Like it or not, lofty expectations come standard with the “Bond” label. With this being the 23rd installment in the James Bond franchise, I found it hard to walk into the film without some preconceived notion of what a Bond film should be. With the help of director Sam Mendes and a multitalented supporting cast, Daniel Craig’s 3rd stint as the infamous Mr. Bond unquestionably delivers.
Skyfall boasts many of the ever-entertaining “Bondesque” elements that have made the franchise so enduring: the breakneck opening sequence, the exotic locales and the illustrious femme fatale (Sévérine, played by Bérénice Marlohe) contrasted against the delicate sexual tension between Bond and his more serious potential love interest (Naomie Harris as Eve) are all sure to please die-hard Bond fans. But what sets Mendes’s film apart is that he has the audacity to tackle a storyline that is, in many respects, anything but the classic Bond—and tackle it he does.
The thematic force behind the plot of Skyfall is a struggle with time. Bond is getting older, the villains are getting smarter and more tech-savvy and British Intelligence Agency MI6’s dark past has come back to haunt it. Ultimately, Bond’s only recourse against the passage of time is embracing it—he limits his use of gadgets, and he often relies more heavily on his intellect than his ailing body to pull him through. Mendes takes care to embrace this abandonment of the Brosnan/Craig-era Bond with his deft cinematography. One of the film’s earliest fight scenes takes place under the harsh, rapid blue and white flicker of spectacular Shanghai marquees, while one of its last is illuminated by the soft orange glow of fire in the Scottish countryside. By staging fight scenes first in the dazzling modernity of the inner city and then in the bleakness of the moors, Mendes demonstrates how Bond—both the agent and the franchise—can survive and thrive in the modern world by staying true to his roots.
Bond’s supporting cast makes an equally strong impact to Mendes’ directing prowess. Judy Dench delivers a poignant performance as M, fleshing out the willful grit that imbues the character with just a trace of tenderness as she comes under fire for her own past. As Silva, the film’s villain, Javier Bardem proves to us that his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in No Country for Old Men was no fluke. He is twisted enough to evoke revulsion from the audience, but not so much that we lose sight of the last shreds of his humanity. These two performances provide a compelling backdrop for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond. Craig is as steady as ever: not spectacular or gripping, but at once more violent and more vulnerable than his predecessors, remaining true to Bond novelist Ian Flemming yet still entirely his own.
In many respects, “steady” seems an apropos description of Skyfall as a whole. There is nothing monumental about the film; it toys with boundaries, but it does not seek to cross them completely. As with all Bond films, its plot is somewhat formulaic, but it is by all counts a highly enjoyable film.