Skyfall has already proved to be a phenomenal success both with critics and at the box office. Even viewing the film two weeks after its release, at an afternoon viewing, the cinema was verging on being full to capacity. This is the twenty-third James Bond film and coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the first Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). This is the first of the Bond films under the direction of Sam Mendes, known for American Beauty (1999) and Road to Perdition (2002).
The story revolves around Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who is hell-bent on inflicting vengeance on the matriarch of MI6, M (Judi Dench). The film’s opening sections contains an explosive chase sequence between Bond (Daniel Craig) and a hired assassin, which ends in a brutal and exhilarating fight scene atop a train. After a bomb attack at MI6 headquarters (and after many a dangerous drinking game involving copious amounts of scotch and deadly scorpions) Bond arrives to aid M in ending a siege at MI6. The plot leads Bond to glorious locations including Shanghai and Macau where he is confronted by the camp but frightening Silva. The story then returns to several British locations including London and the far north of Scotland. The film’s final hour involves a beautifully shot last confrontation between Bond and Silva, leading to a shocking and heartfelt conclusion.
There are some excellent examples of what is sure to be award-winning cinematography and visual effects, courtesy of the legendary Coen brothers collaborator Roger Deakins. Silva’s entrance and the hauntingly beautiful title sequence are particularly impressive set-pieces. The film’s artistry is further evident in the location shots. A beautiful snow-strewn Glencoe becomes the backdrop of Bond’s home. Couple this with a variety of London locations, including the National Gallery, the Underground and Whitehall, a firmly British tone is created and further enhanced by the appearance of some of the finest talent amongst Britain’s acting elite.
The Bond franchise is known for big names; the quality of the performers in Skyfall is tremendous. Dench, in particular, is superb, bringing a stern and resolute quality, yet showing the true vulnerability of M. Bardem’s Silva, similarly, is terrifyingly psychotic yet altogether child-like. There are also some new faces. We see the entrance of a new, young and tech-savvy Q (Ben Wishaw). Ralph Fiennes enters as Gareth Mallory, a former army-man turned politician, and Naomie Harris becomes a young and fresh-faced Miss Eve Moneypenny. There is a feeling of the old being blended with the new. There is also, as is expected in Bond, a fair amount of humour and the comedic timing of Craig, Dench, Bardem and Wishaw is nearly perfect without detracting from the storyline.
Skyfall is a step above recent Bond films. Mendes cleverly tips the proverbial cap to the franchise’s history while simultaneously creating an entirely modern and fresh film. As with most contemporary mainstream cinema, the product placement can become tiresome. At times, it can feel like you are being beaten about the head with a Sony Vaio laptop. Plus, the exorbitantly elaborate planning by Silva can be unrealistic and quixotic. But this is surely part of the Bond charm. There is very little than can dampen the charm and enjoyability of this fitting addition to the Bond series.