After 50 years and 22 movies, Skyfall marks the return of James Bond after a 4 year hiatus, a bankrupt studio, and a less-than-perfect previous installment. He’s still played by Daniel Craig, who is starting to show his age, but something is different about this Bond installment. Perhaps it’s that it feels more like a conventional Bond movie instead of an action movie that’s trying to match action scenes with the Bourne series. This one isn’t just action scene after action scene; there is more depth to these characters.
Of course, a sense of humanity and feeling more realistic has always been what Craig’s take on the character has been. He feels, more or less, like a real person. He can be hurt, both physically and emotionally. In the pre-title sequence of Skyfall, Bond is actually the closest to death he has been yet. MI6, the agency for whom he works, even writes up his obituary. He has to attempt a comeback, one that doesn’t exactly go smoothly, after MI6 headquarters is threatened, feeling some sense of duty to take down whoever was responsible.
The villain this time around is more cartoonish. He’s a former M16 agent himself, a man who goes by the name of Silva (Javier Bardem). Died, slicked back blonde hair, and an ability to hack any computer in the world makes him possibly the most dangerous person Bond has ever encountered. Silva’s target: M (Judi Dench), the woman running the agency, which itself has become a target by the politicians, who claim that its relevance has stopped existing. There are two battles being fought here: The first is Bond against Silva, while the second has M attempting to defend her choices and the entirety of MI6.
There are more characters than this, but these are the important ones — at least, for this installment. Ralph Fiennes plays a Mr. Mallory, who serves as the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Naomie Harris plays another agent, who actually ends up being the one who shoots Bond, potentially killing him, in the opening sequence. And there is also Bérénice Lim Marlohe, whose character has the potential to become a prominent figure, but winds up just as a plot device to bring Bond to Silva.
There are definitely some fun action scenes within Skyfall, don’t get me wrong, but considering one of the major devices the enemy can use is computers, there is just as much sitting around, or having Bond travel from place to place, attempting to catch whomever he’s pursuing. There are some great hand-to-hand combat scenes, a few great shootouts, and a final showdown that, while its ending feels abrupt, is a magnificent scene.
However, the espionage part — something overlooked in the previous two installments, and especially in Quantum of Solace — gets some time to actually happen, and the secondary characters and their relationship to Bond are allowed to develop. Bond and M are the main item of focus this time around; their love/hate relationship has been teased since Casino Royale, and it only makes sense to conclude a trilogy by finally indulging in all that it has to offer. M even gets in on one action scene, and it’s glorious to see.
Skyfall rarely drags, and when it does, it quickly recovers. It doesn’t need constant action scenes to entertain — these people are enough, and so is the ever-present threat of danger. If you are near a computer, or even anything electronic, you could be a target. The back story to Silva is less than exciting, but it is revealing, and the character eventually breaks free of that. Bardem creates for us a wonderful, memorable villain, even if he does, at times, come a bit too close to Heath Ledger’s Joker.
The secondary plot, involving the potential shutdown of MI6, is what doesn’t get quite enough time to feel like it ever has the potential to happen. The new age fighting against the old is an interesting idea, and while the film uses it to some extent, it never goes all the way with the concept. It’s disappointing, and makes the entire subplot feel superfluous. As a result, it could have been excised and not much would have been lost.
I don’t think it managed to make the emotional impact that it wants to. This could easily be the final Bond film of the Craig era — it won’t be, but in terms of narrative, it could be — and therefore, anyone can die. A couple of characters do, and while I thought I would care more, I simply didn’t. Their deaths just didn’t make the impact that they should have. One of them doesn’t come out of blue, but it felt anticlimactic. Perhaps the character’s final lines needed to be stronger, or something, but it just didn’t connect with me in the way I would think it would had I read about it previously.
Skyfall is a good Bond film, and a return to form after the more action-oriented Quantum of Solace. It actually allows for some secondary character development, even though its square focus is on Daniel Craig third outing as James Bond. It has some great action scenes, a few good spy moments, and is very well-paced. It needed to either do more with its subplot of old vs. new, and the ending was a bit of a letdown, but it’s well worth seeing, especially if you’re a big fan of the character or Craig’s portrayal of him.