“You know the rules of the game, you’ve been playing it long enough.”
When M says this, she is speaking as much to the audience as she is to 007 himself. With Skyfall being the twenty third film in the series (that’s official Eon production films, which does not include 1967′s Casino Royale or 1983′s Never Say Never Again) everybody knows the score by now. Mr Bond is sent off on a mission in some exotic location, takes some cool gadgets, beds some beautiful women, shoots some bad guys and foils the arch-villain’s maniacal scheme all in time for tea.
The first act follows this structure to the letter. But then something interesting and wonderful happens, a seemingly unconnected subplot rises like cream to the top and utterly blows the action packed opening section out of the water. Every unexpected twist in the script is more refreshing than anything Commander Bond has seen in a very long time.
For the next 90 minutes, the scene stays firmly set in Britain, brilliantly breaking the usual international jet setting mold. The combination of Sam Mendes‘ directing and Roger Deakins‘ cinematography make London & Scotland look more cinematic and iconic than ever before. From the neon lit Shanghai to the perfectly captured claustrophobia of the London Underground and the atmospheric fog on the moors of the Scottish Highlands, Mendes & Deakins expertly and artistically craft almost every shot of the 143 minute run time.
While all the praise for the director, cinematographer and the screenwriters (Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade alongside John Logan) is undeniably well deserved, the heart of Skyfall lies in its central trio of characters portrayed by Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Javier Bardem.
Craig puts in a career defining performance in his third time as Bond. He’s superbly suave, cold and calculated when the situation arises and deeply resolute from the word go. His comeback, from death itself, is a lesson to every other hero’s redemption story of recent years. The physical and emotional rollercoaster he’s able to express in Skyfall easily ranks him as one of the all time great 007s.
While Craig has been consistently good as Bond in his tenure, his nemeses have been utterly lacking. I consider myself quite a big Bond fan (I’ve read every Ian Fleming novel and seen all 25 films) and I honestly can’t remember the name of the villains in Quantum of Solace without looking them up. The best Bond films have an iconic villain such as Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever) and Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger) who is 007′s equal and occasionally his superior. Fortunately, Javier Bardem steps up to the plate in spectacular fashion as Raoul Silva. From his erotically charged entrance scene to his unnerving confrontation with M (which seemingly stands for “mummy”, according to him), Silva is by far the best villain Daniel Craig has faced and is instantly as iconic as any of his predecessors. Bardem is able to channel his previous chilling performance as Anton Chigurh (with an equally terrifying haircut) and combine it with some of the chaotic psychopathy of Heath Ledger‘s Joker to bring something truly special to the role. It is sometimes said that the best villains are reflections of aspects of the hero himself (see literally any Batman villain, for example). Silva, through his relationship to M, is clearly shown to be the man Bond could have been. Another key idea behind a truly great villain is that their actions are always seen as right and just in their own mind. The balance between being sympathetic and utter madness is expertly struck by the writers and Javier Bardem himself.
While both Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe are extremely easy on the eye, neither actress is particularly worthy of note. Save for a lovely little moment at the very end for Harris’ Eve, they could have been entirely absent and the film would have barely suffered. That is certainly not the case, however, for the real shining star of the film. Judi bloody Dench.
In her seventh appearance as the head of MI6, Dame Judi Dench is finally given the chance to flex her Oscar-winning acting chops like we’ve never seen before in a Bond film. Skyfall‘s plot is more closely intertwined with both Bond & M’s pasts than we have seen in recent years and the Dame takes this opportunity to deliver something stunning in every scene. Despite Bardem & Craig’s stellar chemistry, Dench completely steals the show from her younger, male counterparts.
It’s been 50 years since Dr No and Skyfall is the perfect way to celebrate. Even with two lackluster Bond girls, a somewhat forgettable opening hour and some awkward Heineken product placement, Daniel Craig makes his third time a charm, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is one of the most memorable villains of recent years and we finally get to see M, the greatest Bond girl of them all, shine. After half a century and twenty three installments, the formula could have easily been tiresome and predictable but Mendes reinvigorates the series and ushers in a new era for Britain’s greatest spy in the best way possible. Oh and if you’re not grinning from ear to ear when Monty Norman‘s classic Bond theme finally kicks in, you’re probably not breathing.
Skyfall is one of the best films of the year and possibly 007′s finest outing yet.