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Skyfall - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A
Editing: A-
Special Effects: A-

is Skyfall as good as Casino Royale? That's a tough call. It's at least as good. And god knows, it's better than Quantum of Solace, which was better than many made it out to be, but, in retrospect, was rather forgettable. It turns out, James Bond needs a memorable villain, if not one with some kind of gimmick: in 2006, he got one who cried blood. This year we get one with a well-disguised but horrifying facial disfigurement. I can't even remember the villain from 2008. I just remember the Bourne Identity-style cinematography.

In context, now that Daniel Craig has been in three James Bond films, Quantum of Solace was comparatively a throwaway, rather joyless entry into the franchise. In Casino Royale, we were witness to the very beginnings of Bond's career as a spy, all "blunt instrument" and no suave -- and he was all the better for it. Now, in Skyfall, with several clever nods to the franchise that started fifty years ago this year, we see things coming full circle. It's different but just as fun.

Much more so than in the last entry, this is a Bond film with an almost surprising amount of depth. Back in the fifties, it seemed that snappy suits and a suave demeanor were all the sophistication the franchise needed -- with a healthy dose of ridiculous gadgetry. Thankfully there's still no particular focus on gadgetry here; the producers seem to understand that in a 21st-Century world where everyone already has amazing gadgets of their own, they couldn't invent anything to wow the audience much. Even back in the nineties, with the Pierce Brosnan films, they tried that and failed -- by going too far (give me a break with that invisible car). This time, it's decidedly old-school tools that save the day: a gun and a radio. Well, okay, so the gun can only be shot with James Bond's own finger. At least it's used as a key moment in a scene rather than as some amazing gadget.

We're also treated to one of the juiciest Bond villains in ages, and the best one since Daniel Craig entered the franchise. Javier Bardem's Silva is a bleach-blond cyber-terrorist hell-bend on revenge -- and not on the person you might expect; as it happens, here Bond serves largely as bodyguard. This heavily involves Judi Dench, back for her seventh run as M, albeit clearly transitional with a new guy (Ralph Fiennes) coming in and suggesting she retire. It's fascinating how much time Dench as now spent with this franchise, perhaps more than any other actor not actually playing Bond. She was M for all four of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, then returned again even as the series was rebooted to tell the very beginning of the Bond story. And why not? She's exceptional in the part either way.

Silva, though, takes some time to make an entrance. Bond first encounters people working for him, and Bond uses those people to gain access to their boss. And then Silva comes walking out, all creepy-cool in his own way -- and here's something to grab our attention: he attempts to use homophobia to get under Bon's skin, only to have Bond turn homophobia on its head. It's a very brief moment but a telling one in the evolution of this franchise, which can no longer work on the strength of testosterone alone. We're even introduced to a new Moneypenny this time, and this is no mere secretary. Once again, the female characters match Bond with their own dynamism.

Perhaps the best thing about Skyfall, though, is the cinematography. Roger Deakins, the man who gave most of the Coen Brothers' movies their singular looks -- he also shot Javier Bardem in a ridiculous hairdo in No Country for Old Men -- fills this movie with images unsurpassed by any other in the Bond franchise. There doesn't even have to be an action sequence going on, or a particularly exotic locale being showcased (although there's plenty of that). It could be something as simple as a woman standing inside a room, perfectly framed by the interior decoration. Truly, I would say that if there's any one reason to see this movie, it would be the cinematography. It's not often you find yourself noting how beautiful things look while watching an action or spy movie.

We're even treated to beautiful natural vistas, what with the climactic showdown -- an excess of gunfire, naturally -- happening in the nearly-abandoned building Bond grew up in, in Scotland (we're also treated to a few insights into Bond's childhood, something the franchise never really bothered with before). This showdown is, again, deliberately old-school, as Bond needs to get off the grid to gain the advantage with a cyber-terrorist adversary. And even with a bunch of explosions, machine gunfire, a single large house and a lake in the middle of the night, the whole sequence offers a plethora of great shots, and yes, gripping tension.

It's almost hard to come up with anything wrong with Skyfall, at least when it comes to the context of what it sets out to do: stay true to the spirit of James bond, yet offer something fresh and entertaining. It does that in spades. That said, as always, it's still James Bond: these are never the ingredients of a Great Movie. The acting is up to par all around, but this isn't the kind of movie that exactly hones the craft. And as for the script, well, it's excellently plotted but still peppered with lines here and there that come within spitting distance of being groaners. Do we really need dumb come-back quips? Well, it's James Bond. So, I guess we do.

Ultimately, with both the awe and the groans, it all fits. This movie is packed full of everything this franchise's audience comes back for, even as their tastes and sophistication evolves. But the franchise, at least for now, has very effectively evolved with it.

Daniel Craig brings things full circle in SKYFALL.

Overall: B+
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