Skyfall ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The last of the three Daniel Craig Bond outings released to date was instantly my favorite when I saw it in 2012, and that remained true upon viewing it at the end of my late night triple feature. Casino Royale feels sometimes unfocused in its Act III and Quantum of Solace lacks the same emotional depth as the other two, but Skyfall has neither of those flaws.

Its most glaring flaw is Silva's scheme in Act II. It's hard not to see it as derivative of The Joker's in The Dark Knight, for one thing, though that's not an entirely fair thing to bring into a viewing. More than that, though, Silva's Act II plot is simply too contrived. I'll accept that, as a former MI6 operative comparable to what Bond has become, he would know contingencies well enough to plot his capture and escape. Knowing in advance that M would be summoned for a hearing, and being able to time the collapse of the overhead subway just in time to finish his getaway, though, goes entirely too far.

That said, Act II's climactic shootout in the hearing room is an elixir that quells whatever disillusionment may creep in and brings me right back into the story. It isn't the action itself that sucks me in, though it's staged for maximum impact. No, what gets me is the camaraderie between our heroes. Bond and Mallory working out their impromptu strategy with only the briefest of facial expressions; Moneypenny being in the thick of things; Tanner hovering over M to protect her...I love this stuff.

It wouldn't have worked for me in any previous incarnation of Bond. The first time any of the "office staff" were drawn directly into the thick of things was when M walked into Elektra's trap in The World Is Not Enough, which I didn't buy. It was degrading to depict her as so emotionally compromised and reckless. Nor can I imagine seeing Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss, and/or Samantha Bond in such a scene.

Here, though, it works because the groundwork was already laid for these characters to be hands on. When we meet Moneypenny in the teaser, she's driving in the chase sequence and firing guns, and it doesn't take much for Ralph Fiennes to be convincing in an action situation. It's a baptism by fire scene for the three, and it pulls off in quick measure the hat trick of being an exciting action sequence, developing characters and their relationships, and advancing the story.

The followup scene in which Mallory walks in on Q and Tanner constructing the "breadcrumbs" to set Bond's trap for Silva is similarly great. We're meant to resist Mallory at the outset for forcing M out of her job; even if this is your first Bond movie, there's something about that situation that I think makes most of us sympathetic to the one being canned. By the time Mallory contributes to the off-the-books scheme, though, he's one of the team, making it all the easier to accept him as the new M in the final scene.

Many films - including several in the Bond series - are rooted in the intersection of professional and personal. All too often, though, "This time, it's personal!" is exposed as a gimmick rather than a developed premise. Skyfall pulls it off, at least insofar as the MI6 team is concerned. I'm not invested in Silva, so his relationship with M works for me thematically but doesn't have the same resonance.

I should have hated the death of M in Bond's arms; not only because I didn't want Judi Dench to exit the series, but because the very concept of such a scene feels over the top for a Bond movie, at least on paper. Dench and Craig play it so well, though, that even having seen the movie five times before (twice in the theater, then thrice on Blu-ray including both of its commentary tracks), that scene still got to me. I think it works as well as it does because of how the Bond/M relationship had been developed throughout these three movies.

The needless killing of Sévérine, however, still irks me. Maybe it's because I was instantly captivated by Bérenice Lim Marlohe, but I think it's more about how there is absolutely no consequence of it for the rest of the story. She's entirely disposable for everyone from Silva to Bond, to the movie itself. The sacrificial lamb needs to have value in order to be an acceptable sacrifice, and Sévérine is given no value whatsoever. I'll concede that reducing people to fodder can work tonally for a story rooted in that dispassionate approach, but as I've already noted, Skyfall succeeds because of how imbued its action is with developed and earned emotion. So carelessly murdering Sévérine is a blemish on the rest of the film's developments.

One last thing: I am beyond over with franchise movies trying to be clever by waiting to reveal that a character we've been watching is gasp! really this other character we already know from outside the movie. Look, Marion Cotillard is Talia, Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, and Naomie Harris is Miss Moneypenny. By not giving us those names from the outset, all those movies have done is proven that the characters we already knew didn't need to be the characters we'd been watching. I'll grant that Talia's fake identity was part of her scheme to deceive Bruce Wayne, but it's really sprung on us, not him. In the case of Cumberbatch as Khan, it's even more egregious because if he had just played a guy who really was the original character of John Harrison, there'd have been no backlash to his being cast whatsoever.

Here, the idea that Bond and Moneypenny had been together before the movie even opened - at least long enough to have driven together to the hotel in which Bond's pursuit of Patrice begins - as well as in Shanghai without her name ever coming up is ludicrous. He should have been told her name when they were assigned together, because that makes in-story sense. Are we really meant to accept that M never said, "Bond, Moneypenny, get going"?

I can appreciate the concern that if we know from the start that she's Moneypenney, it tips the succession of M's, too, but that's the price for introducing both characters in the same story. Besides, the writing was on the wall anyway even before we meet Mallory telling M she's being retired; an actor as prolific as Fiennes doesn't get third billing without being a major character and who else could he be except a new authority figure within MI6?

Movies need to stop trying so hard to be cleverer than us and just let their villains be cleverer than their heroes. That's the tried and tested way to create suspense and surprise. It seems all but given that Christoph Waltz's Franz Oberhauser is really Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the forthcoming SPECTRE, and if so, that reveal better be handled at least better than the stupidity of Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. Personally, I hope he really is just Oberhauser and not Blofeld, but the first full trailer that was released the day before I sat down with its three predecessors certainly teased that he is.

Skyfall Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#52/1683)

Skyfall > Jurassic Park → #52
Skyfall > After the Sunset → #52
Skyfall > Confessions of a Superhero → #52
Skyfall > Transformers: Dark of the Moon → #52
Skyfall > Licence to Kill → #52
Skyfall > Batman: Mask of the Phantasm → #26
Skyfall < Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country → #26
Skyfall > 12 Angry Men → #19
Skyfall > Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) → #16
Skyfall > Dumbo → #15
Skyfall > From Russia with Love → #14

Skyfall was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #14/1683

God, some of those choices hurt to make! In the end, I found myself favoring Skyfall in most of them because of how jacked up it left me this time. My Flickchart choices aren't made for the purpose of creating a static, definitive critically thought out judgment. It's a fluid, personal thing wherein I oftentimes recognize that I favor a movie that isn't as proficient because of some kind of personal reaction or association. Skyfall now stands as my highest ranked James Bond movie, incidentally, after dethroning From Russia with Love just now.