Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe
Every great Bond movie starts with an action packed opening before the credits start. If it is exquisitely executed, it should give you a taste of what the rest of the movie is going to be like. Sometimes it involves the rest of the plot, and sometimes it stands on its own. Skyfall may have the best opening sequence to date. Bond (Craig) discovers a coveted hard drive has been stolen and a fellow MI6 agent has been shot. He informs M (Dench) over headset and she orders him to go after the killer, Patrice. Bond joins Eve (Harris), another MI6 agent, as they chase after him. After taking a bullet in the shoulder and numerous food stands and train cars are destroyed, Bond and our thief are in combat on top of a moving train. Eve is off in the distance reporting the action to M. She is close enough to take a shot at Patrice, but the risk of hitting Bond is too great for her to go along with the shot. M orders her to “take the bloody shot”. Bond is hit and falls down into the river. He is presumed missing in action and possibly dead.
M is devastated after making a call that ended in the possible death of coveted MI6 Agent 007 James Bond. Gareth Mallory (Fiennes) is the new head of Intelligence and Security Committee. He calls a meeting with M informing her that she is being forced into early retirement. She learns that her computer has been hacked into on the way back to MI6 headquarters. As they pull up to headquarters, an explosion goes off in the offices and six employees are killed.
Bond used his supposed death to retire himself. He learns of the attacks at MI6 and heads back to London. He shows up at M’s flat and informs her that 007 is reporting back to duty. M agrees, but informs him that he must go through numerous evaluations to make sure he is fit for duty. The time off has made Bond weak and unsteady. Even though he fails his evaluations, M officially hires him back on. Bond uses the shrapnel from his shoulder to trace the bullet back to Patrice to find out who he is employed by. The stolen hard drive contains the names and identities to various undercover MI6 agents. M discovers that the identities are being leaked. Bond heads to Shanghai to find Patrice. Further investigation leads Bond to Silva (Bardem), a sadistic terrorist. Silva is a former MI6 agent who worked with M and blames her for his capture and torture by the Chinese.
In various articles I have read, Sam Mendes has mentioned that he was very inspired by Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight when shaping his approach to directing a Bond film. The inspiration is very evident when watching the film. The story involving a terrorist and revenge is a very realistic approach that you don’t see in a lot of the older Bond films. Mendes and screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade flesh out these characters we’ve come to love by giving them a back story this time around. The movie is not really an origins story, but you learn more about the relationship between Bond and M as well as about Bond’s childhood. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench are masters at both of these characters. They bring a depth to the characters that we never saw in earlier Bond movies. The audience really understands that Bond is a flawed character. He is a lot more than some strapping hunk of a hero that will come rescue you and defeat the bad guys.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins. The nine time Oscar nominee has previously worked on previous films by Sam Mendes and consistently shoots all of the Coen Brothers movies. His way of shooting the action sequences, especially the opening train scene, keep you on the edge of your seat. The mix of close ups and wide shots make you feel like you are on top of the train with Bond and Patrice, and the wide shots give you the scope of how crazy the stunt work is. The other fight between Patrice and Bond in Shanghai is very intricately shot and lit with them in darkness against the neon blue background lights.
This is Daniel Craig’s third time playing Bond after starting his run off with a bang in Casino Royale which then was followed up by the dismal Quantum of Solace. I know there may be some Connery purists out there, but Daniel Craig is James Bond. He is sexy and suave whether he’s in a suit or a tiny swimsuit. He brings the dry wit that other Bond actors failed to do. He can tackle any action scene and stunt work thrown at him. He has a natural chemistry with many of his leading ladies. Judi Dench commands the screen as M like nobody else could. She brings out the maternal side of M and gives her a sense of humor that works well with Craig’s Bond. I have loved watching her work as M over the years, especially as the story in Skyfall centers around her. Javier Bardem won an Oscar for playing bad guy Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He sure knows how to play sinister men. Silva is one of the best Bond villains. He is completely sadistic and psychotic without feeling too campy or over-the-top.
Mendes’ love of the Bond franchise shows as he incorporates all of those elements we love about the series into Skyfall while making them feel fresh and current in today’s society. You have your Bond girls, an evil villain, gadgets, a sultry theme song written and performed by Adele, and intense action sequences without any of it feeling hokey and gimmicky. If you know your history, you will pick up on little nods to the past. These homages are done subtly without feeling too “wink wink-nudge nudge”. If you are a die-hard Bond fan, you will love the 23rd outing. If you are new to the series, hopefully you will become a new fan. Is this the best Bond movie to date? Yes, as a matter of fact, I think I would rank it that way.
RATING: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)