Skyfall” may be the best James Bond movie ever. Better yet, Daniel Craig may be the best James Bond ever. Now before the Bond diehards come at me with torches and pitchforks let me make something abundantly clear. I am not the biggest Bond guy. I haven’t seen even half of the Bond movies. So I certainly don’t consider myself a Bond expert. In fact I may not even qualify as a true Bond fan by some. I’m not well versed on Bond lore, the Bond girls, or the history that has surrounded this universally loved character for the last 50 years. So I don’t live under the false assumption that I’m an expert when it comes to the James Bond franchise. But I like to think that I know a good movie when I see one and “Skyfall” is a very good movie.
My Bond apathy changed in 2006 with the release of “Casino Royal”. It introduced a grittier, more grounded Bond in the form of Daniel Craig. He wasn’t as prim and polished and a sense of reality was brought to the character that I had never seen before. It was also a fantastic movie that I thoroughly enjoy. The Bond appeal grew for me in 2008 with the lesser but equally entertaining “Quantum of Solace”. And now he’s back with “Skyfall”, a 007 film that’s every bit as good as “Casino Royale” and for my money even a bit better. Sam Mendes directs the film, the 23rd installment of the franchise. Mendes tips his hat to several of the previous 007 films and has fun with many things that Bond fans should love. But he also maintains the emotional edge to Bond that has made Daniel Craig’s run so effective for me.
The film starts with a jaw-dropping opening chase sequence that uses cars, motorcycles, trains, and cranes. It moves through market streets, on rooftops, through tunnels, and finally on a huge bridge where Bond is inadvertently shot off of a speeding train by a fellow agent at M’s command. Believed dead, Bond goes off the grid and submerges himself in a life of anonymity and alcohol. Now the movie never gives a satisfying reason as to why Bond became a closed off boozer. We get a few hints of it later but it seemed pretty drastic and off-the-wall. But we wouldn’t have a Bond movie if 007 wasn’t spoiling evil plots with his well-pressed suits and assorted gadgetry. He makes his return after MI6 is devastated by terrorist attack with M seeming to be the main target. Judi Dench returns to the role that she first played in 1995’s “GoldenEye”. This time she’s not only a terrorist’s target but she’s facing heavy political pressure concerning her handling of MI6. As with each of her other performances in the series, Dench is marvelous and here we get to see a different side of her and her relationship to 007.
The big baddie this time is none other than Javier Bardem. He plays Raoul Silva, a psycho former MI6 agent with a rather large grudge against M. Bardem is deliciously villainous and once he makes his appearance the movie’s intensity amps up. Unfortunately he doesn’t show up until well into the film. Now that’s not a knock on the first part of the movie. But I wanted more of Bardem and I couldn’t help but feel that they could have built up the character and his motivations more in the early parts of the movie. Some of the movie’s best moments feature Bardem. There is a tense first meeting between Bond and Silva that you can’t take your eyes off of. There’s also a fantastic “Silence of the Lambs” styled exchange between Silva and M that sets the table for what’s to come later in the movie. It’s one of my favorite exchanges in cinema this year.
Another new addition to the cast is Ralph Fiennes. He places an ex-military man and current government intelligence official who regulates MI6. Fiennes is rock solid, as you would expect. Albert Finney also has a fun role as an old family friend of Bond’s and Ben Whishaw steals several scenes as Q, the gadget granting quartermaster. All the performances are good and this is probably the best overall cast in a Bond movie yet. They are helped by a crisp, intelligent, and perfectly paced script that pulls absolutely everything out of these characters. And the screenplay knows how to be respectful of the franchise while also having fun with it as well. There are several good laughs but for the most part this is the same serious, no-nonsense Bond that we got in the last two films and I’m thankful for that.
There are several other things that worked incredibly well that I could mention, most notably Roger Deakins brilliant camera work, the wonderful editing by Stuart and Kate Baird, and Thomas Newman’s perfect score. But not everything worked that well. The Bond girls have become almost as popular as 007 himself. But with the exception of the unconventional M, these Bond girls are bland and for the most part forgettable. Now Naomie Harris is fine as a fellow MI6 field agent who holds her own with 007. She has some really good scenes when working in the field, but she also has a couple of almost obligatory flirt scenes with Bond that didn’t work as well for me. Then you have Bérénice Marlohe who certainly looks the part but disappears almost as soon as she arrives. Also, I know Bond is a ladies man. But there are a couple of scenes featuring out-of-the-blue “romance” that are thrown in just because its expected from the character. Never mind that they clash with the tone and pacing of the story. Both are scenes that were poorly conceived and I could have done without them.
While these few flaws may keep “Skyfall” from being a perfect movie, they don’t stop it from being great movie. More importantly, the Daniel Craig era of 007 movies has won me over to the point that I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment. There has been a lot of internet buzz lately over who may be the next 007. But for my money Craig has earned the position for as long as he’s willing to take it. And as long as the studio is willing to surround him with a fine supporting cast, intelligent writers, and sharp directors, the possibilities are endless for this iconic character. One thing is for certain, I’m now officially a Bond fan and “Skyfall” only cemented that. Bring on oo7 #24!
Great review, I’m going to see this soon and I can’t wait.
It’s quite fun my friend. It’s a lengthy 2 hours and 25 minutes but you never notice it. Just all around good stuff.
Great write-up Keith. I don’t fully share your enthusiasm but it was a good movie for certain. I still think Casino Royale is a better movie as it didn’t have the inconsistencies that this had. Still, this film seems to have converted a lot of movie-goers that were not normally that into Bond.
