In the wake of financial woes and production delays, fans were undoubtedly concerned for the future of the 007 franchise. As “Skyfall” reminds us, though, there’s no keeping down the world’s most debonair spy for very long, and James comes roaring back in what is by far one of the best Bond films in years.
While “Casino Royale” is considered by many the gold standard of contemporary 007 movies, “Skyfall” takes everything we love about the old Bond – the cars, the girls, the shaken-not-stirred martinis – and transports our hero to the modern age: An age where cyber terrorism and merciless villains may prove too much for even James Bond to contend with.
“Skyfall” begins with one of the most dizzyingly brilliant and thrilling action sequences to hit the silver screen in recent memory. A dazzling motorcycle chase across the Istanbul rooftops, a tense car chase through a crowded market, a heart-pounding fistfight atop a speeding train – you can have your “Avengers” or “Transformers,” but I’ll stick with my good, old-fashioned stunts that no CGI could ever replicate. “Skyfall” pulls us right in with a fierce death grip and does not let us go until the thumping chords of Adele’s soon-to-be classic theme song.
The film’s central conflict is the burning question Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Judi Dench) must face: Is the “old guard” of espionage simply not cut out for the criminal masterminds of modern terrorism? M grapples with her past decisions as they come back to haunt her and threaten to cost her her job.
A close encounter quickly shows Bond that he is no longer the strong, invincible agent we fondly remember: He has since slowed down and now carries a significant amount of emotional baggage. “It’s a young man’s game,” foreign intelligence head Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) reminds him, with declarations about “teaching an old dog new tricks” and remembering that “sometimes the old ways are best” constantly recurring throughout the picture.
Craig is at the top of his game here – combining his devilish charm from “Casino Royale” with his brooding austerity of “Quantum of Solace” to create a charismatic yet wounded interpretation of Bond, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Javier Bardem is equally sadistic and magnetic as the blonde, effeminate Silva: a former spy with a vendetta against M, discomforting and eerie in his disposition but ultimately sympathetic.
There’s a sprinkling of delightful nods to the old films (“Were you expecting an exploding pen?” tech extraordinaire Q (Ben Whishaw) says to 007, as he introduces him to new gadgets). Bérénice Marlohe is a slinky, ravishing Bond girl that harkens back to the days of Pussy Galore; and although Naomie Harris comes across stilted, her catty repartee with Craig is fun to watch and will no doubt improve in future installments.
“Skyfall” takes a breather midway through – slowing down for a short enough amount of time that you don’t lose interest but long enough that you’re eager for the film to pick back up. Dissenters of the movie may claim that these 20-30 minutes could easily be knocked off the film’s nearly two and a half hour running time, but these scenes are vital in both character development and setting up one astonishing, bang-up job of a finale. The epic showdown in the Scottish countryside is nothing short of astounding, and by the time you pick your jaw up off the floor, you’ll soon forget about any small quibbles you might have previously had with the film.
With a suitably epic score by Thomas Newman and stellar cinematography by Roger Deakins, Sam Mendes has given us one of the most mesmerizing Bond films to both see and hear, which will hopefully pick up awards nods this winter for its technical prowess.
Before the credits begin to roll, the classic 007 logo is emblazoned across the screen with a simple phrase, promising that James Bond will indeed return. As a longtime Bond purist, this small touch proved to be both poignant and satisfying. 007 is alive and well, folks, and if forthcoming installments can even touch the excellence of “Skyfall,” then a very promising future lies ahead for our beloved British spy.