The 23rd and latest installment of the iconic spy film series by Ian Fleming, “Skyfall” is slick, sexy, exciting and above all, classic James Bond. Its loyalty to the franchise is rivaled only by that of Bond to MI6, the British intelligence agency that falls under attack both from an unexpected enemy and from the Parliament. Either side of the challenge presents a face-off: villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) brings a bitter reunion of kinship and betrayal, and the government brings up doubt over MI6’s relevance in the present-day world.
The heroes shall triumph, per Hollywood dictation. Yet what sacrifice must MI6 or Bond pay in return? How do they reinvent themselves when faith is shaken? For nearly two hours and half, “Skyfall” wrestles with these questions with remarkable strength and deft footwork not unlike what Bond (Daniel Craig) manages to pull off even after struggling through his comeback training after a three-month absence. And, just like the almost obnoxiously suave Britishman, the film does not even pretend to hide its exquisite taste and dazzling new actions, which gain momentum as the story unfolds.
The film and its leading man share far more in common. “Skyfall” stays true to the core of James Bond tradition, never hesitating to highlight his masculine charm and sophistication. The first shot of the film reminds us of the iconic gun barrel sequence (which was shown at the end of this film, as well as in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”): the agent appears, the music blares, the air thickens and the suspense rises. He glides into a room of murder, finds clues, then speeds out of the hotel and blasts his motorcycle through a Turkish bazaar, an exotic, bustling location that is perfect for the cool chase that ensues as the crowds somehow makes way. Even after a fight on that omnipresent moving train, he has the time to fix his cuff as a compartment tears off from the tail. And there is the mandatory post-coital scene — the first time we learn of his survival after a sniper shot that causes his official death — the scene when he gazes deeply at the horizon as a woman wraps around his body. News flash one: James Bond is as womanizing as ever. News flash two: all his gadgets are, as Q (Ben Whishaw) the Quartermaster puts it, personal statements, be it the gun that uniquely recognizes his palm print or the old-fashioned razor blade that his partner Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) seductively uses to shave him. Even with Judi Dench’s hard-bitten and perhaps most defensive and vulnerable M of the franchise, the universe of espionage has been and still is a man’s world, and “Skyfall” hardly misses a beat as it interprets the spirit of a legend by reinforcing his idol status.
Classic doesn’t necessarily mean good, but classic sells. For a series that is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, a return to classic appeals more than ever to the box office. For Bond, a comeback — or, in his words, the hobby of “resurrection” — means going back to his roots. As the significance of the movie title “Skyfall” is revealed, so begins a long ascension into the grand finale. There, the film feels less like an action movie renewed dozens of times with new technology, bikinis and terrorists, but closer to an epic where the hero pauses to lick his wounds before heading back to battle. The emotional weight might still be minimal, but the intention is there. When you have a huge fan base to please and a smooth, exciting plot that easily consumes the audience, a dab of theatrics is enough. Bardem’s Silva illustrates this point, as he swings between calculated plotting and a loose cannon of florid speeches and is at times seriously funny and at times seriously diabolical. Such a balanced tone is attributed to Director Sam Mendes, who, after quintessential American works such as “Revolutionary Road” and “American Beauty” reminds us here of his British roots and his ability to brush in some narratives and homoerotic humor to the film’s complexion. Therefore, we have the heavier silence when Bond sees the physical trauma of Silva’s suffered torture and the rambunctious laughter when the Craig and Bardem coldly deliver lines that double as threat and flirtation.
“Skyfall” delivers the multilayered package that a successful commercial action film can nowadays: hot-blood actions, tight story, gorgeous photography (lit by Gal Roiter and shot by Roger Deakins), well-rounded characters and some good hard laughs. It hits all the right spots so that now, finally, I can call myself a James Bond fan.