By Chaz Lipp
Easily the best of the 007-reboot era, Skyfall redeems the franchise four years after the dull Quantum of Solace stalled the momentum begun by Casino Royale in 2006. The 23rd official James Bond film gives fans old and new plenty to celebrate for the 50th anniversary of the series. While more than a half-hour longer than Quantum, it feels practically half the length. Daniel Craig has crystalized his conception of the character, bringing an emotional depth to Bond that goes beyond even his two previous explorations of the role. And Javier Bardem is creepily hypnotic as the film’s central villain.
One of Skyfall’s central themes is age and vulnerability. Early on, Bond is accidentally shot by friendly fire, goes missing, and is presumed dead. It spoils nothing to say that he survived the shooting and, (more improbably) the 200 foot fall from a bridge into the river below and subsequent plunge down a waterfall. It’s not the only time director Sam Mendes tests the limits of our suspension of disbelief. This is, after all, a Bond film. Luckily the film throws several palpable emotional punches to accompany the purely escapist entertainment elements. Once Bond is back on his feet, his strength and agility is greatly compromised. The longer he stays out of commission (and the more he indulges in drink), the more exponentially diminished his capabilities are upon return to MI6.
Craig and Bardem aren’t the only cast members at the top of their game. Dench turns in her most complex portrayal of M yet. In a small supporting role, Ben Whishaw makes a sly impression as Q, the character’s first appearance in the Bond-reboot era. If Matt Smith ever tires of Doctor Who, someone should nominate Whishaw as his replacement. As Eve, the MI6 field agent who mistakenly guns Bond down early on, Naomie Harris exhibits a pleasingly teasing chemistry with Craig. And Fiennes also puts his own spin on the clichéd bureaucrat-with-a-surprising-past, instilling Mallory with dignified respectability.
As Skyfall bulldozes towards its Straw Dogs-inspired climax, it constantly teeters on the edge of implausibility. It’s that delicate balancing act that defines the Bond series. In the past it has sometimes collapsed into self-indulgence. There’s enough fine-tuned subtlety in Mendes’ approach (not to mention a witty screenplay courtesy of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan) to counterbalance the occasional stretching of credibility. Skyfall keeps the 50-year-old franchise entirely relevant. Can’t wait to see the next one.