A blending of the rebooted franchise with Bond films of old, Skyfall maintains the quality of the Daniel Craig Bonds while bringing back the fun as well to make for one of the best films in franchise history.
After a mission is botched to retrieve a list revealing the true identity of all of MI6′s operatives and Bond (Daniel Craig) is apparently killed in action, M (Judi Dench) in particular is targeted as MI6 falls under heavy scrutiny. When the headquarters is bombed, a recuperating Bond decides it is time to stop taking shots with scorpions at the beach and come back in. At less than 100% Bond tries to get back into the swing of thing and finds himself up against an opponent (Javier Bardeem) who is always two steps ahead of him.
I have been a passive fan of the James Bond films since I was a kid. I’ve liked the series in general but I am not super into it and as we got to the end of the Brosnan films I had serious series fatigue. The movies, always fairly flamboyant, had just drifted too far into silliness for my taste. When the series was rebooted with Casino Royale and Craig in the lead, I was hooked in a way I had never been before. It was a breath of fresh air that brought the series back down to earth and offered much more of a realistic and hard hitting film, clearly influenced by the Bourne series but still managing to deliver a quality James Bond experience. I liked the follow up to that film, Quantum of Solace, as well but it was a direct follow up to Casino Royale and as such felt more like a side-story. Now with Skyfall we see the series start to move forward again and in doing so it reconnects with a lot of the tried and true staples of the old series like one-liners, gadgets and some of the characters like Q.
Given how much I liked the more realistic and serious Bond I initially felt a bit uneasy about how this would play for me considering it was returning to the older form. I really shouldn’t have worried. There are many throwback moments and there is a greater sense of fun to an extent but this is all done through the prism of the new Bond model. As such, the sillier elements are grounded and nothing here feels excessively over the top. The blend of the two styles is done pretty perfectly and it feels like a natural progression from the previous two films.
Aside from nailing the tone, another thing that makes this movie really work is the excellent blending of large scale action set pieces, smaller action moments and deeply personal character moments. More so than previous efforts, we see into Bond’s past but more than that M plays a much more major role and serious questions are asked about the nature of duty and the need for a line of protection against terrorists. It also looks at what it is that makes terrorists and does so by delivering a clear dichotomy between two agents under similar circumstances and their different reaction to that. This is also a Bond who deals with things on a more emotional level but does so without robbing the character of his signature edge and detachment.
Even with the twist and turns of the story and the various character developments, there is still a ton of action here. From a huge chase through the streets of Istanbul to small gunfights and hand to hand moments, Skyfall delivers on all the action you could ask for and then a little more for good measure. The interstitial story moments just serve to put an exclamation point on the action and the action adds danger and gravitas to the story. All of the elements are symbiotic and support the others as opposed to one thing overshadowing another. At two hours and 20 minutes, the film is long but the pacing is very strong and the material is robust enough that the time flies by.
The performances are uniformly strong as well. Daniel Craig is perfectly suited for Bond as he can handle not only the detached stoicism needed but he can also handle heavy emotional moments as well showing that he can play a detached killer without being robotic about it. It is no surprise that Dame Judi Dench is fantastic here as she is an actor of the highest caliber and gives us a deeper M than we have ever had. Javier Bardeem is, once again, a very compelling and eccentric villain that ranks with some of the best in the series. Ben Wishaw is terrific as the new Q and I am excited to see him continue in future installments. His juxtaposition in age to Bond is interesting and fits well into the rebooted world. Namoie Harris, as Eve the agent responsible for accidentally shooting Bond, is believably capable and is worthy of Bond’s affections. Likewise, Ralph Fiennes turns in a nuanced Mallory, a bureaucrat who is trying to oust M. It is also nice to see Fiennes with a nose, so that is nice.
Conclusion [9.0 out of 10]
Skyfall is a terrific film whether you are talking about action movies or spy dramas. Director Sam Mendes delivers one of the best Bonds of the series and does so with a skill that reinforces his status as a great director. Regardless of the sort of Bond fan you are, be it old or new school, there is something here for you to like. I think I still prefer Casino Royale but Skyfall is not far off and is a tremendously fun and engaging ride.