In 2006’s “Bond begins” reboot “Casino Royale,” Daniel Craig didn’t so much debut as 007 as he did ERUPT as him, imbuing Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy with a vulnerability and a ferocity never before seen. The bar was set pretty high, and despite the misstep of Craig’s half-baked second outing in 2008, I take more than a mere quantum of solace in saying that SKYFALL, the 23rd film in the 50-year-old franchise, handily exceeds expectations.
Credit goes to pretty much everyone, in front of and behind the camera.
The production team consists of the usual cadre of seasoned Bond veterans, but they’re joined this time by some prodigous A-list and Oscar-caliber talent, from director Sam Mendes and co-screenwriter John Logan to ace cinematographer Roger Deakins and first-time Bond composer Thomas Newman. All of them acquit themselves marvelously in this retro-mod Bond adventure that is at once an affectionate throwback to the Sean Connery era and a confident leap into a brave new world.
This may not exactly be your father’s James Bond anymore, but he’s no longer Jason Bourne’s wannabe sibling, either.
If Bond flicks are measured by their bad guys, SKYFALL ranks in the upper echelon, courtesy of a twisted, scary turn by Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, an ex-MI6 agent left for dead and bent on personal revenge.
He’s appropriately polite and charming, a little bit loony, and conceals a frightful physical deformity—a traditional trait of the best 007 nemeses, from Jaws’ steel dentures and Blofeld’s facial scar to Carl Stromberg’s webbed appendages and Franz Sanchez’ complexion.
The supporting cast is the sturdiest Bond’s had in forever, including stalwart Judi Dench as “M,” Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe as two delicious Bond girls, Ralph Fiennes as a ministry bureaucrat who may not be such a prick as we’re initially led to believe, and Albert Finney as an ally from Bond’s past.
From “Licence to Kill” and “GoldenEye” to “The World is Not Enough” and “Quantum of Solace,” the past twenty-something years have seen 007 embark on far too many “personal” missions, but this time the emotional stakes resonate throughout the plot and add layers of complexity to the psyche of Bond.
Rarely in a James Bond movie has the specter of death felt so genuine and imminent—characters both major and minor are in frequent jeopardy, and we truly dread the loss and potential loss of life.
Tweaking the familiar formula of a giant showdown at the villain’s lair, SKYFALL instead converges on the isolated childhood home of Bond in Scotland (the “Skyfall” of the title), with Silva and a seemingly endless supply of mercenaries hunting down our heroes.
If the homestead stalking sequence gives you a sense of déjà vu from films such as “Witness,” “Patriot Games” and “Home Alone,” well, at least that’s preferable to a rote deployment of any other interchangeable Bond climax.
SKYFALL takes Bond to dark places, but fret not, because all is not so dour. Reinvented and reinvigorated in SKYFALL is a sense of fun and humor sorely lacking from Craig’s previous outings. We also get a few gadgets this time, both old and new, and a reintroduction of toy-master “Q,” reconfigured here as a dweeby hacker genius (Ben Whishaw).
SKYFALL also sees the inauguration of a new Miss Moneypenny (this was the worst kept secret of the entire production, but for those who don’t yet know the spoiler I will refrain from naming the actress).
The movie ends on a hint that Bond 24 will kick off as a truly traditional “Bond on a real mission” episode (John Logan is reportedly already writing Bond 24 and Bond 25, though there are conflicting accounts as to whether or not the two films will be linked).
We close on the iconic gun barrel sequence (man, I sure do miss the days when this bit OPENED a Bond flick!), which then fades into a custom “50th Anniversary” logo and an assurance, as always, that JAMES BOND WILL RETURN.
For the first time in years, that’s more of a golden promise than a looming threat.