With the US and Canadian release of 'Skyfall' just days away, MI6 rounds up a non-spoiler summary of the North American critics' perspectives...
Early American Press Reviews
7th November 2012
Whilst American Bond fans had to wait a fortnight to see 007 in action in "Skyfall", the US reviewers got their hands on the 23rd adventure a few days early and have been publishing their first impressions all week. All of the press excerpts below have been selected to avoid plot spoilers.
Muscular and sexy as Craig is, he looks beat-up and worn-out here, which adds what feels like an unprecedented sense of depth to a character we thought we'd known so well for so long. Three films into the series and Craig owns this iconic role by now, with his stoic cool and willingness to explore a dark side... And then there is Javier Bardem... Like so many Bond bad guys, he wants world domination through orchestrated chaos. But he approaches the role with a mix of effeminate flamboyance and cold-blooded menace... He's hilarious and terrifying - and that's just in the beautifully shot monologue in which he introduces himself with touches of The Joker in "The Dark Knight" and Bardem's own Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men."
The script is credited to John Logan and two regular Bond screenwriters, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The film's been directed by Sam Mendes, an Englishman with a high style that can either mask mediocre material ("American Beauty") or find unexpected moral art in familiar subject matter (the first Gulf war in "Jarhead"). I don't know what Mendes believed he could bring to the series that would have freed it from all that it's obligated to do... Watching the purposefulness of this movie, the way Mendes argues for conversation and atmosphere over conventional, incoherently assembled chases and fights, I realized I was frustrated.
It's the mix of action and emotion in Skyfall that sets it apart from all others in the franchise; what we can tell you without spoiling anything is that the film has a terrific script, director Sam Mendes makes the characters so alive you can smell them, and the cinematography magic on offer from Roger Deakins will likely account for one of the Oscar nominations this film will attract. What Deakins does with shadow and light mirrors the story's themes and its characters and makes the movie a treat to look at. Skyfall is a film about old and new, past and present; visual reminders of other Bond adventures are a welcome part of that mix.
As this is the most substantive Bond yet, what follows is a deep dive into the psyches and backgrounds of 007, M and also Silva, the villain of the piece, who is a real piece of work. He's played by Javier Bardem... sporting a bad hairdo. Ah. Perfect. Nobody does bad guys better than Bardem. (Paging "No Country for Old Men" 's Anton Chigurh.) And Bardem's baddie in "Skyfall" deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Red Grant, Rosa Klebb, Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob. We're talking the classics here.
007 is showing his wrinkles, and in the utterly routine effort "Skyfall," we're actually expected to cheer each chord we've heard so many times (here's a martini shaker! Look, it's a Walther PPK! And there's an Aston Martin!) We've been turned into wretched Pavlovian dogs, salivating at the bell instead of the snack. The highlight, by far, is a classic animated credit sequence: Adele, you are the new Shirley Bassey... Mendes and Deakins are so busy trying to be visionary that they don't notice that characters are wandering too far from their roots, and half the time you can't see what's going on.
Open skies and rolling Scottish hills lead to a desolate yet familiar locale where our hero must confront - and ultimately overcome - the painful vestiges his past. As they hide out and wait for the onslaught, armed with the most rustic of weaponry, the impending battle takes on an epic feel. It is an apt metaphor for the central theme of this film: past vs. present, old vs. new, tradition vs. technology. A classic toy is even brought out of hiding in one of several tributes to the timelessness of the 007 institution.
Daniel Craig's Bond is not quite as detached, his martini not quite as dry. Even the villain, a masterfully menacing Javier Bardem, is an emotional wreck whose angst is actually explored. Indeed the entire film is shrink-wrapped in self-examination that somehow manages not to dint, much less destroy, the explosive fun... Sam Mendes, the maker of such suburban dysfunction as "American Beauty" and "Revolutionary Road," has upped the ante, the action and the artistry in "Skyfall" without losing all the defining traits we've come to expect - and need - from Bond.
Skyfall is almost a second reboot after the Casino Royale reimagining, with only a couple of things to nit-pick at. The run time could have been tauter, and disappointingly the intriguing set up from Casino and Quantum regarding Mr White's mysterious organisation has been axed in transition - making this another start for Bond. Craig, Bardem and Mendes help truly breath oxygen into the Bond legacy and enable this 007 to spread his wings for years to come.
Dench gets more to do in this film and, old pro that she is, she delivers, in one of her most active and engaging performances. And Fiennes captures the brusque chill of the pencil-pusher who has reached a bureaucratic level where his power may outstrip his experience. It's a scary performance because it's a character so easily found in the corporate ranks of real life... "Skyfall" is exciting and emotionally charged, not a description usually applied to a James Bond movie. In fact, you can remove the modifier "James Bond" from the description and say that Mendes hasn't just made a terrific Bond film - he's made a movie that would stand on its own even if the hero's name was Bob Smith.
The greatest gift director Sam Mendes - working with cinematographer Roger Deakins - brings to the material is staging and imagery, which artfully amplify the film's ideas about the world in which all of this is happening. And there are ideas, despite the fetishism and improbability native to the franchise. Bond's world is undeniably modeled after a real one engaged in debates about transparency and obfuscation, in which established institutions find themselves crippled (and, perhaps worse, rendered foolish) by stateless entities that show their power through violent interruptions of both the physical and virtual worlds.