Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, and Ben Whishaw
We begin on a mission where James Bond (Daniel Craig) has arrived too late, and a critical hard drive containing the real names and aliases of all undercover N.A.T.O. operatives has been stolen. The cat & mouse chase between Bond and the enemy operative leads across the streets, on the rooftops, and through the markets of Istanbul. We end on top of a moving passenger train where Bond is accidentally shot by his fellow MI-6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) under orders from M (Judi Dench) and plummets to a river below. Cut-to opening song and credits.
With Bond presumed dead, MI-6 intelligence compromised, and a new administration in power, M finds herself under pressure from her new superior, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), to resign; she refuses. In route to MI-6 headquarters she discovers the stolen hard drive is being accessed and orders it to be traced. Quickly they determine the hard drive is being remotely accessed from her own computer. But before M reaches headquarters a gas explosion compromises the building.
Under threat by an unknown enemy, MI-6 retreats to secondary subterranean offices. Bond, learning of the attack while on some tropical paradise, reports back for duty. Before he is allowed back into active service he must past a number of physical and psychological test; which M states he does. Back in action, he reports to his new “Q”uartermaster (Ben Whishaw) for his assignment and his equipment.
This is the first Craig Bond film that feels like a traditional Bond film. The director, Sam Mendes, is obviously a Bond fan and peppers the movie with a number of references to past films. His action set pieces are the best of the series, and are on par with the best of the Bourne films. Mendes also bookends the movie with two vastly different sequences that perfectly illustrate the journey of the characters and the audience. Istanbul is bright, crowded, and full of color occurring during the day. Scotland is damp, grey, and empty ending at night. In the beginning Bond is full of energy and support, at the end he is battered and basically alone.
The story is simple and straightforward, as well as focuses on character development and motivation–probably the only time in Bond film history where all those things come together. You understand where Silva (Javier Bardem), the antagonist, is coming from and what he wants to accomplish. For the first time M’s career decisions are shown to have severe ramifications. Her cold calculating choice in Hong Kong years past resulted in the death of many in the present. Also, you learn more of Bond’s past in Skyfall. Where he came from and what happened to his family. Why M likes him so much.
The story is brought to life with success by the excellent cast, both old and new. Daniel Craig has made Bond his own, and more importantly he has made the character grow from film to film. The Bond of Skyfall is not the same one as Casino Royale; he is more jaded; tired of the business; in need of a reason to go on. Javier Bardem continues to prove that if you need a bad guy with a bad haircut, then he is your man. But whereas his Anton Chigurho of No Country for Old Men is a one-dimensional force of nature, his Silva is nuance and more humane.
The new additions of Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whishaw will also benefit the franchise in years to come. Ben Whishaw in particular stands out as a new Q for a new time; both understanding the power of technology and eventually its limits. He was cheekiley brought down a peg by Silva, but the character was made better for it in the long run.
As a purely Bond film with all the traditions–and baggage–that implies, Skyfall stands as Daniel Craig’s best entry into the franchise.
Grade = A