Sam Mendes, 2012
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
The 23rd Bond film came to theaters just in time for the 50th anniversary of the series and I’m happy to say that this is the best possible anniversary present. Skyfall includes elements that make you remember why you fell in love with the iconic, early entries of the series, not just the gritty new Bond beginning with Casino Royale. There are numerous references to past films, a welcome reappearance from the original Aston Martin DB5, and new incarnations of Moneypenny and Q.
Bond is sent to Turkey to retrieve a stolen hard drive that has a list of all undercover NATO agents. While he is fighting the mercenary who has stolen the drive, he is accidentally shot by junior MI6 agent Eve and believed dead. M, meanwhile, is being pressured to retire by Intelligence Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory when MI6 is hacked and partially blown up. This prompts a weakened, injured Bond to come out of retirement. He is sent to Shanghai to pursue Patrice, the mercenary who stole the hard drive. Bond accidentally kills him without obtaining any information, but follows the trail to a casino in Macau, where he meets Sévérine. She agrees to help him on the condition that he kill her employer, but they are both kidnapped and brought to an abandoned island owned by Raoul Silva. Once a celebrated agent, the computer savvy Silva is determined to end M and, as a result, MI6. Bond must do everything in his power to stop Silva, even if it means returning to his roots.
I simply cannot say enough good things about what may well be the best Bond film. There is incredible cinematography from Roger Deakins, making for some of the greatest set pieces in Bond history. With beautiful locations in Britain, Turkey and China, this fortunately sheds Quantum of Solace’s desperate attempt to cram as many locations as possible into one shoot. The wonderful score from Thomas Newman is one of the best parts of the film, combining elements of past Bond themes with a thoughtful, understated, electronic score. The nice opening song from Adele more than makes up for the dreadful past two efforts from Chris Cornell (Casino Royale) and Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace), to say nothing of the horrific Pierce Brosnan opening songs.
Skyfall moves away from the gritty, violent tone of Casino Royale and the serious, almost depressing revenge theme of Quantum of Solace and instead finds a delicate balance between theatrical grandeur, gritty action and a deeply personal plot. Bond returns home, both figuratively and literally, as this film focuses on MI6 itself and, later, Bond’s childhood home, Skyfall Lodge in Scotland, the setting of the conclusion. While the new Bond films all had talented, charismatic actors playing flawed villains (Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre and Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Green), Javier Bardem does a wonderful job with the mercurial Silva, a villain with smaller, though perhaps more rational and achievable aims. Bardem and Craig are particularly well matched. The departure of old characters and the introduction of some new ones is expertly handled, if bittersweet. Ben Whishaw’s Q is a welcome addition, though he is unlikely to ever fill the shoes of the beloved Desmond Llewelyn. I’m excited to see more of Ralph Fiennes in the next two Bond films, which Daniel Craig has already signed up for and will hopefully be joined by the new principal cast members.
There are some flaws in Skyfall, but most of these are forgettable. The script glosses over Bond’s death and puts a heavy handed emphasis on things being old and out of date. Though the opening sequence is an improvement over the enraging Casino Royale credits, it is certainly bizarre and has an almost gothic, horror movie feel. Some moments of the script are overly long or repetitive. This may be due to the lengthy screen time, which should be expected from all new Bond films and recent action films in general. The lack of Bond girls is also a little disappointing, though it fits with the plot of the film and Bond's attempt in Quantum of Solace to get over the death and betrayal of Vesper. Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny is smug and annoying, but she has little screen time. I wish more script material was devoted to the absolutely beautiful and glamorous Bérénice Marlohe (Sévérine), a French actress of French, Chinese and Mongolian heritage who plays Silva’s mistress and victim. There is also a brief appearance from Greek model Tonia Sotiropoulou, who plays Bond’s unnamed lover early in the film while he is retired.
Skyfall is currently in theaters. It is the first Bond film to be screened in IMAX theatres (though it was not filmed with IMAX cameras), which is where I saw it and strongly recommend that you do the same. The film comes highly recommended and so far has received positive critical reviews and has already set a number of financial records around the world.