Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) is tied with Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) as my favorite James Bond film.
Released during the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, Skyfall celebrates what makes the series so great. Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002), which debuted during the fortieth anniversary, likewise served as a form of celebration. But where Die Another Day stuffed callbacks to past films at every conceivable moment in a tired, formulaic story, Skyfall’s references are more subtle and are situated within a story that draws more from The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) than the 007 franchise formula.
One of the things I like most about Skyfall is that it deviates so far from tradition but does so in a way that also feels familiar. Although it’s unclear why there’s no opening gunbarrel (is Bond still not the Bond we know?), the pre-title sequence showcases some exciting stunts during a chase throughout and around Istanbul. Despite Istanbul already having been featured in From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963) and The World Is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999), Roger Deakins’s gorgeous cinematography and Thomas Newman’s Academy Award-nominated score complement each other so well in this sequence (and throughout the film) that it’s hard to have any feeling of been-there-done-that.
The supporting characters here are also similar to and different from what we’ve come to expect. In place of a main Bond girl, we have Séverine (Bérénice Marlohe), a character who in a previous film might have been considered a secondary Bond girl. Instead, M (Judi Dench) is the female character with the most screen time, and Dench delivers her best performance in the series. After their absence from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008), both Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) return. However, Q is markedly younger than we’ve seen them before, and Moneypenny receives some extended screen time and even assists Bond in the field.
The action here is consistently exciting as well. I especially like that the film’s climax takes place not in a villain’s lair but rather in Skyfall, Bond’s family home in the Scottish Highlands. Critics have complained that this sequence feels like Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990), but it’s so much fun that I’ve never cared.
I’ve written elsewhere that there are some continuity conundrums in Skyfall. Certainly the Bond franchise has never adhered to strict continuity, but it seemed like it was paying continuity more mind after the reboot Casino Royale. Still, the appearance of Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 (which Craig’s version of the character had acquired in Casino Royale) now outfitted with the same gadgets as the car had had in Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) is a minor quibble.
Skyfall also represents one of the only Bond films to have a consistent thematic throughline. Given that it celebrates the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary, the film deals with the relevance of the old in modern times.
Finally, Skyfall has some personal significance to me, as it was the first Bond film I had seen in a theater with my girlfriend. She liked the movie a lot when we first saw it, and her opinion hasn’t changed. There really is so much to like in this film. Still, I would recommend showing any franchise newcomer Casino Royale first, possibly followed by Skyfall (rather than the disappointing Quantum of Solace).
This blog will return with… Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015).