By Steve Crum
“Skyfall” would not be the best James Bond film ever had it not been for the previous 22 Bond movies. Not that this Sam Mendes-directed, smoothly stirred blend does not stand independently as a Class A action-adventure yarn, which it does. But to fully appreciate “Skyfall,” one really needs to be a Bond movie aficionado. That is because there are so many subtle and overt references and outright homages to 007 cleverly worked into the plot, dating back to Sean Connery. Otherwise, a first time Bond viewer will miss an arsenal of fun.
For this Bond freak, “Skyfall” is one satisfying James Bond adventure.
It grabs from the get-go via an opening chase scene of Bond (Daniel Craig) running afoot and eventually on top of a speeding train to nab an assassin-thief possessing a vitally needed, coded chip. Naturally, every James Bond movie opens with an action set-piece which is followed by the title sequence with theme song, and this one does not waiver from tradition. However, there is more derring-do gutsiness compressed in these five minutes than in any previous Bond. Trying so hard not to spoil the fun, let’s just say there is breakneck running and jumping, car chasing, and a Caterpillar involved. And not the little, wooly kind.
As the story (by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan) develops, it is clear that British spy headquarters M16 is under explosive attack because of its leader, M (for the final time played by Judi Dench). Something or someone is targeting her agency to get to her. Unfortunately, at a crucial time like this, M’s foremost agent, 007, has some issues of his own, interfering with duty to M and country.
This development does give ultra-psychotic Silva, played by Javier Bardem in blond wig, opportunities to display his viciousness, making him the most formidable and dangerous Bond villain of them all. Just try not to think of his similarities to Hannibal Lecter when he is (temporarily) jailed. Each and every Bond bad guy is dangerously eccentric, but the relentless Silva, an ex-M16 agent, is vastly more conniving and driven, fueled by personal vendetta. Bardem’s bloodthirsty villain Anton Chigurh in “No Country For Old Men” in many ways registers as a kissin’, er, killin’ cousin to Silva.
Bond movies are formula famous for being filmed in some of the most exotic, colorful locations in the world, and so goes “Skyfall.” The Hong Kong scenes, particularly at night, are spectacular. Mendes integrates memorable action set pieces befitting each location. Speaking of action sequences, “Skyfall’s” opening bit is equalled by a half dozen other nail-biting slam-bangers. Do not ask how future Bond movies (and there will definitely be more) can even equal what Mendes has accomplished here.
By mid-movie, M is both in danger of being killed and losing her job (through forced retirement) in the process. However, there is always 007 to her rescue, along with his sometimes able assistant, Eve (Naomie Harris). Even M’s second in command Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) proves himself as no slouch in heroics. She and M16 get able support from the newly designated and very young Q, played by Ben Whishaw, who looks like he just stepped off “The Big Bang Theory” set.
Mix in a very strong finale performance by Albert Finney as Scotsman Kincade, outstanding stunt work and visual effects, and perhaps the most eye pleasing opening title sequence (Daniel Kleinman) of all 23 Bond flicks. Adele’s title song, written and performed by her, is a gem too. Speaking of music, there is a fine Thomas Newman score, with a very healthy dose of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” punctuating key parts.
Daniel Craig’s central performance is vital, and he does not disappoint. For Judi Dench, the swan song could not be more emotionally fitting.
By film’s end, we appreciate that the franchise has refashioned itself by never once forgetting its glorious history, including a certain “Goldfinger” car. So satisfying it is, five decades later, and counting.
GRADE: On an A to F Scale: A