Early ‘Skyfall’ Reactions: How Does It Figure Into the James Bond Tradition?

By  · Published on October 13th, 2012

Last night a bunch of critics in the UK were treated to an early screening of Skyfall, and while nobody invited any of our diehard 007 junkies, I figured it’s worth our while to take a look at the first reactions to the new James Bond blockbuster. To do so, I’m using the recent breakdown of elements by one of FSR’s resident Bond experts, Kevin Carr, in order to dissect the reviews and highlight their takes on each individual ingredient.

What about overall opinions? It seems they’re generally of a simple consensus, that Skyfall is not only a great return for the series following the disappointing Quantum of Solace but it may be one of the best Bond installments yet. This feat is achieved, apparently, in director Sam Mendes’s balance of serious and nostalgic tone, brought about with a script (by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan) pays tribute to the past films and franchise conventions while still also delivering a lot of fresh ideas. And Roger Deakins’s cinematography sounds like a real highlight of the film ‐ even Oscar-worthy, according to some critics.

Check out what the reviews (linked at the bottom of the page) have to say about Bond’s fit with the 10 main ingredients of a 007 film after the break.

1. Rifle Barrel

n/a (but it’s back!)

2. Pre-Titles Sequence

“The film opens with a sequence that could be from any recent movie in the series […] the action is relentlessly exhilarating and thoughtfully orchestrated.” (D.K.)

“Compared to the chop-shop opening car chase of Quantum Of Solace, in which Marc Forster almost edited Bond to death, the opening scene of Skyfall feels like the return of an old friend […] It’s an action scene tailor made with one eye on IMAX and a fitting opening: large in scale and bold in its choices, it’s big, showy, clinically executed and has human interest at its thumping heart.” (A.G.)

“This interlude involves trains and motorbikes and is staged with the elan you would expect.” (G.M.)

“Electrifying” (X.B.)

“elaborate and logistically outrageous” (T.M.)

“a breathless action sequence” (S.R.)

“could win a best short all-action Oscar all by its beautiful self if such an award existed.” (B.B.)

3. Song and Main Titles

“the credits themselves hint at the different tack the film plans to take. Instead of the silhouettes of women, we’re offered far darker imagery with a hint of The Lady Of Shanghai about it ‐ Bond in a hall of mirrors” (G.M.)

“a sense of mortality, exemplified by a credits sequence festooned not by silhouetted naked women, but by images of the secret agent’s tombstone and of his being sucked to his doom underwater.” (T.M.)

“The pairing of Bond and Adele is, for this 50th anniversary of the series, a dream come true. Together with producer Paul Epworth, Skyfall’s theme song is both sultry and sexy, more in the vein of Tina Turner’s Goldeneye or Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only.” (B.A.)

“This is a new Bond, aging, vulnerable and off his game ‐ something driven home by the excellent Adele-scored opening credits” (O.L.)

4. The Bond Girls

“The two so-called Bond girls played by Ms Harris and Berenice Marlohe are flirty but they’re not used here in the usual kind of ‘rumpy-pumpy’ way which I think is progress, of sorts.” (B.B.)

“Bérénice Marlohe’s femme fatale Sévérine is a pale reminder of 007’s usual line of gorgeous yet meaningless female companions.” (A.G.)

“There is no sign of what we would traditionally think of as a Bond Girl. But there are some beautiful women.” (D.P.)

“the weakest aspect of Skyfall has to be one of the Bond franchise’s most enduring ingredients: the ‘Bond girls.’ […] But the reason why Harris and Mariohe get such a raw deal is that neither of them is Skyfall’s real Bond girl ‐ that honour belongs to Judi Dench’s M.” (D.K.)

“M is the real Bond girl (or Bond woman) in this film, with her relationship between 007 and Silva taking centre stage.” (B.A.)

“he entertains the ladies less here than perhaps any Bond ever has. But two other women, his boss and the Queen, have first call on his favors, and he repays them for their confidence many times over” (T.M.)

5. Gadgets

“Q is back but he doesn’t dispense many gadgets this time around, just a radio device and a 007?s new Walther PPK with hand-print recognition. ‘This isn’t exactly Christmas,’ Bond quips.” (B.A.)

“gadgets are stripped down to the bare essentials […] ‘Were you expecting an exploding pen?’ Q fires back.” (S.R.)