Thanks man! I love Casino Royale especially the inclusion of the great Mads Mikkelson! But I did feel it bogged down just a tad in the second half (just a tad mind you). Still its a great film and its what really drew me to Bond.
But you know, it’s funny. Even though I love these new films and kinda like a couple of Brosnan’s, they still haven’t stirred an interest in me to go and catch up with the older pictures. Maybe someday. 😉
Great review Keith, agree with pretty much everything you said. I too thought the ‘love scenes’ were a little contrived and wasn’t overly enamored with either of the ladies. I also agree on the film only really getting going once Silva pops up. Up until then I just felt there was something missing, but once he crops up, it really kicks off.
Appreciate it. Silva was a blast wasn’t he (pun intended)! I had a lot of fun with this and the nearly 2 1/2 hour running time just flew by. Anxious to see it again!
I am in the minority on this one. 😀
I liked it and enjoyed most of it (action sequences were perfectly executed and Deakins is a genius!) but overall found it wanting a bit more (of my) Bond. But, I am on the far end of the Bond fandom–grew up on Bond–and have been waiting for my guy to show up. I loved Casino Royale and was excited about an origin concept but now I want some of the fun factor back (otherwise it’s just a really good spy movie–which it was).
And I am really in the minority with my lack of enthusiasm for Bardem’s Silva–I though his performance was strong and entertaining but could never believe his evilness. I was expecting ruthlessness and never saw it. And that could be because of what you mentioned–he was not on screen enough.
Well–I will say I am hopeful if the ending is a true indicator. All the players seem to be in place and maybe Bond’s response “with pleasure” is a promise of his real return.
Great write-up!! Talk to you later!
Thanks for the great comments. I can certainly see where you’re coming from. I wondered how diehard Bond enthusiasts would really respond to this. There’s no doubt it’s a different take on the franchise. And you’re certainly correct when you say that this isn’t the playful 007 of old. I think if I was really connected to and fond of the old classic Bond that this movie may not work as well for me either. My lazy response to those old movies is probably one of the reasons that the Daniel Craig era works so well for me. But anyway as you said, the pieces are in place for the next direction of the franchise and I am excited too!
Glad we agree on the rating, Keith! I enjoyed this immensely, as a Bond fan I’m certainly not disappointed. Well aside for Bérénice’s amateurish performance that is. Severine is such a throwaway character, but I do love Naomie Harris!
As for Craig, I like to see him do 2 more but I’m ready for a fresh face after that, he’s already quite old looking.
You’re right. Eventually age does catch up with everyone, even Bond. But I’m having so much fun with Craig and this new direction. These are going to be hard to top.
Good review Keith. Not my favorite Bond ever, but definitely a good one none the less and I look forward to seeing what Craig can do next with Bond. Hopefully, they continue to show that there’s more to him but good looks and good skills, but also don’t let us forget he’s the guy that always gets the ladies.
I think my response to “Skyfall” was heightened due to my so-so approach to the early Bond pictures. But the main thing is that they are making good movies and who knows, maybe this will get me into watching some of the older stuff.
Can’t disagree here Keith. Good review. Glad you give praise to the cinematography, because it really is deserving and I hope it gets a nod in Oscar season. But I did hope for more, and, as you saw, scored this one just slightly lower than you.
Nice write up here.
Thanks my friend. I would love to see it get some love at Oscar time. Unfortunately it probably won’t.
Great review, Keith. Pretty much agree on everything, especially what you explain on your first paragraph about but not being the biggest Bond fan but recognizing a good movie when you see one. Casino Royale eliminated my “Bond apathy” as well. Agree that the Bond girls were pretty much forgettable and that some of the best scenes featured Bardem.
Thanks! Isn’t Bardem a blast? I had a lot of fun with this one and can’t wait for the next film.
Yes, he was certainly a great part of the movie. Looking forward to the next chapter as well.
I am one of the diehard Bond fans and I thought the movie was great. You point out most of the important elements, the cinematography, the action sequences and the solid cast. I thought there was more humor in the film than in the two previous Craig Bonds. The humor however was quite subtle and in keeping with the tone of the story. To me, the movie sets up the series to be more consistent in tone. It took three films to work out the kinks in the Daniel Craig Bond era, and now they are ready to launch as a brand that can clearly satisfy a new generation of fans. Go enjoy the older films as soon as you can, they are of varying quality but most have good entertainment value to them. There is a substantial difference in the tone of the films, that is probably the one thing that will separate the faithful from the newly recruited.
Thanks for checking out my take. You make a great point about the subtlety of the humor. That’s what made it work, the fact that it was in harmony with the overall tone of the film. And the more I think on this movie, the more tempted I am to venture into the older films. That may be a project thats coming more sooner than later.
Glad you thought this one was great too Keith. I was blown away by it. You’re right, its not perfect but its so good that it feels like nitpicking pointing out flaws and things. Easily one of the best movies of the year, for me!
Glad to hear that and I certainly agree. One of the best of the year for me as well.
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Yes, I loved it. Have you seen Spectre?
Nope – but I definitely intend to! Same with Casino Royale.
Casino Royale is my favorite of the Craig Bond pictures. I think you’ll love it.
My second Bond film that I have seen…so far. I LOVED THIS!!! An absolute spectacle. Craig is great as James Bond (the only other Bond film that I have seen is QUANTUM OF SOLACE) and am DEFINITELY watching more of 007.
It’s really good, right? You really need to see Casino Royale next. That is Craig’s first Bond film and it is so good.