After a few speed bumps over at MGM the world’s favorite spy is back and better than ever. Daniel Craig reprises the role of James Bond in Sam Mendes‘ 007 film Skyfall. Mendes revitalizes the age-old franchise with expansive set pieces and lots of old-fashioned Bond action and espionage that we’ve grown to love over the times. Skyfall is much more on par with Casino Royale in terms of modernizing the franchise, but still keeping up with some of the older classics, but it does suffer from a lack of build up towards the end, leaving the conclusion lacking urgency and that emotional punch that the script calls for.
James Bond (Daniel Craig) has been killed. Or so we think. During a frantic mission another agent accidentally shoots Bond, leaving MI6 without one of their most reliable employees. Days pass and eventually a new threat proposes itself to the agency, calling for Bond to rise up from the dead and suit up once more to help take on Silva (Javier Bardem) and his giant bag of tricks that he brings to the ever-changing table.
Skyfall pits Bond up against one of his most unknown enemies, one that’s constantly lurking and planning in the shadows, waiting for Bond and MI6 to take one false step before he blows them all into next week. Director Sam Mendes proves to be a matching fit for the series, focusing more on the character of Bond than the things he’s most known for. Mendes also pairs up with cinematographer Roger Deakins and the result is more than impressive. But where Mendes and Deakins are good additions to the cast we’re left with a forgettable Bond girl, played by Berenice Marlohe and a problematic finale that wastes all of the film’s good graces.
What’s perhaps the most refreshing thing about this particular Bond installment is star Daniel Craig. The film’s gritty opening makes an impression and it’s Craig’s performance that makes it stick. This version of Bond is grizzled and aging forced to either adapt or die. It’s almost quite literally that extreme and Craig makes the changes necessary to inject the character with the essentials needed for revival. He takes one of the most famous spy characters of all time and adds in a hint of realism that’s much appreciated. This Bond is still the ass-kicking, smooth-talking ladies man that we’ve all grown up with, but he does it without perfection.
Here we get to see Bond off his game and down on his luck. He’s clearly not in top shape when he goes through the training exercises to clear him for active duty again. Craig reveals Bond’s state of mind as he fails to shoot the target multiple times. Skyfall changes the look and physical well-being of Bond slightly, but it mostly focuses on his mental being and how much his brain has had to endure over the years in the agency. The film briefly dances with Bond’s childhood and earlier years, but it never goes too far or off track from the rest of the film’s agenda.
The agenda this time is a big one, focusing on the new villain Silva, played by Javier Bardem and also the closeness of the relationship between Bond and M (Judi Dench). I’ve never been the biggest Bond fan, so I can’t comment on how close the two have been in the older installments, but this one certainly feels like the most personal Bond yet. The mother/son relationship is more than hinted at and it’s refreshing seeing a side of Bond that’s so human. Dench and Craig have multiple quick back-and-forth conversations that result in comedy or a cold dose of reality.
Javier Bardem‘s Silva is initially creepy, but quickly established as downright horrifying. Bardem spices things up and makes sure that blond hair doesn’t go to waste in one of the weirdest Bond villain roles yet. A lot of it has to do with the future of the business and how much technology plays a role in the spy/action game, but there’s also a fair amount that dives into the past and I’d rather not spoil some of those surprises.
Sam Mendes does a great job with the action, utilizing the always great Roger Deakins to make each and every scene look like a perfect photograph. Deakins’ cinematography is vibrant, eye-grabbing and grand, specifically in the Shanghai sequences. The film peaks there and almost never reaches that same height as far as the action and intensity goes. There’s still a lot of great stuff that follows, but nothing feels as good.
And that’s part of my problem with the film. There’s a massive problem with the film’s escalation. The action is at its best in China and then it quickly starts dropping and dropping shortly after. Bardem and Craig keep the story flowing, but the action rarely sparks as bright as China. The film almost completely changes paths to focus more on simply Bond and Silva as two individuals and not so much on the whole spy/action thing that has drove the Bond series into such popular success.
Things get quiet real quick as the locations change from big and loud to silent and almost empty. The final act feels like a combination of Straw Dogs and Home Alone. It’s not horrible, because it provides you with a unique Bond experience that chooses to focus on the story and the characters instead of the massive action sequences and cool gadgets, but it’s underwhelming and feels like the wrong way to end such a strong and memorable Bond film.
If you take away the ending you’re still left with a perfectly fine Bond entry that rebirths the character and promises us even more adventures. Sam Mendes clearly needs to stay attached to this series for a few more films if we want to ensure such care and quality for the characters, because Skyfall is so much better than the horribly disappointing and forgettable Quantum of Solace. Craig shows us a side of Bond that I didn’t know existed and it only helps back up my claim that he’s the best Bond yet.
Javier Bardem plays up the Bond bad guy with an electric performance that reminds me a lot of Heath Ledger‘s Joker and Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw make great additions to the franchise.
Skyfall isn’t the best Bond movie yet, but it’s a strong revival for a franchise that most thought was on its way out. There’s clearly more than enough material to keep this thing going and the cast that has attached to the franchise have yet again shown their commitment and love for the classic characters.
I sure hope we don’t have to wait another 4 years to see Daniel Craig return as Bond.
Skyfall – 8/10