Sleek, suave, and ultra-cool, Skyfall, the 23rd (official) entry in the EON Production series of James Bond films, is a welcome return to the big screen following a four-year absence. While previous Daniel Craig entries – Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – attempted to update the film to the 21st Century, giving us a rough, gritty take on the character, this one dials things back to both the original Ian Fleming novels and Sean Connery-era films.
And just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Bond on the big screen – October 2012 marks fifty years since Dr. No hit cinemas in 1962. There are a wealth of subtle references and in-jokes in Skyfall to mark the occasion, some of which only die-hard fans may notice, including a response to the famous martini line in Casino Royale. Craig’s Bond is finally growing into the familiar Connery characterization.
And I really, really dug that aspect of Skyfall, so much so that I can overlook the film’s one big weakness: a story so straightforward and minimalist that at two-and-a-half hours, boredom threatens to sink in. I couldn’t shake a dull, almost lifeless vibe lurking in the background; thankfully, the film features enough throwback Bond goodness to make up for the casual presentation.
This is great Bond, but something seems to be missing: the story is too mundane, the scale too small, the action too light. Advance reviews have been terrific (many calling this the best Bond since the Connery era), but I wonder how general audience reception will be; this certainly isn’t the large-scale, slam-bang Bond we’ve become accustomed to over the past few decades.
Transitioning from the previous films (though there’s no story connection, as there was between Casino and Quantum), Skyfall opens in the middle of a big action set piece: in Istanbul, Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) are tracking down a killer and a stolen disc, leading to a chase scene that goes from truck to motorcycle (across tiled rooftops!) to train.
And that, shockingly, is the last extended action/chase scene – a Bond trademark since the Roger Moore days – that Skyfall has to offer. While the rest of the film features shootouts, explosions, and even a subway train derailment as 007 attempts to track down the stolen disc (which contains the secret identities of MI6 agents), the action is decidedly un-Bondian in nature.
Skyfall introduces a number of characters we expect to see return in future installments. Ben Whishaw is a real delight as Q; a younger contrast to the more experienced Qs of past Bonds (Desmond Lllewelyn, John Cleese), Whishaw retains the character’s cocksureness while building a great rapport with Craig’s Bond (the only gadgets Bond receives here, however, are a palm print-activated Walther PPK and a radio transmitter). Harris’ Eve and Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory don’t make as big an impression, but one looks forward to seeing them again; both feature in the film’s dynamite closing sequence.
But it’s the film’s villain who leaves the biggest impression: as the flamboyant Silva, Javier Bardem walks away with the movie, despite first appearing about an hour into it and really having only two scenes of extended dialogue. But he’s a riot, and easily draws the biggest audience response. As a more typical Bond girl, the Angelina Jolie-like French actress Bérénice Marlohe is a pleasure to watch despite limited screen time.
Skyfall was directed by Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winner behind American Beauty and Revolutionary Road; without leaving much in the way of distinctive style, he’s able to successfully take the franchise in a new (or rather, old) direction here, and handles action sequences a lot better than Marc Forster did in the previous film.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins, meanwhile, certainly does leave an impression: his widescreen lensing features some beautiful composition and use of light. A climactic nighttime siege in rural Scotland recalls some of his excellent work in the US Southwest for Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and the Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men).
Music also plays an important role in the film, with a terrific original score by Thomas Newman (my favorite track – Shanghai Drive) taken over by the familiar Bond theme at key points. Adele’s title song might be the best Bond theme song since the Shirley Bassey days (or at least since Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better).
Returning the character to his fifty-year-old roots, Skyfall is a real delight for Bond fans; casual viewers, on the other hand, may lose interest. And while I still prefer Casino Royale among the Craig Bonds, I’m especially looking forward to what EON will come up with next.