Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem
It’s been almost four years since Daniel Craig’s last turn as James Bond, in the underwhelming and muddled Quantum of Solace; Fortunately with Skyfall, 007 is back and arguably better than ever.
Since the reboot of the series with Casino Royale, Bond has undergone something of a reincarnation, with the glamour and outlandish plots of the previous movies being replaced with gritty realism and Craig’s brooding, stoic performance as the secret agent. Yet in the previous two Craig-era movies this tonal shift seemed to jeopardise something of the irresistible cinematic attraction of 007. So keen did those films seem to distance themselves from the more cartoonish elements of the character that at times they didn’t feel like James Bond movies at all. But Skyfall feels like a James Bond movie: it is both bold and beautiful, and uproariously entertaining.
The plot initially concerns the attempts of MI6 to recover a stolen hard-drive containing the actual identities of its undercover agents. Yet unlike QoS, which required you to be a member of British Intelligence to follow its’ garbled storyline, Skyfall’s script is focused and lean, meaning the films’ 140 minute run-time skips by in a breathless flash, while also allowing time for some interesting explorations of the staple Bond themes of loyalty and duty, as well as affectingly exploring the morality and the human cost of espionage.
In Skyfall, Craig for the first time truly captures the essence of 007. Yes he still broods, but his bruised and beaten performance of Bond as a man facing up to his own potential obsolescence and mortality now comes with an effortless sense of cool and charm. The filmmakers now also seem comfortable enough to address the 007 legacy, and Skyfall playfully references the franchise’s past. So we get exotic and deadly animals, Martini’s being made just how Bond likes them and in Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, we get a fantastically memorable Bond villain. Bardem’s bleached blonde madman is a joy to watch, he is in turns both terrifying and tragic, yet never anything less than completely magnetic. With Sam Mendes in the directors chair, Skyfall looks absolutely beautiful. The cinematography, especially in the key locations of London, Shanghai and Scotland is completely gorgeous, and Mendes also delivers the film’s action set pieces with an assured and confident hand.
Simply put, Skyfall is the perfect James Bond movie: cool and beautiful but now also with added heart. Judi Dench’s M is central to the story, and her own self doubt over her responsibility to her agents’ gives the film an emotional resonance that is perhaps surprising to find in a movie that also features two men having a fist fight on top of a speeding train. Skyfall is the moment in Bond’s history where past and present seem to come together completely harmoniously. It is unmistakeably modern yet unmistakeably Bond, and as a piece of blockbuster entertainment, Skyfall is unmistakeably brilliant.