Directed By: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Bérénice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Helen McCrory
When news broke that the James Bond film franchise was set to make it to film 25, to put it bluntly, I didn’t care. Good for all the longtime fans, but I’ll take a pass. However, should the next two installments be anything like “Skyfall,” bring on the Bond!
When James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) mission in Istanbul goes awry, a hard drive containing the identities of embedded agents winds up in enemy hands. The incident leads Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, to insist on M’s (Judi Dench) retirement. She sticks to her guns and vows to recover the drive, but when MI6 is bombed, M comes to realize she’s got no one to trust – except Bond. Bond returns, but in a subpar state, off his game both mentally and physically. However, this is 007 we’re talking about and he’s got just enough juice left to take on the culprit, the sadistic Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).
As someone without a long-term love of the 007 franchise, the Daniel Craig iterations of the series were just any old spy movies. Yes, “Casino Royale” is superior to the lot, but without having grown up on the Bond movies, there’s never been a reason to have an emotional stake in the character – until now.
In “Skyfall,” Bond isn’t just some invincible secret agent, whipping out cool gadgets and combat moves to take down an enemy without getting a scratch on him. Here he’s as close to a real person as ever. He isn’t suffering from the loss of an über gorgeous girlfriend; he’s suffering from having lost himself. When Bond returns from that failed mission, he’s wounded, but isn’t just left with a sore shoulder. The effects of the incident bleed into his whole being. The Bond we know and love is still there, but his composure is clearly cracking, which is rather heartbreaking, but also gives us unprecedented access to Bond’s emotions.
“Skyfall” puts Dench in a new light as well, M being more vulnerable than ever. The character remains intact through M’s professionalism when dealing with Mallory, Silva and others trying to break her down, but behind closed doors, the rifts in her composure are undeniable. It truly hurts to see her so exposed, making you even more involved in 007’s mission for both of their sakes. Pulling you even further into their venture is the chemistry between Dench and Craig. Everything Bond and M have ever worked for is at stake in “Skyfall,” not just from a professional standpoint, but on a personal level, too. Bond isn’t just a player in one of M’s mission and M isn’t just the figure giving orders; they’re two people who deeply care for one another that work together and by highlighting that aspect of their relationship, we get a far more compelling adventure.
In true Bond form, “Skyfall” is also packed with action, franchise throwbacks and an ideally over-the-top villain. Few could handle Silva quite like Bardem. It could have been so easy to take him one step too far to the point of ridiculous melodrama, but Bardem finds a pitch perfect middle ground between loose canon and man with a vicious plan. You’re well aware of the violence Silva is capable of yet he’s so eccentric, it’s impossible to get a firm grasp on his methods, making him far more dangerous. Then there’s the fact that Silva seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself from beginning to end.
On the action front, Mendes’ imagery is spot on, making the battle sequences more than your average spectacle and turning them into visual masterpieces. The motorcycle chase sequence in Istanbul, the train top fist fight, and the underwater scuffle are all fantastic, but it’s the scene where Bond goes head-to-head with an enemy in a Shanghai glass skyscraper that’s easily the most mesmerizing of all. Mendes shoots the scene at night, using the flashing bulbs of neon lights to silhouette the men as they engage in a vicious fight sequence. It’s a compelling part of the story, a thrilling encounter and downright stunning piece of cinema.
Now for those franchise throwbacks. No, I may not have gotten the same satisfaction out of the return of the Aston Martin DB5, but at this point, certain elements are mainstream enough that anyone can appreciate them. Perhaps there are more detailed Easter eggs that went over my head, but the ones I caught were so well woven into the new narrative that they can be both for the fans and appropriate for newcomers, save for one towards the very end that requires a little Googling for those who don’t know their 007.
Get ready for two more rounds of Daniel Craig as Bond because “Skyfall” certainly earns them. Whether you’ve been with the franchise since day one, have stuck with the Daniel Craig films of the series or are getting your very first taste of 007, “Skyfall” has something for you, and that something doesn’t just come down to getting what you want from this type of movie, rather blowing expectations out of the water, giving the 007 expert and rookie and reason to keep loving Bond.