“Skyfall” is a reinvention of the James Bond franchise. After “Quantum of Solace,” and with MGM’s financial woes, it seemed that the series had possibly ended. But now director Sam Mendes reinvigorates it, and creates what might be one of the top-three Bond films ever.
The story follows James Bond’s supposed death, after a botched mission sends him tumbling into a river. An unknown time later—weeks, months, maybe years—the MI6 branch is in trouble, with M being held accountable for several deaths and the release of secret information; they say secret agents, her branch of the agency, is no longer relevant. Bond comes out of “retirement” in order to help her, and also to fend off a new villain called Silva, who has deep connections to M and MI6.
As one can glean from the outline above, this Bond is much more personal. The last time we saw a James Bond be opened up this much was in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” where Bond got married and, just after the ceremony, his wife is shot dead. Here, Bond and M are true characters, with depth and feeling. There are tears, there are smiles—for once, a James Bond film doesn’t just make our hearts race, it makes them ache, and it also makes us think.
As such, the performances are all top-notch. Daniel Craig finally makes Bond his own, inhabiting a character that in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” he was still fleshing out. James Bond is now truly James Bond, the closest incarnation to Sean Connery’s original. Judi Dench finally makes M worthy of the actress’ name, making her worthy of awards and true praise—she has just as much screen time, lines, and importance in the film as Bond does. In a way, it can be said that Dench is the Bond girl this time around. The supporting characters are great as well: Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, and Naomie Harris (while some said that her chemistry with Bond was rather stagnant, after the reveal at the end, Bond aficionados will nod in approval).
A note must be made about Javier Bardem: he is a terrific Bond villain. A true return to form for what a Bond villain should be. He is maniacal, cunning, intelligent, but not above being a tad bit goofy—though the goofiness is more akin to the original Freddy Kreuger sort of goofy, where you laugh but its stifled under a frown and disgust.
On the technical side, the film is perfect. Roger Deakins, one of the best cinematographers alive today, proves again that he’s deserved an Oscar for a while. The sound, editing, production design—all are stellar. The music is at times Bond-like, but at others more Thomas Newman-like, and this could be considered a downfall; the quirks and eccentricities of a Newman score does not belong in the brass-heavy action of a Bond film. And then Adele’s song—what can be said besides brilliant? A shoe-in for the Best Original Song Oscar.
The flaws aren’t really flaws, they’re nitpicky gripes. The running time—a complete two-and-a-half-hours—is a bit long. The film’s third act drags and is protracted, and the finale can be seen as a bit anticlimactic. Also, some may find offense to the subplot of a girl enslaved into prostitution: she is used by Bond to get information, then sex, then she is shot by the villain very unceremoniously. This was the only time in “Skyfall” that I felt I didn’t agree with the film.
Other than these small qualms, I would consider the film one of the best James Bond. It’s difficult to place it among “Goldfinger” and “Casino Royale” and the others of that ilk, of which there are only a handful. But this film is very close to the top, if not at the top.