Skyfall is the rubber match for Daniel Craig’s turn as the iconic James Bond. Casino Royale was a revelation in the series, bringing a gritty, realistic edge to the character. Quantum of Solace was technically proficient but lacked any sense of emotional resonance.
I am pleased to report that the much-delayed Skyfall was worth the wait, cementing Craig as this generation’s definitive interpretation of the character. The film is loaded with action set pieces that keep you on the clichéd edge of your seat during its 2+ hour running time, but the multilayered story prevents you from checking out.
Skyfall’s script feels like a repurposed Batman story (and I don’t mean that as a knock) that gives us a glimpse of Bond’s backstory and features a cartoonish, Joker-like supervillain whose mental scars are matched only by the scars to his body. Javier Bardem inhabits the bipolar psychopath like few could, making the threat to MI-6 more than a stock storytelling device. While the character is an amalgamation of several past Bond villains including Blofeld, Dr. No, and Alec Trevelyan from Goldeneye, Bardem manages to make Silva his own.
As for the history of Bond, this could have come out one of two ways: This could have been needless information tacked on to a beloved character that bogged down the movie or it could help flesh out the character and give him more gravitas, deepening the audience’s connection to an icon. Thankfully it shook out as the later thanks in large part to performances by Craig and Albert Finney as Alfred the Butler Kincade, assistant to the once-rich Bond family.
It should need to go without saying but Dame Judy Dench is both a grounding and elevating factor in this movie, providing a commanding performance. Likewise Naomie Harris (28 Days Later) provides a clever twist on a clichéd character, the talented agent who might not have the right stuff for the field.
It is clear director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is a Bond fan, as he litters this 50th anniversary film with references to past films in clever ways, never distracting from the story but winking to audience members who will pick up on his clues. Likewise he sets up the Bond franchise for a new direction, operating not in the light of the world but as part of a covert agency fighting new threats to the world. With the death of the villain (it’s not a spoiler, this is a Bond movie) we may have seen the death of the old Bond, reborn in a familiar package but with new trappings. There’s a new (Q)uartermaster (Ben Winshaw, Cloud Atlas) and some other clever setups but I’m excited to see this series move beyond its pulp roots while still honoring the expectations of the espionage genre. The Bourne Identity and The Dark Knight changed our perspective on what an action/spy movie could be, and it seems Sam Mendes wanted to rise to the occasion. That he has done, crafting a dynamite movie filled with action, suspense, and intrigue.
Skyfall is not a perfect movie, lingering on its action set pieces and straying into an unbelievable realm. Bond is known not for realism but for its over-the-top gadgets and stunts, and this film doesn’t perfectly balance that conceit. Too—in an effort to be a “Bond” film, the writer stuffs in some puns and witticisms that felt out of place in the gritty tone of this flick.
Still, there is enough to recommend this movie not just to Bond fans—though they will be very pleased—but to anyone looking for an action flick with some substance.
Recommended If You Like: