Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judy Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
For me, the problem with Daniel Craig’s previous Bond outing, Quantum of Solace, was in the films’ inability to find a balance between the old and the new. The fresh, realistic approach to the series was driven to excess with the constantly jerky, hand-held camera that hindered rather than enhanced the action.
Meanwhile attempts to continue Bond’s character reinvention were hampered by the decision to cut free all the classic Bond elements, which meant the film lost all sense of fun and therefore alienated a substantial amount of the series’ fan base. Skyfall thankfully realizes this and attempts to bridge the gap left in Quantum’s wake. The result is not only a superior thriller, but also a first-class Bond film that gets the series well and truly back on track.
Director Sam Mendes throws us straight in to the action with a superb chase sequence through a Turkish Bazaar that ends with a fight on top of a commuter train. Bond is after a stolen hard-drive that contains the identities of all NATO operatives working undercover. Unfortunately Bond is unable to retrieve the list, making M look bad and leaving Bond more than a little worse for wear. Matters are made worse when the list begins to be released. Therefore Bond heads-off to find the list, eventually leading him to Silva, a man from M’s past who appears to want more than just making the head of M.I.6 look bad professionally.
The genius of the narrative is that it allows us to explore a new side of Bond; he is no longer the maverick womanizer defending his country or saving the world, he is an employee defending his boss, friend and mentor. M has appeared in all 22 previous Bond films, but this is the first time the character has faced any real danger and it adds an effective emotional heart to the film, something that was unfortunately lost in the ether of Quantum’s revenge narrative.
As in both his previous outings, Daniel Craig is a highlight. He is clearly comfortable in the role and his performance here is nothing short of excellent; managing to add vast layers to a character clearly damaged by all he has experienced in the past, but none the less determined to fulfill the duties afforded to him in the present. He is certainly not what comes to mind when thinking of the quintessential Bond, but Craig is definitely the best actor to take on the role thus far.
Memorable support is given to Craig from a flawless cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris. But it is Judi Dench who really excels, a stroke of casting genius several films back that really comes in to its own here. Her portrayal of a determined leader, wanting to do the right thing at any cost is both inspiring and heartbreaking, specifically during the films final act that gives us an oversight of Bond’s early years.
Top praise however, must be saved for Javier Bardem’s sensational performance as Silva. He may have the eyes and hair of a maniac, but Silva is much more than your bog standard villain. He’s a smart, resourceful individual who you quite believe is capable of achieving his aims, something missing from many of Bond’s previous antagonists. Silva’s ability to outsmart our favorite secret agent gives the narrative a driving force and the audience more to worry about as we wonder whether Bond will be able to fulfill his duty this time.
The decision to give directing duties to Sam Mendes is inspired, as Mendes uses all his expertise to give us a thriller that is both exhilarating and powerful. He handles the action sequences masterfully, putting the audience at the heart of what’s happening without using the constant Bourne-style shaky cam of Quantum. The films’ standout sequence, a chase through the London sewage and tube system, leaves you breathless and rooted to the edge of your seat.
Mendes also excels at handling the films dramatic moments, allowing the camera to linger on a character for an extra few moments during the films more powerful moments; notably during the films brave and poignant finale, which stays with you long after the credits role.
Where Skyfall truly impresses though, is in its ability to find that balance so desperately needed in Quantum of Solace. Granted, this is a very different character from the Bond we know of the Connery to Brosnan era, but all the quintessential elements of a Bond film are here from the breath-taking action, to the playful (and genuinely funny) one-liners. Adele’s theme song is fantastic, bringing to mind the epic vocals that made Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice such classics. The film even manages to make reference to all previous Bond adventures and rightly so given this year marks 50 years of Bond films, but does so in a subtle way that doesn’t detract from the film you’re watching.
Fresh & exhilarating without forgetting what truly makes a Bond film; if Casino Royale took two steps forward and Quantum of Solace took one step back, Skyfall takes an almighty leap back in the right direction. As the screen fades to black and the John Barry theme kicks in, the words “James Bond will return” appear on the screen and I’m excited already.