There's nothing better than being proved wrong and having your fears allayed. Sam Mendes was absolutely the right choice to direct the twenty third James Bond movie and delivered a film that embraces both the old and the new. Skyfall was an outstanding way to celebrate fiftieth anniversary of the franchise. This is one of the few occasions when the actual movie managed to live up to the respective hype and marketing. Skyfall is 143 minutes of pure Bond and much more. Seldom has series had this depth of story, characterisation and intelligence. It is a lot closer to Goldfinger than it is Moonraker and offers a fresh perspective on the iconic agent. This is not about defeating some villain in his volcano lair. Skyfall is about the very nature of espionage and the effects upon those who work in its twilight world.
After an exhilarating chase scene set in Turkey, which is totally free from shaky cam and lightning editing that still plagues contemporary cinema, the iconic title credits roll. There are many familiar names that have long been associated with the series over the previous decades. Stunts co-ordinator Gary Powell, miniature and physical effects by Chris Corbould for example. Veteran editor Stuart Baird ensures that you get to see what is actually going on (thank you Mr. Baird). The stunning titles, once again created by Daniel Kleinman. There is also a lot of new talent. Production designer Dennis Gassner brings a fresh and exciting feel to the movie. Roger Deakins' photography is stunning with a vivid colour palette. London has seldom looked so good. The only aspect of the film that didn’t quite chime with me is Thomas Newman contemporary score. It does however touch upon the traditional bond themes and musical idioms.
The plot is simple yet provides a far greater degree of character development and exploration of wider themes. M (Judi Dench) is thrown to the wolves after losing a vital hard drive containing operational data, along with one of her best filed agents. Her replacement Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is already waiting in the wings to reform the department. Matters get worse when M becomes the target of vengeful agent Silva (Javier Bardom). Enter 007 (Daniel Craig) returning to MI6 after being presumed dead. However, Bond is not at the top of his game, yet is the only operative that M can trust to resolve the situation. The trail takes Bond from Shanghai, to Macau and then on to London. It becomes clear that Bond must take charge of the fight and returns to his family home of Skyfall to await a final confrontation with Silva.
Sam Mendes crafts a Bond movie that includes all the best aspects of the franchise. The locations, set pieces and glamour are all present. He also manages to bring Bond into the twenty-first century and make MI6 relevant in the current political climate. Skyfall succeeds in being quite thought provoking and showcases exceptionally strong performances from Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig. The dynamic between these two characters comes full circle and is both touching and sad. The original gallows humour that Connery brought to the series and that Moore turned into high camp, is present and exceedingly dry. There are moments of self-reference but rather than being indulgences work very well. Adele's theme song is also a welcome throwback.
Javier Bardom is a charismatic villain. His charm and flamboyance are deceptive and when he descends into violence, it is all the more disturbing. Whilst on the subject of content, it should be noted that Skyfall is quite a hard PG-13 (12 certificate) movie. The fights are superbly choreographed and shot. Violence is not trivialised or mitigated with a crass quip. The new Q (Ben Wishaw) is engaging and the film is not smothered by an excess of gadgetry, although it clearly shows the role that technology plays in the world of espionage. It would be a crime for me not to mention the outstanding cameo made by Albert Finney. Let it suffice to say only an actor of his calibre could play such a part.
Considering the evolution of the action movie genre over the last four decades, Skyfall is a prime example of quality film making in an old school idiom. It works so well because all involved truly understand the material and the nature of the audience. Skyfall is in many ways Bond finally coming of age. Is it the best entry in the series? Very possibly. It has so much more to offer than just the superficial, featuring robust performances and a strong narrative arc. Furthermore, the movie's resolution offers a great deal of scope for further exploration of this new and revitalised James Bond. The franchise has been markedly changed by Skyfall successfully combining populist entertainment with quality acting and new found narrative depth.