James Bond has been fighting off villains and bedding women for five decades now, and on his 50th birthday, he gives us a gift – ‘Skyfall’ is a spectacular entry in this 23-film franchise. This is Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond, and though his brute force and Jackie Chan-style stunts initially made me believe he was better suited for a Bond villain than Bond, I have come to accept that this is how the latest reincarnation of the iconic character will be defined. Because I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, I’m going to keep the plot description very short. Bond must overcome some injury-induced rustiness whilst dealing with a rogue agent who’s hell-bent on undermining him and MI6. The enemy here is played by Javier Bardem in a completely loony, over-the-top performance that is good, but truthfully, feels slight in comparison to the creepy antagonist he played so well in ‘No Country For Old Men’ (he garnered an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in that role). The film also suffers occasionally from some pacing issues and does run a little long at 143 minutes.
Those are just minor quibbles though. ‘Skyfall’ is the most visually stunning Bond film in the series. The movie was shot by Roger Deacons, one of the greatest cinematographers working today (he has been the principle cinematographer for all Coen Brothers films since ‘Barton Fink’ in 1991). Whether we are in London, Shanghai, or Macau, the screen pops with vibrant colors and a richly glossy look. I didn’t get to see the movie in IMAX, but I will definitely give it a second viewing on the largest screen possible just to admire the look of it.
You may forget midway that you are watching a James Bond movie. This is a very different Bond picture – one that is driven by developing its characters, and exploring the relationships between them as opposed to taking place in a gadget-filled live-action cartoon universe that this series seems to occupy. Yes, the babes, the cars, and the exotic locales are all present, but when I think back to ‘Skyfall’, it’s the characterizations that stand out for me. There’s a weakness and vulnerability to Craig’s version of Bond that makes him more compelling. Historically, Bond has been able to escape any messy situation without getting any blood on his suit. Here, he’s wounded and weary; and this helped create a rooting interest that I haven’t felt since the early Connery pictures.
I did have my misgivings about Sam Mendes directing this project. His work as a director include: ‘American Beauty’, ‘Road to Perdition’, ‘Jarhead’, ‘Revolutionary Road’, and ‘Away We Go’. Many of these are great films, but he is known as a director of drama. His working with framing and staging action sequences in ‘Jarhead’ felt very minor and underwhelming, and so, he wouldn’t have been my first choice as director. But, he completely hits the target here.
‘Casino Royale’ remains the best of the recent Bonds, with ‘Skyfall’ being just a notch below it. This is, however, a significant improvement over ‘Quantum of Solace’, and one of the most memorable action films of the year. Still in tip-top shape at the age of 50, here’s hoping the central character goes on for another half-century, especially if the results are as exhilarating as what’s offered here. QED.