25 movies in 2 months may not sound all that daunting to the most hardened of filmgoers, but when I first took it upon myself to watch or re-watch every official and unofficial James Bond film from the past 50 years, I didn't know what I was in for. Hammervision has been counting down to Skyfall since early August. Some of the movies were great (Goldeneye, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice), others were pretty bad (Diamonds are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun). It's been a fun ride. For those readers who were uninterested in Bond, I apologize. But, believe me when I say the wait was worth it.
Skyfall is an absolute triumph. This is the best Bond movie ever, and I say that without any hesitation. Every element clicks into place. The script is exciting and clever, bridging the gap between the Bond of old and new. There are plenty of shout-outs to classic Bond moments for the initiated, but it's certainly not imperative for you to walk into the theater knowing anything about what's come before. Skyfall works entirely on its own merits. The "M" character played by Judi Dench finally gets her due and takes on a much more pivotal role in the story. The scenes between Dench and Daniel Craig are emotionally involving and nicely textured. We get a ton of insight into Bond here.
Craig finally nails it. He was great in Casino Royale and, to a lesser degree, Quantum of Solace, but Skyfall gives him a chance to play all facets of the character. He's still serious and intense, but there's a consistent sense of amusement on his face that's fun to see. The addition of a younger Q (Ben Whishaw) is an inspired one, and it's a nice reinvention of the beloved character. But no discussion of the acting in the movie would be complete without mention of Javier Bardem's villain, Silva.
Seriously, Bardem is so good here, he could be looking at another Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing a bad guy. The Bond movies have never really had compelling villains. The henchmen were always the big draw. Not so here. Bardem absolutely commands the screen. He is terrifying and playful, flamboyant yet never over-the-top. His introductory scene - an interrogation of Bond that begins with a long continuous take of him walking across the room - is a highlight. Screenwriters John Logan, Neal Pervis & Robert Wade give Silva a compelling backstory as well, with some serious mommy issues.
The movie looks amazing. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) has never really directed action before - Road to Perdition had some, but I wouldn't call it an action film. If you had doubts about his ability going into the film, those are quickly erased within the first 15 minutes. I was hugely impressed with Mendes' direction. It just goes to show that if you take a visionary director and give him the keys to a blockbuster franchise film, it pays off big. Mendes brings along his usual team of collaborators, including cinematographer Roger Deakins (amazing, Oscar-worthy, other adjectives) and composer Thomas Newman (terrific score). Some of the shots in the film are almost too beautiful - I loved the shadow fight in Shanghai with neon blue lighting in the background. This is seriously polished, A-game stuff.
Honestly, there really isn't anything I didn't like. The ending flirts with Home Alone territory, but it proves to be smarter than that. I love Adele's theme song. The opening shot is brilliant - Craig enters a room out of focus to a quick, snippet of the classic Monty Norman Bond theme. A clever alternative to the gun barrel shot that usually opens Bond movies. I didn't even mention Ralph Fiennes, or the awesome pre-credits sequence featuring a thrilling motorcycle chase on rooftops, or countless other cool things. Skyfall is a must-see. It's The Dark Knight of Bond movies, and it deserves all the critical and commercial acclaim it's received so far. ***** stars.
So, how does it stack up against all the other Bond movies? Let's rank 'em!
3. You Only Live Twice
4. From Russia With Love
5. Casino Royale (2006)
6. For Your Eyes Only
8. Tomorrow Never Dies
9. License to Kill
10. Live and Let Die
11. The Living Daylights
13. The Spy Who Loved Me
14. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
16. Dr. No
17. The World Is Not Enough
18. Quantum of Solace
19. A View to a Kill
21. Die Another Day
22. The Man with the Golden Gun
23. Diamonds Are Forever
24. Casino Royale (1967)
25. Never Say Never Again
That's it. This is the last James Bond post for quite a while. But remember, as the end of Skyfall makes clear, James Bond will return.