SKYFALL received the biggest opening weekend in James Bond history. Could this twenty-third Bond film be the best of all?
Skyfall opens on a frantic chase scene in Instanbul. A computer hard drive identifying NATO agents has been stolen and Bond relentlessly pursues the thief - first through a crowded market in a heated car chase, switching to motorbikes for a pursuit across the city’s rooftops, before finally coming face to face with his target on top of a moving train. Filled with impressive stunts it’s an intense and thrilling opener that gets hearts pumping. As Bond plunges into a river, presumed dead, he falls deep into impressive credits that reflect key images from the film, backed by one of the best Bond themes of all time.
Narrowly surviving death, Bond is weathered and worn but retains his steadfast commitment, returning to MI6 when disaster makes the international news. The lost hard drive leads to cyber terrorism but this intriguing plot-line fades into the background when the individual behind the scheme is revealed. Played by Javier Bardem, Silva is a psychopath who takes delight in playing sadistic mind games with his enemies. Hair and eyebrows dyed blonde, Silva has flair and a deeply sinister undertone, making 007 squirm with discomfort as he toys with Bond’s sexuality. Motivated by revenge with an emotional connection to MI6, it’s a plot that brings Judi Dench’s M centre stage.
The script from Bond stalwarts Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with Bond newcomer John Logan, intricately explores the relationship between Bond and M. Loyalty and trust are tested as the intense power dynamic sees these characters both pitted against one another and united in the field. Skyfall brings Bond full circle - at a time when 007’s physical prowess is dwindling from a long career in service, we also go back to the beginning with a plot that explores Bond’s back story. Skyfall uncovers Bond’s past with wit, drawing comparisons between Bond and contemporary cinematic heroes with similar backgrounds, ‘there’s a storm coming’ says Bond in a nod to Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. It’s a sub-plot that provides Bond with more realism and director Sam Mendes raises as many questions as he answers, keeping his audience guessing.
This reference to the past is nicely timed for Bond’s fiftieth anniversary and there are also a few nice retro surprises thrown in with style and wit, rewarding a loyal audience for their continued enthusiasm. Skyfall is not afraid to be self-reflexive - as Q passes Bond his latest equipment he asks, ‘What did you expect, an exploding pen? We don’t go in for that anymore’.
In many ways, Skyfall is back to basics. We see Bond cobble together his own weapons in the absence of the incessant gadgetry that came with a former 007 era. It’s refreshing and loaded with realism, yet reminiscent of a grown-up Home Alone. Skyfall is also back to British. While the opening sequence takes us to Istanbul and we get whisked away to Shanghai and a floating casino with its own pit of Komodo dragons, most of the action takes place on British soil. It’s a dark and somber Britain as Mendes takes us into the wartime tunnels of Churchill and into London’s rush hour underground - although the carnage that follows affects a curiously empty train. Later we are taken to the Highlands of Scotland, impressively captured in all its mystery and isolation by cinematographer Roger Deakins. It feels about time that a Bond adventure took place on home turf and Mendes delivers well-fitting actions sequences that put the glamour of exotic locations in the shade.
First rate performances from a stellar cast put Skyfall in contention for the best Bond film of all. Daniel Craig gives us a Bond who is showing the strain of many years in service, physically weaker than he once was but with as much determination and strength of character. An interesting dynamic is offered in the form of the new and quirky Q (Ben Whishaw) whose confidence offers many witty ripostes to Bond’s jibes. Sexual tension simmers in Bond’s relationship with field agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), while Severine (Berenice Marlohe) is a much more ambiguous Bond girl. But the shining light of Skyfall is Judi Dench. Finally getting her time in the spotlight she capably delivers in M’s impassioned, resolute and emotional scenes.
Director Sam Medes perfectly balances realism and fantasy making Skyfall thrilling and intense. It’s back to basics, back to British and back to the beginning - well timed for the fiftieth anniversary of Bond movies Skyfall rewards fans and opens new doors. After the shaky Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig cements his place in Bond history and turns an exciting new corner. Roll on Bond film number twenty-four.
Running Time: 144 minutes
Verdict: 4 of 5 stars