Skyfall is the twenty third James Bond film; fifty years have passed since Sean Connery lit up the screen in Dr. No. Even though Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan did their part with the Bond brand over the years, for me Sean Connery IS Bond; no one could ever match his portrayal, at least until now.
Call me convinced; although Connery is still THE 20th century Bond, Daniel Craig is brilliant as the next generation 21st century Bond. A killing machine, yes, but with a heart, and more importantly, a soul. Some complain about the backstory, but I relish the opportunity to glimpse behind the implacable gaze to the craggy Scottish valley. The house in that valley is a character in itself, but I am getting away from myself.
My first observation-the action is breathtaking, and although the opening sequence is the most heart stopping, filled with motorcycles careering through buildings, onto roofs, and over bridges, as well as the obligatory but never dull fight scene on top of a train, the rest of the movie is action-packed as well.
I have to say that the opening credit sequence, a nightmarish mishmash of Bond drowning amid symbols of death, is my least favorite part of the film. Although Adele’s golden pipes and melancholy song redeem it somewhat, the sequence rings superfluous and incongruous in the gritty world of the modern secret agent. I could also do without the sex scene that follows; I say dispense with that bit altogether in favor of starting with the scorpion drinking game-now that’s Bond! (Yes! A drinking game involving a scorpion!)
One of the recurring themes starts very early in the film; that of light, shadow, glass, and mirrors. The TV reflected in the mirror of the hut bar on the beach refracts the mirror trick Albert Finney uses in the battle at Skyfall, the glass, reflections, and neon lights crawling up the side of the skyscraper in the spectacularly shot Shanghai scenes, and the sharpnel chandeliers. Light and shadow play their own role in every scene. Dame Judi’s scenes with Ralph Fiennes are shrouded in shadow, but those with Bond, even the one in her otherwise dark London flat, take place under a harsh and unyielding light.
One of the best parts about Skyfall is its nod to the basics. When I see Bond on the top of the train without a gun or getting in the cab of a backhoe on that moving train, I can’t help but think of McGuyver. The meeting with Q in the art museum, that yields only one small gun and a radio transmitter, heralds the another running theme-technology informs but it doesn’t intrude. The old ways are the best, and Bond still and enduringly knows how to throw a knife, shave with a straight razor, and keep his cool in a casino full of assassins or a tied to a chair in room with a rogue fellow agent bent on revenge. Even though satellites play a critical role in keeping track of the action in the opening sequence, on the villain‘s island it’s just a man, his wits, and that radio transmitter. In the final analysis, all the computers are very clever, but no match for the human element, however flawed.
This Bond is not a skirt chaser. Yes he flirts a bit but the real Bond girl is Dame Judi Dench as M; her performance dwarfs any sexy banter. The girls are gorgeous, to be sure, but not essential; save the shaving scene, 007’s fellow agent could be anyone, and the mysterious woman with the slave’s tattoo on her wrist who appears in Shanghai and then in another beautifully shot sequence on the water at a Macau casino is a figure of pathos; not a strong and ballsy Bond girl. That role belongs to Dame Judi, who is brilliant as expected. Jaw taut, blue eyes blazing, she is the strong one, the survivor, the bruised and battered but triumphant and beautiful Bond girl.
When ultimately the rogue agent threatens her life, and Bond spirits her away in the Aston to the foggy brooding Scotland of the Bond estate Skyfall, they are in their element. The battle scenes that ensue are a little drawn out, but still hold one’s attention, and are very well acted. The personalities come through in the midst of all the action.
If you are a James Bond fan, go see this movie. If you are a Judi Dench fan and hesitant to spend your time on this one, go see it; you will not be disappointed.
All and all, a brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable Bond- four and a half stars out of five.