007 had been at it for nearly 50 years when this film came about. It’s classic and innovative at the same time. It’s quite different from the previous Daniel Craig James Bond films thus far which seemed intent on shaving away everything down to the absolute bare essentials shedding the excesses of gadgetry and high spy living. While we won’t be seeing invisible cars or exploding pens anytime soon, it was nice to see the franchise being taken seriously. I, for one, missed the presence of Q (for Quartermaster we now learn) in the first two Craig films and it’s nice to see him (played with restraint and subtlety by the great Ben Whishaw) back in action here. Another vital part of the Bond franchise is reborn here but is such a refreshing surprise at the end that I’ll leave you to enjoy it/him/her.
The film opens with a chase through Istanbul foregoing the initial “Bond in the Crosshairs” intro customary to classic 007 flicks. It’s a daring chase on foot, car, motorscooter, and even atop a moving train. Bond is pursuing Patrice (Ola Rapace) an enemy agent in possession of the MI6 version of NOC list from the first Mission Impossible Film ie a list of embedded agents and their real names and faces. Bond is aided in his pursuit by Eve (the sassy and beautiful Naomie Harris) whose driving skills are top notch although her abilities as sniper could use a bit of work. The film’s opening theme begins with the sultry sounds of Adele’s Skyfall which is the best Bond theme in years at least since the 90’s anyway. The opening sequence, too is beautifully dark and gothic.
The film continues by showing the human side of Bond. He’s recovering from the failed, drinking too much, taking high risk drinking contests involving scorpions on some tropical island. He comes back to UK after an attack on MI6 and is sent to be tested for competence. He’s a broken man, hands shaking during his shooting range test and exhausted after the physical examinations. He’s sent after the assassin Patrice in Shanghai and eventually, the man behind it all, the mysterious Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, in one of his best performances yet).
Along the way, he and Eve meet up again for a bit of a close shave, and Bond meets a femme fatale with a haunted (and haunting) expression on her terrified yet smiling face who leads him to Silva. Javier Bardem has played a fine assortment of memorable characters in his career, most recently before Skyfall, an assassin with strange principles and a silenced shotgun. Here he plays a former MI6 agent with a cynical knowledge of all the ins and outs of spycraft with an absurdist’s sense of humor about it all. His approach is quite charming but he soon demonstrates his ruthless proclivities with a deadly William Tell sort of game.
A return to London reveals that the disarming Mr. Silva is just as capable a foe detained as free in a breathless series of sequences involving computers, commuter trains, and…radios. It all leads up to a big showdown in Scotland which is fitting as well as educational. This humane and vulnerable side of Bond is quite appealing but don’t misunderstand me, he is still the charming and merciless man we have come to know these 50 years. Skyfall isn’t the best Bond flick ever made but it is entertaining, delightful, exciting, and not a little bit moving.