For half a century, audiences the world over have been left spellbound by the adventures of James Bond, the British secret agent with a dry wit, a quick trigger finger and a perhaps dangerously overactive libido. The series, based on the character from Ian Fleming’s popular spy novels, has had to transition as the world — and thus Bond’s world — changed. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Bond could no longer fight the micro battles of the Cold War, as the first post-Soviet Bond film, GoldenEye, gracefully acknowledged.
But even the Brosnan Era Bond became somewhat of an artefact as the world’s attention was soon drawn towards international terrorism after the September 11 attacks. Daniel Craig’s 007 debut also adapted to this culture shift. After a four-year hiatus from the big screen due to MGM’s bankruptcy, Bond has returned to face a new enemy and entered a new theatre in which to do battle.
Skyfall, Craig’s third Bond outing, addresses the threat of cyberterrorism. The film opens in Istanbul, as Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) pursue mercenary Patrice (Ola Rapace), who has murdered another agent and stolen his hard drive, which contains the identities of nearly all undercover NATO agents in terrorist organisations. Their chase is monitored back in London by HQ, with M (Judi Dench) at the helm, directing their every move.
Eventually, Bond and Patrice engage in close-quarters combat atop a moving train, and Eve is forced to watch events unfold at a distance. She takes out her sniper rifle and struggles to get a clean shot of Patrice. M, desperate to recover the hard drive, orders Eve to take the shot, which hits Bond, who plummets into the water below, apparently to his death.
Bond is officially missing and presumed killed, and the hard drive is lost. M is subsequently reprimanded by Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who all but demands that she retire. M refuses, adamant that she not leave MI6 worse off than she found it. Upon returning from the meeting, however, MI6 is hacked, and an explosion rocks HQ, leaving eight employees dead. Subsequently, the identities of the NATO agents on the stolen hard drive are released to the Web, at a rate of five per week, and three agents are killed as a result.
Meanwhile, Bond is enjoying his unexpected retirement as a dead man when he sees the terrorist attack unfolding on the news. He returns to London and requests that he be allowed back on the field. Despite his haggard state, M approves Bond for duty, following physical and psychological testing, and the hunt for Patrice begins again.
Without further divulging the plot, Skyfall has a fantastic story. There is never a dull moment as we are transported from Istanbul, to London, to Shanghai, to Macau, back to London. The action is wonderfully timed, the drama is real and the dialogue is particularly biting, even for a series marked by Bond’s cavalier sarcasm in the face of danger.
In addition, Skyfall is gorgeous. From the motorcycle chase scene atop the roofs of Istanbul, with the massive Hagia Sophia dominating the skyline; to the glassy, neon-lighted skyscrapers of Shanghai; to the bustling interior of a Macau casino, every scene is pleasing to the eye. Even the grey sky over London, in context, looks wonderful and does not take away from the film’s visual vibrance.
The title sequence of Skyfall is one of the best in years. Adele’s nostalgic theme is complemented by introductory credits reminiscent of Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” — if only for its underwater motif — which subtly foreshadow the plot, without spoiling it.
In addition to having an accomplished artist perform the title theme, Skyfall manages to do something few other Bond films have done with this level of success: feature an ensemble cast.
The selection of Javier Bardem to play Raoul Silva, the main villain, was a stroke of genius. Bardem is completely convincing as the delightfully mad brains behind the attack on MI6 and manages to make being evil look fun, without playing a buffoon. Of particular note is one rather uncomfortable scene in which Silva is positively… pansexual. You will just have to see the film to find out what that means.
We are also reintroduced to Q, played by Ben Whishaw. At 32 years old, he is a far cry from the Qs of Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese, both of whom fit the archetype of a scientist: an old, white-haired man shuffling about his lab, showing Bond the latest in spy gadgetry. Turning Q into a young geek is in keeping with Skyfall‘s reinvention of the Bond franchise, and it would be highly inappropriate (or at least unconvincing) to have an older actor play the part of a computer geek.
Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes are superb as Eve and Mallory, respectively. The chemistry between Harris and Craig is apparent, and Eve shines as a capable agent alongside Bond, even if working in the field makes her war-weary. Fiennes’ Mallory is a surprisingly complex character, initially coming off as another government bureaucrat, but we eventually see that all of his actions are truly driven by a good heart and love of country.
Bérénice Lim Marlohe delivers a touching performance during her relatively brief role as Sévérine, a gorgeous henchwoman of Silva. Her glamour masks a terror only Bond can uncover, if not by perceptive interrogation, then certainly by more hands-on measures.
Back to M, it is a given that Judi Dench — apologies, dear readers — Dame Judi Dench would perform well as M, but unlike in past films, she is not merely a distant boss in an office. M’s character is vital to the plot, and the story hinges just as much on her fate as it does on Bond’s. It is she who costars in the film alongside Craig, rather than one of her younger, more buxom female counterparts, as has been Bond tradition.
And this brings us to Bond himself. With such a fantastic supporting cast, one might fear that Daniel Craig’s Bond would get lost in the crowd of fine actors. Thankfully, this does not happen, to Craig’s credit. Neither is he upstaged by Bardem, similarly to how Christian Bale’s Batman was almost an afterthought up against Heath Ledger’s powerhouse of a Joker in The Dark Knight.
Indeed, Craig ensures we never forget that this is a Bond film, but Skyfall is so good as a movie that with some minor tweaking, it could have been released as a film divorced from any franchise or even used to launch an entirely new one. Of course, that is not the case, and longtime Bond enthusiasts will be positively giddy over the numerous little winks at as well as blatant homages to Bond’s past, a fitting way to celebrate the spy’s golden anniversary.
It is no exaggeration to call Skyfall one of the best Bond films of all time. Roger Moore, star of more canon Bond films than any other actor, said following a private screening of the film that he had always considered Sean Connery the best Bond. Having seen Skyfall, he now believes that history will remember Craig as the best Bond.
Moore’s declaration may be premature, given Craig’s run as 007 is far from over, despite his reluctance to continue the role. Which Bond is best will never be a settled question amongst the general public, much less die-hard series enthusiasts, but what is indisputable is that Skyfall is an excellent film, one of the best spy movies of all time and one of the best overall films of 2012. Go see it — but if you reserve your tickets online, just be sure your computer password is secure from any unwanted spies before you log off.