After the disappointment which was Quantum of Solace people found themselves asking questions about the Bond series: Would it ever be able to again balance out realism with action, if Daniel Craig was still the right person for the role and if the next film would display more of the eccentric gadgetry? Skyfall is a resounding yes to all and shows how the franchise has decades of life in it yet.
Taking place an undetermined amount of time after the war against Quantum, and with little to no continuity with that plot, Skyfall concerns a major security leak in MI6. An encoded list containing names of every deep cover agent has been taken by an unknown force and Bond has been shot in the line of duty, on M’s orders no less. Having taken this as an opportunity to fall off the radar he goes missing, at least until the list is decoded, MI6 itself is bombed and people start dying. Bond returns to duty but the question hangs over the film if he’s too old to do his work and if he can truly trust anyone.
Unlike Quantum of Solace this film is effectively a big back to basics effort on the part of the franchise. Far more tonally consistent than the preceding film, Skyfall doesn’t make the same mistake of trying to copy the nihilistic realism of Casino Royale entirely, instead introducing elements of the older films. It’s not completely fantasy, there’s no underwater evil villain lairs or men with metal teeth but it does feature things like a fight in a komodo dragon pit in a casino. This makes it much easier to accept the occasional plot contrivance and the explosion driven storyline. Speaking of which despite having only an almost non-existent record of filming action sequences Sam Mendes holds his own extremely well. Each punch up, gunshot and high-speed collision is delivered with the competence of a veteran and very few times do you sense he’s failing to deliver the goods so much as putting his own signature style on things.
Moving onto the cast, they’re as high-caliber as you’d expect to see in as big a title as a Bond installment. Along with the aforementioned Daniel Craig, Dame Judie Dench makes her return as M with recognizable faces Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Albert Finney all take up supporting roles. Stand-out even amongst them is Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva as the villain, who while hamming it up in a few scenes handles the role with an effective balance of psychosis and genius. While no Anton Chigurh, Silva is definitely one of the best villains the franchise has seen in years, believably commanding much more power than Dominic Greene and Mads Mikkelsen and having the personal skills to back it up.
While the acting, direction and plot are all exceptionally strong there are a few niggling issues within the production. Of note is the fact there’s no sense of escalation. Many action films from the Avengers to Mission Impossible succeed because each sequence is built upon in terms of scale and intensity. While the stakes might be higher in later on and it certainly becomes more inventive, Skyfall really blows its load in the introduction. While certainly entertaining what follows just seems to either be moving in a different direction or consistently failing to surpass what came before it.
To top this off while the film might have a great bunch of actors to work with, it at times doesn’t feel like it knows how to use them. There are very long gaps in Skyfall in which they are either not present or go completely unmentioned as if the writer wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with them. That actually goes with a lot of the film, rather than feeling like it’s constantly changing things to keep events fresh settings, objects and noteworthy elements just seem to keep being passed up. It never quite feels like its spending long enough in anywhere outside the UK to make real use of what was on hand or the opportunities which could have been had.
Still, at the end of the day this is definitely a resounding success. If it had to be summed up in one sentence Skyfall would be: “A Bond film in the spirit of the 70s era but with a layer of gritty-realism.” For the most part it knows when and where to use things and the few failures present in the story don’t detract from your full enjoyment. If you’ve liked anything from past films, from Connery to Brosnan, you’ll be leaving the cinema with a broad grin on your face by the end. Definitely go see it on the big screen while you can.