out of Five
Running time: 143 mins
This is a fitting and worthy adventure for Bond's 50th anniversary that both embraces the past and looks forward to the future, thanks to a surprisingly emotional script, terrific performances, breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography and stunning direction from Sam Mendes.
What's it all about?
Directed by Sam Mendes, Skyfall is both the 23rd James Bond adventure and the 50th anniversary of the series itself. After a blistering Istanbul-set pre-credits sequence, Bond (Daniel Craig) is accidentally shot and believed killed by one of MI6's own (Naomie Harris as Eve) while trying to retrieve a hard drive listing undercover agents. A jaded Bond washes up somewhere exotic and sinks into a mire of depression and drinking games involving scorpions before a terrorist attack on MI6 HQ jolts him back to life and forces him to return to London.
Sure enough, the hard drive has fallen into the hands of crazed villain Silva (Javier Bardem), who is using it to orchestrate a multi-faceted revenge attack on M (Judi Dench), causing her professional embarrassment that puts her under threat of forced retirement by her superior Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Issued some surprisingly standard weaponry by a new Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond tracks Silva to his island-based hideout, but when Silva turns the tables and stages another attack on London, Bond is forced to take M into his protection.
Fittingly for Bond's 50th anniversary, Skyfall delivers a number of crowd-pleasing nods to previous Bonds and manages to tick off all the series staples (glamorous locations, gorgeous ladies, a spot of gadgetry, thrilling action set-pieces) while also embracing the darker, grittier tone established by Casino Royale (and ignored by the largely disappointing Quantum of Solace). It's also much more London-based than previous outings, allowing for a thrilling Underground chase.
In his third outing, Craig is terrific (even if he's clearly uncomfortable dishing out quips), playing the character as an older Bond, a wiser Bond and a Bond who both bleeds and bruises into the bargain. Dench is equally good (the pair share palpable onscreen chemistry), while there's strong support from Whishaw, Fiennes and a late-arriving Albert Finney (as a Bond family friend), though it's Bardem who steals the film, delivering a deliciously twisted performance that's a joy to watch; by contrast, the Bond girls (Harris and Bérénice Marlohe's slinky Severine) barely get a look-in.
Mendes' direction is assured throughout, deftly blending stunning action set-pieces with some lovely little character moments (such as Bond straightening his cuffs after a death-defying train leap) while nailing the surprisingly emotional tone of the script. However, Mendes' real masterstroke is in hiring genius cinematographer Roger Deakins, who duly ensures that this is the best looking Bond film ever made and that every frame is utterly gorgeous to look at.
Brilliantly directed and beautifully shot, Skyfall is a thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable Bond movie that celebrates its history even as it reboots it. Highly recommended.