Skyfall is just like every Bond movie ever made, and yet like nothing you’ve seen.
In Skyfall, the franchise’s 23rd film, the world-famous spy claims “resurrection” is his hobby and for fans it is the reason the icon continues to be relevant. Though long-time fans had complaints about Daniel Craig and the darker, grittier tone that accompanied Casino Royal and Quantum of Solace, critics and fans have been lauding this latest chapter for its grit. James Bond is resurrected in Skyfall, and with him so is the franchise.
The story is simple enough: MI-6 loses a file containing the identities of undercover operatives embedded around the world. James Bond is tasked to retrieving the data. After the mission goes south, Bond realizes that much more is at play in a changing world. The story brings Bond to Istanbul, Shanghai and Macau, but surprisingly enough, some of the best scenes take place in London and Scotland.
The formula is exactly like that of any chapter of the series; it has wit and style and the hero travels to gorgeous places around the globe with beautiful women. He also destroys an amazing car. For that it is just like any movie from the series. Additionally we see a return of some of 007’s other aspects. The wit is sharper than has been lately and in a tribute to Bond’s legacy, we see the return of Q and the original Aston Martin DB5. There are also comments jabbing at some of the franchise’s past (referencing exploding pens and the like).
This film’s cold open outdoes the intensity and thrill of any other chapter. Opening on a botched mission, the audience gets a glimpse of a Bond who cares and has some level of self-doubt. He questions his priorities, pausing to aid a dying operative rather than immediately continue his pursuit of sensitive information. This ambivalence for his duty is something which has not been so pronounced since the days of Timothy Dalton, and is a major theme for the entire story. James Bond is aging, disoriented and lost in a world where secrets are mined by hackers and even MI-6’s best is all too expendable. This character just may be deeper than some may have believed.
Sam Mendes’ artful direction brings the internal conflict to the forefront. In addition to the psych evaluations and physical stress tests in the plot to show that Bond is shaken, he uses mirrors throughout the film to highlight the personal doubt. Bond is concealed and exposed in these reflections. This was used to quite a chilling effect when Silva (Javier Bardem) is finally introduced and the two sit face to face. This villain is thoroughly unhinged and the most terrifying thing about him is that his fate could have just as easily been Bond’s.
Bardem’s portrayal deserves extra mention. Though he may have been scarier in No Country for Old Men, Bardem’s Silva is sufficiently creepy and off-putting. He meets the criteria for Bond villains: he is a megalomaniac of the highest order, is obsessed with James Bond and has a physical defect. The series is known for this last element, of course, from facial scars to bleeding tear ducts, from third nipples to webbed fingers, from metal jaws to bullets lodged in the brain, Bond villains are also formulaic. Silva fits this and then some; the moment he shows his physical defect is enough to make one shudder.
The story shows the Bond we once knew being disassembled. Though Bond meets his nemesis with wit and a smirk, we know he has changed. Where Bond’s ingenuity and situational awareness usually gives him an edge, Silva bests MI-6 at every turn. It is at this point that Bond deconstructs himself even further. In addition to allowing the action to continue, the audience is given a rare opportunity to learn more about what drives Bond. Until now only alluded to in other films, we learn in this chapter a little more about James Bond’s past and what unfolded there to turn him into Britain’s greatest spy.
Skyfall had a monumental task of delivering the formula that Bond fans have come to expect over 50 years and does so in spades. The cast did an amazing job of staying true to the allure of the franchise but also bringing new dimensions to the characters and plot. Having already mentioned Javier Bardem, it is important to mention that Judi Dench is brilliant as an aging and faltering M. The supporting cast (Ralph Fiennes, Bérénice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear and Ben Winshaw) each bring another piece to the story masterfully through Sam Mendes’ direction.
With all the similarities to earlier installments, Skyfall stands out. It has some of the most beautiful and artistic photography of the series, an amazingly executed story and a superb cast. James Bond will return, and if this is the direction he is taking, it will be something to look forward to.
4.5 out of 5 stars.