Skyfall Review: James Bond Now Has a Superhero-Style Origin Story 

Thursday, Nov 8 2012

If Hollywood's rut du jour is the origin story as bid for franchise immortality, you can't say that Skyfall — the 23rd "official" James Bond film in 50 years — isn't on trend. Eight years ago in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's first outing as Bond, we learned that 007 owes his perpetual bachelor status to the loss of true love Eva Green. Skyfall, Craig's third Bond film, again aims to flesh out the spy's backstory (within the globe-trotting terrorist hunt), this time literally revisiting the site of the childhood trauma that apparently pushed Bond to seek out that license to kill through which he has funneled a love of country bordering on psychosis. Also unearthed: the deep-seated parental issues that have caused him to cling to MI6 adviser M (Judi Dench).

This time around, the signature spectacular precredits chase sequence atop a moving train ends with Bond in the crosshairs of a fellow agent played by Naomie Harris. (Despite the euphemism-heavy workplace seduction that develops with Bond, her character's throwback punch line name isn't revealed until the final scenes.) She shoots and misses; the bad guy she'd aimed to kill escapes, carrying a digital drive with the names of dozens of undercover NATO agents, while Bond falls off a bridge and goes missing. In London, M works on Bond's obituary while the spy himself takes advantage of his presumed death to cash in some R&R on a tropical island, catching up on his drinking and anonymous woman–fucking. Then MI6 headquarters is bombed, a simultaneous cyber attack reveals that the stolen drive has fallen into the worst hands possible, and Bond reports for duty, toting a piece of shrapnel/evidence in his pec, which gives MI6 a head start on smoking out the enemy.

Bopping from Shanghai to Macao, Bond gets up to the usual daring escapes and zipless nightcaps, but the movie's peak is his tête-à-tête confrontation with Silva (Javier Bardem), a former disciple of M turned killer hacker, who, we learn, went rogue after bad shit went down during a Hong Kong handover. A catty dandy whose own evil owes to grievous PTSD, Silva taunts Bond about the "unresolved childhood trauma" that turned him into 007 material. In Skyfall, even the Bond villain is obsessively determinist.

Related Stories

The greatest gift director Sam Mendes — working with cinematographer Roger Deakins — brings to the material is staging and imagery, which artfully amplify the film's ideas about the world in which all of this is happening. And there are ideas, despite the fetishism and improbability native to the franchise. Bond's world is undeniably modeled after a real one engaged in debates about transparency and obfuscation, in which established institutions find themselves crippled (and, perhaps worse, rendered foolish) by stateless entities that show their power through violent interruptions of both the physical and virtual worlds. A bureaucrat played by Ralph Fiennes, trying to drag MI6 kicking and screaming into the age of Anonymous, contends that the agency "can't keep working in the shadows — there are no shadows." It's a POV contested by the film's most visually stunning action scene, a relatively simple duel in a darkened Shanghai skyscraper, with Bond and the bad guy silhouetted against the neon lights and building-enveloping video billboards outside. The shadows might have changed shape, location and method of generation, but the conflicts seem as binary as they've ever been.

Skyfall's most pressing project is to prove that Bond, a thoroughly 20th-century invention, can function in the new media landscape, on-screen and off. From the undisguised camp of the Silva/Bond confrontation to the nods to past 007 films and rhetoric endorsing "the old methods," the freshest thing about Skyfall is its embrace of its own old-fashioned values. It's a movie in which the villain's secret weapon is a server farm, in which the high-tech gizmos proffered by the new, hipster Q (Ben Whishaw) are quickly discarded for old-school tools. In the body of 43-year-old, visibly graying Craig, Bond's advancing age is played as both an obstacle to surmount and a virtue. Between the action sequences, the pleasure lies in observing impeccably dressed Brits exchanging barbed witticisms — making it, basically, Downton Abbey with cybercrime and shower sex.

But as much as admits its paranoia about the new, Skyfall's fatal misstep is its slavish hewing to event-movie trends. Like this summer's Spider-Man, Batman, and Avengers movies, Skyfall seems to exist primarily to set up the events of subsequent films. At nearly two and a half hours, it's the September issue of Bond movies, bloated with story to fill out the spaces between product placements, with much of that story lardy psychological exposition — even the enigmatic title turns out to be key to Bond's formative sads. Skyfall pays lip service to embracing 007's unique tradition while actively attempting to reposition Bond as a kind of cousin to caped crusaders: another loner, orphaned man-child who kills the few to protect the many, all because he misses his mommy.

SKYFALL | Directed by Sam Mendes | Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan | MGM | Citywide

Related Content

Rated PG-13 · 143 minutes · 2012
Official Site: www.007.com
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Ian Fleming
Producer: Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Helen McCrory, Ben Whishaw, Santi Scinelli, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney and Ola Rapace


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Skyfall

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending