One of the things you learn as a film critic is to always hedge your bets. Which is why, six years ago this month, I called ‘Casino Royale’ “possibly the best Bond movie ever!” Thank goodness for the word “possibly.”
In the 50 years since James Bond first hit the big screen in “Dr. No” there have been 22 official films in the series, each one contributing SOMETHING to the legendary life of 007. This week, film #23 takes a little bit of everything that makes the Bond series great and rolls it up into a perfect holiday package called “Skyfall.”
A member of a terrorist organization has stolen a hard drive from a secured lap top. The hard drive contains the true names of every undercover NATO agent in the world and their release. Tracked down by MI6 agent James Bond, the baddie runs, soon finding himself in a motorcycle chase. Across the tile roofs of the city. As the chase continues on top of a high speed train, Bond’s partner in espionage, Eve (Naomie Harris) takes aim at the two on top of the train through the scope of her rifle. Afraid to shoot for fear of hitting Bond she is snapped back to reality by the stern voice of M (Dench) in her earpiece, commanding her to “take the shot!” Cue the opening credits.
After the step back that was 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” (though in defense of the film it should be noted that, due to the writer’s strike, a completed script was never delivered), Bond and all the members of Her Majesty’s Secret Service return in a film that skillfully balances the old school workings of past 007 adventures with the futuristic world of 21st century cyber terrorism. From the title song, performed in the style of the great Shirley Bassey by this generations great songstress, Adele, to the reintroduction of Q to a ride in the classic Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger,” there is plenty in “Skyfall” to take fans down memory lane. The great reminders of the present day begin with Daniel Craig. In my review of “Casino Royale” I noted that his performance was exactly the way I imagined when I read the original Ian Flemming novels. While Sean Connery will always be the first (and the best) Bond, in the span of three films Craig has made the character his own. I would not want to be the actor to assume the role from him 15 years from now (Craig just turned 44 – Roger Moore was 57 when he did his last Bond film, “A View to a Kill”). Also strong are two Oscar winners – Dench as 007’s boss, M, and Bardem as Silva, a former MI6 agent seeking revenge on M for what he feels was her betrayal. With a head of bleached blonde hair Bardem seems to be channeling Raul Julia from “The Adams Family.” But in a really creepy way that makes him one of the most memorable villains in the series history.
Action-wise the film is among the best of the year. While director Mendes is best known for intense and personal dramas (“Revolutionary Road,” “American Beauty” for which he won the Best Director Oscar) he has also shown some flair for action and pacing in the past, most notably with “Road To Perdition,” the film that really introduced Craig to American audiences. As Bond makes his way across the globe the action follows, including a fierce hand to hand battle high above Shanghai, illuminated only by the constant neon glow of the skyscraper lights, a scene that is one of the highlights captured by cinematographer Roger Deakins, a long time collaborator with the Coen Brothers.