Skyfall, the 23rd outing in the fifty-year-old James Bond franchise, is directed by Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig as the venerable Agent 007. Bond’s mission in this particular film is to discover who is behind a cyber terrorism attack on MI-6. The attack is directed at Bond’s boss, M (Dame Judi Dench), because she lost a hard drive containing the names of MI-6 agents who are undercover in terrorist cells around the world. Naturally, because the loss of the hard drive is an issue of national security, M’s position in MI-6 is threatened.
Given its important anniversary position, I was honestly concerned Skyfall wouldn’t live up to the hype promised in the trailers for the film. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded; the film is absolutely brilliant. If I had to name a theme for Skyfall, it would be the idea that everything old is new again. In the opening credits, Bond is after an assassin in Turkey and, while in pursuit of this killer, Bond is injured. This sets up the idea that he is human and not invincible. It is even addressed that he is not as young and spry as he used to be. He spends the first half of the film unshaven — an indication, perhaps, that he has lost his (razor) edge.
The real surprise of Skyfall is how deep the story is. Yes, Bond has to stop the cyber terrorism; but, more importantly, Bond’s relationship with M is explored and we get a deeper look inside how MI-6 runs. Since a large portion of the plot is based in London on the home front at MI-6, we get a lot of information about the kind of pressure M is under at MI-6. M’s life is constantly under threat as the cyber terrorist Rodrigo Silva (Javier Bardem) destroys the spy organization by releasing one name at a time from the purloined hard drive.
Another superlative aspect of the film is the cast. Having James Bond be partially incapacitated throughout Skyfall really gave Daniel Craig something interesting to play. Javier Bardem’s Rodrigo Silva is delightfully creepy and maniacally insane. There are moments in the film where Bardem’s character truly made me shudder and wince. We are also introduced to a younger and more assertive version of beloved techie Q, here played by Ben Wishaw. In contrast to the portrayal of Q in previous installments, this Bond film makes Wishaw’s Q integral to the plot, which was a pleasant surprise.
The last positive of the film is the directing. Sam Mendes is known for directing such films as American Beauty and Road to Perdition. He is perhaps the last director one might imagine helming a James Bond film, and somehow he has done it more flawlessly than the director of Casino Royale, Martin Campbell. Every shot in the film has some form of intention to it and shows you something unique on screen. Mendes is not an “action director,” so I was very surprised to find that his action scenes are flawlessly shot. Mendes loves color as a director, and there is only one cinematographer he trusts to make things pop on screen: Roger Deakins. The sheer variety of blues and reds we get on neon signs when Bond is on assignment in Shanghai are incredible.
Skyfall is The Dark Knight of Bond movies and proves that the chauvinistic caricature of a spy first put on film fifty years ago in Dr. No can still thrill audiences as well as make them think. This film asks the audience whether we still need a man to pull a trigger in an age of technology. My answer is an emphatic yes.
See this film twice.