Six years ago, Daniel Craig was a new, young, fresh Bond. In Casino Royale, he is a brand new agent, just given the title of 007. Now, just two films later, his peers call him an old man, an aged dog of a bygone era, an accusation which is also levied against his boss, M, and the whole spy organization, MI6. The secret, though, is that this is Daniel Craig’s first real outing as Bond. Casino Royale was an origin story and Quantum of Solace was a direct sequel. Daniel Craig’s Bond may be older, but he’s less experienced, and Skyfall marks the first “true” outing for this 007, both for the actor and the character, the first time Craig is not just “The new Bond,” but is finally playing Bond – James Bond.
Despite a return to some of the traditional elements of 007, Skyfall is not a by-the numbers Bond adventure; the film begins with Bond being very nearly killed and being unable to make a full recovery due to the severity of his wounds. It is not until MI6 is attacked and M(ommy)’s leadership is called into question does Bond return to attempt to save the day. The proceedings are heavy, but somehow manage to remain distinctly 007 while pushing the series forward. Along for the ride are Eve, played by Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw’s much younger and somewhat friendlier version of Q, and Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, sent to investigate M (Judi Dench, as ruthlessly pragmatic as ever) for potential dismissal due to her competence being questioned. As the chief villain, we have Javier Bardem as Silva, a mysterious and spiteful counter-point to Bond, particularly in regards to their relationships with M, whose roles as maternal figure and wicked “queen of numbers” are central to the film. He is an excellent villain but to reveal the extent of his plans would do a disservice to viewers who deserve to be surprised by his ambitious plans; he is easily Craig’s most effective villain yet.
Again, despite being a real push forward for the series and the character, all the elements of a classic Bond romp are there; exotic locales, thrilling chases, beautiful women, colorful villains who entertain as much as they terrify, and top-notch stunts which simply cannot be found anywhere else. Back to shoot the second unit is Alexander Witt, who previously worked on Casino Royale; it’s great to have him back, especially after the Bourne-esque, nausea-inducing, frantic editing of Quantum of Solace. In fact, aside from an insane opening sequence which has a motorcycle chase and a train-top fistfight, much of the action in Skyfall feels deliberately toned down and scaled back, with the emphasis being not on drawn-out gunfights or duels to the death, but on precise, deliberate action and the occasional giant explosion or massive pyrotechnic spectacle, resulting in a measured pace, with each setpiece moment being memorable for their own reasons, rather than just endless and disorienting cookie-cutter nonsense.
If there are any complaints to be had, it’s the same one that affects many of the more “serious” Bond adventures, from For Your Eyes Only to Licence to Kill: tone. Whereas those films would have distinct shifts, where the viewer knew things were getting serious or becoming more relaxed, this film sometimes attempts to try to be both at the same time. Every once in a while, the movie isn’t sure whether it’s going for a broad action-adventure tone or a more serious, dramatic one, leading to occasional dissonance like a one-liner appearing to be in exceptionally poor taste, or a particularly abrupt shift from intense drama to exciting heroics which should have been edited differently to avoid whiplash in the audience. Note that none of these tonal complaints apply to the villain, Silva, whose status as the Anti-Bond grants him free access to hammy evil. Further, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the new Q, who seems a little too chummy with 007, as opposed to the friendly loathing of Desmond Llewelyn and his five Bonds. Hopefully, we’ll have a great many future films with which to see their relationship develop and become amusingly strained. Perhaps part of the issue with the character is that he serves as more of a mission control, assisting Bond via radio rather than gadgets, of which there are only a few, disappointingly.
Still, these complaints are minor at their worst, and don’t keep Skyfall from being excellent, enjoyable, nostalgic, and refreshing. Throughout, there are plenty of small (and not-so-small) homages to Bond films past, from the re-appearance of a classic piece of Q-Branch equipment to many more subtle visual call-backs for the Bond faithful to enjoy. Ultimately, Skyfall is not the best Bond ever, as some have claimed, but it is important to the series, for it establishes Bond as having found his footing as the best secret agent in the world, and Craig having found his footing as the “Bulldog Bond.” From here, Bond can go anywhere; the future of the franchise looks as bright as it did in Dr. No when Bond walked into M’s office and received his first mission briefing.
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