The film version of James Bond turns 50, but remains as fresh as ever in Skyfall. To commemorate the five decades that Ian Fleming’s suave creation has been in the big-screen, the descendants of producer Albert Broccoli wanted something special. They hired Sam Mendes, a director known for innovative dramas such as American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, to helm the twenty-third official installment in the 007 movies. Not only would it be the third chapter in a Bond era actor Daniel Craig successfully launched with 2006’s Casino Royale. It would also mark the golden anniversary of the premiere of Dr. No, the O.G. Bond flick. Mendes rose to the challenge, making Skyfall a captivating decomposition and reconstruction of the spy character, his close relationships, his origins and his overall cinematic history. All held together, of course, with breathtaking action scenes.
Skyfall in a Nutshell
The plot: Bond (Craig) is presumed dead during a mission to recover a list of covert operatives inside terrorist cells. The man behind the theft is Silva (Javier Bardem), a mysterious individual with a particular interest in smearing the reputation of M (Judi Dench), head of British intelligence agency MI6. Bond must rise from the ashes to face Silva, but on the way he’ll have to question his relationship with M. 007, as well as return to his roots, to defeat this new threat.
The Drop on Skyfall
The best Bond films tend to be a perfect balance between action, drama and humor. When they lean more towards drama, they become tedious (Quantum of Solace). Those occasions they’re all action, they’re a bit insipid (GoldenEye). When they focus only on the laughs, they turn out being ridiculous (Moonraker). It’s good to ground the world of Bond in reality and make it moving, but all that is useless if it stops being fun.
Mendes understands that and he reflects this in a two-and-a-half-hour film full of well-defined characters, intriguing situations, exotic locales and some touches just for fans of the franchise. He builds all this around eight or so fight/chase scenes that alternate between visual splendor, precise choreography or pure ingenuity. (My favorite in aesthetic terms is the one inside the skyscrapers in Shanghai). Even Thomas Newman, Mendes’ frequent musical collaborator, rises to the occasion with modern melodies that simultaneously honor the aural legacy of Monty Norman, John Barry and even David Arnold. Oh yeah, and Adele deserves her place as the new Shirley Bassey with her catchy theme song, but that we already knew.
Not So Blunt an Instrument
Daniel Craig leaves behind the excessive dreariness he showed in Quantum of Solace and still manages to top his performance in Casino Royale. His 007 is broken and must struggle to rebuild, but within his crisis he shows the masculine charm that characterizes all James Bonds since Sean Connery’s version. His Bond is what the character should always be: a cold instrument of murder, a necessary evil for homeland security, but classy with a fine taste in clothes, cars, booze and women.
Judi Dench has been the best and most appreciated M of the whole series since her debut in GoldenEye, if simply for being the first woman in the role. But as this story is focused on her, the veteran actress is allowed to interpret a three-dimensional character with fears, beliefs, resentments and a dash of emotion. A villain such as Silva had to come along for 007 and his handler to admit the true nature of their relationship.
Speaking of Silva, whoa! Like with the shark in Jaws, Bérénice Lim Marlohe (in her “Bond Girl” role of Séverine) makes Silva a presence in Skyfall long before Javier Bardem shows up, just by the fear in her eyes as she speaks of him. By the time Silva descends down an elevator and delivers his first monologue to a captured Bond, all his wickedness is instantly confirmed.
Javier Bardem has already created an enigmatic antagonist in his Anton Chigurth from No Country for Old Men (which earned him the Best Supporting Actor trophy at the 2008 Academy Awards), and he does it again here. His Silva is the Joker from The Dark Knight, reimagined by Pedro Almodóvar; a brilliant, psychotic, comic, methodical, wounded and downright creepy foe. Heath Ledger’s Joker was dangerous because he had no plan. Bardem’s Silva is dangerous because he does have one, he has the resources to pull it off and only he knows what it entails.
Here Come the MI6 (Clap, Clap!)
The rest of the cast is on par with the headliners, making all of MI6 a character in the plot. Ben Whishaw of Perfume and Cloud Atlas makes his Q a worthy heir to Desmond Llewelyn’s, but with its own personality.
Naomie Harris shakes off the last traces of her Tia Dalma from the Pirates of the Caribbean series to expose both smarts and feminine charm (without the slightest hint of vulgarity) as Eve.
Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges) joins the newbies as Gareth Mallory. This new Intelligence supervisor tries to save MI6’s reputation and questions reintegrating Bond in his weakened state. Franchise historians will appreciate who Harris’s MI6 agent is destined to become in the Bond canon, if they haven’t realized it already.
Albert Finney rounds out the cast while proving the value of dry English humor as Kincade, a character who is part of 007’s secret origin.
To sum up, all James Bond fans will be more than happy with Skyfall. Those who aren’t will most likely get a kick out of it as well. It is superb entertainment, produced with respect to Fleming, Broccoli and the world they created half a century ago. Skyfall closes the first 50 years of James Bond with a bang and makes us look forward to what the next 50 will bring.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Many people, me included, were worried for the fact that Heineken would now be James Bond’s drink of choice, replacing the classic “shaken, not stirred” Vodka Martini. Yes, our secret agent does indeed drink Heinies in the movie, as well as Macallan 50 Year Old Scotch. However, I’m proud to declare that, should you pay close attention, you’ll find Bond still has the same refined tastes as always.
Movie title: Skyfall
Movie description: 007's latest adventure is a compelling drama filled with wit, humor, spectacular action scenes and plenty of fan service.
Date published: 2012-12-21
Director(s): Sam Mendes
Actor(s): Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney
Genre: Action, Adventure