Skyfall is beautiful and brilliant, blunt and precise, wielding violence, contemplation and excellence in equal measure. The kind of movie that holds your rapt attention and makes you glad you went and saw it, which is a rarity these days, to be sure. Skyfall is wonderful, everything a Bond film should be — meditations on purpose almost always overruled by a more pressing, immediate need for action on the part of our hero.
The plot is a delight to traverse, and as such I won’t say much of it, except that James Bond (Daniel Craig) is accidentally dispatched for a time and presumed dead, only to return when M (Judi Dench) needs him most. Bond’s spy games lead him straight to the foot of criminal mastermind Silva (Javier Bardem), whose mysterious machinations may prove destructive beyond belief.
For Bond there is no future, there is no past, there is only the present moment, turning into another present moment, on and on forever. This informs so many of Bond’s actions and excuses him from the moral quandaries the rest of us face on a daily basis. But Bond’s slowing down. As a character he is aging, and perhaps the film itself is a commentary on the societal notion of Bond, in this day and age of larger concerns, perhaps Bond is frivolous, unnecessary. His place in the world is tenuous, references to his aging are constant in the film and he’s beginning to show the years, just around the edges. His normally unflappable exterior is chipping away and this was one of the first times we saw the real fallibility of the man.
The mechanics are impeccable, the pacing as accurate and tidy as a watch, and the editing so clean and fine you won’t even notice it. The music by Thomas Newman is grandiose and obvious, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. From beginning to end, the action is relentless and absorbing, never descending into treacherous, repetitive violence but each fight manages to remain a singular effort, memorable and vivid. They’ve tried to future-proof the film somewhat by avoiding too much outrageous tech, sticking to what plays best over time, explosions and guns, fists and flying feet. And work it does, as Skyfall seems to set yet another new standard of excellence for future films to attempt to top.
Daniel Craig inhabits the character so fully in every moment it’s beginning to feel impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, strength and skill matched by a cunning intellect and rapier wit. Javier Bardem reinstates some of the jokey humor that has perhaps been missing from the past few Bond films, the whimsical villain with psychopathic tendencies, and Bardem excels at this kind of mastery of terror, all leering jack-o-lantern skull meeting the inconsistencies of the world with grim vigor. Ben Whishaw is gleaming perfection, smug and neat as a button, windswept hair tousled just so, a pleasant mixture of arrogance and awkwardness. Even Ralph Fiennes plays his emerging role nicely, although I wonder at the wisdom of allowing Voldemort in such close proximity to so many delicate Muggle security transmissions, but presumably the Ministry of Magic is monitoring such decisions.
Women in the Bond films, well, hundreds of thousands of words have been written about these wretched creatures, and Skyfall doesn’t really offer them any respite. Bond has never kept a woman, does not seem to need them for much. The best you can hope to do as a Bond girl is bang your man and then die quickly, like a beautiful moth put upon this Earth for one purpose. Better luck next time, womankind. Women seem to be powerless against Bond and it’d be nice to see someone with a little gumption up against him, perhaps see him with an equal. Perhaps Rachel Weisz would like a part?
Parts of Skyfall are literally breathtaking in their scope and grandeur, the careful and thoughtful color composition taking on the backbreaking effortlessness of a Vogue editorial spread. Again, to say too much would be to ruin the joy that is to be found all on your own. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is a damn genius and coupled with director Sam Mendes’ careful eye, this may just be the most beautiful Bond film yet. See it on a large screen, eschew the stuffing of self with popcorn and soda and allow the movie to sustain and fulfill you the way it should.
Because we can’t all be perfect, I did spy one tiny foible, Bond’s bow tie was tied unevenly in one scene. But even that may be intentional, an aging spy’s forgoing of the usual niceties in pursuit of more important objectives.