Skyfall feels, in many ways, like the last film in Daniel Craig‘s tenure as James Bond. It’s only his third go round as the British secret agent, but he’s already haggard, unshaven and tired of the back-stabbing, gun-toting rat race. When a list of MI6’s undercover agents is stolen (that’s right, it’s the old NOC list chestnut!) Bond and Agent Eve (Naomie Harris) are tasked with recovering it, but the mission goes awry and Bond is left for dead. He’s not, obviously, but he’s enjoying the peaceful anonymity and seaside screws too much to give a damn about anything else.
But when MI6 is attacked back in London Bond rises from the dead and returns to duty. He tries to anyway, but injuries, indifference and a battered spirit threaten to keep him on the bench. It’s only when the stakes get personal for him and M (Judi Dench) that he musters the will needed to fight back. But will it be too late?
Skyfall is big, beautiful entertainment that delivers the expected action set-pieces but adds truly artistic visuals and multiple odes to Bond films of the past fifty years. It’s never dull, occasionally surprising and unafraid to delve into Bond’s life more than any film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Unfortunately (and unnecessarily), all of that comes at the price of gaping plot holes and staggering lapses in logic.
The story as described above covers only the first half hour of this 143 minute film, but it sets the stage for a Bond movie unlike any other. Craig’s previous two films, Casino Royale and the unfairly maligned Quantum of Solace, both brought Bond into the 21st century as a man who could feel pain and emotion, and the trend continues here. It actually goes farther than that though and offers a real glimpse of the man’s life before he became 007. That combined with revelations elsewhere make for the darkest (and most psychoanalytical) Bond in some time. It works, barely, and with any luck it’s not the kind of thing we should see from Bond again anytime soon.
It’s not all doom and gloom though as director Sam Mendes knows full well the franchise’s main concern is action, and he delivers quite effectively on that front. The film is front loaded with a packed pre-credits sequence that sees gunfights and chases move from cars to motorcycles to a moving train, and while there are smaller bits peppered throughout it’s the third act that stands out for a set-piece that invigorates the senses even as it scales back from the expected and epic Bond film finish. Much of the credit for these scenes and others goes to cinematographer Roger Deakins who makes this the most beautiful Bond ever. His work in the finale and with the Shanghai-set scene earlier in the film could very well carry him to the Oscars this year.
Harris and newcomer Bérénice Marlohe fulfill the typically minor Bond girl duties with a major assist from Dench whose traditionally small role gets bumped up to supporting actress here. It’s an odd choice, one that completely subverts the usual dynamic, and in some ways it retroactively damages the character of M. Another character shift, but one far less dramatic, comes in the form of a new Q. Ben Whishaw plays the young upstart as a sarcastic genius, and he and Craig play off of each other’s age and presence terrifically well.
For all that it gets so right or at the very least interesting though, there are some stunningly inept developments and omissions here in the script from Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and newcomer (to the series) John Logan. They don’t derail the film, but they do damage it and stand out as logical inconsistencies on par with the worst of the ones found and criticized in Christopher Nolan’s latter two Dark Knight films. Many of them involve the villain, played with a maniacal, bisexual glee by Javier Bardem, and they won’t be detailed here except to say this… I do IT work for a coffee company, and we would never connect an outsider’s laptop to our interior network without verifying its security first. It’s a coffee company, and our IT department is apparently smarter and more secure than MI6’s best and brightest.
Skyfall is, at times, wondrous big screen entertainment, and fans should most definitely see it in theaters. Some may find it uncomfortable digging so deep into Bond’s past and perhaps view it as a betrayal of the character, but it actually adds a bit of depth to a character we really never knew. The action is spectacular, the movie looks stunning and two and a half hours after it starts you’ll be looking forward to Bond’s next adventure. Of course, you should also be wondering how Bond and MI6 have survived this long while being so goddamn stupid.
The Upside: Some fantastic action set-pieces; wonderfully fun callbacks to the Bond series; third act features the most beautiful photography of the entire series
The Downside: Too many incredibly stupid, illogical actions and plot inconsistencies
On the Side: John Logan will be returning as sole scriptwriter for the next Bond film