James Bond is back in his twenty-third installment, the third portrayal of Bond for Daniel Craig, and the first Bond movie not to derive its name from Ian Fleming’s work: Skyfall. This is also the 50th anniversary of James Bond: a movie franchise that has stood the test of time. After the ingenious return of bond in Casino Royale and the okay, but somewhat contrived Quantum of Solace, what to expect from Skyfall?
Nostalgia aside, Bond movies of the past have been somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of quality. Unfortunately, the Bond formula facilitates overreaching in terms of overblown villains and esoteric technology: media tycoons (Tomorrow Never Dies), space lasers & invisible cars (Die Another Day). While I liked Pierce Brosnan’s depiction of Bond, particularly in 1995’s GoldenEye, this overreaching degraded the realism and suspense of disbelief in his later movies. While many were initially skeptical when Daniel Craig was cast as the next Bond, his performance proved to be stellar in Casino Royale, which was also thanks to a well-crafted script. Although, its successor, Quantum of Solace was not bad, it was perhaps a bit too complex for its own good, never quite reaching the engagement and suspense of Casino Royale.
But, let’s leave the past behind us, and take a look at the new Bond: Skyfall. The film opens with plenty of action which draws the viewer in, quickly followed by a jaw-dropping twist. What follows thereafter is a, beautiful and faithful to the formula, introduction sequence that foreshadows some of what is to come in the rest of the film. Skyfall deeply explores the relationship between M and Bond, which results in some great cinema. I am happy to say that it avoids overreaching in terms of technology and contrived plot elements. It marks a return to a more classic Bond movie, relying primarily on action to drive things forwards and spiced with enough humor of the dry variety throughout.
The project was helmed by Sam Mendes, known for American Beauty and Jarhead. As in most modern blockbusters, CGI was used, but it’s rarely, if ever, visible or distracting. Apart from a solid performance from Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench as M, and a well portrayed Bond girl by Bérénice Marlohe, the star of the movie is definitely Javier Bardem as Bond’s main adversary. Bardem’s character struck me as an effective mix between Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs), The Joker (The Dark Knight) and Simon Gruber (Die Hard with a Vengeance), although the character is not too deep: it’s still a Bond villain after all. He has a flair for drama as well as easily understood, non-grandiose, motives. Good supporting roles are delivered by Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Albert Finney. The eye-pleasing cinematography is due to Roger Deakins, also easy to follow thanks to Stuart Baird’s excellent editing skills.
The story is realistic and engaging, apart from a minor gripe in terms of believability near the end of the movie, which could have been solved in much better ways (for those who’ve seen it: it involves light). Whilst having a lower budget, it easily blows its predecessor: Quantum of Solace, out of the water, returning to the quality we’ve come to expect since Casino Royale. It feels both comfortably familiar and like a welcome refreshment at the same time. Bond is back!