Resurrecting the Infinite

Skyfall (2012)     ★★★★ 1/2

Directed by Sam Mendes (MGM / Columbia) for the fastest two hours and twenty-three minutes of your life. Such is the awesome embrace of Skyfall, the 23rd film featuring Ian Fleming’s beloved James Bond, and one of the very best entries in a cinematic legacy of remarkable endurance. As a lifelong fan of 007, I can say with complete confidence that upon the franchise’s 50th anniversary outing, I shed a tear with Mr. Bond.

In part of the assured direction by Sam Mendes, the film is a flesh-and-blood burst of action and emotion, alluding to the great archetypes of Bond films past, while maintaining a narrative that is surprisingly unpredictable. The screenplay, a collaborative effort between series vets Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with the addition of Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan (Hugo, Gladiator), features essentially the most meaningful characterizations that have ever been in a Bond film, laced with breathtaking action sequences that serve to advance the narrative; one never gets the impression that the film simply exists to jump from one stunt to the next.

The movie is instead an examination of what makes a pop culture icon legendary, and explores the concept of returning to your roots as a necessary step for advancement. Daniel Craig, slipping into that tux for the third time, is now Bond in both body and soul, encompassing the most humane version of the character to date. And as MI6 is threatened by former operative Raoul Silva (an instantly classic performance by Javier Bardem), Bond’s relationship with M (Judi Dench) is brought under the spotlight. Backed by supporting characters played by Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, and Ben Whishaw as a young installation of Q (in contrast, Desmond Llewelyn was 85 in his last appearance as the much-adored character), Skyfall undoubtedly becomes a colorful template for pitch-perfect, blockbuster-caliber performances.


I’ll be the first to tell you that Craig will never, ever be Connery. But his performance as Bond, steadily built to satisfaction through Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, is by far the most interesting, and in Skyfall, he accomplishes what he has been striving for all along. Craig plays 007 as an actual person; one who has been hardened by events that any of Bond’s prior surrogates would have simply shrugged off with a quip. Yet he still has charm and humor, components that if nonexistent, would sink this “modern” interpretation. Craig’s Bond is a man who is continuously plagued with anger and sadness, yet is able to rise above them for dedication to his job, country, and hope for a better world. He cannot afford to be sinless, but we detect that he actually feels each sin he commits (despite his attempts to display the contrary), and cares for the people who are meaningful in his life. He makes that joke, reels in those chicks, and tops it off with a martini because these things make him feel like a real man, instead of a cold-blooded killer. Bond is forced to portray the latter image, but we, as his loyal audience, are proud to know the truth.

And God bless the genius who decided to cast Judi Dench as M back in 1995, the 77-year-old actress carrying her seventh performance as Bond’s superior with the grace of a true master. The relationship between she and Bond in this film is the most touching element of a 007 movie since the character’s romantic scenario in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, albeit much better developed. These are two people hopelessly devoted to the same cause, and despite necessary decisions they may make that impact the other’s fate (and the occasionally antagonistic interchange), this relationship goes beyond professional. M and Bond complete each other because they need one another; their respective roles are necessary for each to feel the satisfaction of saving England, again and again. And whilst sharing this love of country, how could they not be emotionally linked?

Skyfall does have its share of female characters (Naomie Harris tends to be a bit awesome), but aside from Dench, the big talk of Bond 23 will be his possibly homosexual antagonist, Bardem hoping to craft the character into a quintessential nemesis of 007. To be blunt, he succeeds. After a slew of enemies far too normal (who often have conquests far too absurd), Raoul Silva presents a scheme with exclusively personal motivation. Bardem, while not stealing scenes away from Craig, shines every moment he is onscreen, formulating a uniquely charismatic personality with distinguished quirks. All the essential components are there – the physical deformity, haunting past, sinister humor, and ultimately, a decent into insanity that provokes evil acts. Curiously enough, he also earns a tinge of our sympathy.


The story here isn’t anything particularly ingenious, but it functions superbly as an allegory for the series overall, and is paced with incredible expertise. A major concern of mine coming into Skyfall was something that I once thought somewhat trivial, but was actually quite distracted by in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – product placement. It has been said that Sam Mendes’ film couldn’t have been made without the Heineken plug (MGM finally went bankrupt throughout the film’s strenuous path to the silver screen), but thankfully, its spare usage remains natural, and Bond’s iconic drink is still served, a subtle moment that will make fans grin. Other familiar brands also pop up every once in awhile, but remain a forgivable aspect of what is arguably a fantastic action film, supplemented by both Thomas Newman’s unique, tone-setting score, and the hypnotic title song by Adele.

Featuring cinematography by Roger Deakins, who has shot over ten features with the Coen brothers, Skyfall features camerawork that is staggeringly beautiful, harnessed by Mendes into a terrifically cinematic experience (although you have to wonder, did we really need so many shots of the actors from behind?). The action sequences and set pieces match the caliber we have come to expect from Bond, although they are incorporated more naturalistically here. The film actually utilizes CGI to its advantage, adding an element of comic-book adventure that saves the series from the trap of brooding, Bourne-like action. Skyfall thankfully recognizes its own episodic nature, representing James Bond as the logic-transcending figure that is James Bond, while simultaneously placing itself in an imperfect world that mirrors our own anxieties.


Coming with the territory is dialogue that is sometimes annoyingly frank; we know that “finding the list” is essential, M. A note to screenwriters everywhere – if she’s a good enough actress, you don’t have to make her say it! We will, as we frequently do with a performer as sensational as Dench, see the line written all over her face. It’s also slightly frustrating that it has taken the “rebooted” series three movies to finally arrive at where it wants to be – that is, containing all the original elements of the Bond films, yet in a 21st century context. There is, however, something spectacularly rewarding about things that are gradually unveiled in Skyfall, 50 years after Connery first shot a Walther PPK. If you’re a Bond fan, the film’s resolution will leave you in bliss. If you’re a newcomer, damned if you won’t notice something special going on.

Skyfall is as much a journey into the past as it is a triumphant sign of what is to come. Our society, our lives themselves, are bound by the necessity of storytelling as an element of the human experience. Personal to us are the characters that inhabit those stories, maybe because they represent pieces of ourselves. And if a character is strong enough, he or she will live forever in our hearts and minds. But while Count Dracula may be killed with a stake through the heart, it is unlikely that James Bond will ever take a fatal bullet. He is a character we have chosen to make infinite, even in a physical sense. And despite troublesome fluctuations that have occurred throughout the series over several decades, we will always bring him back. Because we need these stories, and most of all, we need the character that makes it all worth coming back for.

50 years is a long time. Let’s raise our martini glasses and toast to another.