Russian spies and soldiers aside, who doesn’t love James Bond? As the old saying goes, “Men want to be him and women want to be with him.” Even as the quality of the movies varied, the formula stayed the same: beautiful women, diabolical villains, cool gadgets, etc. Well, 2006’s “Casino Royale” threw a wrench in that formula by keeping many of those elements but tweaking them in ways that felt fresh. “Royale” was the adrenaline shot in the arm that the franchise needed, and it’s a shame that “Quantum of Solace,” which I still enjoyed, wasn’t nearly on the same level. With “Skyfall,” it looks like everyone involved has put their all into it, and as a result puts the film toe-to-toe with both “Royale” and the best of the Original 20, as I refer to them.
With the Bond origin and Vesper Lynd story wrapped up by the end of “Quantum,” “Skyfall” is free to run wild and combine the modern seriousness of Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the character with the more flamboyant aspects of old. The scope of the story is bigger and the villain more colorful, but the key here is balance. The best of the over-the-top Bond movies (“Goldfinger” and “GoldenEye” for me) achieve a great amount of fun fantasy while reigning in the crazier parts, and “Skyfall” achieves a similar tonal balance. The old fashioned and new freshness is blended to great effect here, leaving us with a Bond movie that is full of pure fun excitement as well as letting us know that the stakes are high on this mission.
Craig himself remains as compelling and charismatic as ever, a Bond who is headstrong, intimidating, and vulnerable at the same time and continues with each film to inch closer and closer to Sean Connery’s iconic version. Berenice Marlohe and Naomie Harris fill their roles as “Bond Girls” more than adequately, but Judi Dench’s M is the true Bond girl here, though not in the literal sense. With the villain’s scheme directed at MI6 and M herself, it gives the prickly boss her biggest role yet. One of the best accomplishments of the Craig films has been the more prominent relationship between Bond and M, and “Skyfall” puts that front and center in a way that is more affective and meaningful than ever.
That villain in question in Raoul Silva, played with fervent glee by Javier Bardem. Adorned with the blond hair of Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin (“A View to a Kill”) and the effeminate nature of the henchmen duo Wint and Kidd (“Diamonds are Forever”), Bardem is a menacing, and in one scene very creepy, villain in the classical sense. Complete with a personal vendetta, an island lair, and a requisite facial deformity, Silva pushes Bond (and M as well) to his physical limit.
What sets “Skyfall” apart from the majority of the series is that it the script by John Logan and franchise regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade really digs into the essence of the character. The final act brings Bond (literally and figuratively) back to his roots and the start of the plot sets out to bring Bond down to his lowest point before “resurrecting” him. Bringing “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes, someone who hadn’t made a big budget action picture before, was a gamble that paid off incredibly well. With Mendes at the helm, there’s a heightened sense of drama that brings the story to life in between the action scenes.
Any complaints I have about “Skyfall” are really only nitpicks in the long run, mostly boiling down to things “I would have done” and the like. I can see others taking issue with the middle section though, which hues really close to another insanely popular movie where a crazy villain dupes the heroes. I can’t jump to the conclusion that it is the best of the series as many are claiming, as I’ve only seen the film once and my top three are ones that I have seen too many times to count, but it’s right outside of them. Those who jumped into the series with Daniel Craig should find “Skyfall” to be a tightly wound and highly entertaining spy thriller, but fans who heartily consume the classic entries and are familiar with Ian Fleming’s Bond novels will find even more to savor and love here.