Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan
As a huge fan of the Bond series (I recently upgraded my 22 DVDs for the Bond 50 Blu-ray collection; not to mention my quite detailed marathon from a year or so ago), it is impossible for me to take a step back and evaluate this film as just another new release. I won’t be able to. I never will be able to. And, in fact, it would be a disservice for me to try and do that. What Bond 23 means to me is something special, something I am sure many others will relate to. But for others still this may be their first Bond film, or maybe they have only followed in recent year, the Craig Bonds, maybe the Brosnan’s. There is no way of telling, but this film is a personal one, both for me, and, apparently, for Bond, who is turning 50. And as a result, the producing team of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson pull out all the stops and make sure this installment is a memorable one.
The main thing with the Bond series, I have found, is that it is very elemental. There are some films that are episodic or a series of vignettes, that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about a given formula. But even formulas tire after a while, which is what makes the Bond series unique. It manages to follow a rought outline time after time and fill in the right amount (more often than not) of escapism to please and entertain the audience, to bring them back mission after mission. In the previous two films I would argue that Bond formula has been altered, and to great effect honestly. But with Bond 23, Skyfall, we start to see some of those elements return. At the same time, this is pehaps the most unique Bond film of all of them. While we see some exotic locales, the heart of the story is in England and Scotland. While Bond’s mission is the protection and defense of England, we begin to see the personal connections he has made and those he has broken, through the years as a 00 agent.
Even the villian, and his motives, are personal. Bond (Daniel Craig) is tasked with tracking down whoever is behind the theft of the list all NATO agents currently embedded in terrorist organizations around the globe. It is obvious someone has it out for M (Judi Dench), but who? We soon meet this twisted villain (Javier Bardem), and learn of his personal revenge plot. I will avoid any further explanation which may flitter into the spoiler range. There are so many factors that went into making this a pretty great film, but I think the starting point of everything is the cast assembled for the film. Craig is Craig and I am a big fan of him as the Bond character. But the real revelation here is Javier Bardem as the villian. He delivers perhaps the best villain performance of the series. And of course we all know how wonderful Judi Dench has been as M. Under he watch, the character has been more and more involved all the way through, and to great effectiveness. This film is no different. We also get to spend time with Ben Whishaw’s Q (yes, he is back!) and a wonderful time is spent with Naomie Harris as Eve, a supporting agent to Bond.
The story is not so much the central strength of the film as it is a springboard from which the filmmakers are able to put their magic to work. First and foremost is Roger Deakins, the director of photography on the film, or as I like to call him, the Master of Lighting. Seriously, Deakins has been at the helm of some of the most beautiful films out there and he consistently does it with beautiful lighting that always works. In this film he gives us a breathtaking scene through glass and neon in a Shanghai skyscraper, a lovely scene of floating Chinene lanterns in Macao and the climax, a glowing atmosphere at night in Scotland. A breathtaking film this is visually and props to the Deak for that. Fan service is in full force here as well, referencing just about as many Bond films as you can find and doing so in some obvious, toungue and cheek ways, while others are subtlely sprinkled about.
Director Sam Mendes manages to accomplish the impossible by making a Bond film that is true to the Bond formula and at the same time one of the most unique and foreign feeling Bonds delivered yet (and certainly the writing team of Wade, Purvis and Logan deserve some credit here as well). Thomas Newman’s score is both current and classic Bond, lending a great ambiance to Deakins images. All around this is a knockout Bond film deserving of all the great reviews it has received to this point. I am unsure of where I would rank the film in terms of the series, but I think that it is important to note that as someone who is a huge fan of the series, seeing the progression of the characters within the story is a marvelous journey. From Dr. No to Skyfall we are given clues and tidbits along the way, and it is hard to image a Bond without each detail that has been given through the years. It truly is remakable what has become of the franchise, and how they have maintained such a high level of quality (with a few exceptions). This is not one of the exceptions.
***1/2 – Great
P.S. I plan on including a Marathon entry for this film once it is released on Blu-ray and I have seen it a few more times, so stay tuned!