After a hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents in the field is stolen, it’s up to James Bond (Daniel Craig) to track it down and stop the madman responsible for the theft.
Do not let that brief, one sentence synopsis fool you. There is more going on in this 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise than meets the eye. Unlike Mission: Impossible, which had the same basic premise, this is through and through a James Bond film, albeit a very different one then you might imagine. This film looks to the past while updating the character and provides a brilliant spy film that not only serves as another notch in the franchise’s belt, but reinvigorates said franchise. With stunning action scenes and a villain that is perhaps the most memorable in the entire series, Skyfall is a masterpiece.
When M (Judy Dench) makes the wrong call during the mission to retrieve the hard drive that contains the identities of undercover field agents, Bond is left for dead. While enjoying his ‘death’, the madman responsible for the theft starts targeting M. Bond then comes out of his self-imposed retirement to thwart the villain. Broken and out of shape from his vacation, he is in no condition to do what needs to be done. While he is out in the field, M is also facing the possibility of being forcefully retired due to her mistaken call that enabled the list to fall into the wrong hands and which left Bond for dead.
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), I will go out on a limb and say that this is perhaps the best Bond film of all time, and it is appropriately fitting that it comes in time for the 50th anniversary of James Bond. The film looks to the past while expanding on the current iteration of Bond, first introduced in Casino Royale. Fans of the character will find an enormous amount to love in this film, as will folks who have never seen a James Bond film. Mendes expertly straddles the line by creating a film that is enjoyable to newcomers and a blessing to long time fans of the character, much like Joss Whedon did for The Avengers.
The biggest joy of this film is Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Biutiful) as the character of Raoul Silva. As the villain of the piece, I will not tell you his motivations. Just know that he has it out for M and not necessarily for Bond. He feels there is a kinship for Bond, and perhaps a sexual attraction to him. While I may have completely misinterpreted the character, I don’t feel I did when I state that I believe he is the first homosexual villain in not just the Bond franchise, but in spy films in general. Actually, I can’t think of another homosexual villain in any film . . .Perhaps it was a ploy to throw Bond off his game, perhaps it wasn’t. What it does do, though, is make a more intriguing character.
I will also be so bold as to state that the performance of Bardem as Silva is almost as iconic as the performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He almost blends traits of The Joker with traits from his character of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. And when I say that you may think you can imagine that, you cannot. His performance here must be seen to be believed. It is simply stunning and is easily Oscar worthy. If he doesn’t pull a nomination for this portrayal, the Academy needs to be boycotted.
Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) is also present in this film a Q. As a bit of a cyber-geek, Whishaw has some of the best lines in the film while interacting with Bond. He is also not just a throwaway character as in other films in the series. He is crucial to the narrative, and not just as someone to give Bond his gadgets. I look forward to seeing his portrayal of Q in the future installments of the franchise.
While I could go on and on about this film, I need to stop right here in the interest of not spoiling the film. Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, Red Dragon) and Naomi Harris (28 Days Later, Miami Vice) also star, with a surprising and welcome appearance by Albert Finney (Big Fish, The Bourne Ultimatum).
Skyfall is an absolute masterpiece. Quite simply, it is the best Bond film and a brilliant piece of spy fiction. Longtime fans of the character will be delighted by the references to the past, while newcomers will enjoy the action and intrigue. I cannot recommend this film more highly.
**** out of ****