Director Sam Mendes
Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
Music Thomas Newman
That Sam Mendes has proved himself as a quality filmmaker is in absolutely no doubt. With titles like Road to Perdition and the Academy Award-winning American Beauty, he has carved himself a solid brand recognition without being splashily famous like Christopher Nolan or James Cameron. So when he was announced as the director of the (then untitled) Bond project, everyone was up in the air. An Academy Award winner would definitely turn around the franchise after the faltering step that was Quantum of Solace. Right?
With every passing day, the expectations jumped as reports of increased character performances, followed by more prominent reports highlighting the action sequences, came out in the media. Every bit of news was scrutinized, from MGM's bankruptcy to beer replacing the signature shaken-not-stirred martini. Every trailer, promo and poster increased the value and supposed quality of the film. This just had to be the best Bond film till date. Right?
So is this what Bond fans have been waiting for? Is this the best Bond we have ever seen? Is this the crowning glory of one of the most prominent franchises in filmdom?
Well... actually, no. At this juncture, I would like to give a fair warning that going by the professional reviews can let you down in this case. I will also refrain from any sort of synopsis; if you wish to read the story, please visit Wikipedia's Skyfall article.
The story moves a bit sluggishly at the beginning, but picks up pace after the explosion at MI6 and Bond's (forged) return to active duty; there onwards, the sailing is generally smooth. The script is intriguing, though not the most original. Its biggest weakness is that it isn't really sharp and tight at places where it should have been (though the editing team manages to make up for that to an extent). The action sequences, especially the crashing of the London Underground and the amazing climax, are fabulously done. Mendes does a very good job weaving characters and action together with classic Bond elements to make this an old-and-yet-new addition to the series; unfortunately, his direction is bowed down by an occasionally inadequate screenplay.
The casting of Skyfall was a piece of sheer genius. Daniel Craig, undeniably one of the best Bonds till date, carries on his legacy to perfection, portraying an aged, wrecked and yet humorous 007 to the hilt (though his dialogue delivery at the very end made me cringe). Judi Dench was brilliant as the targeted and yet headstrong M, and shows exactly why she still gets so much work even at her age. Bérénice had a surprisingly small part to play, but she does it very well, giving the character an exotic, dangerous and yet highly vulnerable quality that is rare nowadays. As a Bond villain, Bardem is easily one of the greatest, playing a former MI6 agent (and M ex-faourite) like a pro and oozing a remarkably dangerous aura, despite his obvious emotional connection to the principal characters. Ralph Fiennes did not have too much to do, but acted the part of a cool, controlled and yet concerned Government executive with excellence. Naomie Harris was a bit of a disappointment, though she was adequate and also did not have major screen time.
(I would also like to ask readers to not go too deeply into the reports of a The Dark Knight-style Joker villain being used in Skyfall; while there are some parallels, the two characters are not synonymous.)
Two things that truly stand out are the cinematography and the music. Roger Deakins deserves a standing ovation and lots of awards for his stunning, captivating work behind the lens for this film (which is not the first time he has worked with Mendes). He captures a generally-plain London with a cerebral air, and the vistas of Scotland and Istanbul were simply too good to be true. The Chinese segment, however, takes the cake (no points for guessing why). In addition, Thomas Newman has composed an excellent score for Skyfall, but his biggest contribution is (obviously) the addition of Adéle to the soundtrack - her heavy semi-operatic voice singing "Let the Skyfall" is sure to ring in the ears of the audiences for a long time to come, and the song easily rubs shoulders with the best Bond themes to date.
It goes without saying that Skyfall is much better than Quantum of Solace. Its just that the film is not all that it is being made out to be. For one, the opening action scene has received unbelievable praise, which I find very strange indeed since the sequence had a semi-flat effect on me. It was undeniably well-executed, but it certainly wasn't the heart-pumping, edge-of-your-seat thrill that I expected. But that's just a minor squabble in the grand scheme of things.
But what really shocked me was the chorus of reviewers who were mechanically claiming Skyfall to be "the best Bond film till date". Have they forgotten Casino Royale? There may be debate on several aspects of Skyfall, but one thing is clear :- Skyfall is not better than Casino Royale. Take my word for it, and keep your expectations with that in mind.
While Skyfall is a very good (and welcome) addition to the Bond franchise, and more than succeeds in removing any after-tastes of Quantum of Solace, it is over-hyped to an extent. And it will take more than the falling sky to oust Casino Royale as the numero uno film of the Bond series.