, and then there’s the sensible way. In Casino Royale it was charging through a half-built wall head first instead of Parkouring over it, in Quantum of Solace it was keeping his hostage in the boot of a car during a chase scene firefight in the hopes it was bulletproof. Here, rather outdoing himself, instead of over stressing himself with the running and the jumping, Bond’s train-based pursuit/fight scene sees him swinging a crane at his adversary over using fists or guns or strong language. Okay Spectre, you know what you have to give us.

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Of his three films to date, Skyfall feels the most removed from Craig’s previous outings. There’s nothing about “the organisation”, or his vendetta that tied the other two films together. In fact, knowing that Spectre is going to call back to previous outings, Skyfall may very well be the Bond film that the continuity forgets… or is that the best way to celebrate such a milestone? Have a one off adventure, then carry on with the next one as if it was the next day?

Looking for “the list” of NATO agents stolen by, well, a faceless terror faction – sound familiar? – Bond, with a new plucky female companion in tow tries to reclaim it, thus starting on the path of our adventure, via Bond’s death. Retirement isn’t his thing though, and once the list starts ending up on the internet, it’s time to jump into action. We just have to get past the weird scenes of scorpion drinking games and Bond feeling unnecessarily sorry for himself while making romance motions with all the pretty women. Poor guy.

As far as his theme songs go, Adele’s “Skyfall” got a lot of praise. Rightfully so; it’s probably the best one the series has has since Tina Turner’s “Goldeneye,” nearly 20 years previous. Adele was on top of the world at the time, with almost all of her award winning “21” album appearing in every shop you were ever in. It was only logical that she was the right woman for the job, and you know what? Even I find it hard to say many negatives about it.

The introduction of Ralph Fiennes’ character – who steps up as M – our future Moneypenny Naomie Harris, and not to mention Ben Whishaw’s Q and further establishing of Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner make the world behind the scenes of Bond’s missions a whole hell of a lot grander. Things are now set up very nicely indeed for Spectre.

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The whole subplot of Bond being a broken man, unfit for field work, fractured by the years of mental and physical abuse is an interesting one. It’s somewhat skimmed over as the film goes on, but perhaps the fallout of Vesper’s betrayal in Casino Royale can continue to have its knock on effect throughout this continuity.

Although it’s good to see the return of the Q character, jokes about exploding pens make us nostalgic for gadgets gone by, whereas the gift of a gun and a tracker are a little lackluster. I get it; we’re trying to have a grittier, more real life 007, but come on, surely we can stretch to a proper baffling specific invention or two.

The action stuff in Shanghai is very cool – Bond holding on to a lift ascending to the whatever-eth floor, pretty sweet, then following it up with the disorientating assassination fight in the room of glass and light and reflections. This film has some really cool action beats, and the vagueness of its villains and their motivation could well leave them open to a nod in Spectre, but as it stands Skyfall is a solid entry on its own two feet.

Though giving us more “Bond Girls” than we can shake a stick at – not that I spend my free time shaking sticks at women – I don’t have to tell you why Moneyponey’s forwardness is unnecessarily out of character and James’ shower scene when he sneaks up behind Berenice Lim Marlohe’s Severine (a character who confesses to having grown up a child prostitute) is just plain wrong. Bond’s female characters still need bringing into the 21st century, unfortunately.

Let’s talk a little bit about Javier Bardem, shall we? Coming off the back of his Oscar-winning, incredibly haunting performance as Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, Bardem seemed perfect for the role as Bond’s main adversary. From his introduction, walking down the hallway, monologuing about how his grandmother used to kill rats, you instantly know that this is a very different kind of baddie; haunting, but he comes at it with an over-the-top bravado. His sinister, flirtatious nature makes him unique among Bond villains and James’ response is priceless; this scene is a real highlight of the film. Though instead of tying Silva in with the “mystery organisation,” his vendetta against M for abandoning him in the field years before is what drives him; he’s psychotic, suave, and a brilliant Bond villain.

Because every action movie after The Dark Knight had to have the fake-out scene when the heroes think they have the villain captured, only for him to escape again, Silva’s threats – and that near heartbreaking scene in the cell that makes you think that in another time and place Silva could well be a Bond-like hero – are very nearly acted out. Computer jargon aside, his attempts to kill M all may act as a smoke screen to the real question; who really is after this NATO list? Being the paranoid sort, I have to guess that it’s something to do with SPECTRE.

A chase through the London underground and subways and a whole lot of coincidence aside, Skyfall suffers from the same weakness that Casino and Quantum had, in that its runtime is just a tad too long. You notice it less so here than in Quantum, but once the action moves to Scotland and Bond goes a little old school on Silva and his men the lost momentum is more than made up for.

My intention with these retrospectives was that they should act, in part, as a way of predicting where things may head in Spectre. As mentioned earlier Skyfall is more of a tribute of Bond films past, and its stand alone story doesn’t seem to adapt the bigger picture much, unless you really want to grasp at straws.

But damn if the return of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger isn’t the coolest comeback Bond could give us.

Bond’s return to his childhood manor home – because that makes him more relatable or something, right? – and subsequent Home Alone style boobytrapping is just another delay before the final shootout. It’s a fun finale though, with a fitting farewell to Judi Dench’s M. And now with the pieces in place we’re ready to carry on with the bigger Bond picture.

50 years on and 007 isn’t missing a beat, still as relevant to cinema audiences today as much as he was upon the release of Dr No, it proves you just need to know how to keep up. So thank you James, and here’s to Spectre.

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