Shot during an operation to recover a stolen hard-drive containing important information, James Bond (Craig) is reported missing and presumed dead. With M (Dench) discredited and put under political pressure to retire, an attack on MI6 then prompts Bond to return – only he’s not the same. Despite being both physically and mentally damaged, however, M puts him back on the case which leads to the mysterious Raoul Silva (Bardem), a dangerous man with a personal vendetta…
When interest in James Bond was flagging back in 2006, Casino Royale offered a triumphant, speedo-clad reboot which washed away the sour taste of invisible cars and CGI kite-surfing like a stiff vodka martini. But just as we were awoken to the possibilities of a Bond film, the generally-condemned Quantum Of Solace effectively killed the momentum dead while missing a huge opportunity in the process. As such, it’s a delight to report that Skyfall not only gets things back on track, but delivers what is arguably the best Bond movie of all time.
Big words, yes, but no less true. More than just a cinematic sigh of relief, Skyfall is a satisfying, crowd-pleasing return to form which boasts a classic Bond feel while happily retaining the Craig-era edge. In short, it’s fun but still serious-minded. Given that Casino Royale succeeded thanks to its back-to-basics grit, some of us were concerned about veering back into more typical 007 territory – even if the trailer shot of Bond adjusting his cuff after landing on a crumbling train was nothing short of perfection. But while there’s nothing here quite as great as Royale‘s sublime final third, Daniel Craig’s third tuxedo-fest is a slightly better film overall.
And the primary reason for this? Well that would be Sam Mendes. Arguably the series’ first ‘real’ director (typically, Bond movies tend to be producer-led), Mendes ensures that character and story are never overshadowed by big-budget bangs. Boasting a great opening, the pre-credits chase sequence is among the series’ best and most impressively-realised (yes, that really is Craig atop the train), whilst the set pieces are frequently thrilling even for those usually bored by action (the siege finale, slightly less so). But while a crucial sense of jeopardy is retained throughout (no small feat for a Bond film), where Skyfall really succeeds is as another personal affair.
Character-wise, it seemed like there wasn’t anywhere to take Bond after Casino Royale deconstructed him so thoroughly. But the decision to fast-forward to much later in his career is a very smart one, and the idea to explore an aging Bond who’s lost his nerve is even better. As introspective and psychologically complex as the series will allow, it’s a Bond movie for those who want Dark Knight helmer Chris Nolan to get a stab at the franchise. While Daniel Craig seems slightly uncomfortable with one or two of the one-liners, he’s at home conveying the vulnerability and inner-turmoil of an unshaven, traumatised Bond, who struggles to re-adjust in the movie’s strongest (and most Nolan-y) section. Craig’s looks have hardened, but his icy-blue peepers remain piercing and he’s as pec-tastically buff as ever.
Then there’s Javier Bardem. Furthering the Nolan comparisons, his Silva cuts through the film like Heath Ledger’s Joker, as a theatrical, unconventionally-haired agent of chaos who gets incarcerated on purpose before dressing up as a policeman. He’s also given a memorable introduction, as Silva walks from the distance to the foreground – while musing on pest control – all in one unbroken shot. Demonstrating shades of Hannibal Lecter and homoerotic undertones, he then goes on to deconstruct 007′s fractured psyche in another of the movie’s stand-out scenes.
Rivalling him in the supporting stakes though is Judi Dench’s M, who also drops the series’ first F-bomb. While both Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe are fine, it’s Dench who’s the real Bond girl here and it’s her relationship with James which defines the film. New additions Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw are great too (love the latter’s line about exploding pens), but best newcomer award goes to cinematographer Roger Deakins, as Skyfall‘s array of of striking visuals make it the most stunning-looking Bond to date. Add to that Adele’s theme tune, Thomas Newman’s score, an overdue amount of UK-set screen-time and some great gags (the Aston Martin one is priceless), and you’ve got the best Bond film ever made.
A thrilling marriage of character, story and action, Skyfall more than makes up for the disappointment of Quantum Of Solace. Marvellous.