Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw
When a movie franchise manages to endure for fifty years, reinvention eventually becomes a requirement. The problem is, how do you appeal to a new generation without alienating all of the existing fans? Somehow EON Productions has been able to keep James Bond relevant after all these years, evolving throughout the decades, recasting the lead role six times and alternating between gritty and goofy tones.
Daniel Craig was clearly chosen with the intention of steering the franchise back into gritty territory, and he proved he was up to the task with Casino Royale. But when Quantum of Solace tried to go even darker, fans recoiled, demanding a return to the fun-loving Bond. Four years later, Sam Mendes has learned from Marc Forster’s mistakes with Skyfall, a visual masterpiece that maintains the bleak edge while also achieving a near-perfect balance of all of the other elements that make 007 so thrilling.
The plot is perhaps the most straightforward we’ve ever seen in a Bond flick. After a hard drive containing the identities of several undercover agents is stolen, James Bond makes an attempt to recover it and is accidentally shot by a fellow MI6 agent. Missing and presumed dead, he eventually returns to active duty after M comes under fire both physically and politically. Unfortunately, he’s a little worse for wear, and to make matters worse, their adversary is someone who happens to know all of MI6’s secrets. For both of them, things are about to get personal.
Believe it or not, the biggest highlight of Skyfall is not the elaborate action sequences, but rather the visuals. Shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, every frame of this movie looks absolutely gorgeous. The locales seem to have been chosen with the goal of providing unique imagery first and foremost, from the neon-lit skyscrapers of Shanghai to the eerie abandoned concrete buildings of Hashima Island to the foggy Scottish Highlands. Far too often these movies have been handed over to action-oriented directors who simply get the job done, but this proves that an art house director and nine-time Oscar nominated cinematographer can elevate the material to a whole other level.
The performances are also very strong. Daniel Craig is also at the top of his game here and the script arguably gives him more to work with than any previous Bond films ever have. Skyfall delves into Bond’s past without getting too specific and also manages to humanize him by introducing a world weariness and faltering body. Mendes claims that he was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, and although we hear directors saying that all the time now, in this case you can clearly feel the influence. Thomas Newman’s score definitely has echoes of Hans Zimmer, but the Bruce Wayne-esque back story feels even more familiar. It would almost be too similar if it wasn’t actually consistent with Ian Fleming’s books.
Javier Bardem is memorable and unique as cyberterrorist Raoul Silva, and although some may take issue with the fact that he’s not a megalomaniac trying to rule the world, I felt that it made him more unpredictable and dangerous. He talks a lot more than Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, but he’s almost equally as ruthless. On the other hand, he’s also flamboyant and over the top… but would you have your Bond villains any other way?
Judi Dench makes more than her usual requisite appearance here. For once she has a major role in the film and she also holds her own. Bond defending M makes for an interesting dynamic because he rarely teams up with a woman that he is not romantically involved with. We are also more attached to M than Bond’s love interests because she’s an old friend and we know she is not expendable. If you ask me, it was a brilliant choice to build the story around her.
As you would expect, Skyfall continues to take a more grounded approach to James Bond. Despite the introduction of Ben Whishaw as the new Q, there are no outlandish gadgets here. The action is exciting but mostly within the realm of believability. All of this might make it sound like the movie is far too grim and serious, but that is not the case. There are still some decent quips and Daniel Craig’s wry delivery has a new bite to it given all he has been through. The various chase scenes are riveting and they even find a way to work in an unexpected dose of nostalgia in the final act.
Admittedly, there are a few lulls (it’s essentially a part of the formula by now) and the final act overstays its welcome, but it also feels completely unlike anything we’ve seen in a Bond movie before and for that I admire it. If I do have a complaint, it is just that the plot feels almost too simple. However, with so many Bond movies getting bogged down by complicated and/or nonsensical plot details, I think this may actually be the true secret to Skyfall’s success.
Overall, this is easily the best of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies and I feel comfortable saying it ranks as one of the all-time best James Bond flicks. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who didn’t love Casino Royale as much as everyone else, so your mileage may vary. However, the one thing you cannot deny is just how amazing the movie looks. Skyfall offers a fresh new take while simultaneously paying tribute to all that has come before. If that’s not the very definition of what a 50th Anniversary Bond movie should be, then I don’t know what is. — Sean