Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris, Ben Winshaw, Albert Finney and Bernice Marlohe
Written by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, and Ian Fleming
Directed by Sam Mendes
A familiar character, who we’ve surely all missed, is back with his latest adventure. We all know who he is, his story, and what to expect based on his adventures over the last five decades. Could the familiarity of the same characters and narrative beats still be as effective as they were throughout the past 23 films? Has our favorite spy lost a step at the hands of the evil bungling studio executives who kept his latest movie in limbo for years while they settled the death and resurrection of a broken studio, not unlike said titular spy? Does he still possess the qualities which caused onscreen women to blatantly throw themselves at him which were lost in the seriousness of the new series? Could the latest 007 recoup the swagger, fun, and allure of previous entries after the blandness of “Quantum of Solace”? I assure you the answer is a resounding and capital YES! YES IT CAN AND YES IT HAS! Bond is back and better than ever. And it makes me so happy to say that Skyfall is without any doubt or debate the best bond film this side of Goldeneye, and may very well be the greatest bond ever.
Skyfall begins with a pulse pounding and richly satisfying opening sequence in Istanbul, Turkey involving the theft of a top secret list containing the identities of undercover NATO agents throughout the world that sets up the new rules and stakes of the game. 007 has aged, matured, and is quite vulnerable, these traits echoed in the ruthlessness of the agency he is employed by, traits that have never been realized so organically and emotionally as they are in this new Bond. Any person who has seen a trailer or has the smallest snippet of common sense knows things don’t work out so well for Agent 007 at first and this leads to a chase across the city by jeep, motorcycle, and train ending with an emotional punch to the windpipe. I will admit I’m neutral with Adele’s theme song but don’t think it’s as good as prior entries (can’t a man get some serious love for Tina Turner and Duran Duran in the Bond Cannon in terms of theme songs?) but is supported by another masterwork of artistic design and effects.
We spend the rest of the film following Bond as he traverses the globe by way of Scotland, London, and Shanghai among a few other places, seeking out the list, finding those responsible for the attack on international security, dealing with the repercussions and influences of bureaucracy in modern times as well as the sins of the past, and an ingenious albeit predictable passing of the torch to a fresh but familiar cannon of supporting characters using a minimal and focused narrative in the final act.
Skyfall works in so many different ways and on so many different levels. It oozes the need to be revisited again so that the many riches found within can be properly digested. The film pays homage to many Bonds of the past while reinvigorating the franchie for future installments with the small, once fleeting moments that made the older bonds so memorable. Skyfall is still well aware that it’s a James Bond story, and wisely returns to a certain level of comedy found in wonderful moments sprinkled throughout the story which were sorely missed in past Craig films. It is worth noting I chose to watch skyfall in the Imax format and unbeknownst to me there is a conversion to the Imax format that compounds the image onscreen to take full advantage of the format. Even though it’s obvious for the majority of Skyfall that it was not framed and shot with IMAX in mind, many scenes in the film benefit greatly from the larger screen that adds size, scope, and depth to the film.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the fantastic performances found within this espionage juggernaut, mainly the performance of 007 and his latest nemesis. Daniel Craig has TRIED to portray an effective and worthy James bond for two films prior to this, but in Skyfall Daniel Craig IS James bond. The emotional journey Bond travels in Skyfall reveals a wounded and vulnerable man at a crossroads in his life and Craig sells this so well his mental struggles over arch the narrative and really pull you into the drama unlike any performance I have seen in the series and, frankly, in Craig’s varied career. His Bond is burned out, out of shape and weakened by the sense of disillusionment after the full realization of his circumstance in something he lost during his exodus. His aim is untrue. He’s on his way to the bottom in a way only Tony Stark may appreciate, and yet, he is still BOND.
