The future of James Bond was looking a bit shaky following the disappointing Quantum of Solace and MGM’s recent financial troubles. But once they got things sorted out behind the scenes and selected American Beauty and Road to Perdition director Sam Mendes as the man to helm this newest entry, excitement for Bond’s return began to gradually ratchet up to a fever pitch. Freed from the Vesper Lynd storyline of the past two films, Mendes uses Skyfall to take Bond to the next level while, at the same time, looking back on what has made the character such an indelible and iconic mainstay in pop culture. The result is a very solid Bond entry that culminates in a breathtaking action climax and a setup for another entry that will have longtime fans itching to see the next film as soon as the credits roll on this one.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the basic plot, Bond (Daniel Craig) and his rookie field agent partner (Naomie Harris) are in Istanbul searching for a stolen hard drive containing the identities of agents operating around the globe. (It’s essentially the NOC list from the first Mission: Impossible movie.) At the end of the opening chase sequence, M (Judi Dench) gives Harris’ character the go-ahead to pull the trigger on a risky shot that could end up taking down the terrorist with the list, who’s engaged in a fight with Bond on a moving train. She misses, Bond goes down – presumed dead – and the list ultimately falls into the hands of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who has a complicated past that involves both M and 007.
Bond enjoys his “death” by drinking and screwing random women (as he is wont to do) until Silva orchestrates a terrorist attack at MI6 that snaps him out of his funk and back to work. With some help from a new, younger Q (Ben Whishaw) and despite some reservations from M and Chairman of Intelligence Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Bond heads out to stop Silva’s quest for revenge.
From the opening credit visuals (accompanied by Adele’s gorgeous theme song) until the very end of the film, the theme of mortality appears over and over. This is not the fresh, young Bond of Casino Royale; Craig is a bit older (44 now) and not quite as nimble as he once was. This doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of pulling off some ridiculous action moves here and there, just that we get a new angle on the character of James Bond this time. He’s got some wear and tear on him, and there’s some fun to be had in his banter with the much younger Q. At one point, the youngster gives 007 a gun and a radio, and Bond seems disappointed that the gadgets aren’t more high tech. “Were you expecting an exploding pen?” Q smirks. These sorts of references to older Bond films are peppered throughout the movie, shining a spotlight on how silly those films were while using the jokes as moments to build character in the present.
But it appears a touch of that old silliness rubbed off on Mendes, who, along with writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, inserts some humor back into the Bond franchise here. (Logan will also write the next two films in the series). It’s not overly campy like the Roger Moore era or even icy cool like the Brosnan era, but, like most a majority of films that have come out since the collapse of the American economy, there’s a tinge of nostalgia running underneath. Also, while there is still some globetrotting to be done (this is a Bond film, after all), most of the action takes place in England, with Bond getting back to his roots mentally and physically. Silva, played with a homoerotic creepiness by the always-solid Bardem, is a much more effective villain than Le Chiffre or any of the faceless baddies involved in the evil organization Quantum, and the filmmakers wisely ditch that organization in favor of a much more personal villain who feels betrayed by M and concentrates all his efforts on making her life hell.
Since the “new-ness” of Craig’s Bond has worn off by now, the story takes center stage in Skyfall, and thankfully it delivers on all fronts. It’s sentimental, charming, funny, action-oriented, slightly more intelligent than your average thriller, and (perhaps most importantly after the bitter taste of the last film) a huge crowd-pleaser. Some are calling this the best Bond movie ever made, and while I don’t want to get into ranking the whole series, it’s definitely among the best storytelling we’ve seen in a Bond film. I also don’t have a problem saying it’s the best looking of the series, with cinematographer Roger Deakins coming on board and making the film look breathtaking, even in little moments. (When Bond stalks someone in a Shanghai skyscraper, the lighting is the most captivating thing about the entire scene.)
My colleague Ethan Anderton at FirstShowing wished that Skyfall should have been our introduction to Daniel Craig as Bond. After watching the beautiful way this movie sets us up for the next one, I totally get where he’s coming from. But at the same time, I think Casino Royale (which I really liked) and Quantum of Solace (which I don’t think anyone really liked) were necessary for this story to be told. For Skyfall to work, we needed to have seen Craig go through some terrible things and watch him age a bit, because if this was our first introduction to this guy as Bond, fans would be saying that he was too old from the start rather than being pumped about his comeback like we are now. There are a ton of great moments in this film, from little character surprises to epic setpieces (the climax is stunning), and while 007 has been down and out for four years, it’s great to have him back in theaters again. Until next time…