A lot of people like to complain about sequels; that they’re soulless money grabs (often true), or that Hollywood is out of ideas (somewhat true), or that there is no reason for them to happen (completely untrue). I celebrate sequels. A well done sequel to a movie you love is a boon because it means you get to spend some more time with your favorite characters or experience more of a fun world or place. Without sequels we wouldn’t have The Godfather Part II, Spider-Man 2, Aliens, The Dark Knight, or The Empire Strikes Back. Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film, is such a movie. A sequel that doesn’t suck. A sequel that improves upon its predecessors the way those I mentioned above have.
Casino Royale was a fantastic Bond movie, reinventing 007 for modern audiences and keeping him away from the camp and pomp that the Brosnan movies were heading toward. And while Quantum of Solace was a sore misstep there were reasons for its problems. The Writers Guild strike cut short script writing time and the director Marc Forster was a weak choice to replace Martin Campbell. It was a disappointing failure especially since the film was trying to wrap up the Vesper thread and continue Bond’s investigation of the shadowy organization she was being manipulated by.
Thankfully long time producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli righted the series by hiring John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator) to work on Neil Purvis and Robert Wade’s script for Skyfall. They also hired the very talented Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) to direct. The result is possibly the best Bond film ever.
In Skyfall we find 007 (Daniel Craig) attempting to recover a stolen hard drive that contains the names of every undercover MI6 agent in every terrorist organization in the world. His attempts to recover the drive lead him on a thrilling chase sequence that starts on the streets of Istanbul and ends on the top of a train. Bond is just about to recover the drive from the man who stole it when M (Dame Judi Dench) orders fellow MI6 agent Eve (Pirates of the Caribbean’s Naomi Harris) to shoot him. She misses and hits Bond, sending him over a bridge and into a river.
One trippy opening credits sequence later and Bond has been pronounced dead. We find him hiding out under the radar, unwilling to return to MI6 after M had ordered the shot to be taken. But when a mysterious villain attacks MI6, Bond must return to help track him down and prevent him from releasing the names on the hard drive. Along the way Bond will have to deal with the very real threats of age and obsolescence while trying to stop a madman from M’s past.
Nearly everything about this movie is superb and it all starts with the star of the show, Daniel Craig. He continues giving a multifaceted performance as Bond, hitting all the necessary notes. He’s great at the confidence, the lady killing, the physicality, but what really sets him apart from other actors who’ve played the role is the humanity that he brings to it. As I just said, this Bond has to deal with age and the possibility of obsolescence in the face of technology. He doesn’t just shrug the gunshot wound off, it stays with him and Craig does an excellent job of communicating that throughout the film. He’s also endlessly cool in a way that no one else can duplicate. It’s really quite remarkable.
Judi Dench is, as usual, a standout as well. She gets an expanded role this time as much of the film is about her past and her mistakes. She and Craig share a lot of great scenes together, building the relationship that was established so well in Casino Royale. Not only are they funny together but there’s a real sense that they care about each other even if Bond is a loose cannon at times and M isn’t as careful at preserving the lives of her agents as she should be. It’s a rocky road for both of them in this film.
Javier Bardem plays the villain of the piece, the Joker-like Silva. From his fantastic entrance to his creepy and effeminate performance, everything about him screams classic Bond villain. He also has a great back story to give him motivation and a gnarly “scar” to show for it. Adding this to his No Country for Old Men role proves that he is one of the best at playing the villain.
Bérénice Marlohe turns in a solid performance as the gorgeous and tortured Sévérine, sharing a particularly memorable scene at a bar with Craig. Naomi Harris is fine as Bond’s partner Eve and flirty love interest. Ralph Fiennes plays a stuffy government official who used to work as an agent and Albert Finney also shows up towards the end as an old friend of Bond’s. The other great performance is newcomer Ben Whishaw’s who plays the new Q. He and Craig have instant chemistry, echoing the classic banter between Sean Connery and Desmond Llewelyn.
The soundtrack by Thomas Newman (Little Children, Finding Nemo) is also epic. It’s sweeping and varied, employing everything from little electronic spy movie cues to big sumptuous strings while throwing in little snippets of the Bond theme. It all further adds to the depth and scope of the film.
The cinematography by Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man) is superb. This is without a doubt the best looking Bond ever. Whether it’s the stunning Scottish countryside, a silhouetted skyscraper fight, or a classy Asian casino, Deakins’s work is absolutely brilliant here. Oscar worthy in fact.
Speaking of Oscars, if there ever was a Bond film that deserved such honor, this is it. The story is smart, the themes are relevant, and the entire production feels so tight and so pro that it’s hard to not think about it. In all likelihood the Academy will overlook it and it might be nominated for categories like Cinematography and Sound Design, but it certainly deserves nods for Best Picture and Best Director. Director Sam Mendes’s talented eye creates many unique and memorable shots and sequences whether they are action scenes or intimate conversations.
Skyfall proves that sequels don’t have to be tasteless money grabs or that Hollywood is out of ideas. It proves instead, much like Terminator 2 Judgment Day, or the others I mentioned at the top, that a sequel can be good and even better than its predecessor when handled correctly. 5 out of 5 stars.