Daniel Craig is James Bond in Skyfall.
50 years since the first Bond film and 4 years since the last one, Ian Fleming's super spy, 007, is back on the big screen for the 23rd (official) time in Skyfall. It's a highly entertaining film that moves the series forward by taking it back to its roots. In more ways than one, James Bond is back!
When Daniel Craig took over the part of Bond in 2006's Casino Royale, he came in like a breath of fresh air. As the series was rebooted, he brought a gritty edge back to the part that came as a welcome relief following the excesses of the later Brosnan films, particularly the over-the-top Die Another Day, with its invisible car and cameo by Madonna. However, by 2008's Quantum of Solace, the series was in danger of going too far the other way with a glum Bond and the sense of fun notably absent.
In this latest adventure, the series has tried to regain its savoir faire and, at times at least, seems to have the old twinkle in its eye and maybe even its tongue in its cheek. And it manages it without losing its edge or sense of danger. The line between a sense of fun and real danger is a thin one and many of the Bond films have ended up too far on one side or the other of it. Skyfall strays from that line a few times, but it comes closer to staying on it than a Bond film has come in quite a while.
Bond's mission this time is to find out who has been terrorizing MI6 and targeting M in particular. The same terrorist has stolen a hard drive that contains the name of all British agents currently undercover within terrorist organizations across the globe. Although this task takes Bond around the world (as per usual) to several exotic locales, he spends more time in the United Kingdom than in probably any other film and revisits his youth in a way never before shown.
For the first time in the Craig era, the character of Q makes an appearance, this time played as a young, computer geek. He shares a few nice moments with Bond, including the scene where he hands Bond his equipment, although the gadgets are limited to a gun that only Bond can fire and a homing device. As Q puts it, “What were you expecting? An exploding pen? We don't really go in for that sort of thing anymore.”
Javier Bardem makes a great psychotic villain. He may not have the grandiose plans of Bond villains past, but he more than makes up for it with his maniacal behavior. His backstory is reminiscent of the villain's backstory in Goldeneye, but his goal is much more personal. He and Bond share a few nice moments together.
A real treat for longtime Bond fans and a nod to the 50th anniversary of the series, are the many Easter Eggs hidden in the movie that reference older Bond films. I won't give them away here because it would ruin the surprise, but they are plentiful and range from the subtle to the blatantly obvious, including the one that got the biggest cheer from the audience I watched this with that everyone will recognize.
Like a lot of Bond films, this one does run quite long. There's definitely room for trimming, but this doesn't seriously damage the film, just slows down the pace a bit.
For the first time in the series history, an established, big name director is behind the camera in the person of Sam Mendes. I can't honestly say that he brings much to the proceedings. This has always been a producer's series and any director is going to be forced to work within their guidelines.
This is not, as some of have said, the best Bond film of all time, but it is a very good one. The best in quite awhile. And it ends with a renewed sense of purpose that certainly gives me hope for the future of the series.
Daniel Craig and Javier Barden in Skyfall
As Scott wrote, Skyfall takes Bond back to his roots through many references. In fact, as the movie goes on, the further back it goes. Scott mentioned the blatant, such as when Bond hands a technician some shrapnel to be analyzed and tells him, "For your eyes only." Later comes the Goldfinger nod that likewise caused the biggest reaction in my theater. Not only does the film go so far back as to visit Bond's childhood, but it even makes a nod to Ian Fleming. At one point Bond is given, and uses, a commando knife, which was standard issue for British Commandos in World War II. Fleming worked with them as a member of Naval Intelligence.
As a long time James Bond fan, I enjoyed all the references and reveals, but I have never been completely sold on Daniel Craig as Bond. Yes, he is a very good actor. He plays one of the toughest Bonds ever to appear on screen. However, he also plays the least sophisticated. Bond held a military rank, being addressed as Commander Bond in many earlier films. There is nothing about Craig's Bond that resembles a British officer, and do not give me the, "This is a reboot" excuse. Like a hypocritical Christian who only obeys some of the Bible's rules,they cannot reference some of his history while ignoring the rest.
Also as Scott noted, some of the plot points are retreads from other Bond films, but they all follow a formula so it hardly matters. Keeping him in England for so long however, is refreshingly unique, but the climactic showdown did not make sense. Why would the head of MI6 not call in back up? I get that they were baiting Silva, but they were not in some distant country where help was far away. They should have had agents coming to help?
The action scenes all work. My favorite being the opening teaser. It seemed like one of the longest opening sequences to date. Skyfall milks Bond's history for all it is worth, but it missteps when it keeps going on about what bad shape he is in and how old he has become. Bond is timeless. You cannot age him, as that would clearly contradict the entire series. Bond is eternal, that is why he constantly has new actors portraying him. No matter how much we age, Bond will forever spy, kill, bed beautiful women and be unquestionably loyal to Queen and country. He never gets old.
Ben Whishaw and Daniel Craig in Skyfall.
Skyfall may not be the very best Bond movie but it comes pretty damn close. Before writing this review I went back and reread all my previous reviews for all of the Bond movies. This is just the sixth entry in the venerable franchise that I have given more than three stars to and it's only the second non-Sean Connery Bond movie I've given more than three stars to. Dr. No, Goldfinger, and From Russia with Love I gave four stars. Diamonds Are Forever and the Timothy Dalton entry Licence to Kill I gave three and a half stars each. Skyfall is the first non-Connery Bond movie to deserve four stars.
Scott and I are certainly not alone in this opinion. Skyfall has been both critically acclaimed as well as being the highest grossing Bond movie in the series' 50 year history. It is the first Bond film (and just the fourteenth movie in history) to exceed one billion dollars at the global box office. With five Academy Award nominations it has the most of any Bond film, and the theme song by Adele was the first Bond song to debut in the Billboard top ten, becoming the franchises seventh top ten hit in the process.
I really loved the story with its look back to Bond's roots in Scotland. I loved all the nods and tributes to the previous movies. The action sequences are well done. Javier Bardem makes a truly memorable villain (I loved his homoerotic teasing of Bond (see photo in Eric's review)).
I think it was a brilliant move to introduce new, young versions of Q and Miss Moneypenny. And the great Albert Finney adds a bit of fun as the groundskeeper of Bond's childhood estate, where the climax takes place. As he tells Bond at one point, “I was ready before you were born.”
Like Eric, I used to be bothered by Daniel Craig's lack of sophistication as 007. However, he seems to be slowly evolving in that department. Although he doesn't utter his famous, “Shaken, not stirred.” line, a bartender is shown making Bond's vodka martini in his preferred manner.
The scene with the Komodo Dragons was a throwback to vintage Bond. I'm also glad they included his classic Aston Martin. And Judi Dench as M has her finest hour in any of the seven Bond movies in which she has appeared. Her recitation of a line from Tennyson's poem “Ulysses” is a standout moment, her delivery perfect. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
My favorite humorous line is spoken by an extra, in the scene where Bond is chasing Silva and he jumps on the back of a moving subway train. A commuter quips, “He's keen to get home.”
If anyone had any doubts, Skyfall proves that Bond, James Bond still has life in him. If this movie is any indication I think there's a good chance the British super agent will be celebrating his centennial in a movie released in 2062. And it's entirely possible Ben Whishaw will still be playing Q to his fifth or sixth Bond.
Photos © Copyright MGM (2012)