If there is one thing I’ve always appreciated about the Daniel Craig Bond films, it is the deep introspection into the soul of Bond and the things that make him tick. Pierce Brosnan was never given a chance to dig deep into the hero’s persona and with every Craig adventure, we find out more and more about the mental makeup of the most famous on screen spy in movie history. It’s easy to make a fun action movie with Bond circling the globe, getting bad guys and taking as many women to bed as he sends evil bodies to their graves.
When a screenwriter and director make it their ambition to dig into the mindset of the heroic centerpiece, that commands appreciation. Skyfall is the best Bond adventure in ages because it is the most complete film yet about the man. All three directors of the Craig movies(Martin Campbell, Marc Foster, Mendes) deliver the usual Bond thrills(sexy women, luxurious cars, thrilling action sequences) but this film delivers the sharpest story.
The beginning of the film sees Bond supposedly killed in action, and when he returns from a disappearance, his motherly mentor M and the MI6 facility are put in danger by the ruthless and goal driven Silva(Bardem, creating another bizarre juicy bad man). Silva has history with Bond, M and the intelligence agency that sets in motion a thrilling cat and mouse chase that includes the best introduction of a villain ever. Tied to a chair for the purpose of making contact, Bond meets Silva in what amounts to a quietly intensifying confrontation that includes wit, skill sets, honesty and a small sliver of homoerotic tension. Silva wants payback and Bond needs to stop him. I’ve always admired the relationship between Bond and M in Craig’s tenure.
They have a connection that reaches deeper truths than the usual working team in the James Bond film history and its a testament to the skill of Craig and Dench. Craig is a great Bond again here, mastering the physicality and mentally of a man with an elite skill set that can be deadly. Craig delivers the brutality of the moment but never forgets to reveal an actual soul to the audience. The piercing blue eyes, the muscle, the worn out and beaten up bulldog features and tenacity all make the perfect specimen for this British icon. Here is a Bond with a weathered face, grey hair and doubts. The doubts of his critics will be put to rest for good when they see his work in Skyfall. Fiennes, Finney, Whishaw and Harris all do fine supporting work but the main show here is the three way survival endurance test between Craig, Dench and Bardem.
The meat of the plot concerns their actions and the film rides high on top of that story line. Their stories are connected and the three actors play them up as a tripod of emotional jeopardy. For the first time, the acting, script and direction connect as one powerhouse in a Bond film instead of being replaced by a series of over the top set pieces and redundant one liners. Bardem is the X-factor that connects the dots because his villain isn’t just evil but compelling and rich in character. Silva’s actions are murderous and wrong, but he has a reason and that propels the rest of the script. Bardem also doesn’t forget to have a shitload of fun with the character.
Director Sam Mendes understands what makes the engine run well in this world but also stamps the franchise with his own spice of skill by framing the climax around a location that marks the childhood of our hero. For the first time in this long tenured franchise, there is an origin set in place that figures into the action. The final shootout is breathtakingly shot and involves zero gadgets, instead relying on guns, dynamite, nails, grenades and a knife.
Instead of the custom palm print identifying pistol presented to Bond by Q(Whishaw) early in the film, the climax involves double barreled shotguns and explosives made from nails and bolts. Bare boned action that feels old school instead of far fetched. There are a lot of things that make Skyfall work so well. Mendes’ direction setting up the action and letting the story slowly build. A script that gets polish and a genuine upgrade from John Logan by installing a story line that includes rich character development as well as a grand finale.
The best part here is the work of Craig, Dench, and Bardem as the tripod at the heart of the film. It’s their journey that plants the film’s feet in our heads. The mood set here isn’t as slick as past installments and that provides the production with a new found weight. There is a gravity of darkness in the future of Bond that makes this film unforgettable. Skyfall has all the ingredients that mark a great Bond film yet stands out from the pack due to the dual sided depth provided by Craig, the involvement of Dench in the plot and the layered evil of Bardem.
For the first time in decades, a James Bond film is more than just an action exercise. This Bond adventure is a complete work of art. Also, Adele’s theme song is excellent as expected and the running time never feels like 144 minutes. Skyfall is grand entertainment.