Unfortunately, I’m not one of those critics that obtain fancy advance screening passes…yet and most people have probably already seen the new James Bond movie, “Skyfall”. However, I thought I would add to the discussion with my own review.
Bond turns 50 this year which is quite an accomplishment with a franchise series. Five decades ago, Sean Connery was consorting with Ursula Andress while successfully fighting off the evil Dr. No as he attempted to end the US Space program. The series has come all this way to “Skyfall” through some ups and some flops.
The opinion seems universally acknowledged that Daniel Craig is the second best Bond to Connery. The first Bond, having attained the untouchable classic status, will probably never be beaten. That does not mean that Craig fails to hold his own.
“Skyfall” is the third Craig outing as Bond and the film is spectacular. Maybe a hair below the reinvention of Bond in the mesmerizing “Casino Royale” but light years ahead of “Quantum of Solace” (and its bizarre title).
The opening is an out of focus shot with Bond slowly moving down a hall. He has been summoned to get back a computer drive that has a list of British agents before they become compromised. By the end of the explosive opening, Bond appears to have died (although we know better) and this is a pretty shocking sequence by the franchise’s standards.
The list is lost and months later MI6 is upset at M (the wonderful Judi Dench) for letting this list slip away. Who has it gone to and what will happen? There is an explosion at MI6 headquarters. Bond, of course, is lying low after his “death” and this springs him back into action.
Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), the first Oscar winner to direct a Bond movie, has created a movie that feels fresh and yet still honors the long running Bond tradition. The film is very artfully shot by Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) and of particular note is a fight scene in Shanghai featuring hand-to-hand combat among the brilliant, flashing city lights.
Mendes has his Bond creation at a seemingly perfect balance. There are still the absurd stunts involving Bond fighting a bad guy on a train with a Caterpillar. This is juxtaposed with the Craig Bond that the 007 creators have morphed into a somewhat more realistic cocktail than many of the previous installments that are purposely tongue-in-cheek cheesy.
“Skyfall” captures the suave and sophistication of Bond. Ridiculous stunts and action sequences are tamed down in favor of a more compelling story written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. There are innovations with the character of Moneypenny and a rewriting of Bond’s personal history. There are also the familiar aspects: a fantastic opening credit sequence with Adele singing, the trademark characters (Moneypenny, Q, and a new M). Also making an appearance is the classic Aston Martin DB5 from another of the best Bond films, “Goldfinger”. A perfect balance once again of old and new.
Another particular strength of “Skyfall” is the cast. Judi Dench as “M” has a lot of screen time and proves what a wonderful actress she is. A new “Q” is played by Ben Whishaw who shows a lot of promise. Also showing up is Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and a surprise appearance by Albert Finney. Not to mention the show is almost stolen by a ferocious Bond villain played by Javier Bardem. He is not only a great actor but here he plays one of the most delightfully unhinged Bond villains that I can recall. His entrance is sublime: coming down an elevator and walking toward Bond while speaking a long monologue.
If I were to tell someone that the new Bond film is a cross between “Home Alone” and “The Dark Knight” in all sincerity, would that make them more likely to see it? I hope that description would and there actually is a little bit of truth there. This is not only one of the better Bond movies ever but is a flat out excellent film as well. Enjoy.