By Marty Mulrooney
Skyfall is the twenty-third James Bond film and Daniel Craig’s third outing as Ian Fleming’s 007. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), the film coincides with the James Bond film series’ 50th anniversary. A self-contained outing for the world’s most famous secret agent, Skyfall sees James Bond (Daniel Craig) returning from the dead to face his most dangerous adversary to date – Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyberterrorist with hidden ties to the head of MI6, M (Judi Dench).
Skyfall takes place an undisclosed amount of time after the events of Quantum of Solace, with Bond no longer the rough around the edges ‘blunt instrument’ shown in the previous films of the Daniel Craig 007 era. Opening in Turkey, Bond discovers a fellow MI6 agent murdered and a hard drive containing the hidden identities of all agents embedded in terrorist organisations across the globe missing. Working with MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris), Bond pursues the killer through the streets and across the rooftops of Turkey in an attempt to retrieve the stolen disk.
It’s an opening sequence that gives Casino Royale‘s parkour-centric chase sequence a run for its money, with Bond following French mercenary Patrice via Jeep, motorbike and eventually atop a speeding train. This is 007 at the height of his game, with not even a hint of hesitation shown, life-or-death decisions being made in a split-second, a cold gaze betraying only the burning desire to fulfil his mission for both Queen and country. Bond has finally found his place in the world and within his job – he looks entirely comfortable in an extraordinarily perilous situation. Then MI6 agent Eve is ordered by M to take a shot that isn’t clear and Bond plunges into the cold embrace of a title sequence accompanied by the best Bond theme song in years, Adele’s ‘Skyfall’.
Of course, it’s never truly believed by the viewer that Bond has died, even for a moment – but the plot device that he is dead allows Skyfall to build up in a similar manner to Christopher Nolan’s magnificent The Dark Knight Rises. 007 is a mess, a depressed alcoholic with unresolved psychological issues and a deep sense of betrayal felt towards MI6 and in particular M. He’s once again a blunt instrument, but this time with an unsteady aim, an unshaven face and the need to take the edge off his downward-spiraling, miserable existence with drink after drink. He’s enjoying his fake death, but without a purpose he may as well be actually dead.
Meanwhile, MI6 is being targeted by a cyberterrorist who seems to have a personal vendetta against M. Often a character lurking in the background in the previous films, M is brought to the fore in Skyfall and Judi Dench rises to the challenge of her expanded role admirably. She is a fascinating character, forced to make excruciatingly difficult decisions that will always have consequences whatever the outcome. Skyfall is about cause and effect – M has made the world a better place, but she has also created evil during her fight for the greater good. By no means is M a saint – she’s a haunted woman living on borrowed time… and she knows it. A scapegoat in a thankless job with secrets that gnaw at her from the inside out on a daily basis, there’s only one person she can trust in a world that wants to quickly forget her and move on – James Bond.
When MI6 Headquarters is attacked and several employees are killed in the resultant explosion, Bond returns from the dead for active duty. He’s washed up and his aim is off, but despite his hurt and pain, his loyalties remain. It’s fascinating to witness a man who has seen and done so much being completely torn down and rebuilt. Gone is the 007 of the distant past with a raised eyebrow aimed into the camera. This modern Bond views his profession as being a glorified murderer and this creates a conflict within him that dictates his every move.
Regardless, when he’s on form, nobody does it better. Skyfall works so well because director Sam Mendes hits all the grace notes of the series whilst keeping the focus firmly on a complicated man who is endlessly fascinating when portrayed honestly on-screen. This is Ian Fleming’s James Bond updated for a modern age with the utmost respect. The entire film is beautifully shot, with locations ranging from a towering neon-lit skyscraper in Shanghai and a floating Chinese lantern-lit casino in Macau… to rural Scotland. The plot is basic despite its complexities but remains gripping throughout due to a terrifying performance by Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva. He’s a truly memorable villain that ranks as one of Bond’s greatest adversaries – he isn’t what he initially seems in more ways than one. Hypnotic and dangerous, he draws remarkable similarities to Bond himself.
Skyfall is a stand-alone Bond film that fondly remembers the series’ 50 year history without remaining stuck in the past. Daniel Craig is in many ways a firm contender for the best actor to have ever played 007, fully embodying Ian Fleming’s troubled spy in a modern age and for a modern audience. Sam Mendes has helmed a beautifully understated outing for the world’s most famous secret agent that marries breathtaking action and exotic locations with sincere depth and characterisation. One of the best films of 2012, it could also be argued – and no doubt it will be for some time – that this is the best James Bond film ever made. This is 007 reborn, and he’s never felt more alive.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
10 OUT OF 10
All Images © 2011 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.