“One of my nitpicks is Q didn’t really give any cool gadgets […] the frame of this film centers around new technology and how the agents might not fit into this new digital world with all this technology, so it kind of makes sense that Bond doesn’t have this cool gadget this time around.” (P.S.)

“Ben Whishaw, who plays the new Q, has done the best job to bring back Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, which is the original Q. I hated John Cleese, from the Pierce Bronsan movies. This is the Q that, in the same way they reinvented Daniel Craig as the new Bond, this is the way they invented Q, and it fits.” (A.B.)

“Figure out a way to do wild gadgets that feel connected to modern reality. I don’t mind a remote control car, so long as it is used with a clear purpose, not just as a gag.” (D.P.)

6. International Intrigue

“neon-lit Hong Kong is a particular highlight as the sweeping camera over the film’s exotic locales will leave you mesmerised.” (B.A.)

“There is one sequence in Shanghai which looks and feels like a contemporary Blade Runner but with the action of the Mission: Impossible series.” (P.S.)

“the film looks, frankly, astonishing ‐ most notably in its Wong-Kar-Wai-sci-fi-fever-dream vision of Shanghai” (O.L.)

“after those early trips to Turkey and Shanghai and Macau, Skyfall stops globetrotting and returns to London, remaining in Britain for the rest of the film. From hereon, it begins to stray away from the well-worn formula.” (D.K.)

7. Colorful Villains

“What really lifts Skyfall is its villain, Raoul Silva, superbly played by Javier Bardem. Heavy set, with dyed blond hair and a deceptively soft and even camp manner, he combines pathos, grotesquerie and a Hannibal Lecter-like viciousness.” (G.M.)

“must immediately rank as one of Bond’s greatest villains. I can pay him no higher compliment than by drawing comparisons with Heath Ledger’s rendition of The Joker.” (D.K.)

“a terrific creation, and certainly the most memorable villain in the series in decades […] owes more than a little to a Nolan character, namely Heath Ledger’s Joker ‐ hits the center of the funny/strange/scary Venn Diagram beautifully” (O.L.)

“A delicious villain” (X.B.)

“by far the most memorable villain to emerge from a Bond film in a long time, as creepy as he is camp.” (B.A.)

“There’s not as much depth to him as the other characters. But we didn’t need that. He’s not the kind of goofy, world-threatening guy that we’ve seen in the past couple Daniel Craig Bonds. He’s very complex in his own ways, and just the way Javier Bardem plays him is just brilliant.” (A.B.)

“He also has a theatrically sexual side that brings something new to the gallery of Bond villains. In all events, Bardem makes him a riveting and most entertaining figure.” (T.M.)

“this guy is going to provide some major meme ammunition on the internet in the coming weeks […] Fabulous in every sense, he’s one tight white vest away from being an evil version of Hank Azaria’s character from The Birdcage.” (A.G.)

“ threatens to destabilise the film somewhat as the broadness of his character takes time to adjust to.” (J.L.)

8. Booze

“Bond goes Jason Bourne for a while, holing up anonymously on a tropical beach with a babe and drinking himself to oblivion […] the old Bond re-emerges in a tuxedo to drink his martini (very smartly shaken, not stirred, by a deft lady bartender)” (T.M.)

9. Quips

“some cute one-lines.” (B.B.)

“[M] and Bond share some great later banter in the Aston Martin DB5, resurrected in a crisis, and this is also the first installment when the F word escapes hers, or anyone’s, lips.” (J.M.)

“he can’t quite dispatch a quip with the panache of Connery” (S.R.)

10. The Slight Dash of Racism and Sexism

“allows sentimentality to cloud its judgment and loosen its tongue […] touchy-feely indulgence proves to be a mistake, in that it paves the path to soft-headedness, nostalgia and (worst of all) jokey banter with Bond’s bearded old retainer. Don’t they realise that 007 has always been at his most convincing when he’s at his crudest and least adorned; when he’s serving as a blank canvas for macho fantasy; the dark angel of our disreputable natures?” (X.B.)

The initials assigned to each quote above refer to the following critics and their reviews:

Daniel Krupa, IGN

Geoffrey McNab, Independent

Xan Brooks, The Guardian

Becca Andrews, Filmoria

Alex Billington, First Showing

Peter Sciretta, Slashfilm

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Simon Reynolds, Digital Spy

Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail

Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist

Jon Lyus, Hey U Guys

Ali Gray, The Shiznit

David Poland, Movie City News

Joanne Mace, Basingstoke Gazette

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.