Today’s movie selection should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. Although I consider myself a fan of Bond movies, I hadn’t felt compelled at all to watch the first two Daniel Craig era films, but with all great advance word coming out about Skyfall I decided to make this the week. While the first two films with Craig as 007 were a mixed bag, Skyfallabsolutely lives up to the hype, and does so in exceptional fashion.
The film successfully combines the new, heavier, harder-edged tone established by the prior two films, with some nice nods to the franchises heritage. Certainly by the end its clear that having re-established the series’ identity, Skyfall is proud to be a “James Bond movie” again. However it’s not just another James Bond movie, there’s a depth of character here that has sometimes been absent in some of the earlier films from the franchise. Here, finally, I felt like Craig’s character went from being cool-action-guy to absolutely being James Bond. This identity is earned throughout the film, it is absolutely cemented in a fantastically fun final scene.
Before we can get to that ending, the film takes the viewer on a roller-coaster ride of exciting action sequences and some character-building that is just deep and dramatic enough without resorting to wallowing or feeling forced. The opening chase scene through the streets Istanbul and proceeding to a train heading out of the city was typically exhilarating, but it’s anything but typical ending did a tremendous job of establishing that this was going to be a movie that played by its own set of rules.
Central to that set of new rules was Judi Dench’s seventh appearance as the MI6 spymaster, M. While traditionally M’s job has been to set Bond on his mission, and then fade from sight, one thing that the prior two films have done, is establish a much more significant, almost parental, relationship between M and Craig’s Bond. While Skyfall largely functions as a stand-alone entry in the series, the build-up of this relationship is definitely one thing that the prior two films contributed to what we see here. Dench essentially becomes the film’s leading lady, and while the film does employ a pair of more traditional “Bond Girls” it’s the veteran M that stands at the center of the plot.
Standing opposite the team at MI6 is Javier Bardem who is awesomely creepy as the villainous Silva. A lot of words have been spilled about who is the “Best Bond,” and while I’m still trying to decide if Craig has now pried that title away from Pierce Brosnan in my book, there’s no doubt in my mind that Bardem’s performance as the deadly cyberterrorist goes down as the best Bond villain. His combination of physical presence, intellect, willingness to kill, and unrelenting personal enmity based on a legitimate grievance help the character stand out, but it’s Baredm’s chilling performance that makes him unforgettable.
Skyfall succeeds on many levels. It manages to re-define what it means to be a Bond movie, without eschewing the best conventions of the series’ past. At the same time it stands as an excellent movie purely on its own merits. The cinematography is fantastic, with various exotic locations, from the brilliantly crowded markets of Istanbul, to the towers of Singapore, to the misty highlands of Scotland each serving as a beautiful backdrop for director Sam Mendes to tell his story. It’s an absolute must see.