“Skyfall” isn’t the best James Bond film, but it’s easily the most gorgeous entry of 007’s world yet.
When Sam Mendes (2000 Oscar winning director for “American Beauty”) was announced to helm the 23rd Bond adventure, if nothing else you knew the film would look good. He delivers with some of the most amazingly-shot segments in the franchise’s history. From the stunning battle in a window-filled room illuminating the Shanghai nightscape to a river filled with hundreds of floating lanterns, the cinematography is magnificent and worth the ticket price.
Mendes hadn’t done a full action film before, but quickly eases any doubts he can handle with an exhilarating chase scene featuring Bond (Daniel Craig, back for his third 007 outing and reuniting with his “Road to Perdition” director) and fellow field agent, Eve (Naomi Harris, who proves a welcome foil for Craig) on foot, jeep, motorcycle and even a crane in pursuit of a suspect with a file containing the true identities of MI6’s undercover agents. Full of “I can’t believe he just did that!” moments, the scene ends with Bond shot and presumed dead leading to Adele delivering one of the franchise’s best opening songs.
With her best agent lost, M (Judi Dench) has to deal with the repercussions, from the political — the prime minister’s right-hand man, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) wants her resignation — to the frightening, as Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent, begins threatening her after she left him for dead.
The attacks are enough to lure Bond back from his “death-cation” decidedly worse for wear. The time frame is a bit uncertain as there’s no peg to the previous two Craig outings — “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” where a younger Bond was learning the ropes of espionage, but “Skyfall’s” Bond has seen enough to now be almost completely detached from emotional ties.
Craig’s portrayal of Bond as a less playful, physical force is still captivating without making you wonder how Connery, Moore or Brosnan would fare. He is his own Bond and he offers one of the more unique takes on the character.
Bond has to prove he’s fit for active duty, but his aim is off, his stamina lessened and his cocksure attitude isn’t very convincing to anyone. The “Broken Bond” subplot is intriguing as no matter what he’s faced, he’s always had this cavalier “I can handle anything” attitude and this less than assured Bond would have made for a fascinating story on its own.
Regular Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve written the previous four films, are joined by John Logan (“Gladiator”) and the trio also juggle a subplot around M and the consequences of her actions while the head of MI6.
It’s almost too much to pack in one movie and the “Broken Bond” subplot never really gets resolved beyond a quick scene with love interest, Severine (Berenice Marlohe), a character with a back story that could have made her more than the standard Bond babe.
In many ways, “Skyfall” is more a movie about M than Bond. Not a problem since Dench has become more of a fixture in the series and all we really know about M is that she’s a no-nonsense boss. Yet, the screenwriters fail here outside of removing M from control to introduce the new faces in Mallory and Q (Ben Whishaw, “Cloud Atlas”) and essentially resetting the series.
Bardem easily makes Silva the best Bond villain since Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan in “Goldeneye,” and has enough character to become one of the more memorable Bond foes. He brings a fun energy that has missing from Bond villains for too long.
“Skyfall” soars when the screenwriters stick to the familiar Bond formula as Mendes’ dazzling style makes the regular seem fresh, but all too often, he’s hampered by a script that isn’t weighty enough to match his efforts to make it a classic. “Skyfall” is good, but falls short of the heights Mendes wants to take it.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10