Fifty years and twenty three films later, audiences will finally understand who James Bond is and what motivates him. Skyfall represents the new standard in one of cinema's longest running franchises. It is a deeply personal, exquisitely shot film that marks the end of the origin story. Oscar winning Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) elevate Skyfall with a sense of artistry and dramatic storytelling that had me mesmerized from the opening scene. Daniel Craig, who is arguably the toughest Bond, brings his considerable acting chops to show the inner turmoil of the deadly assassin. His performance here is fantastic, truly challenging Sean Connery as the best actor to play 007.
Skyfall begins with MI6 under attack from a shadowy criminal. This villain is ruthless, wiping out operatives and taking the fight directly to M (Judi Dench). He predicts every possible move MI6 makes, taking pains to blame M for the agency's downfall. Bond, who has gone rogue since a bit of treachery from M, must make the decision to re-join the secret service and find this man. What he discovers is almost a reflection in the mirror, a scarred and betrayed Raul Silva (Javier Bardem). This man wants M to suffer. His entire purpose is to bring her world crashing down, and then murder her. Bond's loyalty to M, the secret service, and his country are tested. He draws back the curtains to his life to reveal the tragedy of his youth. Bond comes to the realization that while M has been formidable and ruthless, she is the one person he cares for and has given his life purpose.
This is a spoiler free review, so I won't tell you what Skyfall is or why it is so important to Bond. I will say that Skyfall shows a range of emotion and history for this character that we have not seen. I suppose audiences have always accepted James Bond as fairly one-note and predictable. He drives fancy cars, has cool gadgets, nails hot babes, and drinks martinis, shaken not stirred. This formula worked well in the past, where Bond had a lighter touch and enemies were easily defined by the Cold War era. But for Bond to succeed and progress in the twenty-first century, he has to become more nuanced and introspective. The Bond we see in Skyfall is a multi-layered character that experiences a wide range of emotions.
When the Broccoli family decided to start Bond over in Casino Royale, they made the decision to radically alter the look of the character with the blonde and brutish Daniel Craig. That film worked as an introduction, but the character was hideously sidetracked in the awful Quantum of Solace. They learned the folly of that film and brought in a heavy weight director to set the train back on track. Sam Mendes deserves a mountain of credit for the sheer brilliance of Skyfall. He had never directed an action film or anything nearly of this size and magnitude. But he had worked previously with Daniel Craig in Road to Perdition. Mendes tremendous skill with actors, delicate subject matters, and marvelous visual ac*men are on full display here. Skyfall has awesome action scenes that are very different than anything we've seen in previous Bond films. He not only gives Daniel Craig more meat on the bone story-wise, he puts him in fighting situations that are highly original. Couple that with the excellent cinematography of Roger Deakins and you have a film that looks stunning. Skyfall is the most stylized and artistic Bond film to date.
By the end of Skyfall, Bond is reset and ready to take the next fifty years by storm. Classic characters make their introductions and the origin story is complete. We are now on firm footing for new adventures. Some may lament that the light-hearted, cavalier nature of the old Bond is gone; but I don't think so. Daniel Craig is versatile and I do believe we may go back to the more comical side of Bond in future films. Skyfall is simply the new start. I absolutely loved this film. Audiences will be blown out of their chairs, even if you don't like Bond or have never seen any of the other films. It's that good.