Javier Bardem is terrific as the main baddie who would make Alec Trevelyen (Sean Bean), Owen Davien (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the Joker quite proud as a “moving Rubik’s cube” of menace and villainy that reveals more of himself and his relationship with MI6 as the film rolls along, peeling away layers and machinations that create a classic Bond-villain feel in the best way. And he does all this while not appearing until the second half of the film. His turn as Silva, a super-hacker terrorist with a connection to M is a mirror image of Bond, in that Bond can see this is a path his life could lead to under similar circumstances. Judi Dench once again returns to the roll she has owned for quite some time and continues a wonderfully and emotionally subtle relationship with 007 that reaches its pinnacle in Skyfall, this is also where the film is most dramatically effective. Her quieter scenes with Bond are the fully realized intentions of the writer’s concept of M being a motherly figure to Craig’s Bond. Not wanting to reveal any more than I have, I felt the solid additions of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Winshaw and Naomi Harris provide the groundwork for new supporting characters that will surely continue in the films to come, each making their presence felt mano-a-mano alongside 007 and impacting the story in their own unique but familiar way.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the women of Skyfall. Aside from Harris’s Eve, who offers far more rewards to fans of the series who show a little patience in the story, the Bond girls do little else than bring 007 from point A to B. And while one is given an emotional backstory that is a testament to Bond’s ability to read people, they’re throwaway characters that each provide a test to Bond’s fractured psyche. And pass he does folks, in a very artful and tasteful manner for a PG release. Also to note, the latest women to grace the series are stunningly gorgeous, but I prefer the first part!
In direction, Sam Mendes was simply a terrific choice to continue the series. In fact all the directors for the Craig bonds were fantastic choices in my opinion; I’m still of the belief that Marc Forster realized that his great script on paper didn’t translate to an interesting or entertaining story onscreen halfway through the process and had to turn something in to the studio. That something was Quantum of Solace, and we all thank him for his effort. But Sam Mendes is a theatrically trained stage director and his understanding of emotional resonance and the power it can give to any sudden moment of the story from scene to scene is superb. Other directors would never have the nerve or stones to make Bond anything weaker than a superhuman, not to mention the savvy, action hero type with very simple flaws and the most basic of emotions. Mendes and the writing team’s decisions to strip away the mystique of Bond’s world and let us in on a little familial history has rewarded the viewers with the ability to emotionally connect with the character in ways we have never before. Oh, and he’s also delivered some brilliant jaw-dropping action sequences, standing on the shoulders of past giants.
Mendes’s long-time collaborator Thomas Newman and cinematographer of all things Coen Bros. Roger Deakins have again proven themselves to stand alongside Mendes and continue their illustrious collaborations as a similar triumvirate not unlike Zimmer, Physter, and Nolan. The threads found in similar scores Newman has provided are all here, which makes the score that much better. He also knows just the right time to inject that classic overture and uses it to utter perfection. Deakins and Co. have finally taken the series into the digital age, and although I’m not a big fan of anything digital, I enjoyed the ability it granted Deakins to stage so much of the Skyfall using darks and silhouettes. At 2 hours and 22 minutes the film moves very quickly and proficiently. The few times the narrative slows you are so enthralled with the tension and suspense it feels like the highest note of a classic symphony being held for as long it can.
It’s weird to say with only one film dividing the initial reboot of the character, but Skyfall also feels like a restart to the series, in the best possible way. A film unlike any bond before it, there is emotional impact after nearly every scene that effectively ratchets up the suspense throughout, not unlike a certain favorite of mine. It wears its influences on its sleeve proudly, the most obvious inspirations on the surface being The Dark Knight, Home Alone, actually every Nolan film, and Goldeneye, but underneath there are many influences far more subtle if you care to revisit Skyfall sooner rather than later. Point emphasized, when was the last time James Bond had a western feel to it? In fact, much of the script is so clearly inspired by the work of Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathon, not to mention the many, many visual cues, that you’d think there may be a special thanks to the brothers somewhere near the end of the credits. In closing, if this is the path for which Bond is set to follow, it’s safe to say we’ll all be there with him waiting to see what direction the many, many, many, many, many bullets will be coming from.
Rest easy James, you’re in great hands now.