Skyfall, the 23rd installment in the James Bond franchise is a brave new world as muttered by James (Daniel Craig) as an out-of-practice and injured Bond. Out with the old, and in with the new – no more exploding pens or silly alligator one-man boats. Instead, a Walther PPK pistol with a palm sensor that makes the killing from the loosest of cannons more personal than the previous two films in the Craig era. Even in this new and modern world, Craig’s version of Bond is ultimately a traditionalist in the sense of his grooming habits and choice of vehicle. He’s now considered an old dog keeping pace with learning new tricks in a more technologically driven world of warfare, espionage, and deception.
If there’s one thing about old dogs, they are resourceful, they can be trusted, especially when backed into a corner. In his 3rd time portraying James Bond, Daniel Craig figured out the character two films ago but takes the character back to the golden days of the very beginning – how else would you combat an expert cyber terrorist hacker ex-MI6 agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) that’s after the one person who put him in the deadliest situation? You drive up with M (Judi Dench) to the old country where the internet doesn’t exist and Bond began, Skyfall. Advantage, old dog.
In its 50th year of telling stories, writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan pay tribute to the past that laid the foundation for the franchise today. Two longtime reoccurring characters return with extraordinary upgrades that have been absent in the previous two films – Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw). Bringing both characters into the modern era their backgrounds are explored to create a new generation for both. Moneypenny is a former field agent that assists Bond in the opening sequence that finds Bond as the target for a misplaced shot by Eve. Her punishment – desk duty. Q, on the other hand is young and smart – perfectly capable of combating Silva in hacking and taking quick sarcastic jabs at Bond.
After a disappointing follow up in Quantum of Solace, Skyfall recovers the fumble with a story that isn’t a direct sequel to a previous film. Instead, for the first time in 5 decades, Skyfall’s story heavily involves M whose role in the franchise has greatly expanded in significance since Goldeneye. Essentially, it’s M’s story and Bond is along for the ride, out of his element to pick up the pieces after a hard drive containing details of undercover MI6 agents have been compromised.
The James Bond franchise has come a long way in half a century especially with how they handle and treat their female characters. And though Judi Dench is the third iteration of M, she’s the first woman to play the role. Skyfall utilizes her talent in ways that previous films only dreamed of using her. In 12 years of playing a character, Dench has become the quintessential M, her iteration is more than a 5 lined dialogue role that just gives 007 his mission or revokes his status within MI6. She still revokes it and has clear frustrations with how Bond handles field duty (I don’t think this Bond will ever work without an ego), but their relationship has become a mother-son type of relationship.
Director Sam Mendes and the team of writers craft the most emotionally complex Bond the franchise has seen but still find a way to keep things simple, grounded, and old-school – exploring the roots of the franchise. Within the half a century Bond as a character has been developed to a certain degree, not much is known about his past before being a 00. Skyfall explores the mystery that is James Bond within the confines of the revenge seeking plot by Silva. It’s just a taste of the backstory that dates to Scotland where those piercing blue eyes became the man we see today.
As an installment in the longest running franchise the formula for making these films is still very much present, with a few tweaks here and there. The opening sequence isn’t the explosive type that we’re used to that leads up to the opening credits with a song written and performed by Adele (easily a top 5 Bond song). Mendes shifts right into gear with a gritty chase of some bad guy that stole the hard drive. It’s not the flashy chase sequence we’ve come to expect but it gets the job done that finishes with Bond and Patrice (Ola Rapace) slugging it out on the top of a train after Bond skillfully and smoothly works a Caterpillar.
In 23 films, how many times has James been killed in action only to return at the surprise of the villain and MI6? At least M knows he’s never dead, even when writing his obituary. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t she say the next time Bond broke into her home, she would have him killed? Right?
If rankings held any merit and weren’t at all subjective, Bardem’s megalomaniacal villain Raoul Silva is among the most menacing the franchise has seen. Sure, Bardem has already playing one of films all time villains in No Country for Old Men – making him a perfect nemesis for Bond to face in a modern era. His motivations are simple, there is no world domination or billion-dollar ransom. He simply wants to destroy the person who destroyed his life.
I’d argue heavily that Silva is objectively the best villain Bond has faced. His platinum blond dye job, expert hacking skills mixed with the aftereffects of the cyanide capsule that left him disfigured easily makes Silva nightmare inducing – killing people without a second thought. His introduction to Bond is something of the Connery era – him and Bond sitting down and having a conversation. Both with clear motivations and differences that would pit the two against each other.
Skyfall is one of the best Bond films, period. Aside from Casino Royale, both come close to the days of Goldfinger, From Russia with Love & Thunderball. Craig is fantastic as Bond yet again in which the failure of Quantum of Solace is far from his fault. The humanity and emotion he brings to the character makes him the best since Connery, playing a more serious version of the character with a pinch of charm in the famous one-liners.
Craig’s Bond is the least womanizing of the 6 actors putting all his effort into his work or into drinks and pills. For the first time there is no real Bond girl. if there was one, it would be Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe). Her time is so short lived in the film that I wouldn’t consider her a Bond girl. It’s the first time we’ve seen Bond as a mortal, the character has always been the type to dodge all the danger without breaking a sweat. Not here – getting shot during a mission with the ok by M, showing weakness and failing gives Bond more depth than ever before.
Roger Deakins is the perfect choice for framing this installment. Each scene is gorgeous with action being the focus. Keep the camera steady and let the choreography lead the way. Thomas Newman’s score is mind-blowing channeling the John Barry era. Skyfall in short is a home-run, a perfect representation of what the franchise is, dating all the way back from the very beginning, 50 years prior.
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Music By: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Judi Dench
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Running Time: 2 Hours 23 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5
Based On: James Bond by Ian Fleming