Bond is back, baby.
Have you been missing the ol’ motifs from earlier Bond films? Oh then honey, Skyfall is the film for you. Not that that’s surprising; there had been hints at the start of 2006’s Casino Royale that this new interpretation of Bond would come with a bit of character origin story. Now with three films in, you’ll see plenty of what Bond fans know and love; the groovy acid-trip opening credits montage, the Shirley Bassey-esque “Skyfall” sung by Bassey heir apparent Adele (who knocks it out of the park, btw), and the iconic in-the-barrel-of-a-gun view of Bond. And hey, is that a DB5 over there? An added bonus is the “50 Years Of Bond” logo at the end credits, a wonderful nod to the history of the series.
But Skyfall doesn’t require those motifs to fit it in with films that have gone before, however much fun they are to see. Gorgeous cinematography and camerawork echo the exotic locale shots of earlier films. The scene where Bond heads into a floating casino is breathtaking with it’s use of lanterns, huge illuminated paper dragons and ripples on the water that are a lovely counterpoint to all that candlelight. There’s also a birds-eye-view of a Firefly-like Shanghai that zooms in to Bond swimming in a pool at the top of a building that is simply perfect. What? I’m an angle nerd, it’s true. Skyfall is a perfect mix of old and new that takes the “Craig Bond” down a path that is comfortably familiar, yet thrillingly new.
The more things stay the same, the more things change. Or something like that. There are plenty of delicious twists and turns in Skyfall to make sure die-hard Bond fans are just as unsettled as the newbies. Most important, this time Bond isn’t the one the Big Bad is gunning for, it’s M (Judi Dench) that has a target painted on her. But Bond isn’t unscathed; he starts the film having been shot close to the heart, and that’s a hint and a half at what’s to come. Not only does that wound leave him less than what he’s been in the past — hey, you try to pull of those Bond stunts after catching lead — it hints at the losses Bond could be facing at the hand of this film’s Big Bad. Skyfall’s Bond isn’t “played out”, as one character presumes, but he is bitter, tired of the game and edgy as hell. (I’ll attribute that to the lead poisoning as well.) Craig does a brilliant job of conveying Bond’s obsessive drive and addiction to the cause, no matter what the cost.
There’s also a tip of the hat to the aging of Bond/Daniel Craig. The character/actor is now in his 40s, and the folks at the Ministry believe espionage is a “young man’s game”. Cue the new Q (or Quartermaster, if you’re a formality type), a guy who’s so young you’d expect the ink on his undergrad diploma is still drying. Played by Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) with just the right touch of Millennial hipster snark and no-nonsense savvy, this is definitely not you’re Daddy’s Q.
Fight choreography, stunt work and special effects are just as good if not better than they’ve been in Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace. And the use of technology to help drive the plot works well here, with Bardem’s Silva being a hacker par excellence. And while I’m on the subject, Bardem whips out his best Freak On A Leash for his portrayal of Bond’s latest nemesis, channeling all the best (worst?) parts of No Country For Old Men, while still letting viewers see exactly why Silva is such a damn psycho mess.
But director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) doesn’t just drop a psycho in the mix, he messes with the system. The scene where Bond and Silva meet for the first time is like a page out of the HoYay!Handbook. The homoeroticism is so thick you could cut it with a finely shellacked fingernail. Bardem says you could read it either way (an interpretation that I love and lean toward), and Mendes says it’s a homage to the subtext that has been around in Bond films for years. Either way, it’s fun, kinda campy and completely engrossing. Silva may just be smarter than our 007, and with a cocky new Q this may be Bond’s biggest challenge yet. Let’s just say everyone gets a little taste of humility by the time the credits roll. And I’d be seriously remiss if I didn’t mention Judi Dench’s M. Dench’s performance is superb, but the high point for me was when M quotes Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. Insert swoon here.