Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan (screenplay), Ian Fleming (characters)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes
Like Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman mythology, the Daniel Craig-led entries in the 007 franchise are darker, more meditative studies of their respective heroes. Not only do they redefine the universes of these characters, but they plunge them into less cartoonish environments with consequences. They also take themselves somewhat seriously.
With Craig as the infamous super spy, the franchise lifted itself to an extraordinary high point in 2006’s Casino Royale. This was an origin story laced with intense action sequences, elegant vistas and shocking amounts of pathos. He became the infamous, emotionally hallow womanizer of the earlier films because his heart was broken.
Skyfall is no different in that it attempts to fill in even more of his past, though it does that to a much less successful degree. It works very well as a hyper-stylized, beautifully shot action story of cyber-terrorism, though. In fact, the main star here isn’t Craig, Judi Dench or Adele, but the director of photography Roger Deakins. One exquisitely composed shot sequence accompanies the next, though the action scenes are also very well orchestrated within that space.
Through the intense opening chase sequence in Istanbul, director Sam Mendes sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Bond searches a dimly lit room recently shot up and littered with corpses with his gun drawn. As he notices the hard drive he’s there for has been ripped from its computer, he makes his way outside where he holsters his gun and blends in with the noisy street market in one fluid motion. Craig has grown nicely into his version of Bond even though neither this film nor 2008’s Quantum of Solace have matched Casino Royale in quality.
It takes Skyfall way too long to let Javier Bardem’s venomous, Julian Assange-esque blonde villain Silva to surface. For the most part the script is a series of parts that fail to mesh organically. It’s a very nicely filmed movie with a weak script. The characters, however, are all fairly strong, from returning forces like Craig and Dench to Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes and especially Bardem.
Skyfall’s narrative shortcomings are even more noticeable because the first half seems meandering toward nothing and then the real conflict with him jumps off the screen with his terrific performance. The writers, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, force Bond to hop around an unnecessary amount of beautifully filmed locations before getting to the point, while also throwing in half-developed ruminations on Bond’s troubled childhood.
However convoluted the story, though, Skyfall finally gives Judi Dench a welcome opportunity to make M more than Bond’s snippy, no-nonsense boss. She isn’t untouchable here, and putting her character’s reputation on the line in the wake of cyber attacks on MI6 and a botched mission that nearly kills her best agent deepens the story in welcoming ways.
Bond is also forced to redefine and prove himself in the age of digital espionage. As the new Quartermaster (Whishaw) says at one point, field agents simply exist to pull the trigger while the techies do the real damage. Of course Bond kills with the efficiency of an entire special unit, but he’s never really been forced to adapt to a changing environment the way he is here. It still comes down to a fancy, grandiose shootout with him and the hacker bad guys. This sequence showcases an antique Aston Martin and an old mansion bombarded with digital explosions, which is a perfect encapsulation of how the series must walk the fine line of honoring its legacy and utilizing the newest technology to maintain it.