GoldenEye has long been my favourite Bond film, but then I saw Skyfall. Whereas 2005’s Casino Royale was a hard-hitting, realistic reboot of the tired franchise, doing for Bond what Batman Begins did for the caped crusader, Skyfall is veritably The Dark Knight of this grittier, edgier secret agent. Bouncing back in a big way from Casino’s solid but largely unremarkable companion piece Quantum of Solace, Skyfall is a deeply engaging, thoughtfully constructed and visually breathtaking experience. It isn’t just a good Bond movie, it’s one of the best films of the year and the best James Bond picture ever created.
Instead of the usual routine, let’s take a look at the classic elements of a Bond film and see how Skyfall handles the famous trademarks.
Bond… James Bond
Daniel Craig returns as the roughest, toughest and most physical of Bond’s incarnations. Yet here also is a secret agent who’s deeply human – for much of the film Bond is out of step, having lost his edge after a botched mission at the story’s outset. There’s a heavy theme of resurrection in the movie, as Bond must get back in the game while facing some deeply personal stakes.
The Bond Girl
Skyfall has two. One is Naomie Harris’ Eve, a junior field agent who really sparks off some great chemistry with Bond. The other is seductive Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), whose initial introduction reminded me of Xenia Onatopp playing baccarat in GoldenEye. However, both of these ladies pale before Skyfall’s true Bond girl.
Skyfall is M’s story. Finally, in her seventh Bond appearance, Judi Dench is given a role and story arc that befit both her phenomenal acting ability and her character’s contribution to the franchise’s lasting legacy. Her complex relationship with Bond and the film’s villain is central to the story and really adds a sense of gravity to the proceedings that hasn’t really been seen in a Bond film thus far.
Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) is Silva, a cyberterrorist with connections to MI6 which make him a great thematic foil to Bond. He’s stolen the computer hard drive with the identities of undercover agents on it, and plans a sequential release of the data to the world… although that’s just phase 1 of his scheme. Silva’s disturbing bleached blond hairdo, lisp and penchant for impressive entrances elevate him to the high echelon of comic-book villainy, but it’s Bardem’s memorable and entertainingly perverse performance that solidifies the character as the best big screen baddy since Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Skyfall marks the return of Q (finally!), this time played by youthful Ben Whishaw. This Q is a tech-savvy whiz who claims he can do more damage than Bond just by sitting at his computer in his pyjamas. In the similar vein of Die Hard 4.0, it seems Bond is becoming a bit of a dinosaur in a digital age. Still, Bond reminds us that once in a while you need somebody to pull a trigger (thank heavens!). There are a few gadgets, like a gun only Bond can shoot, but nothing like wacky gizmos with hidden lasers or anything – Skyfall makes the point that such novelties are a bit antiquated in the modern world. That said, there’s a late appearance by a Bond favourite that’s sure to delight fans looking for a more classic touch.
From the exciting opening chase involving cars, motorcycles, a Caterpillar and a train to brawls and shootouts in exotic locales, Skyfall has everything you’d expect from a big budget action flick. Best of all, it eschews the rapid-cut, shaky cam style that many maligned in Quantum of Solace for clear, crisp fisticuffs and a strong, steady hand.
Let’s just rattle them off (in alphabetical order): Istanbul, London, Macau, Scotland and Shanghai. What’s most impressive about the locations is just how incredible the film looks. Indeed, Skyfall is one of the best-looking features I’ve seen in recent memory. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) and cinematographer Roger Deakins have done a phenomenal job, with great use of lighting and contrasts that really help to enliven the screen, from the neon-draped cityscape of Shanghai to even the moors of Scotland.
Everything Else Bondian
While you do get a few one-liners and double entendres as expected, Skyfall also boasts a heap of clever references to earlier Bond pictures, partly because the film celebrates Bond’s 50th anniversary but also because Skyfall completes the reboot of the series that began in Casino Royale. Meanwhile, Adele’s theme song makes for a hauntingly beautiful opening credits sequence and – Huzzah! – the Bond theme is also back in force. There’s a real sense of things coming together and, with at least two more films with Daniel Craig to go, I can’t wait to see where 007’s next mission takes him.
Bond is back in his best outing ever. Comparisons to The Dark Knight are not unwarranted – Skyfall is a terrific film and one of the year’s best.