This Friday, “Skyfall,” the twenty-third James Bond adventure — and the third starring Daniel Craig as the super-spy — opens in cinemas nationwide. After a prolonged absence, 007 is back and better than ever. This time, he faces off against an evil terrorist who is exposing the identities of secret agents around the world, and seems to have a particularly nasty vendetta against M (Judi Dench), who runs MI-6 and has served as a mother-figure to our beloved, martini-drinking spy.
“Skyfall” holds particular weight because it’s being released on the fiftieth anniversary of the series (originally created by British novelist Ian Fleming), and as such you can expect some nods to the character’s previous incarnations, as well as some sizable readjustments to the franchise as a whole. This, and not “Casino Royale,” feels very much like the beginning of a new series. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Read on to find out!
PRO: It Might Be The Best James Bond, Like, Ever
In my estimation, “Casino Royale” was slightly overrated while “Quantum of Solace” was sort of underrated, and they both exist in an in-between realm of serviceability. “Skyfall” exists in a plateau high above these films, and, quite frankly, at this point I’m hard-pressed to think of a Bond entry that I like more. It’s that good. The producers made a pretty serious decision in awarding control of the film to Sam Mendes, the arty, Academy Award-winning director of “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition.” Here, Mendes re-teamed with the amazing cinematographer Roger Deakins and heavily reworked the original script (by Bond stalwarts Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) with Tony-winning playwright John Logan. The results are a Bond movie that look and, more importantly, feel very different. Not only is the film shockingly gorgeous (particularly a set of sequences that take place in China) but it’s emotionally complex and deeply melancholic (to give anything more away would be downright criminal; I don’t want MI-6 coming after me.)
PRO: The Theme Song/Sequence Is Amazing
By now, you’ve probably heard the Adele theme song (if not, head here), and know that the tune (co-written and produced by her “Rolling in the Deep” confederate Paul “King” Epworth), is one of the series’ all-time best. It was so good, in fact, that I was a little worried about its accompanying title sequence, which in the last two entries have become too ornate and elaborate (and, with a dearth of scantily clad women, weirdly prudish and chaste); they might push the boundaries of technological derring-do but they left you cold. This is not the case with “Skyfall.” It’s a beautiful, inky sequence that, like the rest of the movie, tips its hat to title sequences of the past and forges bold new ground, particularly when it comes to divvying up imagery that appears later in the film and enriching the movie’s thematic and metaphoric concerns. (Oh, and also the girls in the sequence appear to be actually naked; pretty sure I caught a nipple or two there.)
PRO: Two Words: Javier Bardem
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a really great Bond baddie; most of the recent villains have been flat and colorless. Well, no more. The less you know about Javier Bardem’s Silva, the better, so if you want to scurry along, I don’t begrudge you, but just know that his bad guy is one of the all time greats — slinky and savage and totally amazing. Nothing’s worse than watching a movie where other characters talk up some unseen character, and when that character finally shows up, it’s completely anticlimactic (a recent example being the puppetmaster in “The Man with the Iron Fists”). This is definitely not the case with Bardem. When he first appears, the movie shifts seismically and becomes an altogether weirder, more mesmerizing affair. Rocking blonde hair that suggests a more openly malevolent Julian Assange, and an exaggerated lilt, Bardem is a pansexual terrorist with mommy issues and a flair for the theatrical, made evident by his desolate floating island lair and his liberal application of explosives. What makes him all the more compelling, besides the fact that he’s kind of the evil mirror version of James Bond, is how personally he takes all of this. Instead of world domination, Silva wants revenge in a very specific form, and it’s downright chilling (particularly in the movie’s breathless last act). Alternately funny and terrifying, Bardem’s performance is one of the year’s best and certainly one of the biggest.
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PRO: Daniel Craig Replaces Sean Connery As The Series’ Best Bond
There are a couple of really surprising character flourishes they’ve awarded Bond this time around, including the fact that he’s injured, both physically and emotionally, (something they tried to saddle him with in “The World is Not Enough” to much lesser success), and that characters acknowledge how old he’s getting. There are a good twenty minutes where Craig, looking sinewy and drawn, sports a thick layer of gray stubble and seems genuinely out of the game. But when he gets his mojo back, it’s a triumphant moment. Craig also manages to successfully handle all the nuances of the character: the shadowy childhood, the history of violence, the issues with trust and, maybe just as importantly, the wry humor that had been all but deleted from the franchise with the previous two films. While Connery embodied the character in some spectacular ways, he was always smirking, and that superficiality could prove crippling. Daniel Craig is Bond, through and through. To borrow a phrase from one of the previous theme songs: Nobody does it better.
CON: It’s Too Long
At 143 minutes, it’s the longest James Bond movie ever. It’s a con in the sense that maybe you can’t see it twice in the same day if you love it as much as I imagine you will. Otherwise, it’s perfectly acceptable and every second is nothing short of gripping.
PRO: The Action Set Pieces
This might be a “con” for some of you, but “Skyfall” is not a non-stop thrill-a-thon. The action sequences are doled out judiciously and the whole movie is bookended with two out-of-control amazing set pieces: a pre-title sequence set in Turkey and an extended siege sequence towards the end of the third act. This makes for a really interesting James Bond flick, in terms of tempo. It’s much more luxurious and atmospheric than the past few movies (and, mercifully, free of 45 minutes of card playing), and doesn’t attempt to bludgeon you to death with spectacle.
PRO: The Bond Girls
They’re real pretty. They can also kick your ass. What’s better than that?