Not to mince words, Skyfall is a knockout—the best James Bond movie in years. Its canny blend of ingredients is sure to entertain any audience but I think Bond enthusiasts will relish it most, as it draws on our familiarity with the series’ many touchstones. By tipping its hat to those traditions and tropes it acknowledges that there is history and tradition behind this globe-trotting thriller…yet everything about it seems utterly contemporary.
Tradition number one is to open a 007 film with a breathtaking action scene. Check! This one has a pulse-pounding chase involving an exotic location, spectacular stunts, split-second timing, and just enough believability to make you grip the arms of your theater seat.
We expect to see beautiful women. Check! Naomie Harris is well cast as one of Bond’s able colleagues in MI6, and Bérénice Marlohe is appropriately exotic as a Eurasian femme fatale.
Of course, there must be a colorful villain who is larger than life. Check! The already imposing Javier Bardem, sporting blond hair and a lunatic grin, is one of the more notable Bond bad guys of recent memory…the kind you actually believe when he looks joyful watching his mayhem unfold.
To those who haven’t warmed to Daniel Craig, I would say this is his best showcase yet. It allows him to display the wit and insouciance we associate with 007—which was downplayed in Casino Royale andQuantum of Solace—along with the other qualities that make him who he is. An unexpectedly layered relationship with Judi Dench as M, his usually unflappable boss, extends Bond’s range of emotions even further.
The screenplay is credited to Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have penned four Bond adventures, including the previous two) and the prodigiously talented and prolific John Logan. Director Sam Mendes is not normally associated with thrillers or action movies, but perhaps that’s why this one resonates more than usual: he concentrated on the human factor and trusted his expert colleagues to help in other areas. He also assembled a world-class team, including cinematographer Roger Deakins, editor Stuart Baird, and production designer Dennis Gassner, to name just a few. The costarring cast includes Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, and the redoubtable Albert Finney, who’s always a welcome presence.
Let’s not overlook music. Check again! Another newcomer to the series, Thomas Newman, has provided a fresh, robust score that also pays homage to the Bond legacy. The title song, co-written and sung by Adele, is already a hit.
Finally, we can’t forget the main title sequence, an essential part of every 007 production since the days of Robert Brownjohn and Maurice Binder. A most emphatic check! Daniel Kleinman comes through with a dazzling piece of cutting-edge cinema for his sixth encounter with James Bond.
Skyfall is already earning rave reviews, and justifiably so. It’s superior filmmaking that also happens to be extraordinarily entertaining. That’s a combination we don’t see often enough.