Alright, so this is it, the best movie of 2012. Some people that know me well would say cmon dude, you were saying this for months in advance, that it was probably going to be the movie of the year for you. And actually, that was a strike AGAINST this movie. I had HUGE expectations for this, I EXPECTED it to blow my mind, to be in the upper echelon of best action movies, no, best movies EVER for me. That’s a lot of pressure for this little James Bond flick. I have had high expectations for many movies this year, and those expectations have fallen QUITE flat – I’m looking at you, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Brave, Lawless, Sinister – and I’m sure there’s been many more disappointments, those were just off the top of my head. Skyfall delivered on every expectation and then some, and that is truly impressive. In fact, this movie was even BETTER than I expected it to be, and I already figured it would be the best movie of the year. Let me tell you why.
This movie is an action movie that other action movies will be judged against for years to come. In fact I even hesitate to call this an “action” movie, because I don’t like pigeonholing a movie as great as this one into one category, it simply transcends the “action” genre of movies. It’s an “action” movie in the sense that 500 Days of Summer is a “romantic comedy”. You can’t put labels on excellent movies like this. In the first place, this is a new step for a James Bond movie. It can be argued that all of the Daniel Craig Bond movies (well, ‘cept maybe Quantum of Solace, but I loved that one anyways…) are a step into a new dimension of James Bond movies, but man, this one is just so much…better than any Bond movie that has come before it. I’ll admit that I have been partially obsessed with the Bond franchise since seeing this movie three times – I even felt like I needed to see this movie three times before I could review it, actually. Why? Because it’s DEEP man. It has a lot of themes, a lot of character development, which is most often unheard of in a Bond movie, particularly any from the past 20 years or so before Casino Royale turned those old ideas on their head, and it is Skyfall that truly perfects the changeover, the “new guard” of Bond movies. I’ve watched nearly all of the previous ones, and yeah, I love them, but for far different reasons than this movie – they are mindless, escapist fun. They are pretty much the ultimate popcorn movie, it doesn’t get much better than a classic Bond film for escapist entertainment. But this movie approaches the level of such cinematic masterpieces as The Dark Knight and even, I can’t believe that I’m saying this but, possibly THE masterpiece of the “action” genre, were it to be pigeonholed as well, and that is, The Empire Strikes Back.
The reasons for this are…well, there’s a hell of a lot of them. But one of the main ones is, like I said before, it sets out to do something far different than any movie in the series has done before it. The Dark Knight and indeed that whole trilogy took Batman in an entirely new direction, and this one takes James Bond in a different direction, but still, and amazingly, manages to stick to some of the old tropes and gadgets and whoseewhatsits that make it a Bond movie as well. It takes a true master craftsman of a director to pull something like that off, and that’s good, because Sam Mendes is exactly that. Just click on his name there, do it. He hasn’t directed a bad movie, and they run the gamut from straight on family drama (Away We Go, American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) to gangster flick (Road to Perdition) to something like this, which is pretty much an amalgam of both. Wait! Family drama in a James Bond movie?! One may be inclined to yell at me. But yep, it’s in there. You see, because at it’s heart, this movie is just about the relationship between M and James Bond.
The always fantastic Judi Dench reprises her role as M for the 656th time here, and it is this time that she is truly given the chance to shine in the role, as well as show us just how great of an actress she has always been. M has always been a bitch with somewhat of a soft spot for James Bond, who perhaps she has always viewed as a surrogate son. She isn’t the best mother figure at all, in fact their relationship has always been dysfunctional, but this movie explores it far more than any Bond movie before it has dared to. The banter between them is always great for some comic relief, and the scenes where the two of them are shown dealing with the others who question whether they are up to snuff anymore, whether or not they are “getting too old for this s***”, are excellent, and show us something that we might have known already, but it’s there anyways here right in front of us – these two are very similar people. They are old dogs in a new war, and even they themselves question whether they are relevant anymore. By the end of the movie I can assure you that that answer is a resounding “yes, of course they are, stupid”, but how this movie plays with even the idea of that shows that it is a very different Bond movie than anything that has come before it, and really just so much more than that.
