Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Bérénice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney
With Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s Bond finally comes into his own. Not concerned with the more realistic take that was tried (and mostly successful) with Casino Royale and (the criminally underrated) Quantum of Solace, Bond’s twenty-third outing still maintains the focus on story and character like the previous two films, yet also getting back to the more fantasy elements that has made the character thrive for fifty years.
Good for them, as Bond shouldn’t be hyper-serious. Instead, he works best when played light, and Sam Mendes understands this. In fact, if Mendes where to only shoot Bond pictures the rest of his days, no complaints would be given from this moviegoer. A proven action director with Road to Perdition, Mendes has a full playground thanks to an escalated budget, and uses it wonderfully. No action scenes feel the same, even if there are a few where Bond lays the smack down on various villains. The opening chase scene is a highlight, and probably would be the best action sequence in the film had it not been for a finale that just goes balls to the wall.
None of this would mean anything if the story and characters meant as much as they did in the Roger Moore days, and in the hands of lesser filmmakers they would. Mendes, along with screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, craft a story that makes things personal for Bond, who typically works best when things are on this level.
For every great hero, there needs to be a strong villain behind him, and Javier Bardem is more than up to the task as Silva, a former agent of M’s, who feels very vindictive towards his former boss. Bardem is having the time of his life, always doing sadistic things with a childlike glee. In addition to getting the best Bond villain introduction, Silva rivals Alec Trevelyan and Auric Goldfinger as the best Bond villain ever.
Yet where Silva trumps them is how he’s essentially the same as Bond. As a former agent and orphan, he became dependent on M as a mother, much like James Bond has. It also adds a level of complexity and, in some ways, sympathy to him, as it shows that M just uses orphans as fodder. Skyfall is definitely subtle about this, but it just goes to show the thought and brilliance of its filmmakers.
Another defining aspect of Bond has always been the Bond girls, and both Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe flaunt their sexy sides in a way that hasn’t been used since Goldeneye, of which Ms. Marlohe draws inspiration from Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp. Marlohe’s Sérévine is the more evil of the two, but there’s a certain complexity to her which is used to build Silva. And while Harris is no slouch in her part as Eve, her character’s reveal will please longtime fans of the series.
The newcomers more than fulfill their parts, with Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory and especially Ben Whishaw’s Q being welcome additions to the franchise. Those in tune with where this story goes will get an idea of Fiennes’ purpose, and he’s certainly not under as much pressure as Whishaw, who’d make Desmond Llewelyn smile from up above. Whishaw doesn’t do an impression of Mr. Llewelyn so much as he makes the character his own. If anything, he feels more like a distant cousin than a straight up impersonator.
It wouldn’t do justice to the film without mentioning Roger Deakins’ brilliant cinematography. Known for shooting primarily on film, Deakins opted to use the Arri Alexa for shooting the picture. His signature use of blacks has never been better, as these images in Skyfall stay with you. Even when the characters are silhouette’s, it’s always clear who’s fighting whom. It’s arguably Deakins’ best work to date, and to those who know his work, that speaks volumes. And if I may, it doesn’t seem like he has much more to prove, so he should look into just shooting Bond films the rest of his days.
At the forefront of it all, is Daniel Craig, being as brilliant in this part as he always has been. What makes this outing so special is that he finally gets to be James Bond. The result is everything we were promised with Casino Royale, and it’s also what makes Skyfall Craig’s finest hour in the role. While Royale had more of a focus on the story and characters, Skyfall isn’t afraid to let those take a backseat to the action when the film calls for it.
Skyfall returns Bond to his roots, bringing back the fun and suave Bond most of us grew up with. For new fans it’s a good introduction to what this series can be when it hits his high points (in fact, most of the references are to either Connery or Brosnan’s outings in the role.) While the previous two films had their heart in the right places, they felt like the black sheep of the family. Skyfall gloriously returns James Bond, and just also happens to be one of the best films of this year.
Raise your martini’s. Shaken, not stirred.