Skyfall is richly crafted and engrossing, with an ending that solidifies its status among the best Bond movies ever.
For those of us who've enjoyed James Bond over the years, there's been one issue haunting his gadget/girls hustler persona - is there a genuine person under those fancy suits and behind the wheel of his Aston Martin? Die Another Day sought to answer that by taking him off the grid, only to leave us with a great first act and an over-the-top third. And while origin tales such as Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace have entertained, our nagging question remained. Skyfall responds by delving deeper into the mythos, blending great storytelling, beautiful women, and an instantly classic bad guy into one of the best Bond movies ever.
After a botched MI6 operation in Istanbul over a stolen hard drive containing a NOC list of agents and an ensuing motorcycle chase across the city, James Bond (Daniel Craig, Layer Cake) finds himself missing in action, thanks to a bad call made by M (Judi Dench, J. Edgar). She's under increasing pressure from new boss Gareth Milloy (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter series) to resign, who sees M as a worn-out warrior ready for pasture. Months later, 007 resurfaces in an unknown coastal paradise 'enjoying death' as he puts until MI6 comes under attack from an unknown enemy. Swept back in by his sense of duty and the rising body count, Bond shows up at M's apartment bearded and a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform list. He soon learns that the attack has been orchestrated by one of their own, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) who seeks a personal act of revenge upon M. Together with the snarky gadget guru Q (Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas) and 00 agent Eve (Naomie Harris, POTC series), Bond pursues Silva to an unforeseen and richly told third act that will both shock and pleasantly surprise audiences familiar with the franchise's history.
If Casino Royale showed Bond's loss of innocence, Skyfall suggests that his transformation from ”less of a random killing machine, and more of a personal statement” as Q coins it is nearly complete. Unlike previous iterations, Skyfall neither requires a degree in computer wizardry, nor an acumen for slicing through convoluted plots - its simple story of loss and retribution wrapped in a highly effective spy tale ushers the moviegoer into unfamiliar territory while honoring the franchise's deep roots. Whether it's the deep roots of its characters or the gut-wrenching ending, fans will enjoy the realization that 007 has finally matured into a sympathetic warrior who's been through the emotional and physical ringer. Credit the veteran Bond writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Gladiator penner John Logan for a script that doesn't depend on a world-dominating bad guy for 007 to pursue. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), whose choice many drew many a wary eye, shines in his interpretation of the titular figure, deepening and darkening the tone while delivering several memorable sequences, including an eloquent battle in a Shanghai skyscraper and one of the most memorable villains we've seen from the franchise in a long time. Javier Bardem fits that latter role with a style that's feels truly calculated and therefore disturbing, existing more to torment Judi Dench's M and destroy MI6 than engage in typical Bond tomfoolery. Silva's first exchange is one of the most memorable, both in terms of its intimacy and in Bond's response. But it's Daniel Craig's performance which continues to win over audiences - his haunted and mournful looks throughout the film are sadly well-earned, and Craig plays the agent provocateur with amazing depth. As Act 3 nears it conclusion, we see Bond in an entirely different light, as a man weighed down by all the years of struggle, with nothing more than death on his hands. It's a simple and powerful moment, with Mendes completing the transformation with wonderful precision.
It's a marvelously rewarding tale, but one that still misses in a few spots. Not only does Skyfall deviate from the continuing origin story by ignoring the Quantum connection established in the previous two films for a standalone tale, it also muddies the water as to where exactly this film fits into the Bond universe. Unlike Marvel's or Lucas' storylines, the world of 007 has existed in the time period in which the film was shot; it's clear that long-time series producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli understand this, but it also ignores a strong story-telling element that could up the ante by giving us a long-term bad guy that Bond could pursue and that audiences could love to hate along the way. It will be a long time before we'll see another classic baddie like Silva, so perhaps our creative team will seek to bookend Craig's Quantum with Connery's SPECTRE? Only a true fan could hope for such perfection. These issues are only bug spots on the windshield, easily removed by the performance of Dench's M and Fiennes' Mallory; both providing Bond with cool and customary bosses for him to dislike, but both reward the audience with their own personal story arcs which interweave right up to film's end. The suddenly-everywhere Whishaw plays a terrific Q, whose early quip-trading was strangely missing from the third act. And then there's Naomie Harris, whose late reveal brought a uniform 'AH!' from our screening audience.
Skyfall is an epic celebration of the past 50 years of Bond, mixing the best elements of every previous incarnation into a tightly-wound, visually mournful tale that supplants most of its predecessors. If the Bourne Identity series brought a needed element of grittiness into spy films, Skyfall makes the next leap by portraying a hero whose fast lifestyle isn't as glamorous as we'd like to think. In many ways we're witnesses here to both the death and rebirth of James Bond, whose actions and reactions to the madness around him re-secures his hero status for the next century. Minus a few miscues and personal misgivings about where the franchise is headed, Skyfall reminds us of just how many good Bond stories are still out there waiting to be told, sans all the high-tech. For a series that's survived for so long on its brazen sexuality and gadgetry, it's refreshing to see 007 in such a damaged and dangerous light. The result is definitely worth watching. Skyfall is rated PG-13 for violence and sexual situations, and comes highly recommended.
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