by Daniel Rester
James Bond has had his ups and downs on the big screen over the years, with many serious entries in the series and equally as many campy ones. Casino Royale (2006) worked to show Bond at his most serious, introducing Daniel Craig as the new actor to play the character. The follow-up, Quantum of Solace (2008), continued the tone but many complained that the film was more Bourne than Bond. The newest film, Skyfall, also stars Craig, but where does it fall on the Bond line?
After an intense opening action scene involving a train (and the stellar credits that follow, set to Adele’s title song), a presumed-dead Bond returns to London after MI6 and his boss, M (Judy Dench), are threatened. After being put back on assignment, Bond learns that the attacks may be personally connected to M, and that she may be withholding information from him. Eventually, a madman (and cyber terrorist) named Silva (Javier Bardem) is revealed to be the threat, and he greatly tests both Bond and M.
I have not seen every single Bond film, but Skyfall is one of the best that I have seen. The choice to have Sam Mendes (American Beauty (1999)) direct the film was an intelligent one; he also worked with a whole crew of talented (and in many cases, Oscar-winning) people on the film. Mendes isn’t a major action director, but he really knows how to bring a believable human element to seemingly any situation. He and the screenwriters have managed to put a darker and more personal spin on Bond, further developing the character’s relationship with M and also digging up some of his past.
What is even further remarkable is that the filmmakers bring this dramatic edge while also mixing new-age features with classic Bond-isms. Such modern elements include the use of Youtube and new gadgets. And a lot of the expected routines (opening action scene, globe-trotting, beautiful women, etc.) occur in Skyfall while it also pays homage to some of the earlier films, too. The capper is that Mendes manages to brew up some breathless action scenes, which Bond fans also expect.
The mixing of all of this is great, but the display of it all is even better. This is arguably the most beautiful-looking Bond film, with cinematographer Roger Deakins immensely aiding Mendes. The framing of many of the scenes is terrific, with much depth and color. Some of the standouts include a sniper battle in a tall building (with bright blues and greens shining off of glass), a visit to a Chinese location, and the climax of the film. Thomas Newman’s music score and Stuart and Kate Baird’s editing perfectly compliment the crafting that Mendes and Deakins have accomplished, too.
The cast and characters of Skyfall make it all the better. Craig seems to be more comfortable with the character now, showing the man’s inner frustration and feeling while also bringing the expected clever attitude and sexiness to the role. He is supported here by Dench (superb as always), as the two have perfect chemistry as their characters’ relationship further develops. Many newcomers are also welcome, such as Bond women Naomie Harris (a crafty spy named Eve) and Berenice Marlohe (as a seductive woman named Severine). Ralph Fiennes turns up well as a man replacing M, Ben Whishaw brings some subtle humor to Q, and the always-fine Albert Finney pops up as a close friend of Bond’s.
The film is nearly stolen, however, by Bardem. The actor is clearly having a ball as Silva, and makes the character one of the more memorable Bond villains in the entire series. The actor flawlessly captures the emotions and motivations behind Silva’s actions. He also brings an excellent balance of flamboyance, creepiness, and intensity to the character. Bardem does all of this without going as far as to chew the scenery, remaining credible and entertaining.
I only really had a few problems with Skyfall. For one, the first half seems to drag a little as the story is coming into shape. Second, Silva is introduced far too late into the film. And finally, while the film does bring some new depth to Bond, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the filmmakers could have gone a step further and added even more layers to the suave and interesting character.
But Skyfall remains a dynamite film, with a fantastic blend of drama, humor, and action – and also the classic and new-age elements. Mendes has seemingly done with Skyfall for Bond what Christopher Nolan did for Batman with his Batman trilogy. By this, I mean he has taken a classic character and given a fresh, dark take on him without spoiling the past features at the same time.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).