I had mixed emotions going into Skyfall. On the one hand as a long time fan of James Bond, I had very high expectations for the film given the pedigree of those involved. On the other hand I tend to always set expectations high for Bond films and have been disappointed on a few occasions (most recently with the 2008 release of Quantum of Solace). Thankfully, director Sam Mendes has met my lofty expectations and has delivered the best Daniel Craig Bond film and perhaps the best Bond film overall. Skyfall begins with Bond and fellow field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in pursuit of a mercenary who has stolen a hard drive containing the names of various undercover operatives embedded in terrorist organizations. The scene is some of the most entertaining and wonderfully shot action I’ve seen from a pre-credit sequence. The mission takes a bad turn and Bond is shot, goes M.I.A. and presumed dead. As the events of the movie unfold, Bond is lured out of hiding to come to the aid of his commanding officer M (Judi Dench) who is being targeted by the films antagonist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Skyfall has a refreshingly simple plot that doesn’t juggle too many details and allows viewers to focus on the individual characters.
Daniel Craig comes into his own as James Bond. We are able to see the full range of his acting talents. He portrays a Bond with a wide variety of emotion. He shows insecurity at the fact that he may be too old to continue doing his job, exudes confidence and sophistication when trying to extract intel from a beautiful woman, and genuine sadness and vulnerability as he embraces a loved one. It’s a performance that solidifies himself as the quintessential Bond. Craig’s performance is matched by Javier Bardem’s wonderful portrayal of Raoul Silva. He doesn’t show up until about half way into the film but when he does, he commands your attention. Violent, charismatic, sympathetic, and completely unhinged, Raoul Silva is one of the best villains in the Bond franchise.
These two characters are linked by the Bond girl of the film. No, not Naomie Harris, whose playful flirtatious banter with 007 feels a tad bit forced. Nor is it Berenice Marlohe, who is a more traditional Bond girl in the same vein as Jill Masterson or Paris Carver. Skyfall’s true Bond girl is M. She isn’t just a simple plot device for the hero and villain to fight over. This is M’s story as much as it is Bond’s. More than ever before, we see this character as more than just an “evil queen of numbers.” The relationship between Dench’s M and Craig’s Bond isn’t just a simple work relationship and more of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship. These three characters are the main focus of the story but the supporting cast is also excellent. Ben Whishaw as the new Q in particular is great at portraying the seriousness of a man who never jokes about his work while being more than just the guy that hands out gadgets. The relationship between Craig and Whishaw is something I will look forward to in the subsequent Bond films.
Skyfall is a fitting tribute to half a century worth of espionage action. It recognizes its roots in ways that will make long time Bond fans smile but is aware that the franchise needs to stay current if it is to last another 50 years. Sam Mendes has created a love letter to Bond fans old and new and reminds us that when it comes to spy films, nobody does it better.
(Sorry about the pun. I couldn’t help myself.)