‘Skyfall’ Is Lucky Number 23

Courtesy of MGM

It’s been 50 years since James Bond first appeared on the big screen, and the iconic British agent marks this special occasion with “Skyfall,” the 23rd film in the franchise. “Skyfall” commemorates it with style and substance, boldly and deservingly staking its claim as one of the best films in the series.

An exhilarating pre-opening credits sequence in Istanbul, Turkey sees Bond (Daniel Craig) and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in pursuit of a stolen hard drive containing a list of undercover NATO agents embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe. During the chase, Bond is shot and assumed killed, subsequently retiring in secret.

Three months later, head of MI6 M (Judi Dench) is under political pressure by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, to retire over her failure to protect the list. Not long afterwards, MI6 and M come under attack from a mysterious adversary, prompting Bond to report back to duty and track down the enemy, who threatens to expose the identities of the NATO agents.

Although “Skyfall” doesn’t have the tightest of stories, the film is by far the most emotionally engaging entry in the series due to its development of its key characters, Bond and M. While “Casino Royale” rebooted Bond as a more vulnerable character, “Skyfall” takes it a step further by exploring his past — making him more human and less of a super agent — and harmonizing it wonderfully with his relationship with M. In fact, the film is M’s story as much as it is Bond’s, and offers a precious look into the rather susceptible personality behind her authoritative, cold presence, finally making her feel like a full-fledged character. Both Craig and Dench take full advantage of the opportunities available for them to shine, bringing a certain depth to Bond and M that hasn’t been seen before.

With 50 years of Bond about to pass by, “Skyfall” establishes a direction for Bond to take, especially within this modern age. The cool gadgets that were often a staple of the Bond films are apparently now nothing more than memories of the past, and the film acknowledges this. Q (Ben Whishaw) dismisses such gadgets, saying, “We don’t really go in for [those] anymore.” However, the film does make various nods to its series’ history, which devout Bond fans will undoubtedly enjoy. “Skyfall” draws a fine, respectful equilibrium between 007’s history and what it wants to achieve, and impressively moves forward, with the characters of Mallory, Eve and Q — adeptly portrayed by Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw respectively — enjoying significant roles in this process.

The film also sees the return of a great Bond villain — an element that arguably has been missing from the series since Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan from “Goldeneye.” Played by Javier Bardem, Raoul Silva is as charismatic and flamboyant as he is relentless and scary. While he doesn’t have plans for world domination, he does have a history with M and harbors resentment toward her. With such a personal vendetta, Silva is extremely dangerous and aggressive, capable of being on par with Bond and MI6. However, the story treats him more as a tragic character than a cruel lunatic, and surprisingly gives him some leeway to accomplish his goals. Silva is a villain to be reckoned with, and Bardem, who sinks his teeth into the role with delicious gusto, brings forth a terrific performance.

Director Sam Mendes handles his first true action film with finesse. What’s extraordinary about “Skyfall” is its balance between pulsating, well-choreographed action and dialogue-driven interaction between the characters, in which the characters’ personalities come to light, in addition to its comfortable, steady pacing.

Complementing the fantastic story and characters is an exquisite look and sound, and “Skyfall” is a technical marvel. Master cinematographer Roger Deakins creates such gorgeous imagery, especially with a futuristic-looking, neon-blue sequence set in Shanghai, China, and captures even the most frenetic action with a stable picture. Composer Thomas Newman’s score is emotionally kinetic and supplements the mood in each scene. In the opening credits sequence, Adele’s voice lifts the film’s theme song to soaring heights.

“Skyfall” is a crowning achievement of the Bond series, as it provides an unprecedented emotional narrative and resonance, which truly enhances a package of an assured direction, memorable characters, outstanding performances and breathtaking style. Indeed, Bond looks set to enjoy another 50 years in cinema.

Rating: 4.5/5