After a four-year break that saw the bankruptcy of MGM put the project in jeopardy, Skyfall, the 23rd official Bond film, is finally in theaters. I’m in no way a James Bond aficionado, having only seen the Daniel Craig films in my movie-viewing career (I enjoyed Casino Royale a great deal, and I abhorred Quantum of Solace), but I feel like I understand the basic formula of all of the films. Suave secret agent James Bond wears expensive suits, drives nice cars, seduces sexy women, and shoots bad guys — a recipe for success if there ever was one. What separates Skyfall from the previous 22 installments of the franchise? Well, I can’t say exactly, but I can tell you that it is one of the best films of the year.
After an opening scene that is equal parts thrillingly inventive and laughably absurd, the legendary secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) starts what could have been an early makeshift retirement. Presumed dead after a botched mission, Bond takes up residence in a coastal paradise with a well-stocked bar. But 007’s booze-soaked retreat doesn’t last very long, as a cyber-terrorist attack on MI6 headquarters forces the agent to return home. While Bond’s faith in MI6 leader M (Dame Judi Dench) has wavered since her decisions directly led to his near death, he still feels compelled to return to assist her in catching this criminal. Matters become more complicated when it is revealed that the cyber-terrorist may be someone from MI6′s past, looking to even a score ignited by M’s past transgressions.
Skyfall is visually enchanting, photographed beautifully by the great Roger Deakins. While mostly filmed under ordinary lighting, choice moments allow Deakins to show off a breathtaking use of color to create some unforgettable and everlasting moments. Whether it’s a silhouetted fight under the neon lights of Shanghai or the slow progression of a boat on black water floating towards a glowing orange dragon head, there’s no shortage of awe-inducing images to keep the audience firmly seated. Director Sam Mendes composes his shots astutely, knowing what to show us, when, and how in order to create the maximum amount of excitement. All action scenes are filmed in an observant manner, allowing the audience to actually see what is going on as fists fly everywhere. The edits in these sequences are quick but never jarring or hazy.
One masterful use of depth of field comes when we first meet the villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), as he descends from an elevator in the far distance of a warehouse. He exits the elevator and begins speaking but is a mere speck on the screen. In one continuous shot, he delivers a monologue while walking closer and closer to the camera, until finally he is right on top of us, and we know right away that this is a man to be feared.
Javier Bardem, sporting some questionable blonde hair, is fascinating in his villainous role. We’ve seen him as a calm, sadistic killer in No Country for Old Men (for which he won an Oscar), but here he gets to show off a different way to be evil. Silva is cocksure and a bit showy, going so far as to extend some (not entirely serious, but still unsettling) homosexual advances on our hero. His unresolved issues with M are what drive him, though his attacks on her don’t seem to be fuelled by pure anger, but rather misplaced adoration. Bardem plays the part of a man scorned, who once placed his trust in someone who turned around and betrayed him.
As for Bond, Daniel Craig once again proves efficient as the dashing spy. He still has the right look for the part, and he also brings a subdued intensity to punctuate it. James Bond is a character that will never really change, and that’s much of his appeal. Men wish they were him because he gets to live dangerously, bed beautiful women, and come out unscathed after both. To alter that trend would damage the appeal, so it’s hard to expect any serious emotional arcs for characters such as Bond (see also: Indiana Jones). But that doesn’t mean he is completely without some vulnerable moments, particularly one in Skyfall that allows Craig to briefly show a more human side to 007 that is usually hidden behind a stoic physique.
Skyfall could probably be a bit shorter than its final runtime of 2 hours and 23 minutes, but you won’t ever be checking your watch to count down to the end. Occasionally, the movie doles out information a bit too rapidly, and it’s easy to miss an important piece of plot if you’re not listening carefully. But these are minor gripes. Skyfall is total fun from the moment it begins. Last, but not least, the opening credit sequence is phenomenal, with Grammy-winning singer Adele providing a marvelous theme song.
My Rating: (9/10)
SORT-OF SPOILERS, BUT NOT REALLY
P.S. – One personal complaint I had about Skyfall is that it shattered the illusion of “James Bond” being a code name, and not an actual person. A popular fan theory has always been that the reason James Bond has been portrayed by so many different actors through five decades of varying technological advancement is because Bond is not any one individual. The identity of James Bond is passed on from one agent to the other as one retires. That’s what the theory stated, at least. But in Skyfall, we visit 007′s childhood home and see his parents’ grave markers that reveal their last names to be “Bond.” This tells us that “James Bond” isn’t a code name, but the secret agents’ actual name, meaning the Bond character has always been the same, just with different actors portraying him. This doesn’t hurt the film, but it is a bit disappointing.