The Beat Goes On: Skyfall

Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Horns blare. Out of the shadows comes Bond, walking confidently in silhouette. A swathe of light crosses his eyes.

Casino Royale fantastically redeveloped the tone and style of the Bond film, and Quantum of Solace succeeded as a short story that cleared the debris. Skyfall already had Sam Mendes in the director’s chair, so there was no reason to doubt its potential as a great film. I expected an extensive visual language, natural rhythm, and a respect for the audience. I expected Skyfall to be the best Bond ever. Across its every facet, this is one of my favorite films of the year, and it is the best Bond film ever.

_____

Post-Brosnan, the future of the franchise was in question. Bond no longer seemed to reflect contemporary concerns or fascinations. The new films would have to respond to this.

Skyfall is about rebirth. A communiqué on the subject of relevance, it is about proving your worth and reasons for facing bereavement, upheaval, and inadequacy. Skyfall achieves with such eloquence and grace, such artistry, that it transcends the foundational mission of proving these points about how relevant Bond is. Skyfall‘s glory is worthy of Bond’s longevity. Like Cuarón’s take on Harry Potter, which was consistently hailed as the best of the franchise, changed the aesthetic, and marked the narrative divide of the series, Skyfall walks the tight rope between a response to Bourne-fueled demands for contemporary action and cinematic daring.

Alternating subtlety and bombast, the trademark moments make up part of a narrative call-and-response on the subject of death and renewal. This meta-commentary enables the emotional rhythm to turn on a dime. The narrative is free to make creative flourishes and distinguish itself within a franchise over fifty years old.

Skyfall ends in an old-fashioned, sunset shoot-out. Not all the action is easily discernible, but in its ambiguity is textured and eloquent. The ending acknowledges the foundational history, the function of Skyfall as a story of renewal, and what is now to come. The beauty of Skyfall is befitting of a legacy brand. Every inch of Roger Deakins’ frame waltzes with Thomas Newman’s score. Fine contemporary cinema accordion folds within playful genre conventions. The finesse and precision of Sam Mendes’ directing is precisely what fans will expect. Mendes’ visual and aural instincts are a testament to his class. He is a director who understands poetics and rhythm and this understanding is on full display in Skyfall.

Before the credits roll, it is stated that Bond will be back. This franchise has found its dance. With Mendes in on the follow-up, with Idris Elba allegedly in talks to step in once Craig is finished, this looks like a renaissance for James Bond.

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