After 50 years and 22 (official) films, it would certainly be easy for the James Bond series to crank out another film fitting the template developed over the past half-century. While Skyfall does make nods to many parts of the series’ legacy, though, it also delves into intriguing new terrain.
The film opens with Bond and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) chasing a man with an important hard drive through the streets of Istanbul. The action eventually moves to a train, with Bond physically fighting the enemy while Eve prepares to take the enemy out. On command from M (Judi Dench), Eve shoots – and Bond falls to an assumed death. Cue Adele’s “Skyfall” and the traditional Bond opening credits.
For her failure to capture the enemy agent – whose escape includes the loss of vital intel about the inner workings of MI6 – and the loss of Bond, M finds herself being prodded into potential retirement by new boss Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). It takes an attack against MI6 and M herself to pull Bond back from months-long seclusion, during which time Bond’s grown a bit rusty, both physically and psychologically. M and Bond set out to discover the party behind the attacks, in this case a villain named Silva (Javier Bardem), a computer whiz bent on taking revenge on M.
The tone of the Bond films tend to reflect the actor in the lead role, and Daniel Craig’s turn already showed striking promise with his series debut in 2006’s Casino Royale, a reboot of sorts for the long-running series. With the film earning some of the highest critical marks for the series, critics and fans were largely disappointed with 2008’s loose sequel Quantum of Solace. No matter. Skyfall returns Craig’s run of the series to the level of quality first seen back in 2006.
Craig is matched by standout performances from the entire cast, in particular Dench and Bardem. Dench, who was the only cast holdover from the Pierce Brosnan years, is essentially the co-lead of Skyfall – in a way, she’s the main Bond girl of the film. The complexity afforded the character is something Bond films rarely afford to Bond himself, let alone any other character. Meanwhile, Bardem provides Skyfall with the best Bond villain the series has had in years. His Silva falls along the lines of Bardem’s Oscar-winning performance from No Country for Old Men and Heath Ledger’s take on The Joker in The Dark Knight.
Equally important to the film’s success is the behind-the-scenes talent. Leading the film is director Sam Mendes, who serves as the first Oscar-winner to helm a Bond film. Joining Mendes are two Oscar nominees: cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Thomas Newman. The screenplay brings in writer John Logan to the series, joining franchise regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The arrival of fresh creative talent shows throughout Skyfall, making it a high point in the franchise’s lengthy history.
As the film closes, Skyfall sets up an intriguing direction for the series – one that nods to the past 50 years while looking forward to a new, different world. If future entries can maintain the quality of Skyfall, James Bond just might survive to the century mark.