Review: Skyfall aims for the heart and soul of Bond
I've always been more of a Jason Bourne guy when it comes to badass super spies. I liked Casino Royale as a reboot for James Bond but always found it a bit more reactive than refreshing. It was Bond put through a Bourne filter. Quantum of Solace, in turn, was a complete mess. I struggle to remember anything about it. But with Bourne headed down a path of mediocrity, Skyfall marks an opportunity to finally win me over. So does it?
While the real meaning of the name Skyfall is a mystery I'll save for you, it doubles as a one word description of this film's plot. In Bond world, namely MI6, the sky is truly falling. A hard drive containing the true identities of undercover agents around the world is stolen, Bond is presumed to be killed-in-action, and an attack on MI6 headquarters hammers it home. A message to M (Judi Dench), "Think on your sins," confirms that this is a personal vendetta.
'Personal' may not be the word to describe a film about cold-blooded killers that sip martinis and take advantage of women, but Skyfall is probably as close as the series will ever get to a personal story. This is a film about Bond as an older man threatened by obsolescence, an M challenged for her cold and calculated decisions, and a system of espionage that seems to be turning in on itself. It is introspective in a way Bond has never been.
Challenging everything they stand for is Silva (Javier Bardem), an eccentric super hacker with some bones to pick. He's portrayed brilliantly by Bardem, lighting up the screen from the moment he steps in. This is a villain that, while completely different from Bardem's role in No Country for Old Men, is equally powerful in presence. In fact, if there's any major flaw with Skyfall, it's that there isn't enough of him. He arrives in fits and starts while the plot focuses on the pursuits of Bond and M, and to a certain extent, he feels like wasted opportunity.
That said, most of Skyfall is a potent mix of Bond-style action and dark drama. The film opens with a bang, not unlike the Parkour sequence that opened Casino Royale. Once again, Daniel Craig's Bond is shown to be more of a grunt than previous portrayals. He is classy when he needs to be, but isn't afraid to get his hands dirty when there's an opportunity to destroy some scenery. Adding to an already more grounded character are the injuries he suffers in the opening scenes. James Bond's invincibility has become a cultural joke at this point, so it's refreshing to see him with a personal weakness to overcome.
Bond films are always noteworthy for their exotic locales, but the choices in Skyfall are one of its greatest strengths. From the rooftops of Shanghai to an abandoned island city, and finally a battle in a location so unique to a Bond film that I'd rather not spoil it, each setting is filmed beautifully. Director Sam Mendes deserves credit for giving Skyfall a dark atmosphere even the newer films lacked.
I only wonder where they go from here. While the finale puts things into place for more Bond adventures, Skyfall was special exactly because it isn't the typical Bond adventure. You can't really go dark and personal a second time in a row, and I have to wonder if the next Bond is destined for Quantum of Solace levels of mediocrity. That's a challenge for a brave team to tackle, but in the meantime, the master of espionage is back on top.