With the legal wranglings finished and the shonky Quantum of Solace left firmly in the past, the film-makers at EON made their intent clear during pre-production. On the 50th anniversary of the franchise, they wanted a James Bond film of such quality that it would do what no predecessor has managed and bag nominations in the big categories at the Oscars. So the stakes are high for Skyfall. Enter director Sam Mendes, a man with an Oscar under his belt for American Beauty, a song by one of the most popular recording artist currently working in Adele and an entirely new script, not based in any way on an Ian Fleming book, novella or short story.
While on an assignment in Turkey with colleague Eve (Naomie Harris), MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is chasing a man who has stolen a hard drive which lists the whereabouts of every undercover secret agent currently working in the field. After a misfire during the final stages of the fight, Bond is presumed dead and the man escapes. MI6 head M (Judi Dench) is under increasing pressure from the Government, through representative Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to retire and accept that espionage is a thing of the past. Meanwhile as the undercover agents are slowly revealed and killed, MI6 itself is attacked by a mysterious technological genius known as Silva (Javier Bardem). Seeing this on the news, Bond returns to Britain to meet with M and begin the process of apprehending the mastermind.
The cyclical nature of the Bond franchise means that from time to time, certain elements of its long history are scaled back and we as an audience are treated to ‘back-to-basics’ Bond. This is the path that lead us to Casino Royale, a seeming reboot of the series, which introduced us to a new Bond at the beginning of his career. Quantum of Solace continued his story, but removed almost all trace of humour and fun, leaving an impression of a substandard spy film with none of the trackings of a Bond film. Skyfall swings the direction of the franchise in a new and exciting way, including some actual changes to the seemingly never-changing canon of the character.
Where previous Bond plots have revolved around world domination or a complicated series of story threads that seem to tie up neatly at the end, Skyfall keeps it simple and reaps the benefits because of it. Bond still gets to travel to sumptuous exotic locations like Shanghai, Turkey and Macau, but there is an urgency in his pursuit of Silva and a simplicity to the revenge narrative that plays out. This leaves time for explosive action scenes, like the frankly jaw-dropping opening chase that tops Casino Royale‘s free-running spectacular, as well as time for character development and interplay between the leads, which is where Skyfall sets itself apart from previous installments.
There are meaty supporting roles from the excellent Ralph Fiennes as M’s political adversary and Albert Finney in an important role in the final act, while Ben Whishaw is amusing and interesting as the reinvention of Q. But Skyfall is at its best when any combination of Bond, Silva or M are on screen together. Craig’s Bond finds himself broken down, seemingly at the end of his career and after his early apparent death he is seen revelling in post-spy shenanigans off-the-map. He is not only physically finished, but mentally he’s lost some of his resolve. Craig, excellent as before, is given some character depth and emotional range to play with and the result further cement his place as one of the best all-time Bonds. Dench is also given an extended role and brings a weird warmth to M, hidden deeply behind her strong resolve and stiff upper-lippedness. But the standout is Javier Bardem as Silva. Skyfall takes its time to introduce him, but when it does he is a revelation wrapping up a performance that takes in villain, henchmen, betrayer, traitor, victim and genius and wraps it in an absurd, bombastic scenery-chewing extravaganza.
A special note should be made about the cinematography too, with Roger Deakins creating a visual style and sumptuous beauty to Skyfall that helps it stand out as the best looking Bond film of all time. The score that plays on Bond’s heritage while remaining fresh and innovative is also worthy of awards. Being that Skyfall is James Bond’s 50th anniversary film it has fitting nods to almost every other James Bond film scattered throughout, which add to the sense of fun, excitement and quality throughout. Combine this with a great script, superb performances, exciting action and some actual development of the character and Skyfall stands tall not only as one of the best films of the year, but also as the best Bond film of them all. Bond is back!