The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Skyfall continues the new Bond direction towards authentic action filmmaking but leaves room for some old 007 charm. It's over the top exhilirating fun.
The film's great title, Skyfall, refers to James Bond's childhood estate, which comes into play late in the film. We begin with Daniel Craig as 007 in high speed pursuit of a snarling bad guy who's nabbed a top secret list of agents. Craig is in a suit; M (Judi Dench) is in his ear back at MI6 headquarters; and fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) has James' back in an SUV while he chases the enemy on a dirtbike before jumping onto a train.
This prologue doesn't feature anything new as far as stunts go, but that doesn't detract from the thrill of the chase. One treat: Bond mans a front end loader on the train; a decision that puts him in the line of fire of a cool kind of Thompson submachine-handgun, wielded by the bad guy. Yes, Bond is mortal, and the scene ends with him falling to his death, or so it seems.
It's not spoiling anything to reveal Bond's untimely demise since there wouldn't be a movie unless he lives. What's compelling about these new Bond films, with Craig at the forefront, is the dedication to creating authentic action and making 007 a real human being, as opposed to a cartoon character (looking at you Timothy Dalton). Killing him off, even for a minute, represents the franchise's new way of envisioning the character. It's bold and modern, and exactly why these new Bond films put the old ones to shame, Sean Connery or no Sean Connery.
Further illustrating director Sam Mendes' interest in creating a real hero is what happens next. Bond hides away for a while in an unidentified beach location. He seduces the ladies and wows the locals by drinking with a scorpion on his hand, but the fun can't last forever. Soon, Bond returns to London and his master, M, the woman who "killed" him by green-lighting a kill shot instead of allowing 007 to handle the job himself. Trust has been broken, but wounds are skin-deep in the world of espionage, and soon Bond is placed back in the field. The fractured relationship nicely sets up what's to come.
Javier Bardem makes a welcome return to the world of evil (we've missed him since No Country for Old Men) as Tiago Rodriguez AKA Raoul Silva, a forgotten former MI6 agent who was once betrayed by M and is now back for revenge. He's a hacker genius who's infiltrated the spy network, exposing operatives, dropping ominous messages, and wreaking havoc from a remote island hideout in Japan. Bond gains access to Silva through a bombshell named Severine (Berenice Marlohe), who thinks the agent can save her from the villain's lethal grip.
Bond and Silva's face to face meeting is the film's best moment. As Bond sits, tied to a chair, Silva appears at the far end of a huge room and gradually walks up to him. Bardem brings the same kind of wanton unpredictability and psycho danger that inhabited Anton Chigurh to this role. One thing though, he seems to like Bond a little too much. He creepily fingers Bond's throat and face before letting him loose for a quick game of William Tell involving a 50 year-old Macallen and the beautiful Severine. Why the homosexual undertones? It's all part of the wonderful fun of a Bardem villain. He may want to kill Bond, but he can't help but be attracted to him also.
Through all the chasing and showdowns, what stands out most about Skyfall are its incredible sets and epic camera work. Each location is established with sweeping panoramic helicopter shots, a page out of Stanley Kubrick's playbook utilized recently by Christopher Nolan to give his Dark Knight films a larger-than-life feel. Mendes is smart to duplicate the process. Nolan's Batman movies contained a reality unseen before in comic book filmmaking and the Bond franchise is wise to follow that formula.
As in the Dark Knight films, a main theme of Skyfall is the notion of "operating in the shadows," an idea obviously rooted in the clandestine world of MI6 and visulized onscreen by Mendes who shoots Craig in silhouette multiple times, an old-school touch that would make Michael Curtiz proud. Bond is seen fighting in the darkness, battling a foe underwater, and, most aptly, sneaking up stealthily on Severine in the shower.
Skyfall concludes with a fiery showdown at Bond's aforementioned childhood estate and the action unfolds in a hail of bullets and bombs worthy of Schwarzenegger as the spy thriller turns into a battle royale to the death. Albert Finney appears as an old Bond family friend to add more fun to the action, and the story contains enough twists and turns to keep the ending in doubt.
Hardcore Bond fans may lament the lack of spy gadgetry relative to the earlier films, but in this brave new world of Bond Veritas, sacrifices must be made. The story does leave enough room for the classic last name/first name introduction, a shaken martini, and the return of Bond's Aston Martin DB5. The merging of the old with the new has never felt so right, but I'm sure much more is in store next time as 007 continues to evolve with the times.