Random factoid number one: Skyfall almost didn’t get made.
MGM, the production company that owns the rights to the Bond franchise, was heading toward bankruptcy just as Bond 23, as it was known then, was heading into pre-production.
I am ever so thankful they found the cash to make this film.
After the slight misstep taken with Quantum of Solace, Bond (Daniel Craig) is back with Skyfall, and this time it’s personal. Someone manages to steal the hard drive containing the names and aliases of all the NATO agents imbedded with terrorist organizations, and he’s out to destroy MI-6 with the knowledge. Specifically, he’s going after M (Judi Dench).
But she’s going to have to face this threat without her best agent, because in an operation designed to recover the hard drive, Bond is killed in the line of duty.
Well, not really. This is, after all, a Bond film. You can’t kill the hero in the first half hour.
When Bond does finally report in, he’s more than a little bitter and out of shape, the last op having battered his aging body into submission. But he’s not one to give up, so he follow’s M’s orders and goes on the hunt for the terrorist behind the hard drive heist. When he finally meets the man, Silva (Javier Bardem), he’s drawn into Silva’s game, leading them back to London and Silva’s original target.
Random factoid number two: Did you know there’s been fifty years of Bond films? Hollywood’s longest running, and most successful, franchise started fifty years ago with Doctor No.
There are many, many things to love about Skyfall. Bond, for one. If Casino Royale showed us how Bond became the agent he is, Skyfall gives Craig the chance to deepen the character, and he does it with style to spare. Craig’s interpretation of Bond has always been closer to Ian Fleming’s Bond, harder, rough around the edges, and willing and able to do whatever it takes to get the job done, consequences be damned. When it counts, he’s not afraid to release the hard shell he’s worn since Casino Royale, and Craig’s performance is quiet and compelling, with enough bad-assery to remind you this is Bond.
Dench, as M, has more to do in this film than any of the previous films, and she proves with every single minute she’s on screen that she was an excellent choice to play the head of MI-6. By turns determined, mothering, frightened, and exasperated, she runs her agency with efficiency, keeping her agents on a tight leash, letting them off just often enough to ensure their loyalty to her and country.
But Bardem, as Silva, takes the cake. I’ve always thought one of the creepiest villains in any film was Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. Bardem starts out at Hannibal-level creepiness and ups the ante, giving us a portrait of a man who is maniacal, yet sane enough to scare the crap out of you. Silva’s got some major issues, and the way Bardem pulls it off humanizes what could have been a caricature of a bad guy.
The audience let out a collective Ohhh of appreciation when the Aston Martin Sean Connery drove as Bond makes an appearance. We have a new Q, and a new Miss Moneypenny. There are references to Bond’s inability to return his gadgets in one piece, and the exploding pen from Goldeneye.
Random factoid number three: There are at least three Oscar winners involved with this film (Dench, Bardem, and director Sam Mendes) and two nominees (Fiennes and Albert Finney). Bond’s keeping good company these days.
If you have any doubts about Mendes’ ability to direct a fast-paced action thriller, worry not. Skyfall grabs you around the throat from the beginning and only allows you period respites to catch your breath before you’re thrust forward at full speed toward the finish. At two and a half hours, it’s one of the longer films in the franchise, and I loved every single minute of it. Mendes has a way of blending the action into the overarching story, centering on themes of betrayal and trust, of aging and a changing of the guard, of handling the shadows of the past without allowing them to dictate your future.
Seriously, why are you still sitting there, reading this review? Go see the damn film already. You can thank me later.