Four years after Quantum of Solace and two years after MGM filed for bankruptcy, Bond - James Bond, that is - is back in what is undoubtedly one of the best films of the franchise. Directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, best known for American Beauty, Skyfall is grand, sophisticated and abnormally personal. Its only problem: it doesn't always feel like a Bond film.
I'm not a fan of ranking Bond movies, because they are not easy to compare. From Russia with Love is my favorite Bond movie, but I'm a huge fan of Goldeneye for its fun factor. I probably watch Casino Royale more than any other Bond flick. I consider License to Kill underrated. I even like a couple of the Roger Moore movies. The bottom line: each sequence of James Bond movies have their own qualities, but it's unreasonable to directly compare a Sean Connery film made 50 years ago to the darker and more realistic Bond films of today.
From a production viewpoint, Skyfall is the best-made James Bond movie. It is, in other words, a James Bond movie that critics will love because it acts much less like any Bond film before it. Mendes is by far the most talented director to take the reins of the franchise, and Skyfall benefits accordingly. The film is dark, serious and at times plays like a drama. Mendes isn't afraid to spend considerable time developing characters and establishing the story. The movie reflects on Bond's childhood in a way no other film has, and introduces a psychopathic villain that is concerned much less with world domination and more with enacting revenge on a specific individual -M (played once again by Judi Dench). Skyfall also features an all-star cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Javier Bardem.
If it were any other movie, I'd call it perfect. Well, aside from the komodo dragon scene.
My issue with Skyfall - and it's likely an issue that will concern me less and less with each subsequent viewing - is that the movie at times forgets it's a Bond film. After Casino Royale proved that James Bond can shed the toys and most everything else and still be a quintessential Bond flick, Skyfall had a lot of leeway to play with. Still, there are some long stretches, especially in the first hour, that are notably absent of action or intrigue. These more dramatic, character-driven sequences are well done, but Mendes loses sight of the fact that he is making a Bond movie at times. A few minutes could have been cut to increase the film's pacing. An extra dash of humor would have helped break things up.
Ultimately, these are not complaints as much as they are acknowledgments that Skyfall sacrifices some Bond elements that even Casino Royale maintained for the sake of telling a dark, very personal story not unlike Patriot Games. If you want your standard James Bond film, Skyfall is not it.
In other news, Daniel Craig is terrific, as are the other additions to the cast. Whishaw is good though surprisingly humorless as Q. Fiennes is what you would expect of Ralph Fiennes. Bardem, who is already known for playing one of the most frightening cinematic villains in No Country for Old Men, is absolutely excellent as the deranged mastermind Silva. Finally, Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe also delivers an emotionally impressive performance as Silva's terrified girlfriend.
Its lack of James Bond moments aside, Skyfall is one of the best James Bond movies ever made. More importantly, it's an excellent movie. Bond is back.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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