Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
Running Time: 143 minutes
I feel as if every Skyfall review should come with a preface stating the writer’s level of James Bond fandom. I am a novice to the series, a “rook” if you will, as I have only seen a grand total of three Bond films — the very first two with Sean Connery (Dr. No and From Russia With Love) and Daniel Craig’s first outing (Casino Royale). I enjoyed all to some degree, but I wouldn’t quite call myself a fan — yet. With Skyfall, I feel myself being drawn back into the universe, one that seems more exciting now than ever.
In this dark and rather bleak entry in the series, Bond is not quite as invincible as one might expect. Played to perfection by Craig, 007 is now old, broken down and even vulnerable. When MI6’s headquarters are blown up by the despicable villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), the British agency and its head, M (Judi Dench), are forced to rely on the rickety frame of Mr. Bond to save the day.
Silva presents a great challenge for them, as he always seems one step ahead with every move he makes. He is an excellent villain — he has superior hacking skills, a seemingly endless group of goons at his disposal, and he has an entire bombed-out island all to himself. Javier Bardem, mildly ludicrous blonde hair and all, excels in the role, making for a dangerously strong adversary despite his physical deformities.
When it comes to Bond films, I am always most fascinated by the exotic locations, and Skyfall does not disappoint. From the thrilling opening car chase scene through the streets of Turkey to a brutal hand-to-hand combat sequence in a Shanghai skyscraper, there is no shortage of eye candy. The Shanghai scene, in particular, is visually stunning with its black silhouettes and flashing blue lights. A later visit to the gorgeous Scottish countryside also shows off the talents of cinematographer Roger Deakins (who also worked with director Sam Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road).
The action set-pieces are flashy and loud, and for the most part this is a white-knuckled ride that rarely lets up. Since this is the 50th anniversary of Bond, there are nods and homages to every single film in the series. As a newcomer to the series, I obviously missed many of these, but I got a kick out of hearing the audience cheer in delight when some of the more obvious throwbacks were shown. Diehard Bond fans — most of whom likely saw this opening weekend — will certainly appreciate these tributes, subtle or otherwise.
In many ways, Skyfall is similar to The Dark Knight Rises. Both films are centered around a hero who has seen better days, one who has hit rock bottom and has to work his way back up to help save the day. Both delve a bit into their backstories; in Skyfall, we learn a little about Bond’s origin, something that I greatly appreciated. There’s even a wink at the end of both films in which a familiar character is revealed in an ode to the future. It’s an interesting thought — Skyfall simply wouldn’t be the same if it were not for The Dark Knight trilogy.
The bottom line here is that Skyfall is one of this year’s best action films, and being a Bond fan is not a prerequisite in really enjoying this. There are a few moments that could have probably been omitted — and surely a few of the groan-worthy one-liners could have been improved — but I can’t recall many trips to the theater this year that were quite as exciting. Count me in for the next one, Mr. Bond.