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It has been a long ride for the Bond series, since the creation of the character there have been 15 novels by Ian Fleming, plenty of spin-off novels, comics, cartoons and video games and the film series is now 50 years old. There have been an extraordinary 23 official movies, but few as extraordinary as Skyfall.
After a mission goes wrong in Istanbul, MI6 loses a hard drive containg a list of all NATO agents within terrorist cells, and James Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed Killed in Action. M’s (Judi Dench) competence is questioned and the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) plans to replace her. Making matters worse, a cyber-terrorist targets MI6 and M personally, getting a hold of the list and causeing an explosion within MI6’s headquarters. An older, more damaged Bond then returns to duty to serve Queen and Country, having to prove he is in shape before going on the search to find the terrorist.
Skyfall is a long-awaited movie thanks to MGM’s financial woes, but it delivers. Skyfall takes a darker approach as we’ve seen with the past couple films and it’s very character driven, yet Sam Mendes and the screenwriters still provide a massive injection of fun. Like most Bond movies, Skyfall starts with an incredible chase sequence in Istanbul and continues strongly from then on, including a very stylish silhouette fight in Shanghai. The action scenes sequences were pristinely shot and practical effects were at the forefront.
A challenge for the Bond series has always been real-world relevance. The series has faced down all challenges, from the end of the Cold War to the War on Terror. Skyfall tackles the changing nature of espionage. MI6 is no longer the shadowy organization that the British government denied existed; it has to face the realities of the 24-hour media age we live in and the democratic accountability that incurs.
The nature of the threats have changed, Bond faces a cyber-terrorist and along with the new Q, both could cause more damage than Bond can. In the real world, we have seen what Anonymous is capable of and seen how the Stuxnet worm affected the Iranian nuclear program. But there is always a need for people in the field to investigate. As M says, she is scared of this new world because many of the West’s enemies are now faceless and nationless, and this element can work in the series’ favor. Versatility has always been a Bond hallmark, which is why it is so enduring.
Skyfall also goes full circle for Bond, as the filmmakers reintroduce popular characters, gadgets and humor. In Casino Royale, Bond is a young man who is bold, arrogant and reckless but can get the job done; in Skyfall, Craig is playing an older Bond who is both physically and emotionally vulnerable.
The idea of an older Bond was briefly touched on in the unofficial movie Never Say Never Again, but that was more to accommodate a 52-year-old Sean Connery being in the role. In Skyfall there is actual thematic reasons behind it. Craig gives another excellent performance, cementing his reputation as both a great actor and a great Bond, and the script treats him more as a character than an archetype. Along with M’s character arch, the film tackles a theme of facing the past so it can be cleansed.
The casting of Javier Bardem was a coup for the series and we as Bond fans are rewarded with a great villain. Bardem makes out Raoul Silva to be a man with seemingly camp mannerisms, but the master planner has a very sinister delivery. He has a complex, tragic background but he is not like other Bond villains looking for control, world domination, money or even self-preservation: he simply wants revenge.
Skyfall is a great milestone to celebrate Bond’s 50th birthday on film, and the Easter eggs for fans aren’t overbearing, but rather nice touches. The last anniversary Bond movie, Die Another Day, was a disaster and regarded as one of the worst Bond movies. It felt like it had to keep referencing the previous movies. Skyfall features a few major references to previous Bond movies: Bond getting injured (The World is Not Enough), Bond faking his death (You Only Live Twice), the gun that can only work with Bond’s palm print (Licence to Kill) and a similar villain to the one in Goldeneye. But these are references you would want to find, not being forced upon you.
Skyfall felt very much like end of one chapter and the start of a new one. Mendes and the writers were able to reintroduce many tropes of the Bond series and still give them a modern and believable twist. For a movie that has a 143-minute running time (the second longest Bond film), Skyfall never felt like it dragged and it was an exciting, entertaining movie.