Skyfall is easily an all-time Top 10 James Bond film. But since there are only 23 canon Bond films, maybe that's not an impressive descriptor. How about: Skyfall is the best Bond film since For Your Eyes Only in 1981 (my personal fave, though that's far from the normative sentiment). But since that just means Skyfall has to hurdle the latter, less robust Roger Moore era, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig's own previous best time, Casino Royale, maybe even that isn't saying that much.
So, let me put it another way: Skyfall is an excellent action film and a great Bond film worthy of the 50th anniversary celebration of the character in cinema. If the previous 22 movies didn't exist, Skyfall would point the way to an exciting new franchise.
Skyfall has a plot.
However, it finds the characters and characterizations much more worthy of emphasis. Craig, in his third but likely not last go-round, is extra perfect playing the superspy as a damaged weapon in the British government war chest. He's flawed as a result of his upbringing and utilization by his boss and Mommie stand-in, M (Judi Dench), who must make hard decisions such as sacrificing agents for victory. Bond is expendable.
The film considers the ability to kill — and, in some cases, inability — more than the license to do so. Who would associate the word "murder" with the word "employment"? Skyfall is primordially about Bond instead of about what he does, to an extent no other film in the series has been; it makes for a spectacular third act set at a immensely fascinating locale.
There's a lot of meat on the bone to chew for Craig and Dench and newcomers such as Ralph Fiennes as M's bureaucratic superior; Naomie Harris as Eve, an MI6 agent; and Ben Whishaw as the nerdy, dispassionate new Q, who is far more interesting than his gadgets.
Javier Bardem is a corker as Silva, Bond's foe in the film. Silva is the first openly gay Bond super villain. Homosexual subtext is nothing new for Bond baddies — who contrast neatly to the hetero superhero — from Blofeld stroking a white cat to Wint and Kidd in Diamonds Are Forever to the three-nippled Man with the Golden Gun. So, is Silva's open gayness a sign of progress for the film franchise known for alpha-male sexual politics? After all, Bond doesn't act a stranger to Silva's advances. And, though Bardem pushes the character right to the line of camp, on a first viewing I don't think it transgresses. The real progress may be that ultimately that particular aspect of the character doesn't matter and is far less important than other revelations.
What is best about Craig's Bond films (Skyfall makes for a swell capper to a trilogy) is that it's willing to evolve the Bond formula. There are stakes; the characters grow and change and stuff happens that can't be taken back. Skyfall harkens back to the 1969 entry On Her Majesty's Secret Service, at the end of which (spoiler alert from four decades ago) Bond gets married and then promptly becomes a despairing widower. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes and cinematographer par excellence Roger Deakins lend Skyfall an atypical beauty and gravity, as well.
Skyfall considers the world today and Bond's place in it. Fifty years in, is Ian Fleming's protag still relevant? Judging by Skyfall, I'd say so.
Opens Friday, November 9th