Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Berenice Merlohe, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Albert Finney, Ola Rapace
Plot: When a cyber-terrorist begins threatening MI6 and M’S (Dench) life, 007 (Craig) returns from the dead to stop him.
A long hallway. A man emerges covered in shadows, accompanied by the opening chord of a familiar orchestra engrained into any movie-lovers memory. Slowly, confidently, surely, Daniel Craig, the sixth incarnation of James Bond walks into the light. One shot, nothing more than a character walking to a camera, but everything about that single, beautiful shot screams Bond is back. And god, how we have missed him!
Skyfall explodes onto your screen with one of the greatest opening sequences we have ever been subjected to. Bond and a beautiful field agent, named (REDACTED!) jump in a car and chase down an assassin, via explosions, the destruction of a train carriage and several Mini Coopers, and cool quips. Bond even finds time to straighten his cuffs. Everything we have ever loved about James Bond is condensed into this vivid action sequence and it is a phenomenal piece of film-making. It only gets better with a terrifying new enemy terrorising M, sending Bond to Shanghai in search of this anonymous new threat. Mendes flaunts every Bond moment he can give us, truly honouring his place as the anniversary mark for James Bond. We get a brand new Q, thankfully worlds different from Desmond Llewelyn’s depiction of the character (the last thing we needed was an attempt at topping the past, instead of honouring it), a major character death that will shake up the franchise quite nicely and the return of one of the most loved Bond cars throughout Bond history. Even Pierce Brosnan’s exploding pen is brought up, even if it is quickly shoved under the carpet, embarrassed faces from a much more professional production team.
Skyfall could be criticised for taking on a very familiar story with this Bond. The opening sequence sees Bond get killed and then slowly his character returns from the dead, when England is in a time of crisis. We never, for a second, believed Bond was going to die in the first twenty minutes of his own movie and we have been here before with You Only Live Twice. However, Mendes handles the tired story with intelligence. The reveal that Bond is – gasp – alive is done with no emphasis on shock or a slow step into the light. We finish up some exposition with M and then cut to James Bond, in bed with a women. Why hide the fact that everyone knew that this is where Bond would be? When he returns, even M and his colleagues take just a moment to get over their shock that the famous 007 somehow survived the opening mission. This playful teasing with the audience takes this tired story and makes Skyfall the stock ‘rogue agent’ Bond we have got. Sure, Bond abandoning MI6 to take down the villain on his own has been done before (with every single Daniel Craig, for example), but not like this! Mendes has a way of making everything feel fresh and new, even if Skyfall is clearly a homage to the twenty two movie that have come before it.
In fact, everything Sam Mendes does with his direction is remarkable. The cinematography is just as remarkable as it ever was, this time improving on the intelligent bursts of energy from Quantum of Solace’s direction and throwing in colour and beautiful shots. Bond drifting into Shanghai is a jaw-dropper of a moment. The Scottish moors look magnificent. Even London looks like a place that you actually agree that Bond should be cherishing with every fibre of his body. Skyfall just feels so fresh and modern, abandoning the camp origins of the character and tackling a meatier spy thriller. Moore’s movies treated the audience like idiots, Brosnan’s didn’t care what the audience felt, yet Craig’s three movies actively engage the audience, bringing them into the world of James Bond. Notice how there is no international help anymore? This is Bond for the modern world and even if it abandons some of the more fun Bond aspects, it still delivers as an up-to-date take on a character who has been going for 50 years.
Sadly, it isn’t quite as perfect as we all want it to be. For a lot of the film’s running time, especially the last forty minutes in Scotland, it really does feel like an anniversary special. Nods are made to Bond’s past and the action feels weighed down more than usual. Mendes feels too pressurised into making history, rather than making a Bond movie. Javier Bardem’s Silva is a prime example of this. Yes, the performance is amazing, but Mendes spoon-feeds the actor the role. The action keeps hitting the brakes so Bardem can deliver a monologue. It makes the ending action piece feel a little stale. Also, the plot is very slim, so Mendes can focus on other parts of his script. At the end of the day, Silva is a man scorned by M, so he wants to kill her. His entire plan and threats, no matter how cleverly written, are all made out of vengeance. It feels a little like your run-of-the-mill Sylvester Stallone premise; I want my James Bond movies to be a little more complicated than that. The build-up to Skyfall is a lot better than the climax. Yes, that opening sequence is amazing, but when the film never tops that, it makes Skyfall feel a little back-to-front. No, it’s not a bad film, but it doesn’t deserve the amount of praise that it gets. Although, saying that, it does deserve quite a lot.
Final Verdict: Mendes gives us an intelligent Bond adventure, displaying action, nostalgia and intelligence as if he has been making Bond movies for the last 50 years.