Review: Skyfall Succeeds Thanks to Bardem, Realism

James Bond will never die—box office-wise, he’s too big to fail—so a bullet to the chest and a mile-long free fall into a river are child’s play. This is only the beginning of the troubles for Daniel Craig’s Bond in Skyfall, a sleek and well-executed action drama that tries to replicate the emotional gravity of The Dark Knight but falls short in that respect—though I suspect those with a previous attachment to the Bond franchise will disagree.

Let’s unpack those adjectives: sleek. Skyfall is beautifully shot, with stunning establishing shots and calm camerawork during action sequences. It helps that Bond is a high-class secret agent; instead of going undercover in some slum, he tracks bad guys to grandiose parties in the exotic Orient. Craig as Bond provides a mellow counterbalance to the spectacle of these locales, and the fight scenes mirror his cool control, the camera kept at a distance to display all of the choreography, with the peculiarities of setting incorporated. A fight between silhouettes in a crazy neon building is the best example of what I mean.

Well-executed. The movie aims for as much plausibility as possible, the first line of this review excepted. A scene near the end in which Bond and friends are severely outnumbered doesn’t play out like a video game on Easy, nor do the bad guys lose simply because they can’t shoot straight. All I will say is that preparation is treated appropriately, which seems pretty honest.

The movie is a bit long, 2 hours and 23 mintues. Playing on current anxieties over cyberterrorism, Skyfall spends some time to reflect on the nature of war nowadays, what with borderless conflict, faceless enemies, and information kept from the public in the name of national security. This all well and good—it fits into the film’s realism, and these parts don’t drag or get preachy, but they certainly could have if the personification of these anxieties, Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, wasn’t so damn compelling.

Bardem doesn’t appear until at least an hour in, but he dominates the screen from then on, somehow managing to be outrageous and believable at the same time. He showcases everything you need to know about Silva’s lunacy in his first appearance on-screen with dark, kinetic humor and the right amount of flamboyance to offset Bond’s characteristic smoothness. Silva is fleshed out later in the film, given a haunting past that explains his abnormality. He is a master planner, which could bother you if you let it.

Even though Skyfall is the first installment that does not draw from one of the Bond books or stories (and in the future there will only be more like that), the franchise is set to live and thrive for the foreseeable future. Craig is officially a Good Bond, his psychology further explored, his physicality sufficient to satisfy today’s moviegoers. The ending throws a few bones to longtime fans, as if anyone needed something extra to relish.

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