Top 10 films of 2012: Skyfall
Bond's 50th anniversary got the film it deserved with Skyfall. Mark explains why it belongs in our top 10 films of the year...
Our countdown of our writers' film of the year continues, and for our latest entry, we find James Bond in very fine form...
Daniel Craig's third outing as James Bond made a huge impression on the UK box office this year. It surpassed Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time in just 40 days, and by the time you're reading this, it will likely have become the first film ever to make over £100 million in UK cinemas. Aside from being the first 007 adventure to hit the screen since 2008's underpowered Quantum Of Solace, the film opened to rave reviews, and was more than good enough to crack our top ten films of the year.
It also happened to fall in the same year as the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, and so it's as much a celebration of the Bond series as a whole as it is a development of Craig's portrayal. Indeed, the most impressive thing about the film is that director Sam Mendes reaches back to the past with one hand, and points the way forward with the other, and yet travels equal distance in either direction.
In correlation with what some have called "the new seriousness" in movies, popularised by both the Bourne series and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Skyfall really puts Bond through his paces. At the very beginning, M misplaces her trust in 007 by giving an order that leads to Bond being shot, and he responds to this betrayal by retiring on some tropical island, drinking heavily and sleeping around. There are some coincidental echoes of Bruce Wayne's condition at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, but this film only loses out by being second out of the gate: it doesn't set the tone for what actually turns out to be a more fun Bond movie than we've seen in a while.
Instead, it sets up Judi Dench's M as a more fallible figure, which gives way to a superbly nuanced villain too. To this writer, Skyfall has the second best villain in the whole series, after From Russia With Love's Red Grant. Like Grant, Silva is equal and opposite to Bond, but they're actually both defined by their relationship with M. Oedipal overtones abound, but this is a brilliant way of capitalising on the dynamic between Craig and Dench, so firmly established over the course of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. Javier Bardem's performance is as strange and frightening as you could hope for, and his screen presence is suffocatingly awesome.
There's a stellar supporting cast too, with Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes creating new interpretations of old friends, and a scene-stealing turn from Albert Finney as the irascible gamekeeper at the eponymous estate. The Scottish Highlands may be the least exotic location that the series has ever chosen for a big finale, but in a film that is all about exploring the place of Bond, and by extension, the place of Great Britain in the modern world, the explosive climax feels totally natural in this story.
From Adele's brassy theme song to Roger Deakins' gorgeous cinematography, Skyfall brings everything together for a stonking 50th anniversary celebration, and it helps that some of the more unusual callbacks to the past (how does the Bond of this continuity have access to that car?) are not only forgivable but hugely enjoyable in spite of any confusion. "Sometimes, the old ways are the best" is a central conceit of the film, and its embedded throughout, from the dialogue to the iconography in its very bones.
However Quantum Of Solace may be remembered in years to come, Skyfall is not just the 50th anniversary James Bond film, but the James Bond film that we all expected and anticipated after Casino Royale. After a couple of films' worth of that new seriousness, Mendes has finally got the series to the point where it's comfortable in its more nostalgic function. And when the film's final, fan-pleasing scene arrives, he proves that it's better late than never.
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