In the twenty-third Bond film, 007 is like his martinis — shaken — after he begins to doubt whether he still has what it takes to be an asset to MI6. With sly nods to the past and new characters we’re sure to see again in the future, director Sam Mendes’ Skyfall sure feels like a franchise reboot (yes, even more so than Casino Royale). That’s not a bad thing.
Who’s in it? Daniel Craig (James Bond), Judi Dench (M), Javier Bardem (Silva), Bérénice Marlohe (Sévérine), Naomie Harris (Eve), Ralph Fiennes (Gareth Mallory), and Ben Whishaw (Q)
What’s it about? An anonymous baddie is intent on bringing down MI6—and its leader M in particular—by revealing the names of agents currently embedded in terrorist organizations. After outed spies start being publicly assassinated, James Bond decides to forgo an “assumed dead” life of tequila drinking and beach-bumming to return and defend the closest thing he has to a family. When he resurfaces, however, he’s not exactly firing on all cylinders. Does he have any business going back out in the field? And what exactly IS the field in the age of cyber-terrorism? Are MI6, its agents and their “world of shadows” even relevant anymore?
What’s good? We’ve had 50 years of a calm, cool and collected James Bond. So perhaps I was drawn in to Skyfall precisely because 007 was starting to show not only his age, but also a bit of doubt for once. Sure, we’ve seen a more vulnerable side to the Bond character since Daniel Craig took over the role, especially during the heartbreaking finale of Casino Royale. But something even deeper is troubling 007 as he chases down clues across Shanghai, Macau and Scotland (each shot more gorgeous than the next, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins) in Skyfall.
Those clues lead him to the floppy-yellow-haired Silva, who’s simply got to be one of the best Bond villains of all time. Mostly because of his ridiculous hair. I’m only half-kidding. If it wasn’t obvious before from his role in No Country for Old Men it’s crystal clear now that Javier Bardem can rock a horrendous ‘do. His Silva is a cocky, oversexed, vengeful mastermind of an intricate plot to destroy those who wronged him. He is Bond Gone Bad, and this fact is not exactly lost on Bond himself. But little does Silva know that Bond has an equally floppy-haired geek in his corner: Q, whose introduction was a highlight of the film.
What could’ve been better? Since I was such a fan of Bardem’s weirdo villain-genius, I wish he had entered the movie earlier and had more screen time overall. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I didn’t find this installment’s femme fatale, Sévérine, engaging in the slightest, and her story arch was utterly anticlimactic. Finally, I would’ve preferred more compact action sequences, including a tighter finale. As good as Skyfall was, it didn’t need to be nearly 2.5 hours.
The bottom line: Believe the hype. Sam Mendes’ Skyfall humanizes 007 and delivers an emotional payoff while still serving up all the action, villainy and studliness we’ve come to expect.
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