Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
After fifty years of saving the world, James Bond is as fresh and exciting as ever in Skyfall, Sam Mendes’ remarkable entry in the 007 franchise. Known for making pretty pictures and eliciting strong performances, the American Beauty director does both in his most liberated work to date while proving surprisingly adept at edge-of-your-seat action. Bolstered by Roger Deakins’ stunning photography and a handful of delicious supporting turns, it sounds blasphemous to say so, but this may be the best Bond film yet.
When Daniel Craig took over the iconic role in 2006’s Casino Royale, he ushered in an energy and introspection reminiscent of a certain other spy series. The comparison to the Jason Bourne films has been both a blessing and a curse for this new Bond, and as if to acknowledge that influence, Skyfall gets its big Bourne-esque set piece out of the way first thing. A riveting, relentless pursuit by Bond of the slithery Patrice (Ola Rapace), this opening sequence covers a variety of vehicles over Istanbul’s narrow streets and quickly sets the tone for the crisp, sophisticated thrills to come. That it all serves a crucial plot point, the intended reclamation of a microchip containing undercover NATO agents’ identities, also shows that Mendes and his writing team aren’t simply messing around.
With the compromising intel in the hands of an unknown cyberterrorist, MI6 comes under attack and is forced below ground. The adversary targets M (Judi Dench) in particular, imploring the agency chief to “Think on [her] sins,” stirring ghosts from her curtained past. Likewise feeling the effects of time is Bond, slowly recovering from gunshot wounds and an assumed death in Turkey. Drawn back into action by footage of MI6’s smoking ruins, 007 struggles to regain his form while the clock ticks on the at-risk moles.
Billed as an examination of Bond’s relevancy a half decade in, Skyfall admittedly has its share of self-aware moments. Mendes, cast, and crew are all so invested in making Bond as fun as his greatest hits, however, that these legacy reminders never drag the film down. Crucial to this feel is Deakins’ sumptuous cinematography, each frame of which has the sleekness of a freshly-waxed Aston Martin DB5. Spliced together with decidedly un-Bourne-like clarity by Stuart Baird, the pristine visuals combine with an ideally paced story to create a world that the cast is more than willing to inhabit.
Dench’s M is at last given a strand that involves more than simply barking orders, and the Dame naturally follows through. As her probable successor Gareth Mallory, Ralph Fiennes sizzles with subdued intensity, his recent insidious track record making him an instant potential threat. Likewise irresistible is Ben Whishaw as the new Q, whose young nerdy charm is a direct descendent of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, and Albert Finney as a face from Bond’s past who provides aid when 007 needs it most.
Sharper than them all is Javier Bardem, who continues the tradition of top actors translating their skills to big-budget action franchise villainy. Combining the relentlessness of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian with the calculated anarchy of Heath Ledger’s Joker, his Silva is a viral, dangerous opponent, recalling the greatest Bond villains while carving out something wholly his own. Unseen until the film’s midway point, the breadcrumbs leading to him set the stage for a tantalizing showdown, and once he does appear, Bardem doesn’t disappoint.
Fortunately, neither does Craig, nor anyone involved in this superb work. A James Bond film made by and for people who love James Bond films, Skyfall succeeds in all regards. Entertaining and quick-witted, with just the right amount of self-reflection, it sets an unexpectedly high bar for a storied saga that continues to impress.
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.
I agree that the film was entertaining, humorous and had stunning visuals. And I liked Craig and Bardem. But the plot! (SPOILER ALERT — DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM). Bond failed twice. He didn’t save “the girl” and he didn’t save “the woman”. Bardem’s character and his sick motivations were simply “stated” but not well-developed. No explanation why Bardem’s henchmen should be so numerous or so faithful to such a twisted person. How did “the woman” become so badly injured? I missed that. How was it that “the woman” never thought that a flashlight might give away their position? Seemed to me that the point was indeed inadvertantly made by the events that unfolded — that both she and Bond had grown incompetent and deserved to retire. Nothing of a triumphant nature in this one, save the performance of the Aston-Martin. That was fun.
I thought Bond’s failures were refreshing. Not only can this Bond bleed and tire, but he also doesn’t always get the job done.
As for the motivations of Silva and his henchmen, I think it’s all revenge-based. M left him to die, now he uses his skills for evil. That was enough for me.
It is a little unclear how “the woman” gets hurt. Gunshot wound during the home invasion? Whatever the cause, it isn’t directly shown. And yes, her flashlight skills are suspect.
But if Bond doesn’t get the job done, is it really a Bond film? For me, the formula calls for Bond to get the job done. This is Bond, not Batman.
This all ties back to my argument that Craig’s Bond is a different breed of Bond. A Bourne-ish Bond (and that guy didn’t exactly have the best luck protecting his women, either).
Remember, he also didn’t save the girl in CASINO ROYALE.
I think you’re right.