Movie Review: Skyfall- A Confident Return to the Bond Series that Broadens the Character as an Existentially Challenged Soul

Revitalizing the Bond films to fit the mold of the modern age has been a relatively successful endeavor since Casino Royale came on the scene and graciously set the tone for an intriguing balance between gritty realism and sensational realism. Though the second Daniel Craig headed Bond film Quantum of Solace was consistent with the tone it was an undeniable mess of a film that lacked some foresight in its plot delivery and didn’t necessarily have a clearly stated goal for the antagonist. Safe it to say most people recognized that the second installment wasn’t as strong as the first and their eyes were set on the next release and now it is finally here four long years later. And there is no denying at the end of it all that Skyfall is indeed much stronger than its predecessor due to a change in action style, a clearly determined antagonist, and a clever manipulation in the script to reflect on Bond’s age and loyalty. Getting inside the subjective existential turmoil Bond faces mentally and physically, Skyfall becomes one of the first Bond films since Casino Royale to add to Bond’s complexity as a character. There are definitely some questionable decisions made in the movie and not every action sequence is consistent in quality, but those minor details won’t divert your attention away from the on screen experience that deeply centers on Bond’s shadowy elements. Skyfall shows that when it comes to making an action film with a bit of intrigue having the right director and a masterful screenwriting aid can make all the difference

Instead of leaping right into where the last Bond left off, such as Quantum of Solace did with Casino Royale, the writers this time take the old school Bond approach starting it off anew with Bond on a different mission altogether in Turkey. This self-referential theme of the old school and new school is commonplace throughout Skyfall, resulting in lines referencing previous Bond films or a quip about how things were done in the past as compared to now. With the help of accomplished screenwriter John Logan writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade get a jolt of focus here in Skyfall that places Bond (Daniel Craig) in a fight literally and figuratively against himself, the literal being his diminishing skill and the figurative being the darker side of what he could become in antagonist Mr. Silva (Javier Bardem). The central plot involves Mr. Silva abducting a list of undercover NATO agents and is now releasing them while also creating chaos with cyber terrorism, which is a real and devious threat in our modern age. The only questionable plot device that deserves just a bit of reflection is the fact that even with this entire infrastructure of computerized terrorism, Mr. Silver’s ultimate goal is to only target and kill M (Judi Dench), the head of MI6. As devious masterminds go this isn’t the large scale destruction or change that we’ve seen in say Goldfinger or in Goldeneye. But despite his limited scope it does work in how destructively and deviously determined he is on revenge and a clear mirror image of how despaired Bond could become. Despite this minor criticism on the plot the overall experience is guided along with quick paced and appropriately placed action sequences that are filmed with a graceful style by director Sam Mendes.

Mendes is an eclectic director and doesn’t exactly have a resume that would invoke confidence that he’d be the proper choice for delivering a credible Bond film. However, it is clear that his ability to give characters depth, such as in the Gulf War film Jarhead or the suburban critique American Beauty, highlights aspects of Bond’s character that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Instead of a constantly clean cut Bond we see a great deal of a disheveled, physically weakened, and internally challenged Bond that fits with the morally grey tone the previous two Daniel Craig Bond films have possessed. It’s interesting to note that all three films have focused on a personal weakness in Bond’s personality, either with his easily obtained loyalty in Casino Royale, his dangerous unprofessional focus on revenge in Quantum of Solace, and now in Skyfall a battle mentally on questioning his loyalty to M and country as well as a physical battle against his weakening self. Mendes captures these elements in a subtle way as to not get too caught up in a character study reverting back to high octane action sequences that have some more consistent than others. One impressive creative sequence was how he and cinematographer Roger Deakins shot a hand to hand fight on the roof of a building in Shanghai that is done in one shot slowly tracking closer and closer. This is the antithesis of the Bourne style that Paul Greengrass has infected the industry with and ends up being far more interesting. Of course Bond films, even these grittier three, have a dash of the sensational but even those ridiculous moments, such as a motorcycle race on the top of rooftops in Turkey, are handled with tactfulness by Mendes and delivered with credibility by the fantastic cast.

Having a script that delves into the more morally grey aspects of a character one needs an actor to portray that difficult challenge with convincing brevity so this was the ideal script for the kind of Bond that Daniel Craig has been forming these last three films. Craig approaches the more cynical aspects of his character with sympathetic believability and balances the delicate battle between his egoistic façade and personal realization of physical and mental weakness. Skyfall gives Daniel Craig another chance to showcase his vulnerability much like he did in Casino Royale but was passed over in the lackluster Quantum of Solace. And at Daniel Craig’s side is a credible supporting cast that all add to Bond’s interior and external challenges throughout the film. Judi Dench as M returns with purpose and due to a risky call in the field has almost alienated Bond entirely in terms of loyalty. Her unquestionable acting skills mesh well not only with her tumultuous relationship with Bond but also in battling her new predecessor Gareth Mallory, played with clever balance by Ralph Fiennes. But the real glue that holds the film altogether is Javier Bardem who embodies a unique combination of uneasy playful deviousness and cold blooded precision in his character Silva Diego, who resembles the pendulum swinging drastically to the darker side of Bond’s potential fall from grace. The cast gives complimentary depth to a script that clearly set out to broaden Bond as a character instead of keeping him unchanged where he has remained for so many years.

It’s clear that writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade learned from their mistakes on Quantum of Solace where they limited their focus on expanding Bond as a flawed but admirable character, which could be attributed to the help of John Logan. Skyfall brings us back to the balance of gritty realism and sensational action that Casino Royale introduced while also adding depth to the character we really hardly knew in previous films past. Sam Mendes might not have had everyone’s confidence in his ability to direct a movie that demands high octane action but he certainly follows through beyond expectation and also adds his credibility in dealing with characters that are complex. All of the desired elements for a memorable Bond film come together in Skyfall and leaves us on a positive direction for a continued series that will most likely challenge our preconceptions of Bond as a beloved character and have him grow into something more real and more palpable. While it doesn’t have the consistency of flow that Casino Royale possessed Skyfall is a Bond film that has a deeper scope and a credible delivery in action, acting, and visual displays that will satisfy most if not all Bond fanatics.

Grade: B+

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