After Quantum of Solace, the Bond franchise was left in limbo once again. The film left people shaken and stirred. Not only that, but the series was a part of a legal battle over the rights to the property once again, so there was even talk of the franchise being finished once and for all. Eventually they got it all figured out though, and in 2012, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, we had Skyfall delivered unto us. And boy, what a gift it was.
Skyfall might be the most financially successful Bond films ever. It might also be the most critically successful too, earning a glowing 4-star review from the late Roger Ebert (and yours truly), appearing on multiple 10 best lists, and nabbing 5 Oscar nominations, including Best Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Score, Sound Editing, and Original Song (it won for the last two). All of which was for good, justified reason: Skyfall is far and away one of the very best. It’s a film that got everything right; a masterwork that not only once again made us fall in love with the franchise, but also left us craving more. It’s a Bond film that celebrates the Bond films, and it’s a joyous experience.
To say that the Bond team pulled out all the stops with this film is an understatement. I mean seriously, look at the credentials behind this film: it’s directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), filmed by the then Oscar-less Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049, No Country for Old Men), scored by the should-be Oscar winner Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption), with production design by Dennis Gassner (Bugsy, 1917). Mendes seems like an odd choice to direct a Bond film, seeing as drama was usually his niche. Yet this happened to be a gamble that paid off.
Skyfall is sensational entertainment, a film that dazzles the eye and exhilarates from beginning to end. It manages to recapture the grit and greatness of Casino Royale by not only delivering a dark story that we can invest in and take seriously, but while also staying true to what makes a Bond movie a Bond movie. It has a creepy villain, beautiful women, beautiful locations (and then some), while also being witty and mostly (mostly) grounded in reality. It’s dark, it’s thrilling, and yet it’s great fun, further reminding us of what makes the franchise and the character such a delight after all these years. Plus, you have Daniel Craig, an asset who can elevate just about any material.
The film opens with Bond in a high-speed pursuit of a villainous fella who is carrying a chip that has a list of names on it. This opening is simply a marvelous spectacle, ranking not only among the film’s best, but among the series’ best, as we see Bond and foe riding motorcycles on rooftops, and the action continues until their onboard a train, all while a field agent named Eve (Naomie Harris) is following them. They reach a point however where Bond and the enemy are fighting each other on top of the train, and Eve has a clear shot of both of them, but also risks potentially shooting Bond. She is instructed by M (Judi Dench, getting her biggest role in these films), however, to “take the bloody shot!” So she does, hitting Bond and knocking him off of the train. Obviously this is the opening, so we can assume he’s still alive. That said, this is the one of the more implausible moments in Skyfall, but eh, who gives a crap.
So as Bond falls into a river, we then lead into our opening title sequence, and it’s really one that doesn’t need introduction, and like this movie, everything that can be said about it has already been said… but dammit, I’ll gush about it anyways. Adele won the Oscar for Best Original Song for this film (the first Bond song to do so) and yeah, it’s pretty fitting, seeing as it’s definitely one of the best. This song beautifully captures the movie, as does the sequence itself. It’s hard to listen to this song and watch this sequence without getting hyped, and luckily, the movie is worthy of the hype.
So yes, Bond is still alive, and he’s living on an island sleeping with women, drinking and supposedly doing pills. Nobody else is aware of this though, and life must go on with MI6. Upon Bond’s death, M’s judgement comes into question from both the Prime Minister and one fella named Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who are sort of urging her to retire. Soon though, after M finds her computer being hacked, the MI6 agency explodes with agents in the building. This incident draws Bond out of hiding. As M and Co. receive more threats, Bond- now a little rusty in terms of marksmanship and such- sets out on a quest to find whoever is behind it, taking him from Shanghai to Macau. Thus, the breadcrumbs lead him to one Mr. Silva (Javier Bardem), a creepy, flamboyant fella who has a past connection to MI6 and, in particular, M.
One thing that’s interesting about Skyfall is that it doesn’t really have a love interest. We have Eve, who has her flirtations with Bond, and Bond also meets a beautiful woman named Severine (Berenice Marlohe) who leads him to Silva. Yet neither of these women are “love interests,” and it was probably a wise choice not to shoehorn a love interest in here because Skyfall is so rich that any sort of forced chemistry would feel… well, forced. If anything, the Bond girl here is the legendary Dench, who after appearing in these films starting with Goldeneye, gets a much larger role, seeing as she’s very prominent to the story. A good call too, because Dench is obviously a legend in her own right, and she knocks this role out of the park. It’s a lovely, fitting sendoff.
Heck, everyone here brings their A-game. Craig is still in top form, regaining the charm, wit, and furiousness that first won us over in Casino Royale. Harris’ is a delight, Ben Wishaw gets his moments as the new Q. Bardem can obviously be creepy effectively (see: No Country for Old Men) and here is no different. Yet he’s also kind of a hoot, in his own flamboyant way, but he is nonetheless what we ask of a Bond villain. Yet the production values of this film also serve as star-power.
Skyfall is, without question, the best looking Bond film so far. Roger Deakins lost the Best Cinematography Oscar that year to the equally beautiful Life of Pi, and what a shame the Academy had to make a choice. There is rarely a moment in Skyfall that won’t make your eyes melt; it’s an absolute visual feast, and a triumph of not just cinematography but production design. Thomas Newman’s score is also pretty awesome, and all of this mixed with Sam Mendes’ impeccable direction is just a big symphony of awesome.
Suffice to say, Skyfall gets everything right, and then some. Its action sequences are thrilling and unforgettable. Mendes, again, seemed like an inspired choice, and he really was the man for the job. Skyfall works beautifully as entertainment, and a Bond movie, and yet like Casino Royale, it goes a bit deeper. Had we ever, in the 50 years of the franchise, questioned Bond’s upbringing? No, we honestly hadn’t, but Skyfall delivers at least a few pieces of the puzzle in the final act, which, like the rest of the film, is sensational (it’s also the last time we got to see the late Albert Finney on screen, which makes it all the more special).
To celebrate a 50 year old franchise, you really couldn’t do much better than Skyfall. Here is a loving tribute to Bond that not only captures the spirit of the best Bond films but also happens to be one of the best Bond films. Its winks and homages are a delight, and frankly, you really couldn’t ask for much more. I prefer Casino Royale by a smidge, but to be frank, there really isn’t anything to complain about here. It’s marvelous, cinematic dynamite.
James Bond, and I, will return with Spectre.