Sam Mendes’ Skyfall is a brooding, yet rousing, action-packed character-driven piece of hot-blooded cinema. Daniel Craig reprises his role as the iconic Ian Fleming character 007, first played by him back in 2006 in Casino Royale. And while Craig has redefined Bond as a surlier, scrappier, scruffier Bond, Skyfall doubles-down on this characterization by giving us peeks into a somewhat tortured past. This much more grounded Bond tale also puts additional focus to M (Judi Dench), and a deliciously sadistic villain in Javier Bardem’s Silva, while skillfully taking the Bond brand forward in a new exciting direction with intriguing supporting characters. Mendes’ ability to engage us emotionally, while still executing some exquisitely choreographed and imagined action sequences makes this Bond entry soar above almost all the rest.
While Skyfall definitely deviates from its predecessors in mood and overall structure (no “Bond” girls, for example), it sustains enough winks to the original material to keep it rooted in the overall Bond mythology. The film still opens with a wildly imaginative and expertly executed action sequence in Turkey, with Bond in pursuit of a man who has obtained a list of NATO operatives with ties to terrorist organizations. In other words, the stakes are high and letting this list escape their grasp is not an option. M (Judi Dench) gives orders to Bond and his partner Eve (Naomie Harris) throughout the chaotic scene that goes from jeep, to motorcycle, to fork lift, to train. It’s all brilliant madness, and very James Bond. But then the film goes against type by putting him through a traumatic experience (that’s all I’ll say) that causes him to lose his touch. He comes back after tragedy strikes MI6 because he feels he’s needed. But now he’s a lousy shot. He’s not as physically sound as he used to be. He’s not just not the James Bond we’re used to seeing. And now he has to face one of the best Bond villains in the history of the franchise – Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem with gleeful, terrifying mischief.
Raoul Silva is a former MI6 agent who worked with M, and he’s now hellbent on seeking revenge against the organization, and M specifically, due to the physical torture he endured in the past. Bardem is wickedly twisted here, and makes us believe he is a formidable opponent for Bond, especially in light the fact that our hero isn’t exactly 100% this time around. Silva is also an adept hacker, and in a film where Bond’s reliance on gadgetry is seriously limited, this makes the sense of peril even more pronounced.
What I liked about this villain is that there’s no super complicated agenda here – he is simply angry, vengeful, and very skilled at taking out a lifetime of frustrations through technological means. He’s also a complete psychopath, and Bardem inhabits every square inch of Silva with a snakelike slitheriness that is seconds away from striking. He eats scenery for every meal of the day, and meets Daniel Craig’s slow burn as 007 with the gusto it needs to make the chemistry work. And in the scenes they do have together, it’s an absolute hoot to see them play off each other.
Judi Dench is equally engaging to watch as the witty M, and she and Craig also have some endearing moments together. There is more of a bond (no pun intended) here between the two, and 007 protects her as he would a mother, which is interesting because Bond’s past relationship with his parents also comes into play in the film. Dench is no stranger to playing women with strong, often stoic personalities , but she plays M with much more vulnerability here. Not only is she directly in the line of fire this time out, but she also has to put her life in Bond’s sometimes impulsive hands. It’s pitch-perfect work from Dench as the franchise allows M to finally branch-out as a full-fledged character, and not just a person barking orders from afar.
The rest of the supporting cast turns in stellar work, all showcasing interesting characters while fully knowing that Bond is still the star of the show. Naomie Harris as Eve brings a smart, savvy new female character to the series roster as one of Bond’s trusted field agents; Ralph Fiennes plays Gareth Mallory with a bluntness and a dignity that adds welcome multi-dimensionality to the cast; Ben Whishaw as Q is boyishly playful, but confident and capable as Bond’s go-to tech guy who aids in his pursuit of technological heavyweight, Silva; and Albert Finney makes a welcome appearance as a warm yet worn man from Bond’s past. Let’s face it, anything with Albert Finney is just BETTER.
But the quality work definitely doesn’t stop there. Thomas Newman turns in an efficient score that doesn’t overpower the action; he expertly weaves in the traditional Bond cues at opportune moments and does a fine job of letting the music enhance the action as opposed to overwhelming it. Stuart Baird has done exceptional work as film editor, cutting breathtaking action sequences without jumping too much between shots, then letting the quieter and slower scenes breathe calmly to allow the audience to take in the morecharacter-focused moments. But the real genius work on the technical side has to go to veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins who has photographed a truly eye-popping film; the last sequence alone is worthy of an Oscar nomination due to his ingenius use of shadows and light. Deakins is truly at the top of his game here, and is worth repeat viewing just to appreciate it all over again.
Since this is a Bond film, I simply can’t end this review without mentioning the dimension that Daniel Craig has given to this iteration of 007. When the announcement was made that he would be the next Bond, I was initially skeptical, as were many other fans of the franchise. What he has done with this character is truly exceptional; you truly believe that he can take a beating and keep on ticking, but he has also transported the character out of the almost cartoonishly debonair rogue who relies too much on gadgets, to a man capable of holding his own physically and mentally in the face of great danger. He can also work a suit like nobody’s business. In Skyfall, Craig has redefined what this iconic character means to us throughout the decades, and Skyfall is the perfect film to propel this character into the next chapter.