“This is the end.”
In a fantastic opening sequence, these deceptive first four words of Adele’s poignant theme for Skyfall set the stage for one of the most thrilling Bond movies of all time. But is it the best? Certainly everything that’s needed for a good Bond movie is present – action, explosions, guns, girls, an evil villain – but is it really all enough to take the crown as the best Bond movie ever made?
Skyfall starts out incredibly strong. Daniel Craig explodes on the screen with a jaw dropping chase sequence that involves cars, motorbikes, guns, and rooftops. Honestly, it was one of the most entertaining scenes in the film; but once Adele’s theme kicks in, the movie takes a step back, slows down, and shifts perspective.
You see, Skyfall is not about Bond.
It’s all about M.
Without spoiling too much about the plot, Skyfall largely focuses on the character of M – played again by the ever-amazing Dame Judi Dench – and the decisions she has made over the span of her long career as the head of MI-6. She was forced to make hard decisions in the past, and people got hurt along the way. Unfortunately, a shadow from her past rises up with a terrible vengeance, taking the form of Javier Bardem’s character Raoul Silva, and it is Bond who must come to her rescue.
This shift in perspective – away from Bond and onto M – is what makes this movie interesting and fresh. Instead of having the film revolve around Bond, like in Casino Royale, this movie pushes M to the frontline and forces her to deal with the consequences of her actions, and Judi Dench delivers her best performance as M to date. I was truly taken aback by how compelling she was, and Craig’s Bond complimented her character perfectly. Theirs has been a complicated relationship in times past, but Skyfall explores what makes them such an interesting “couple” and really fleshes out the characters in new and intriguing ways.
But that’s where the freshness ends.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Casino Royale, but Skyfall, to me, did not draw me in like the reboot did. Was this film beautiful? Absolutely. Sam Mendes delivers one of the most artistically beautiful films I have ever seen. From the vast expanses of English countryside, to the flashing neon lights of Shanghai, my eyes were treated again and again to a visual masterpiece. But underneath the shiny surface lies a relatively simple plot.
Silva wants to kill M, and Bond has to protect her. That’s about it. And while some might find that perfectly acceptable, I consider it a step back for this rebooted series. We were treated to a wonderfully complex plot and narrative in Casino Royal, and Quantum of Solace was an extension of that (an admittedly poor one, but it continued the theme of Bond finding his identity). But, instead of picking up where the last film left off, Skyfall completely abandons the narrative established by the last two films and veers off in its own direction.
Does this mean Skyfall is a bad movie? Absolutely not. The problem is that it forces Bond to share the spotlight with too many characters. Instead of having one main “Bond Girl,” Bond has two leading ladies (excluding M) whom he deals with in this movie – and while this is “classic Bond,” his relationships with these two women are sorely underdeveloped. There is no chemistry between them and Bond, no connection, and though they both serve a purpose in the film, they simply feel like throwaway characters. This is unfortunate, because the rest of the cast is stellar.
As I’ve already said, Judi Dench blew me away with her performance as M, but Craig delivers an equally moving performance as Bond. Following behind them both are the fantastic characters of Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes (aka Voldemort) and the entertaining “Q” played by Ben Whishaw. But despite this stellar cast, Skyfall struggles with properly pacing itself. With so many characters demanding attention, it’s easy to get carried away and stretch the narrative too thin. Thankfully this only happens during the beginning of the film, but for a movie that is 143 minutes, it’s noticeable.
Now, I’ve avoided this subject until this point because I wanted to make sure I covered everything else that I considered relevant to this review: the action is great, the story (while interesting) is somewhat weak, the finale is fantastic, and the characters are a mixed bag of excellent and not-so excellent. But the character who is by far the most mixed in a mixed bag of characters is the new Bond villain – and that is not a good thing.
RaoulSilva is creepy. And not the good kind of creepy. He is uncomfortably creepy. Uncomfortably creepy to the point where I didn’t know if I loved Bardem’s performance or hated it. And this is coming from the guy who literally smiles with awe and wonder when I watch the Joker’s interrogation scene in The Dark Knight. Every. Single. Time.
The problem I have with Bardem’s character is how much of an enigma he is. I never could pin down or interpret what he was feeling, whether he was happy or angry or sad or upset. And he has odd little ticks that echo Heath Ledger’s Joker, but they just don’t work for this character. These are issues that should not be present in a Bond villain. Is he a formidable opponent for Bond? Absolutely. He can fight one-on-one with the best of them, and he’s incredibly smart. But is he a good Bond villain? No. At least not compared to Le Chiffre from Casino Royale. Le Chiffre is a good modern Bond villain. Raoul Silva is a good classic Bond villain, which brings me to why I think Skyfall is and is not the best James Bond movie of all time.
Skyfall is the perfect blend of old and new; it has numerous throwbacks to the old movies – ranging from inside jokes to actual props to the cheesy villain himself – and yet it retains the grizzled, realistic feel that has helped establish Craig’s interpretation of the character as the ultimate Bond. This blend of old and new is what makes this movie special, and why many will consider it to be the greatest Bond movie of all time. But I feel that it pays too much of an homage to the pre-Casino Royale era.
Casino Royale breathed new life into the franchise, creating a Bond that shocked audiences and made him real and relevant again. However, instead of following suit and forging ahead with this revitalized mindset, Skyfall allows itself to be held back by the last 50 years of Bond, and it’s for this reason why I believe it cannot be the greatest Bond film of all time. It’s a great film for sure, and Craig and Dench give standout performances, but the rest of the film falls just a bit too short and relies too much on old tropes to be deemed the greatest Bond film of all time.