I clearly remember the day that I discovered James Bond. My dad was watching Octopussy on HBO and I came into the living room and asked him, “what’s that?” After watching for an hour, I was particularly impressed how British Secret Service (BSS) Agent Bond used a robot alligator for one of his escapes. Later that night, my Dad popped in the videocassette of Goldfinger and I was hooked for life.
The first Bond film I ever saw in the theater was The Living Daylights, which starred the unloved Timothy Dalton. I still find it odd that few film fans appreciated Dalton, whose take on Bond was not only extremely faithful to what series creator Ian Fleming wrote, but demonstrated a no-nonsense coldness, even a nastiness, that is the trademark of the current actor playing the part, Daniel Craig.
In his third outing as agent 007, Craig returns in this belated adventure; at one point, Craig as Bond declares that one of his occupations is resurrecting himself, a comment he’s making to the audience as much as the bad guy. Since fans have been waiting a good four years for this, here’s the barest of plot descriptions: Bond and BSS head M (played with effortless forcefulness by Judi Dench) are on unsteady ground with their country, due to the vengeful online hackings and terrorist bombings by a villain named Silva, played by Javier Bardem (who doesn’t enter the film until its nearly over). Bond’s globetrotting mission of vengeance is off the record, even for the BSS, and the stakes have arguably never been this high for the character, who is now older, wounded from battle and not the spry super spy he once was.
There has never been a Bond film like this one, as the filmmakers have, for better or worse, gone out of their way to give longtime fans something truly different for the series’ 50th anniversary. In its scope and approach, it feels more like a Christopher Nolan Batman movie than any previous Bond film, as terrorism on the home front (a theme underlined by a speech Dench gives directly to the camera), the nature of the villain (more like The Joker than Auric Goldfinger) and an emphasis on Bond’s origins make this an atypically personal spy vehicle, more Bruce Wayne than James Bond.
This has truly been directed by an Oscar-winning filmmaker, as American Beauty and Road to Perdition helmer Sam Mendes gives Skyfall a stylish look, with some scenes staged like a glossy art movie. Craig’s handsome profile is often framed in the foreground of gorgeous locations and many sequences are stunningly lit and provide a film noir feel.
Craig’s icy demeanor makes him at odds with the breezy one-liners he sometimes tosses out but his nearly smirk-free approach to the part is still commanding. Bardem’s performance is a problem–the character makes a great entrance but Bardem’s portrayal and possibly the role itself is too eccentric for the film. Silva is too strange to be scary and comes across more like a crazed stalker than a worthy Bond villain. You never believe what the screenplay suggests- that Silva is Bond’s equal.
Except for the appealing Naomi Harris, whose closing scene is especially satisfying, the “Bond girls” barely register and, action wise, the movie never tops the spectacle in its pre-title sequence.
Mention should go to Adele’s title song, presented by a typically amazing collage of psychedelic imagery, and the wrap-up scenes will make longtime 007 fans extremely happy. There are strong components throughout but this isn’t one of the best Bond films. Casino Royale is still the only Bond film of the Daniel Craig era that left me shaken and stirred.
★ ★ ★
Rated PG-13 / 143 Min.