Hailed by critics as one of the best Bond films ever, with many critics (including Ebert) giving it four stars (out of four), Skyfall may be the most overrated film of the year. I read a number of the glowing reviews to see what I missed but found nothing at all which would make Skyfall a great film.
Don’t get me wrong. Skyfall is a very compelling Bond film, with a long list of strengths. Unfortunately, it also has a long list of flaws, more than enough to drop it well out of four-star range.
Let’s start with the strengths. The 23rd Bond film features some of the best acting found in any Bond film. Daniel Craig makes a very good Bond and he is at his best in Skyfall. Then there’s Judi Dench as ‘M’. In previous Bond films, Dench has had a relatively minor role. Not so in Skyfall, where she gets almost as much air-time as Craig. That her performance is top-notch is just par for the course for Dench. I also enjoyed Ben Whishaw as Q. And of course there’s the villain of the piece, Silva, played by Javier Bardem in a way that only Bardem could pull off. Great stuff.
I particularly enjoyed the overall dark atmosphere of Skyfall, which is aided by the fact that Skyfall features less action and more dialogue than most Bond films. Since much of the dialogue is both intelligent and entertaining (I particularly appreciated the debate about espionage), Skyfall could easily have been a special Bond film. With Sam Mendes at the helm, it should have been a special Bond film. And for much of the very strong first half of the film, I was thinking the critics got it right. Thomas Newman’s score is also excellent, and uses the old Bond music, which I appreciated. The locations are always a highlight in Bond films and that remains true in Skyfall, and the cinematography is outstanding.
So with all this great acting and dialogue and so on, what’s the problem? Well, you may have noticed that I have yet to mention the plot. It’s not worth mentioning. I don’t care how good the acting and production values are if there’s no story to go with it. Revenge of a former spy against ‘M’ for past wrongs? Can you hear me yawn? Still, the thin plot might have been forgivable in a film that also highlights Bond’s childhood and his relationship with ‘M’ if it were not for the ridiculously convoluted ‘Christopher Nolan over-planning syndrome’, the horrible ending and Skyfall's attitude toward violence.
(Minor spoiler alert!) At one point, Silva apparently comes up with a grand scheme to get caught, a scheme that has exactly one chance in a billion to succeed, but somehow Bond does precisely what he needs to do at every moment to make it work. That scene (involving the death of a woman) is disgusting in every way and one of the worst scenes I have seen in a long time. As for the ending, Bond’s scheme to catch Silva is both ridiculously risky and utterly pointless. I loved the Scottish highlands setting, the allusions to Bond's childhood and the two buildings used for the finale (and watching Albert Finney), but what a waste when used for the predictable, stupid and violent showdown.
The violence is of course always a problem in Bond films, but I was particularly offended by the way some of the violence was designed to elicit laughter (not a Bond first). For me, despite its many strengths, Skyfall does not come close to Casino Royale. Still, like I said, it was a compelling Bond film and is worth at least ***, verging into ***+ territory. My mug is up.