‘Skyfall’ Proves That Bond Still Packs A Sophisticated Punch
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Fifty years after the franchise’s inception with Dr. No and four years after Daniel Craig’s second outing as 007 in Quantum of Solace, James Bond is back with a vengeance in Skyfall. The spy series’ 23rd entry skillfully avoids the pitfalls of the previous installment and hearkens back to the strengths of 2006’s Casino Royale, creating a Bond that is thoroughly modern yet also deeply indebted to the series’ traditions. Skyfall has plenty of classic Bond ingredients: thrilling action scenes, exotic international settings, sleek gadgets, sexy women, and dry quips—but its storyline penetrates to more troubling depths, exploring Bond’s backstory and the relevance of traditional espionage in a vastly changed world. Director Sam Mendes succeeds brilliantly in lacing these deeper meanings into a first-rate action thriller without overburdening it, making Skyfall both an enormously satisfying Bond movie and a story with deeper resonances.
The movie’s lengthy opening set piece finds Bond and fellow field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in Istanbul chasing the thief of a harddrive containing the identities of all of MI6’s agents, while M (Judi Dench) oversees from London. Their pursuit thrillingly turns from a car chase to a rooftop motorcycle race on the Grand Bazaar to a fistfight on top of a speeding train, and it also establishes the themes Skyfall plays with for its duration, as MI6 faces a new, modern threat: rogue cyber-terrorists in service of no one but themselves. The main villain this time is Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent of M’s who was forced from the service and now seeks revenge through a new, sophisticated form of cyber warfare. As Bond takes on the threat of Silva, M herself is subject to scrutiny by the British government, which believes she has failed MI6 and is out of touch with the modern world’s threats.
In many ways, Mendes and his team of screenwriters seem to be taking a page from the Christopher Nolan playbook with Skyfall. From the generally darker tone to the story’s undercurrents of terrorism and chaos, to the exploration of the protagonist’s childhood trauma, the movie recalls The Dark Knight in many ways. Nolan’s influence is most obvious in Bardem’s performance as Silva, whose maniacal, freakish nature and sadistic anecdotes recall Heath Ledger’s Joker. Yet even if these elements aren’t wholly original, they are put to effective use in Skyfall, and indeed the movie has a leg up on Nolan’s Batman reboot in both the quality of its action scenes and the depth of its character development. Both those strands come together in a climax that takes Bond back to his Scottish roots, as he blasts away his enemies and his personal demons at once.
Much of the strength of that final scene, shot in fiery reds that suggest a hellish nightmare, is due to Roger Deakins, the genius cinematographer who here brings his exquisite eye to bear on the film’s slew of diverse locations. From the bright reds and oranges of Shanghai to the damp greys of the Scottish moors, Skyfall is a beautiful film to look at, each shot composed with a care and attention to detail that seems like a rebuke to the frenzied, incoherent visuals of Quantum of Solace. The movie’s evocative use of colors and composition and its willingness to hold shots for maximum effect are all-too-rare virtues in a genre often dominated by shaky cameras and nauseating jump cuts.
The technical prowess of Skyfall only highlights the efforts put forward by its ensemble cast. Craig has now perfectly adjusted to the role of Bond, exuding all the usual charm while bringing a grave intensity and primal violence to the role that is all his own. Dench proves her mettle as one of Britain’s finest actresses, showcasing M’s steely resolve but also her quiet moments of vulnerability and guilt. New additions like Ben Whishaw’s Q and Ralph Fiennes’s Gareth Mallory deepen the movie’s depiction of the internal dynamics of MI6 while providing new personalities for Bond to play off. The film’s ending sets the series up for further adventures with these new characters, and the credits promise that “James Bond will return.” Let’s hope he returns sooner rather than later—after Skyfall’s successful integration of old and new elements, the future of the series has never looked so promising.