This new era of James Bond has been a mixed bag so far. Casino Royale was praised by many as a fantastic reinvention of the multi-decade old series. Quantum of Solace, contrastingly, used all the same pieces, but mashed them together in a way that was incomprehensible.
With Skyfall, it’s a sink or swim moment for Craig’s Bond and his more realistic universe that doesn’t involve femme fatales named Pussy Galore, bad guys with giant metal teeth or MI6 issued exploding pens. But he can’t go full “Bourne” either, he still needs to retain that wit and charm of Bond, something that’s been in short supply in the first two films.
But what we have here is an absolutely gorgeous film and well-told story by director Sam Mendes. The scenery and shots he uses are simply leagues beyond anything we’ve seen from the series, and he’s finally managed to tell a story that balances the fun of the old films with the realism that the new series wants to have.
One of Mendes’s many great shots.
Skyfall adds something the last two new-era Bond films were lacking, a bona fide Bond villain. Yes, old white guys in suits can be vaguely intimidating I suppose, but they’ve all lacked a certain…flair to them compared to past foils in the series.
The answer to that ailment comes in the form of Javier Bardem’s Mr. Silva. The blond haired tech guru can hack anything, anywhere, and uses that skill for a very particular purpose. He’s not out to blow up the world or rob Fort Knox. Rather his insanity and brilliance drives him toward one purpose, revenge, specifically on the one who wronged him most way back when, Bond’s MI6 matriarch, M.
Silva is an interesting antagonist for Bond. Not only does he represent a new digital era of intelligence whereas Bond is something of a relic, but his ambiguous sexuality runs contrary to Bond’s machismo in a few very interesting scenes. But more pressingly for the story, it’s a welcome relief to have a relatively straightforward tale told here. The past two films have been rather muddled when it comes to understanding what exactly the nature of the grand threat is, but here, it’s far more simple and the story is never lost in the carnage.
“Your triceps look delicious, Mr. Bond.”
And how about that carnage? Any good Bond film is known for its epic action sequences, and this one is no exception. Though in almost two and a half hours there are surprisingly few, and more time is spent on the character of Bond himself, something most of the previous films mostly ignore.
It’s an interesting character study, as Bond is portrayed as an old man in a brave new world. Secret agents seem irrelevant as a boy “in his pajamas can do more damage with his laptop” as the newly introduced, almost teenage Q tells him. Here we get to see Bond as more of a flawed human being, and less of a suave, murderous super-spy that will outlive us all.
After a near death experience Bond is shaken (not stirred), and has to find a way back to become the agent he once was. There are many quiet moments of self-reflection here, and his bond with M is a particularly engaging part of the film, as the two have a relationship unique to cinema.
“I’m too old for this shit.”
During the moments that are supposed to be the most dramatically impactful, it can be hard to summon emotion because for so long, Bond’s universe has almost always been devoid of emotion save “anger” and “lust.” It’s understood that’s what happening is onscreen is sad, but it never quite hits home the way it’s supposed to.
The end of the film takes an unexpected turn into Bond’s ever-mysterious past, revealing bits of info about him while never going into full “prequel” mode. Skyfall does, however, serve to explain a few things about the canon of the series. Casino Royale was meant to take place before even the first Connery Bond film, and the end of Skyfall serves to answer a few questions about characters we saw in those old films. Of course the timelines will never really add up, but between that and a few other nods, it’s a welcome throwback to the “golden days” as it were, particularly relevant due to the theme of the film.
Bond is back, as they always seem to say, but he’s definitely worth a look this time around.
4 out of 5 stars