Full disclosure: I was an early James Bond fan, and saw all of the early films. Then, as happens sometimes with early enthusiasms, I lost track of them, but did give myself a treat one Christmas Eve and caught the remake of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. After that, it was probably pretty much a given that I’d be up for Skyfall, the next release in the saga — Daniel Craig and Judi Dench: how could you go wrong?
Bare bones set-up: A hard drive with a list of all the MI6 agents in world hot-spots has been stolen. 007 (Daniel Craig) and Eve (Naomie Harris) are sent to retrieve it — and fail, in no small part because Eve shot Bond instead of the thief. (Not her fault, entirely — M (Judi Dench) called it, even though Eve said she didn’t have a clear shot.) After being presumed dead, Bond reappears, and M hands him the assignment — find whoever has it. The first five names on the list have been published, three of them executed, and MI6 has got to get on top of it: the top floor of their headquarters has been blown up, and the government is asking some hard questions about M’s management of the agency. Then the fun starts. (Bond, of course, finds the mastermind — a former agent with a thing for M.)
In broad outline, this is pretty much your standard Bond adventure, updated to the information age, which is what leads to what was for me the core of the film: are M and Bond really past their prime and no longer able to handle the situations they have to handle? This comes right out when Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new head of national security, tells M she’s going to be given a chance to retire gracefully. She in effect tells him to shove it. After that, she’s got to win.
Skyfall takes the action/adventure/thriller genre up to a new level: it’s all about character. I have to confess, after I got past the special effects (and never forget how much I love movies where stuff blows up) and the feats of derring-do, I was blown away by the way the cast approached their roles. Craig and Dench provide stunning portraits of seasoned veterans who find themselves facing what may be the end of their careers, and are determined not to go quietly. Javier Bardem, as Silva (the villain, in case you didn’t know), said at one point that he pictured Silva as an over-the-top character: he’s managed to portray that vision in a controlled, subtle performance that establishes beyond a doubt that Silva’s a nutcase without a smidgen of histrionics. Ralph Fiennes belies the early characterization of Mallory as a “bureaucrat” and reveals that he has what it takes to do the job he’s about to inherit — again, quietly, subtly, and very effectively. Amazing performances across the board.
And after the knock-out performances by the cast, all I have to say is that it’s a solid story that pulls you in right away (seriously — less than five minutes into the film, I was on the edge of my seat), with good special effects, seriously wonderful action sequences, exotic locales, and doomed beauties. Hey, it’s James Bond.
Ben Whishaw as the new Q (the “Quartermaster,” or the guy who comes up with the gadgets) is a hands-down favorite for Geek of the Year.
“Skyfall” is the name of Bond’s family home in Scotland; the Scottish Highlands, in this film at least, are one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Worth seeing the film just for those landscapes. (Added point: I didn’t even realize the Albert Finney played Kincade, the groundskeeper, until I looked at the credits. He was, as always, perfect.)
(Eon Productions, B23, Columbia Pictures Corporation, 2012)