Review: Skyfall

I must admit up front that I am not the would-be authority on the James Bond franchise that I am on, say, the Star Wars universe or even the Marvel superhero world. I have probably seen 15 or so of the 22 films (preceding this one) officially considered part of the James Bond canon but if I’m being honest, many of them run together for me. I have enjoyed Daniel Craig’s run at the helm but I think most of the Brosnan films are rubbish and of the previous entries, only Goldfinger stands out in my mind as its own film; the rest have sort of glommed together into a super Bond movie that never ends. But while the individual films themselves have never held much sway for me, I do have a healthy and enduring appreciation for what the series as a whole stands for, as well as the more memorable sections of each film: Odd Job, the gadgets, “Shaken not stirred”, etc. all hold a place in my heart as part of the legacy of Bond and what the series has meant to the film industry over the last 50 years. Skyfall, then, is the perfect Bond film for me, a movie that pays homage to the best parts of the franchise’s past while moving ever forward into bolder, smarter new territory. Presumed dead and recovering on a beautiful but boring island after a botched mission, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is suddenly reminded that the world needs him when an unknown terrorist sets off a bomb at MI6. Bond comes back to the fold a wounded man, both physically and mentally, and soon finds that his adversary, a former MI6 agent named Silva (Javier Bardem), may be his toughest yet. Silva has a score to settle with M (Judy Dench) and will stop at nothing in his pursuit of his revenge, forcing Bond to engage with his enemy on a more personal level.

In many ways, Skyfall is our real introduction to the new Bond and where the character is headed. Casino Royale serves as an excellent origin story of sorts and it’s a film I love but it could have easily been a one-off entry. Quantum of Solace had sequel-itis written all over it, an uninspired and flawed effort that tried too hard to simultaneously exemplify a brooding Bond while still playing to the franchise’s legacy of suave casualness, a combination that didn’t work against the backdrop of a boring plot. Skyfall, on the other hand, nails the tone that Solace and even Casino set out to establish but ultimately failed to identify. The movie harkens back to your dad’s James Bond with a number of well-placed in jokes and references, including the one-liners and cheesy instances of double-entendres that have been missing of late, while at the same time pushing forward to establish a modern Bond that will serve the series well for the next decade. The sum of the parts of Skyfall, the narrative, the action, and on down the list, is fitted perfectly to its hero and as such, the two complement each other wonderfully. This is the Bond film that James Bond himself would make and its confidence and boldness as a film measures up to that which Bond has historically shown over the last 50 years.

I felt like this was the first time that Craig was able to make James Bond fully his own. In Casino, it seemed like Craig (and the film itself) was trying to show the audience who Bond wasn’t rather than who he is and Solace just never really got off the ground. Here, Bond is shown to be a much deeper, calculating man than he has been in the past, a man who perhaps hates his job but understands the necessity of what he does, whereas past Bonds have at times reveled in the more romantic aspects of the spy game. Craig’s Bond still has a bloody good time throughout his travels but there’s much more weight to his actions, a feeling that suits our time and a role that Craig plays extremely well. That said, I believe I laughed more in Skyfall than I ever have before in a Bond movie and I am extremely impressed in the way the film manages to jump back and forth between the dark and the light with seamless dexterity. There’s an outstanding script at work here and director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition) uses it extremely well, highlighting both his own strengths and the various strengths of Bond and the man who plays him. It isn’t just the more serious nature of the film or the sly way in which it pays tribute to its predecessors that make Skyfall such a grand achievement; it’s the masterful way in which the action sequences play out, a narrative that goes in some truly unexpected directions, and the overall style of the film as a whole. This is without question the most beautifully shot Bond film, a feat which Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins should be commended for. One scene in which Bond fights a lackey in the shadow of a brightly lit Shanghai high rise will undoubtedly stand as one of my favorite scenes of the year. It’s about as gorgeous as an action film gets, really.

But as with any Bond film, you cannot discuss Skyfall without delving into the villain. It seems like every time a new Bond movie comes down the chute, we hear how great the villain will be and how he will stand as Bond’s equal, a promise that almost always goes unfulfilled. Silva, then, is the exception to the rule. Silva is the personification of deranged evil and Bardem illustrates his afflictions with a haunting flair. He is suave and cool, much like Bond himself, giving the impression that he could have been Bond in another world and vice versa. The similarities between the two of them don’t stop there and it is because of this that I felt Silva was much more of a threat than the past Bond villains have been. Perhaps more importantly, Bardem is the first Bond villain I can think of whose purpose in life was to destroy rather than attain world domination and the riches that come with it. Silva is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Bardem brings extreme ruthlessness to the role, making him one of, if not the, best and most frightening Bond villain we’ve seen yet.

Like almost any action-oriented film, I could pick at the loose threads of Skyfall until it was threadbare but where’s the fun in that? There are some plot holes, a few misfires along the way, some of which are glossed over, some left exposed, but at the end of the day, these minor potholes along the road to sheer, unadulterated entertainment are easily overlooked and did nothing to hinder my enjoyment of it. The story is layered and smart, the introduction of new supporting characters is smooth, and Bond himself comes out looking as good, if not better, than ever. As I have not seen all of these films, I am unqualified to call this the best Bond movie ever. But I can, and will, deem Skyfall to be the best Bond movie I have personally had the pleasure to experience and I anticipate many, many repeat viewings in the future.

Skyfall Director: Sam Mendes Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judy Dench, Ralph Fiennes Rated: PG-13 (some language, violence, a healthy amount of collateral damage, and the requisite innuendo) Recommended For: Action fans ages 11 and up