At last, we have confirmation that James Bond is Batman. Or, at least, a super-something, perhaps a “Doctor Who”-style Time Lord. How else could Daniel Craig’s 2012 Bond possess and know all the nifty features of Sean Connery’s Aston Martin DB5, as he does in Skyfall?
Directing the 23rd film in the series, Sam Mendes (American Beauty) hasn’t tried to give his Bond the gritty minimalism of the Bourne movies. He’s embraced the general super-ness of Bond and taken his inspiration from the best superhero flick of recent years: The Dark Knight. It’s all here: the weary, fallible hero with a dark past; the compromised authority figure; the corrupt democracy in peril; the unruly populace; the unhinged villain (Javier Bardem) who ends up stealing the movie.
That’s not to say that Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have stolen outright from Christopher Nolan. They’ve blended those motifs creatively with the Bond material, giving the plot complexity and resonance. Even when that complexity strains credibility, the result is the most entertaining 007 movie in years.
Skyfall starts big, with a lengthy chase that nearly takes Bond from the bazaars of Turkey to the Other Side. After a stunning credit sequence, he returns in fairly short order from death’s door to MI6, only to find it under attack. A hacker has stolen a list of undercover agents and is using it to wreak personal vengeance on boss lady M (Judi Dench). Though Bond hasn’t been cleared for duty, M dispatches him to Shanghai to track down the attacker, assisted only by the young operative (Naomie Harris) who was responsible for his near-demise.
If nothing else, Skyfall would be notable for its 77-year-old leading lady. While Dench doesn’t do much in the way of ass kicking, she gives the steely, embattled M nuances new to the character. Craig makes a fine strong, stoic Bond, as always, with a few jarring moments of vulnerability this time around.
Once Bardem makes a memorable appearance in his island lair, however, it’s hard to pay attention to his antagonist. Plenty of actors can chew the scenery, but not many can artistically masticate it into a whimsical collage of madness. Like Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, Bardem gives this sociopath a twisted courtliness, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him up for an Oscar.
Skyfall has its problems, mainly a script that favors thrilling set pieces over establishing Bond as an effective superspy. But the spectacle is worth it, particularly given that cinematographer Roger Deakins (the Coen brothers’ go-to director of photography) has made the images so liquid and painterly you may think you’re watching an art film. When Bond follows a hitman into a skyscraper, sans backup, and calmly watches as he goes about his hitman business, he may really seem to have lost his mojo. But you’re bound to be distracted from such petty issues by the scene’s amazing light effects.
Like The Dark Knight, Skyfall could be viewed as a requiem for the glorious days when the little people stayed in their place and the let heroes take charge (in stories, anyway). Or it could just be seen as a James Bond movie that acknowledges what Bond has been for decades — an unashamedly retro fantasy.
Never mind that Casino Royale “rebooted” the franchise and presented Craig’s Bond as a fledgling 00 agent. He still finds himself in occasional campy pickles (Komodo dragon encounter, anyone?); he still fights villains with weird teeth; and he still likes his cool car with the ejection seats. And that’s fine.