“So this is it, we’re both played out?” enquires Daniel Craig’s 007 of Judi Dench’s M a little after the beginning of the 23rd Bond installment. Not to worry, apparently there is still plenty to be played since Skyfall marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic franchise, which makes it the longest-lasting one in the history of cinema. Yet, for all the experience and applaud Mr. Bond has accumulated through the years, the moviegoers who are not completely infatuated and unquestionably loyal to the Bond series (myself included) would probably wonder if Skyfall adds up to just “another Bond movie”. Does it follow the beaten track of its predecessors or is there something different this time around (besides a new femme fatale on 007’s arm that is)?
The answer, fortunately, is an extremely pleasing one. Newly appointed director Sam Mendes still pays tribute to all the foundation elements that comprise the Bond universe – the gorgeous women, the fast cars, the impossible stunts, and the fascinating gadgets. However, he manages to skilfully reinvent Bond by stripping him down to basics and building him up again as a much more believable protagonist, who suffers in order to prove himself worthy of being the hero. Although still virtually immortal (he survives being shot with a sniper AND falling from a 300-feet-high railway bridge), 007 resurfaces after indulging in his favourite hobby of resurrection, but he is not basking in the glory of invincibility anymore. Rugged look, tormented expression, bloodshot eyes, not to mention drug and alcohol dependency…Mr. Bond has definitely lost his swagger!
He is quickly forced to try to get it back though after an attack on MI6, targeting the seemingly omnipotent until then M. From then on it’s a lot of bang bang (not without the usual share of kiss kiss) for 007. The impressive stunts that he pulls on the background of spectacular locations, including night-time beautifully lit Shanghai skyscrapers and a floating Macau casino (with hundreds of lanterns and Komodo dragons all part of the package), provide a masterful prelude to a focal point in the movie – the deserted island where James finally gets to meet the villain. With his startling blond hair, resentful M obsession and … wait for it … alarming sexually-charged interrogation of Bond, Javier Bardem’s baddie delivers a more than worthy opponent for the British agent. Silva reveals one of those seemingly calm and philosophical, Hannibal Lecter reminiscent, genuinely menacing antagonists, who are surely going to keep you at the edge of your seat. As for the rest of the cast – they all fit their parts perfectly in order to construct arguably the best 007 feature up-to-date, but again, it is Bardem who ultimately steals the show.
That’s not all, however! The film excels on other fronts as well. For one, it is the first 007 feature, which actually tries to explore the true nature of the person hiding behind the façade of agent “Bond…James Bond.” And 007 is not the only one who benefits from that. The movie devotes a fair amount of its 143 minutes to character development in general which adds a welcome amount of substance to the usual portion of wham-bam. What is more, cinematographer Roger Deakins ensures we feast our eyes with some of the most incredible visuals the franchise has ever boasted, while production designer Dennis Gassner brings the 007 series home by utilizing an array of British locations. Also, a few appropriately placed references to previous Bond films demonstrate that although Skyfall represents the 007 franchise coming of age, there is still plenty of space to honour Bond’s origins and to create a feeling of continuity. The overkill of a masterful Bond manifestation though is presented by the opening credits (courtesy of the Bond series veteran Daniel Kleiman). The sequence finds 007 swirled in surreal world inhabited by Bond-shaped targets, tombstones, shadows, blood and fire, while the accompanying Adele song provides a good amount of shivers down your spine.
However, while Skyfall reaches for the sky in some instances, it falls short and crumbles in others. Firstly, the initial save-the-world/Britain/MI6 mission bestowed upon Bond is made irrelevant half-way through the film and pushed to the back, while 007’s attempts to protect M from Silva’s personal vendetta take the central stage. This not only contributes to a lesser feeling of importance and urgency, but also tarnishes the ingeniousness of Silva’s character by diminishing him to nothing more than a psycho holding a personal grudge. Moreover, although the movie proves to be slick and extremely enjoyable for most of the time, it still struggles with some moments that appear to be overly-choreographed, including…
MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT!!!
ARE YOU STILL HERE?
IF YOU CONTINUE READING, IT IS AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!
…the part where M dies at the exact moment Bond has already killed the villain and is there to catch her and deliver a heart-breaking goodbye scene.
Similar to the new weapon which Ben Whishaw’s Q entrusts Mr. Bond with – “less of a random killing machine and more of a personal statement”, Skyfall succeeds in escaping the just-another-action-movie label and proves to have matured into the smart, somewhat profound feature a Bond film has always had the potential to be. While staying true to the franchise’s nature of escapism, elegance and overabundance of…well…everything, Skyfall still manages to add a much needed pinch of realism. As a result, the 23rd Bond film stands as the one that finally moves away from complete ridiculousness and gets closer to pure, well-measured entertainment. Half a century is a charm then? Happy anniversary, 007! Hear, hear to the next 50 years!
4/5 Marvelous points