Skyfall is one of the most refreshing experiences I have had at the movies in 2012. It is perhaps the first 2012 movie I have seen that is just completely in touch with its tone and what it wanted to accomplish. The Sam Mendes addition to the James Bond franchise is a very key movie for the series, and everything it has to offer clicks. I knew almost nothing about the movie going into the IMAX midnight premiere, and maybe that is the best way to go into a film of such high anticipation. All of the brilliant little details of the story and characters offer wonderful surprises and twists. Everyone seems to still anoint Casino Royale as the class of the modern Bond films, but this movie surpasses its two predecessors in substantial fashion.
I always find it hard to discuss the plotlines of Bond films without giving too much away. Tomorrow Never Dies is the “submarine one” and Die Another Day is the “one with the invisible car. The plot is always what makes the Bond films what they are, and to start discussing the plot would take a large chunk away from the experience I ran into that problem with my Quantum of Solace review, and I didn’t even really realize it until Terry tore my review apart. So, to avoid giving anything away, Skyfall is about the past coming back to haunt the characters. M (Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench) has her largest part in some time, and her back-story is one of the main parts of the film. Bond (Daniel Craig, in his best performance as 007) is on a mission to find a computer drive with the names of British Intelligence agents on it, leading him to the mastermind behind the ordeal Silva (Oscar-winner Javier Bardem). Bond clashes with MI6 and some new faces at the agency after a failed mission in which he is gunned down by fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and believed to be dead. On the surface, the film’s story is a classic for the franchise, but never has the film really explored the dark shadows of the characters’ pasts quite like this one does. John Logan worked with Neal Pervis and Robert Wade, writers of the past two Bond films, to piece together what is the tightest script for a 007 film in many years. It is so interesting, filled with drama, suspense, believable character arcs, and surprises. I am glad that Logan and company signed on for the next two because this is really becoming its own franchise now, almost unrecognizable from the previous 20 films.
The acting in the film is superb. Daniel Craig owns Bond now. His demeanor is flawless, and his character here isn’t quite as rough as the previous films. He is scarred both emotionally and physically, and we are able to see another side of the coolest character ever in film. He still has that classic Bond charm, but it is in a different manner. He doesn’t really have the suave womanizer traits in this film, seeing as there really isn’t the “Bond Girl” this time around. It is much more about the distant past and confronting it. Judi Dench gives her finest M performance as well. Ralph Fiennes is underused, but as the film goes on it becomes more and more apparent why he is in the film. Naomie Harris was a nice addition to the cast. Ben Whisaw’s Q is refreshing and funny. Albert Finney is great. The movie is owned by Javier Bardem, though, who is a sure-fire Best Supporting Actor contender. He creates the most sinister and compelling Bond villain since the Connery Bonds. He is remarkable in this film, almost creating a character nearly as chilling as his Anton Chigurh, but in a different way. He is just one of those actors born to play villains.
What I most appreciated about this film, however, is how it pays homage to the past films in the franchise. The score is could have been from any number of the earliest Bond films. The fight scene choreography was less Bourne this time around and more tactical. The plot twists were subtle, and the character arcs were not forced. It all just felt totally authentic. The best element that the film has is the cinematography by the great Roger Deakins. It is by far the best shot film of the year. The set pieces were so calculated and beautiful. The fight scenes all seemed to be staged in a way that was unforgettable and haunting. The only comparison I can think of with that dynamic was last year’s Drive. The quieter scenes showed Bond returning to the shadows (both figuratively and literally). The opening chase scene was breathtaking, with one shot of him on cruising across rooftops on a motorcycle that looked like a shot out of a ‘60s Bond film. Deakins and Mendes work wonders for the look of the film. There are several shots that will not leave my memory for some time.
So, where does Skyfall stand in the film’s storied franchise? I have not seen 6 of the entries, but I put it just behind the pinnacle of all Bond films (and action films in general for that matter) Goldfinger. The song by Adele is amazing, the best one since Live and Let Die. Everyone still seems to love Casino Royale, and while that was one of the more daring and game-changing Bonds, this one is the film that marks the departure from the previous entries. It pays its homage, but then takes steps to create its own legacy. Sam Mendes is one of the best directors in the world, and I actually put this as his second best film as well (behind Best Picture-winner American Beauty, of course). Skyfall downright shocked me with how textured and confident it was. There are only a few middle scenes that are not necessarily paced right, which makes its almost two and a half hour running time seem a bit much, but other than that, this is about as good as a Bond film can get. If you think that they have milked everything they can out of that character, think again and go see this movie. Any casual fan of the franchise will find great thrills in it.
Rating: 3.5 stars