In his 50th year of onscreen existence, James Bond proves he is more vibrant and vital than ever by offering an intense, state of the art action film; one that is both pointed and personal. More than any other Bond film to date, it has things to say about security, espionage and intelligence gathering in today’s world, while at the same time revealing more of the history and character of James Bond than ever before.
It’s brimming with car chases, shoot outs, and explosions but it also features well crafted, damaged characters complete with backstories and understandable motivations. “Skyfall” is that rare breed of action film. Full of exciting, pulse pounding set pieces, while also deriving tension from worthwhile dramatic content.
“Skyfall” begins with the loss of an encrypted hard drive.
The drive contains the placements and identities of hundreds of undercover agents not just from MI6, but from other NATO intelligence agencies around the globe. Obviously, the retrieval of such sensitive material is paramount, so secret agent 007 James Bond (Daniel Craig) engages in a high-speed chase after the man who took it… via car, motorcycle and train. The chase has disastrous conclusion however. It culminates in Bond being accidentally shot by a fellow agent, plummeting from an enormous train trestle into a river below, and left for dead.
For a brief time he stays off the grid, recuperating and “enjoying” life. But when the terrorists who seized the hard drive bomb MI6 headquarters, he reports back for active duty. The injuries he sustained, his advancing age, and the layoff he took have diminished his skills, and he has difficulty re-certifying. However shaky he is, he’s put back in the field regardless… but this leaves him vulnerable when he eventually meets the man behind the attack. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is a flamboyant criminal mastermind with a very personal ax to grind with M (Judi Dench). Always two steps ahead of MI6, Silva has gone to great lengths in order to exact his revenge, and now it’s up to Bond to stop him and protect M.
In Silva, Bardem has given us inarguably one of the greatest Bond villains of all time. My knee jerk reaction is to proclaim him the best immediately, but perhaps a cooling off period is prudent. He’s flamboyant and colorful in many ways, but decidedly (and wisely) low-key in others. His motivations are better established than any villain in Bond history, and Bardem obviously savors the role. The combination of those two factors will undoubtedly rocket him to the top of the 50-year-old list for many. The long shot where he slowly strolls into the movie, monolguing every step of the way, is simply one of the greatest Bond villain moments of all time.
Also undeniably amongst the best in the franchise’s history are “Skyfall”‘s action sequences. The pre-title chase is one for the ages, mixing a car chase, shoot outs, motorcycle stunt racing, a fist fight, a backhoe and eventually the tension filled sniper sequence. Along the way, they find a way to sprinkle in a Bond signature moment, one where he fixes his cuff after jumping into a destroyed train car. Things certainly don’t let up there, though. This film is Bond’s best showing as a martial artist ever, filled with the type of solid, practical martial arts that a true field agent would be trained in. No spinning reverse crescent kicks here, but tons of solid blocks, punches, takedowns, holds, and debilitating kicks to the legs. There are more major shoot outs, a foot chase through the subways of London, and eventually what amounts to a fiery, all out, small theatre conflict to keep the pulse racing throughout the film’s runtime. Strictly as an action movie, “Skyfall” is the best of the genre to date this year, and yes, I’ve seen “The Avengers”.
Mendes does more than just craft memorable action sequences though. He’s also created one of the most striking Bond films ever visually, as well. There are numerous shots that are so colorful or so dramatic that they beg to be turned into “Skyfall” desktop wallpapers. Even without the benefit of “exotic locales” (this is one of Bond’s least ”Travelogue” outings) it really is some of the best cinematography in the entire series. Mendes highlights introspective moments via reflections in car windows, turns toss away transitional shots into memorable ones with neon lighting or the orange glow of a raging fire, and adds drama to poignant passages with some deft camera movement and clever shot angles. In “Skyfall”, the Bond series showcases what it can be with a solid, artistically minded director. And that is… excellent.
As a movie fan, I have no complaints whatsoever. Though it’s not a perfect film (I’d have dialed back some of Bardem’s character’s Oedipal issues a little, avoided a major movie cliché at the end, and maybe even turned down the fan service a notch), “Skyfall” is a first-rate action movie, bound for legendary status in the action genre. It’s well worth the price of admission and easily bound to be one of the best films of the year. As a Bond fan, I’m letting my impressions of the new Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) settle in, but I’m definitely a big fan of Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory. He was excellent, and the way they worked him in was very well done. My only mild complaint from the Bond fan perspective is that I do wish they would return some of fun to the life of Bond. Craig is the first Bond that I wouldn’t want to BE. Not that I wish the series would return to the campiness of the Roger Moore era, say, but there has to be a compromise zone somewhere where we can keep the great stories, action, and realism of the Craig’s Bond films and find a way to incorporate more of the joie de vivre that Brosnan, Moore and Connery had. Yes, it’s true that a killing machine like Bond probably wouldn’t actually revel in the glamorous high life as much as those Bonds did, and as such, Craig’s Bond is, again, more realistic. But he’s also a little less fun, and I hope the series finds its way to up that fun quotient again somehow.
That “Bond Geek” footnote aside, “Skyfall” is an intense, well written, well acted, well directed action movie that’s sure to please general audiences and Bond purists alike. It’s an intense and solidly dramatic film. An instant entrant to my 2012 top ten and a strong contender for movie of the year. The action genre is spilling over with the movie refuse of substandard plots, characters and generic direction. To find one as artfully crafted as this should be cause for celebration amongst all movie fans, not just the Bond faithful.