SKYFALL Review

Having never been a huge Bond fan for most of my life, my interest in the franchise was peaked when director Martin Campbell delivered a hard boiled, gritty action film with the suave, iconic agent at the head of the film. Embodied by the newly minted Daniel Craig, for the first time I felt as if I was watching a man who could actually take part in a secret government agency and come out on the other side alive rather than seeing Pierce Brosnan as a version of some high class socialite who wondered into a gunfight, some off kilter version of the character Mike Myers so easily lampooned. Granted, I haven't seen many of the films in the franchise (though I certainly plan on doing so at some point) I've seen plenty of footage and clips from the older films when I prepped to see Casino Royale as a newbie to the franchise. I have caught a few of the Brosnan era Bonds on TV as well as seeing Die Another Day as my first in a theater which as you can imagine, wasn't the greatest introduction. A year after experiencing Chris Nolan's dark, realistic take on the Batman story it was interesting to have seen Bond go the same way within his own world. With the twenty-third film of the franchise, Skyfall, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have recruited Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) to helm this latest installment that acts as a continuation of Craig's time in MI6 but also reestablishes much of the series history and lays the ground work for much to be excited about in what is coming in Mr. Bond's near future.

Judi Dench as M in Skyfall.
In mentioning the Nolan Batman franchise I was also well aware of Mendes referencing to how The Dark Knight gave him a sense of how to accomplish the task of creating a film of such scope, with such expectation surrounding it while also making it relevant to the world we live in today. It is easy to see where these parallels come into play with Skyfall, but I didn't mind them a bit as each of these things sum up my favorite kind of film. The hero who has fallen from grace, the sadistic villain, the themes of keeping citizens in the dark so as to better protect them are all accounted for as are several massive action sequences that are wonderfully realized and beautifully captured by cinematographer Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men). This rather epic story is brought down to its basics with great character development in all the leads and delivers the thrills, and for the first time since Craig took over, a good amount of laughs throughout. Beginning with an expertly paced chase sequence through Turkey it is made clear that Bond and partner Eve (Naomie Harris) have to recover a hard drive containing the identities of all undercover MI6 agents. When it falls into the wrong hands the man responsible begins releasing five names and faces a week exposing identities and causing loss of life within the department. As head of MI6 M (Judi Dench fulfilling her maternal instincts in a heartfelt performance) is called into question for her judgment and ability to continue performing the job. As chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) doesn't necessarily doubt M as much as he hopes he is right in remaining to stand by her side. Dench gets a much bigger role here than in previous installments and her relationship with Bond is at the heart of the film as both are able to explore their pasts which lead to them determining their futures.

007 (Daniel Craig) meets his match in Silva (Javier Bardem).
It is someone from M's past that also is the cause of all this trouble though. When he finally does emerge, Silva as played by Javier Bardem is as sick and elegantly twisted as you could hope to expect. It is easy to say that many of the Bond baddies have been paper thin and out for nothing more than the typical world domination or riches, but Silva has revenge on the brain and he will play whatever game it takes to fulfill this destiny he has prophesied for himself. It is also easy to make a comparison between Bardem's Silva and Heath Ledger's Joker as both are excited to see the world crumble around them and at their mercy, but unlike the Joker who we never truly understand it is made clear Silva's reasoning for doing what he does. Though his intentions can become a little muddled in the middle despite us understanding his elaborate games are nothing more than a comment on how outlandish the whole operation of a secret agency is. That he can cause as much destruction from behind a computer as Bond can with a gun in a room, we still wonder from time to time if his ultimate goal is really as simple as he says it is. There is an obligatory feeling about Berenice Marlohe's role as a typical Bond girl, but even she turns a small role into a riveting piece that develops her character as well as Silva's, and for that matter, Bond's further. Q is introduced for the first time since Casino Royale in the form of Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) as Bond's new quartermaster and he too is insistent on the day and age they are living in being no longer accustomed to or feeling the need for physical exhaustion but rather technological intelligence. Allowing this theme to reoccur even more is Bond's physical status being called into question. Is Bond a relic or is there still a need for him? Skyfall isn't afraid to ask the questions audience members are likely wondering themselves. It is able to take a step back, deliver plenty of references for lovers of the franchise, while at the same time delivering the blunt instrument that is Craig's interpretation in a world that is as concrete a one the character has ever existed in.

Ben Whishaw as Bond's new Quartermaster.
What is probably most satisfying about this latest installment though is that it gets back to where Casino broke the mold and moves that innovation even further. Sure, this one has all the staples every Bond film has to include, but it takes those not as a burden but as an opportunity to develop these archetypes further. At one point a character says, "sometimes the old ways are the best ways." It is clear in every aspect of the film that Mendes and his team of writers, designers, and actors are attempting to fuse a sense of tradition, of known facets with a more progressive, ever changing world and in doing so they are creating a fully realized film that honors why this character is still around and why people still go see these movies as well as giving them a sense of fresh, new life that will engage the uninitiated much as Casino did with me. It is truly fascinating that after so many trips to the screen there are still things to discover about 007 but that is what seems to be the inherent twist of Skyfall. We get an insight into each character adding layers to them and to our story. We even see the childhood of Bond evoked in a non-traditional manner that sets up the finale of the film in a fierce and affecting way. There is more weight to the explosions, the helicopters, and the menacing dialogue that Bardem spills upon his foes. This is present not just in the great performances that the stellar cast deliver but in their surroundings, their set-up, and their mythology. It all meshes in a grand way that allows the nearly two and a half hour production to breeze by and take you on a trip that re-establishes a cultural icon back to his pedestal and puts him on a fast track to even greater success for the next fifty years.