From an objective perspective, this film has successfully captured not only the essence of the James Bond character from back in the 60s, it has demonstrated understanding that spy films are great not because of the villain's plot or the gadgets the agents can use, but rather it is the characters that make it interesting. This film was the first Bond film I really enjoyed on first viewing, but is still my second favorite James Bond-related movie overall. Nothing has yet to trump Stephen Chow's spoof of the character.
Skyfall is film I cannot really talk about without spoilers, so I'll give my overall recommendation first before I analyse this movie to death: It is definitely worth the trip to the cinema if you haven't already. The action is great, the dialogue is witty and memorable, there are many beautiful sets that they take their time showing which allow you to intimately embrace the world of Bond, and the characters' interactions are unbelievably enjoyable in many scenes. There are aspects of the climax which I felt was a bit unconvincing and out of place, but the ending is a satisfactory precursor to another 50 years of 007.
8.0 / 10.0
Okay now that I've gotten that out of the way, here comes the real deal.
Having been brought up in the Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond (Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day), my first impression of the character was of a boy who fancied himself a playboy with limited moral sense of direction and unexplained, unjustified loyalty to his country. The films were always focused on the high-tech gadgets and increasingly stupid scenarios, as if escalation is the only way to keep an audience.
When Daniel Craig took over, and with essentially a restart of the character from its very origin (Casino Royale). Suddenly the world of Bond became very gritty, very bare, and certainly a lot bolder and much more personal, and so I became much more invested in the characters and less concerned of the action scenes and intricate plots. While I actually liked his take on the character, Skyfall is the film where his personality, character and motivation is fully formed.
M (Judi Dench) was also a delight to watch. Being not only the one responsible for the deaths of many MI6 agents, but also the one responsible for the ruined lives of former MI6 agents, she has lots to work with and conveys those emotions and conflicts well. Indeed her death at the end was a bit of a surprise but I'm glad they took this direction. It felt like the only fair way to atone for her 'sins'.
Aside from Bond and M however the other MI6 characters felt almost unnecessary to this story; it felt at times they were forcefully crammed into the storyline and made to seem important just so they can be set up for future Bond films. The exception is Eve. I liked how we really don't know what her ultimate role will be in the story for most of the film, though nearing the end it was becoming clear she was going to end up being Moneypenny. Maybe some sharper-minded Bond fans may have picked it up instantly, but I actually had my money on her being related to the traitor M was alluding to.
It was nice to see the backstory of this often overlooked character, but I felt almost betrayed to learn her first name. Were fans of the franchise really begging to know her first name, when it's been deliberately omitted and kept as a status quo for the past 49 years (like her close-call relationship with Bond)? In fact this revelation was the same as what the recent reboot of Star Trek did; there they revealed Uhura's first name, which was also a well-kept secret in that franchise.
Q (Ben Whishaw) is kind of uninteresting except his first scene where he introduces himself to Bond and gives him his fairly humble tools for the mission. That first dialogue was a cool way to introduce yourself, though somewhat crafted and a bit inflated. The later scenes where we see those intense computer montages with Q speaking techno-jargon actually annoys computer scientists like myself, as there is so many statements that don't make much sense, and he just doesn't bring much to the table except being a very young Q compared to his predecessors, much like how Eve is the first black Moneypenny in a Bond film. Anyway we'll get to breaking down that IT jargon in the extra nitpicks section
Now with the main villain. I have to say I have very mixed feelings about him. For one I really really liked Silva (Javier Bardem), especially with how strange his demeanor was (felt like an awkward Joker). His interactions with Bond are some of the funniest and also most interesting dialogues in recent films I've seen, and his motivation for causing havoc on MI6 and M is not only believable but at times understandable, even if he is mentally unstable.
Having said that, his design also confusing at times. At first he plots to attack MI6 but not hurt M so that she can witness a disaster of her own making, then at the public inquiry he seems to simply want to gun her down. Then when Bond brings her to Skyfall for the final confrontation he first sends a wave of gunmen to take them down first. When that failed he directs a helicopter to shoot non-stop into the mansion, throwing grenades wherever he thinks they are. But finally after all the other bad guys are dead, when it's just him, M and that other guy whose name I can't remember left in the church, suddenly he decides to get all intimate and let her choose kill both of them by pulling the trigger, which gives Bond enough time to catch up and throw a knife into his back. Perhaps this is how they wanted to expose the chaos of emotions within him, but it really made me wonder how anti-climatic it would have been if one of those grenades actually ended up killing them three.
The other thing is his whole character and his plot seems to be a reference to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange to a disturbing degree. I mean look at his matching pale skin and long white hair! Not to mention his entire operation consists of divulging national secrets (specifically names of MI6 field Agents) by 'leaking' them onto the Internet. Okay so in this film they also have guns and beautiful women at their disposal which isn't reflective of the real organisation, but it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to notice the similarities.
In fact, this is something I'm not sure is a fair decision by the filmmakers. Through how the filmmakers set up Silva and his organisation, they have essentially antagonized WikiLeaks as a terrorist organisation too. I'm sure the American government would be in agreement with them, but that big speech by M during the public inquiry seems to not only point out the threat that is WikiLeaks, but by saying that "our enemies are in the shadows" they have potentially attacked Anonymous as being the enemy. I don't fully agree with every operation either of these organisation does, but they are ultimately activists like Greenpeace. Ultimately they are doing it for the people, for the betterment of society (I hope), whereas in the film Silva leaked the details to get back at M, which is a personal revenge; a very different motivation indeed.
Anyway I digress. The last character I want to talk about is Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who at the end of the film is revealed to be the new M after Judi Dench's death. For those who don't know the actor is, he played John Steed in the film adaptation of The Avengers, another British spy serial (not the Marvel superhero crossover film), which was super boring and ridiculous; you get to see Sean Connery, the original James Bond, tries to talk with his board of directors in a care bear suit. I am not even kidding. I've never watched the TV show before but I hope that he may redeem himself if he is to return in future Bond films.
One thing that I appreciated even more about this film, more than the characters, is the atmosphere and the diversity of scenes we are immersed in. The two scenes I love the most in this film has to be that raft ride to the casino in Shanghai, and the reveal of Bond's childhood home in Skyfall. Both of them are so impractical and unrealistic, but when I was watching these scenes I did not question it (till after the movie). The colors, the tones, the angles, all worked in favor of enabling us to stretch our imagination to the other senses. They were so entrancing I want to visit these locations now!
There were many other scenes which were really captivating. The opening sequence was well done, in fact the very first second of the opening scene already had my heart jump a few beats with that short burst of orchestral notes. Silva's island which he tricked the residents to desert was very realistic, even though the post-war ruins have been overdone in the past decade. It's just a really nice film to look at, and definitely worth the price of admission to a screen bigger than my 15-inch laptop.
So yeah, no significant complaints except for the possibly controversial statements about Wikileaks/Anonymous through the film's villain, everything else in the film more than compensated, and it is definitely a film I will buy when I see it on sale at Big W (the Australian version of Walmart).