And, just like The Dark Knight and Empire Strikes Back, movies like this, of that whole “action” genre, do not work unless they have an excellent villain. And this movie gives us THE best on screen villain since Heath Ledger’s masterful portrayal of The Joker. I’m pretty sure that no one will ever top that performance again, I don’t think it can be done, but damn if Javier Bardem doesn’t give it his best shot at dethroning the champ with his portrayal of Silva here. This guy is a flat on, balls out lunatic. Just like The Joker, except man, he walks that fine line between being too over the top and scary as hell, and you will absolutely take notice of him every time he is on the screen. He also gets an award for “Best introduction ever” with his first five minutes walking up to James Bond. You don’t even see this guy for the first hour of the movie, but it doesn’t matter. He steals every single scene he is in, he is an absolute lunatic, and you will have a blast watching what he does with the role. Bardem is no stranger to playing bad guys of course, and he nails this performance just like he did in No Country For Old Men, but in such a different way. His obsession with M, how James Bond could easily become him had he fallen to the dark side (see what I did there, a Star Wars reference after mentioning it at the beginning? Master’s Degree at work there buddy, that’s how you DO IT), everything about this sadistic villain, is top notch. You are likely to not see a better on screen villain for a long time, and his performance is just icing on the cake to this near perfect movie.
What else do I need to say about this movie really? Oh, the Bond girls. Yes, they are in this one, just like any other Bond movie, however, and this started with Casino Royale as well, which featured the BEST Bond girl there probably ever will be, played by the insanely gorgeous Eva Green, but these women are more his equals than ever before. They aren’t just helpless damsels in distress to fill up the screen with eye candy (although Berenice Marlohe certainly DOES do that in nearly every scene she is in – save for a tragic application of ENTIRELY too much makeup when she is seen in the casino with Bond), they serve a purpose, and while Sererine (Marlohe) is in a fair bit of trouble when she meets Bond, her (albeit entirely too brief) time with him is on par with how women are treated in this new generation of Bond flicks, which is to say, quite well. We have to have a beautiful Bond girl or three, to keep with tradition, but again how this movie manages to differentiate from the others before it is that one of those Bond girls happens to come with a great twist at the end – and her reveal is excellent to any of those who grew up with the Bond movies like I did.
Alright, I was worried I would ramble on this one because I loved the movie so much, and we are getting into ramble zone. Two last things – another constant with the Bond movies is the opening credits and the song, which is often hit (Live and Let Die) or miss (Die Another Day, Goldeneye, Licence to Kill, etc.)…ok, so mostly miss. Well, the title track here is in excellent hands, with Adele singing about Skyfall. I got chills just from the opening credits and when the title popped up, which can only be described as epic. Speaking of epic, that is what this movie is – it is full of some dark things, some unexpected things, some things that hurt, it, like Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight, is a low point in its respective series. That isn’t a knock against it at all, in fact, from someone as cynical as me, it is the highest compliment. That means that after this one, with its new beginnings, we have nowhere to go but up. I am pretty much positive however, that the next Bond movie simply CANNOT be as good as this one. They would have to absolutely pull out all of the stops to manage something like that, because this movie is incredible. I will think about the first time I saw this movie years from now, it changed my perspective on what an action movie can be, much like The Dark Knight did the first time I saw it. It is the best film of the year and I highly doubt it will even have another contender for me, and it is also one of my favorite movies of all time now as well. Four stars, I’d give it five if I could. It is a masterpiece of the action genre that will be talked about and compared to for years after, and I’m not the only one to say this either – go check rotten tomatoes and read (lesser) critics’ reviews as well. But before you do that, for gods sake, go see this movie. Even if you aren’t a James Bond fan (I’ve sent five people to this movie who weren’t, all came back loving it), just check it out, no better place to start than now.