By ( | First Posted: Nov 10, 2012 10:30 AM EST

First official shot released from SKYFALL of James Bond (DANIEL CRAIG) from a scene set in Shanghai. Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL.
(Photo : Francois Duhamel COPYRIGHT:Skyfall ©2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.)

James Bond movies have not always been sure hits. Over the last 20 or so years, they have tended toward silly affairs that lacked the edge or intensity that marked Ian Fleming's novels. In 2006, the franchise was rebooted with Casino Royale and Daniel Craig and the success was tantamount. That film was gritty and Daniel Craig's coolness added a rugged feel to the film. However, its direct sequel Quantum of Solace hindered the success of that film. The problem with that film was that it attempted to follow the story of Casino's story despite the fact that there was no more story to tell. Fortunately, the scribes learned the lesson from that one and developed a self-sustained story in the new film Skyfall. The result is one of the best Bond films of all time and one of the best action movies of the year.

This film focuses on a stolen hard drive that has the identity of MI6 agents embedded in terrorist organizations around the world. If the information gets out, these agents' lives would be endangered. The debacle raises questions about M's (Dame Judi Dench) ability to continue leading the secret service agency. Given the franchise's 50 year existence, it seems fitting that the film brings up questions about Bond and M's age and their ability to survive in an ever changing world of modern warfare and intelligence.

Director Sam Mendes has never made a full-fledged action film before. He came close with Road to Perdition and Jarhead, but his films have generally been small pieces where the characters and their relationships are able to resonate. He brings the same sensitivity to Skyfall and the result is admirable. The film finally develops a poignant mother and son relationship between M and Bond that has never been explored with as much depth in any prior film. The final quarter of the film showcases the two of them alone as they come to terms with their pasts and mistakes. The relationship flourishes in the film because Mendes never overburdens it with lengthy action sequences. The opening and ending of the film showcase brilliant extended chase and fight sequences, but the thrilling moments in between are kept on the short side to propel the story forward and to avoid falling into overindulgence. That isn't to say that there is not much action (there is probably an action sequence every 5 to 10 minutes), but it does not interfere with the characters or the plot's development. Mendes stated that he had studied Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight while preparing for this film and there are clearly a number of references in this film ranging from the approach toward the film's villain, the lack of a true romance, some of the imagery, and especially the editing and pace of the main action sequences.

Daniel Craig returns as Bond and brings back the charm that made him such a hit in Casino Royale. He was rather stolid in Quantum of Solid but Bond is suave and amusing in this film. What makes this performance all the more impressive is that he even hints at a bit of vulnerability, adding to the dimension of the character. This is not a romantic Bond to be sure, but he does share one tender moment with Judi Dench's M late in the film. After seeing Craig back to form as Bond, it is wonderful to know that he still has another five to continue developing this intriguing character.

Judi Dench gets her meatiest part in a Bond film in a long time. She maintains the rigid facial expressions that make her so unique, but this turn as the aging director of MI6 also showcases frailty and weakness for the first time in this current series of films. It creates some unique interplay with the other characters, especially Craig's Bond and Javier Bardem's Silver.

Speaking of the devil, Bardem delivers the knockout performance in this film, with numerous reminiscences of Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight.  When Silver is first introduced he is portrayed on a deserted island that has been desecrated over the years. The character's initial introduction has him deliver a philosophical monologue on mortality (which reminds one of the Joker's many such speeches) and then he initiates a series of chaotic events. Like the Joker, Silver seems to be a step ahead of everyone and behind almost every major plot twist. But the differences do not end here. Bardem's character has flamboyance and walks with a subtlety dance-like step. In one scene there are even hints of homosexuality, but unfortunately, this is only a mere tease that never goes further.

The remainder of the cast puts up solid performances including a charismatic Ben Wishaw as Q, a young up and coming programmer at MI6. Ralph Fiennes brings an aura of dignity to Gareth Mallory, one of the executives at MI 6. Naomi Harris is alluring as Eve. Berenice Marlohe also brings sensual and vulnerable charm as the film's Bond girl, but gets surprisingly little time to be more than a plot device. Her character has some complexity, but her time in the film expires rather quickly after her introduction and one ultimately feels a bit cheated by her diminished role.

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins brings dazzling imagery to the proceedings. One of the main motifs to permeate Skyfall is the idea of shadows and that the agents and enemies of MI6 are disembodied beings. The result is that the image of characters in silhouettes is prevalent throughout. Take a breath-taking action sequence in Shanghai where the blazing lights from other buildings reflect onto the glassy room where a confrontation is to take place. The bright and colorful light reflections serve as shields for the characters lurking in the shadows of sorts and create a sense of tension in their ever-changing nature. Bond and his enemy weave in and out of dark spaces and shadows become even more prevalent when the Bond faces off with his opponent as the blazing colorful lights create silhouettes around the fighting figures. The indiscernibility of the individual characters further elevates the suspense of the sequence. The opening shot portrays a long dark corridor. At the far end of the hallway, a silhouetted figure crops up and starts to walk toward the camera. The figure remains in silhouette as it gets closer until it final steps into the light to reveal Bond. The film has other equally memorable visual moments that do not feature a great deal of bravura. Silver's first introduction shows him appear from an elevator far away from the camera. The camera remains locked as the character initiates a monologue. As he draws nearer to the audience, the camera maintains the same perspective until Silver is towering over the viewer. At that point, the camera tilts up to follow the remainder of the speech. It is one single take, but the level of immersion is so high that one barely notices. Near the end of the film, Deakins photographs a panoramic shot of the London skyline. The camera cranes down to show Bond (his back to the camera) overlooking that skyline in a moment of pure aesthetic beauty.

Editor Stuart Baird does a remarkable job of maintaining a propulsive pace. Even when the film delves into quieter moments, the sense of anticipation and tension is never diminished and the film's generous two hours and 23 minutes fly by quickly. Thomas Newman's score defers to the classic themes of John Barry, but he provides his own share of solid scoring. It is unsurprisingly characteristic of some of the work that Hans Zimmer did on Nolan's Batman films, but suits the action sequences of this film marvelously.

Skyfall is everything that one could hope for from a Bond film: a memorable villain, a nuanced script, dazzling visuals, propulsive action, and even some fan service and nods to older films in the storied franchise. The Bond franchise may now be in its 50th year, but this film shows us that his best days may still be ahead.

Other Film Reviews by David Salazar

Anna Karenina

Cloud Atlas Review

Argo Review

El Limpiador Review

The Sessions Review

Arbitrage Review

Trouble with the Curve Review 

The Master Review

The Dark Knight Rises Review

Seeking a Friend at the End of the World Review

The Amazing Spiderman Review

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