Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris,
Berenice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney
Director: Sam Mendes
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 143 Minutes
Release Date: February 12, 2013
“What do you know about fear?”
“All there is.”
In the opening sequence of Skyfall, James Bond (Craig) and his agent partner Eve (Harris) are in pursuit of a spy who has stolen a hard drive containing names of all MI6 operatives working undercover in dangerous overseas zones. If such information got out, it would not only seriously hurt the agency’s ability to function, but almost certainly cost the lives of everyone whose name is on the list.
A spectacular chase leads to a climax on top of a speeding train, where Bond grapples with the thief. Eve reports she has a shot from her location, but because Bond and the bad guy are entwined, the shot is dangerous. The train is speeding away. The window of opportunity is closing fast. The order from M (Dench) comes quickly: “Take the shot.”
The shot is bad, and Bond falls from the train. Given that we’re only 20 minutes into the movie, I doubt I’m spoiling anything if I say he’s not dead. But this sets up the gritty reality of the world of espionage as presented by this darker and less glamorous reboot for James Bond. The old days were all about the tailored suits, high-tech weaponry, fancy cars, beautiful women and dry martinis. Now we see that, to the extent that exists at all in this world, it’s merely as a disguise. Underneath all of that are people who have to get their hands dirty. It not only involves killing…sometimes it involves making sacrifices.
The villain behind the theft of the hard drive is Silva (Bardem, who is excellent at playing villains but always seems to get stuck with a bad haircut when he does). Silva has extraordinary knowledge of the operations of MI6, seeming to get in and infiltrate further than anyone would believe possible. But his designs are not power, riches, or world domination. He has a personal score to settle with M.
Bond, in the meantime, is not without his own issues. He’s not quite so young anymore, and gets put back on the job despite failing every physical and psychological test given to field agents. He can’t even seem to hit a target anymore.
The chase to Silva leads Bond and Eve through spectacular sequences in Shanghai and Macau, and eventually to the place where it all began for Bond; something I don’t think had ever really been hinted at in the film series, much less addressed. It’s a return to the old in more ways than one, and certain to be a thrill for any longtime fan of the films.
After 50 years, the series really seems to have found the right tone, the right feel, and most of all, the right actor. In our age of terrorism, where, as M mentions in a hearing, we can’t always see the enemy, a dapper carefree hero is no longer fashionable. We needed a Bond with a darker edge…a man capable of great and terrible deeds and equally capable of feeling haunted by them.
Daniel Craig deserves a lot of credit for allowing Bond to develop in this new and satisfying way. Credit also new producer Barbara Broccoli, who has continued in the footsteps of her father and has been unafraid to tamper with a formula that once seemed untouchable. So much has changed that when the new younger Q (Whishaw) sends Bond to work, it’s only with a gun and a radio. “You expected an exploding pen?” he asks dryly.
And Silva, though flamboyant, is not the over-the-top Bond villain of old. In a few scenes that are quite striking, we see a deeper side to him, as he reveals some of the horrors of what really takes place in what we used to consider a “glamorous” world. Many great actors, from Jonathan Pryce to Christopher Walken, have played Bond villains as a way to cut completely loose, but Bardem may be the best of all, finding that thin line between exhibitionist and tortured soul.
The best Bond movies have action, but not action that overwhelms the story. In Skyfall, we simply have one of the best Bond stories to date…everything else, from the location to the women, from the action to the acting, is there only to serve the narrative. As such, this is one of the most engrossing, engaging, satisfying…indeed, best of the entire series.
The high definition transfer is beautiful, handling the action and the scenery with equal prowess. The locations of Shanghai and Macau, as mentioned, are particularly gorgeous…especially Shanghai at night, which looks like Times Square on steroids. Images are crystal clear and detail levels are strong throughout.
The uncompressed HD audio is powerful and dynamic, and finds excellent usage for the rear stage throughout to help keep you centered in the action. Dialogue is well-delivered, and the terrific music sounds live and full. Oh, and Adele sings the title song. ‘Nuff said.
There are two commentary tracks on the disc; one by director Sam Mendes, and one by producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson along with production designer Dennis Gassner.
There is a multi-part documentary on the film, including looks at the title sequence, cars, women, locations and more, plus a look at the film’s premiere. A digital copy disc is also included.
How many film series can say they are still going after 50 years? Scratch that, how many can say they are better than ever after all that time? Bond has had highs and lows over the decades, but Skyfall shows he still has much to deliver to his audiences. This one is not to be missed.