Are secret agents like James Bond still relevant, or are they relics of the Cold War era, no longer as necessary in a world controlled by technology, where hackers can access information from anywhere in the world using a computer in their living room?
That’s the question being explored by British intelligence organization MI6 in the new James Bond movie “Skyfall,” which was released in theaters this past weekend. The rules of the game of espionage are changing, and both Bond (Daniel Craig) and the head of MI6 who is known only as “M” (Judi Dench) find themselves fighting to prove they are still a vital part of the MI6 organization.
“Skyfall” is a more introspective, thought-provoking “Bond” film than we’ve seen in the past, and it’s a gamble that works. The film has earned an impressive $90 million so far — the highest “Bond” debut ever — and it has proven to be a hit with both fans and critics, earning a 92 percent rating on film review website Rotten Tomatoes. “Skyfall” is a slick, stylish spy flick, one that both honors the Bond franchise’s past and covers new ground.
The film opens with an MI6 mission gone awry that results in the loss of sensitive information that puts MI6 in jeopardy. The actions of “M” come under fire, and the British government is trying to push her into retirement. Bond is struggling to get back in the game after a serious injury, and “M” seems to be the only one who is confident he’s still fit for duty. He’s assigned to track down a man called “Silva” (Javier Bardem), an elusive cyber-terrorist who wrecks havoc using technology. Bond has to outwit Silva in order to protect “M,” and both Bond and “M” must battle some personal demons from their past.
The strength of this film lies in its performances, and in its talented cast of actors. Daniel Craig has now joined Sean Connery atop many fans’ lists of favorite Bond portrayals, and it’s easy to see why. In “Skyfall,” Craig turns in another fine performance as the famous British spy. Craig’s Bond is a man of paradoxes: He’s good at projecting a tough, hardened exterior, but inwardly he’s more vulnerable than he’s willing to admit. While he pretends not to care about the world, he’s determined to do everything in his power to save his country and “M.” He’s not afraid to do the dirty work of espionage, but he can also turn on that suave charm whenever he needs it. Craig captures all the nuances of the role, and the subtle details make the film — such as when he pauses to adjust his suit after jumping down through a hole ripped in the top of a train car.
Judi Dench is also excellent, again, as the mysterious “M.” Part of what makes this film so interesting is that it shows how much Bond and “M” really are alike. “M” is tough on Bond, but we can see he is her favorite agent, the one she trusts the most to get the job done. Like Bond, she projects a “devil-may-care” bluster, but in quiet moments, we can see the worry and concern in her eyes. There is a vulnerableness deep down both of them try to hide, and it’s a vulnerableness Silva is able to exploit.
Silva is more of an old-fashioned Bond villain: He’s twisted and dangerously unhinged, with a very personal vendetta against “M.” It’s a performance that easily could have become too over the top, but Javier Bardem dials it down just enough so the plot remains realistic, and his motives make sense. Many other fine supporting actors also flesh out the story, from Ralph Fiennes as the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee; to Ben Whishaw, who brings us a fresh take on the Bond franchise staple “Q”; and Naomie Harris as a smart, confident agent whose name is one long-time Bond fans will quickly recognize.
While director Sam Mendes keeps the focus of the film on the characters (which I think was a smart move), the action sequences also are well-choreographed and help to advance the narrative. All the classic elements of the Bond franchise, and the spy genre in general, are there, but they don’t feel stale or cliché. Some of the highlights include a great chase scene in the very beginning of the film on a train, and a fight high atop a skyscraper in Shanghai. Mendes uses creative lighting in the skyscraper scene, and the swirling colors and shapes serve to throw off both the audience and Bond. The film’s final action sequences take place in a surprising location with a significant tie to Bond’s past. The cinematography is gorgeous, and Adele supplies an excellent opening credits song with hints of the classic Bond theme.
“Skyfall” is a film that’s both gritty and elegant, and it’s one I definitely plan to watch again. While Craig’s “Casino Royale” remains my favorite Bond film, “Skyfall” is a solid entry into the Bond saga. When Daniel Craig decides to leave the Bond franchise, his films are certainly going to be a very tough act to follow.