Skyfall offers the triumphant return of James Bond for his fiftieth anniversary. But Daniel Craig‘s Bond gets no pensioner’s watch for his service,  instead he gets one of the best entries in the franchise. Offering one of the greatest casts and the best cinematography in the franchise’s long history, Skyfall is the event blockbuster you want out of every summer movie that comes out. Skyfall delivers, and then some.

The Players

The Plot:

After a pre-credit sequence that finds Bond (Craig) on a losing end of a fight to get a list of British spies, Bond is declared dead, only for him to return to London after MI6 is bombed. M (Dench) is also being watched by the up and up’s (including Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory), so the pressure is on to get their secrets out of terrorist hands. With Bond back in swing, he finds out that the man he’s up against is Raoul Silva (Bardem), a former agent with a grudge against M and MI6.

The Great:

  • Roger Deakins: In world where digital projection is becoming the norm, it’s hard to call them films any more as so few are shot on 35mm. Roger Deakins is the DP here, and he shot this on the Alexa, one of the new digital cameras. And his work here is all time great. This is – quite simply – one of the most gorgeous films ever shot by one of the greatest cinematographers in the industry. It’s as if he used the movie to show what digital photography could do, and though many of us bemoan the death of film, watching Skyfall, you can see that digital photography has grown by leaps and bounds and can look as good as the best looking films.  Deakins is currently Oscar-free, and if the Academy has any sense they will finally award him this year for his work.

The Good:

  • The Story:It’s interesting to compare this film to Die Another Day, which came out on the 40th Anniversary of Bond, and tried to thread the same needle of being both modern, but also respectful to the original series (and both open, strongly, with Bond failing at his work). But Mendes and the writing company don’t wink too much at the audience while doing it and build a fairly strong narrative in the process while also including many of the series’s most familiar elements including Q and other surprising nods to the past (I guess it’s a spoiler, but – as it’s in a picture below – that includes working in a classic Aston-Martin). Though Mendes has tipped his hand on to how some of the middle of the film works by talking about his influences, the film is constantly compelling and works to give both Bond and M characters to play instead of just roles to fill.
  • Javier Bardem: When you think about Bond, it’s hard to point out memorable villains in the franchise. Sure there’s Goldfinger, but he’s just a stuffy German guy who gets the upper hand from time to time. Most villains that aren’t Blofeld (who is best known for menacingly petting a cat) serve as a plot device, and few have genuine malice. It points out that the franchise has always been about the hero, while the villain is usually shown disposing of a henchman and then losing to Bond in the final moments. (Note: Henchmen are different). The closest parallel to a former Bond villain is Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye, in that in both cases he’s up against a former agent, but here they do that duality so much better. And Bardem is definitely Bond’s equal in most ways (and is in some ways superior). Though there’s a moment that tries a little too hard to make him creepy (with a digital assist that’s awkward) Bardem is brilliant throughout.
  • The Action: Bond films have long been the gold standard for stunt work and action sequences. Even a film like Moonraker has some of the best stunts put to film. When you introduce someone who amounts to an indie auteur to the mix (Mendes), you wonder if the action will suffer as it did with Marc Forster (whose Quantum of Solace… yeah). But from the opening set piece chase (which is where the advertising has gotten a lot of their footage), there are a number of jaw dropping stunts in the film, and they all feel practical and painful and great.

The So-So:

  • Minor Quibles: Let us unload a little here. The film starts by giving Judi Dench more of a character than she’s in her previous entries in the franchise. And though it’s a strong performance, ultimately it’s a performance highlighted by character details, but it never sticks the landing in terms of really fleshing her out. If you stop to think about it, the plot gets downright silly at times, and – though never as cloying as many films that might have sequels – it does lay out that the film knows it’s a chapter, not a contained narrative. None of these hurt the film, per se.
  • It’s a Bond Film: This is a hamburger. It’s a great hamburger. But it’s a hamburger. There is a formula being followed here that involves the roles, the performers and the resolution. All are played well. And in that way it’s more satisfying that any of the major summer films of the year, including The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

Overall:

If you like Bond, this is a great Bond adventure, easily a top five entry. If you like action movies, it’s the best action film of the year (or possibly tied with The Raid). So yeah, good times.

The Rating: 8.8/10

Photo Gallery:

Trailer:

Skyfall opens in the U.K. October 26, and in America November 9.