There’s no point in starting off this review with some trademark bitching. It has been a good year for action movies. We’ve had Liam Neeson punching rabid wolves (yes Liam, we still love you despite that shit you pulled in “Taken 2”), Katniss landing headshots with her arrows, Master Wayne rising up from the shadows and, of course, Tony Stark becoming best friends with Bruce Banner. Millions of dollars’ worth of set pieces torched, thousands of blanks shot at stunt doubles and countless said stunt doubles thrown off buildings. A good year, indeed.
At Quality 16 and Rave
But hold on, guys. The action movie gods are pulling something else out of their pockets. Holy shit, it’s a Walther PPK/S 9mm Short — you know what that means. Bond is back.
And by Bond, no one means the suave, cigarette-puffing intelligence officer from half a century ago. This is Daniel Craig’s Bond — chiseled, brutish and ready at a moment’s notice to unleash pain. In “Skyfall,” Craig proves why he will be considered one of — if not the — best Bonds ever to serve in Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
“Skyfall” is by no means perfect. At many of the later points in its nearly 150-minute runtime, the film drags, loses tempo and exudes an overwhelming lack of direction. But the slight missteps in narrative flow are more than made up for by the white-knuckle action sequences and a genuinely engrossing plotline.
Unlike any of the previous Bond films, “Skyfall” takes distinct steps to bring the infallible James Bond of the past 50 years hurtling toward the ground. Bond is getting older, and after things slip desperately out of hand in the brilliant opening scene, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) takes it a step further, making the daring move to give our favorite MI-6 officer a full-blown figurative rebirth.
What we end up with is a battered, defeated Bond who can no longer do a million pull-ups and frequently fails marksmanship tests. It’s a bit unsettling at first, but becomes even more so when the resident bad guy of the whole affair makes his flamboyant appearance, announcing his plans to hunt down and kill M (Judi Dench, “Quantum of Solace”) as payback for pissing him off in the past.
To call Javier Bardem’s (“No Country for Old Men”) Raul Silva just your typical run-of-the-mill bad guy is a bit like comparing Heath Ledger’s Joker to one of the countless drunken imitators you find running around at Halloween. Under Bardem’s deft command, Silva is perhaps the most diabolical bleached-hair, mommy-hating Latino man ever to take the screen, and the purring, understated nature of his performance just makes him all the more terrifying for it.
Unsurprisingly, he takes absolute control of every scene he’s in after making his showy entrance over an hour into the movie, stirring to life a sense of ever-present mortal fear found looming in every crevice of the film.
The cold, contrasting imagery captured by master cinematographer Roger Deakins (“No Country for Old Men”) makes “Skyfall” more than just the most visually captivating movie of the series. The watered-down blues of the Scottish countryside coupled with the cold grayness of London and the neon-framed coolness of nighttime Shanghai are used like gauges by Deakins throughout the film. Whenever there’s a functional change in palette, Deakins shows it to us by washing it over Bond’s grizzled exterior. The technique is meant to provide us with the tiniest inklings of what may be happening inside, but ultimately the motivations of our hero are left up to us for interpretation.
So is this the best Bond of all time? At various instances, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” But even at the points where it doesn’t ring true, the one thing worth realizing is that without a doubt, this is a new era in 007’s distinguished career — one marked by the glory of the past and the grittiness of the present.