Directed by Sam Mendes
Opening with an absolutely fantastic chase across the rooftops and through the streets of Istanbul–a location which has been sadly overused in recent years–it leads to a fight atop a train as it quickly sets up an overarching plot involving a stolen hard drive containing the names of undercover MI6 agents. During this mission, we’re introduced to a new field agent named Eve, played by Naomie Harris, and when the mission goes wrong and the bad guys get away with the hard drive, it puts a lot of scrutiny on Dame Judi Dench’s M as to whether she made the right call. Leading the investigation is a bureaucrat named Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who plans on holding M accountable for the failed mission and all the deaths that have resulted from it. It quickly becomes clear someone is deliberately screwing with the British intelligence agency, someone possibly with a connection to M’s past.
From the neon skyscrapers of Shanghai to the equally colorful casinos of Macao, Bond goes after the men who stole the hard drive and it’s nearly an hour before we come face to face with the newest Bond villain Silva, played by Javier Bardem, but what an entrance it is! Bardem outdoes himself as an even crazier villain than Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men,” and while we won’t say much more about him or his connections to M, he feels more dangerous than the typical Bond villain due to his prowess for hacking into computers. He also revives the tradition of classic Bond villains like Dr. No and Blofeld with his own megalomaniacal secret headquarters.
It’s surprising that a movie that deliberately shows James Bond not at the top of his game may be considered amongst some of the best Bond movies, but once again, much of that comes down to the way Daniel Craig has grounded his Bond in reality, not making him superhuman, but actually quite vulnerable. Over the course of three movies, Craig and Dench have evolved the relationship between Bond and M into something quite amazing, and there’s little question that having a director with a theater background such as Sam Mendes makes every scene between them even more dramatic. Likewise, Bardem’s scenes with Dench are as good as his ones with Craig, even delving into Hannibal Lecter territory for one memorable scene.
What would a Bond movie be without sexy Bond girls and in this case, they’re sexier than ever with the exotic Bérénice Marlohe as the accented Sévérine, a mysterious enigma whose time in the movie is far too short. When Harris’s Eve actively flirts with Craig, it’s possibly the first since Halle Berry where you feel they’ve found someone who can go toe to toe with Bond. The overworked secret agent also finds time to sleep with many of the women he meets, not only bringing back the ultra-smooth Bond we used to know, but also the steamiest Bond since it was deemed un-PC to have beautiful women falling into bed (and walls and showers) with him.
As much as “Skyfall” is a standalone movie that doesn’t require having ever seen a Bond film, there’s lots of “old friends” we haven’t seen in quite some time, many of them given an interesting twist or used in a unique way. Mendes also throws in lots of visual nods to past movies, which may offer some of the biggest thrills for longtime fans. One of the more unconventional decisions was to replace the most recent Bond composer David Arnold with Mendes’ longtime composer Thomas Newman, which leads to a highly original score that puts twists upon the James Bond theme yet knows exactly when to return to the original 60s incarnation for a particularly nostalgic moment.
While some may have doubted Mendes’ ability to handle action, he wisely brought back Alexander Witt, who directed second unit on “Casino Royale,” so that the action scenes are exciting but also filmed in a way that’s easy to comprehend. That said, the movie does require some patience, because there are long stretches without the giant action set pieces established in the opening sequence. That patience pays off with an absolutely riveting third act and what could possibly be the biggest explosion ever captured on “film” and that includes the hospital explosion from “The Dark Knight,” also orchestrated by special effects supervisor Chris Corbould. While we’re throwing out hyperboles and superlatives here, most will agree that “Skyfall” is also the best looking Bond movie ever thanks to the able cinematography of the Coens’ favorite DP, Roger Deakins, whose lighting adds tension both to the drama and the action sequences.
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