A secret service agent in the dangerous world of espionage rarely has a high life expectancy. Yet, 007 has become a legendary spy, with the series celebrating its 50th birthday with the release of “Skyfall.” Striking a fitting balance between an homage to the past and exploring a fresh, unconventional storyline, “Skyfall” dazzles with its solid cast and exotic set pieces.
“Skyfall” throws audiences straight into 007’s latest world-saving mission. A mysterious criminal steals a hard drive containing critical information from the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI-6. James Bond (Daniel Craig) and his partner Eve (Naomie Harris) take up pursuit, landing Bond in a fistfight on top of a moving train. Eve has one chance to shoot the thief and safely secure the hard drive. M (Judi Dench) orders Eve to take the shot despite the risk of hitting Bond. Eve fires and hits Bond, plunging him into a river below, while the thief gets away. After surviving the fall, Bond slips under MI-6’s radar. He spends months in retirement until he gets word that a terrorist attack destroyed the MI-6 building. Bond later resurfaces when a mysterious mastermind sows chaos by leaking the drive’s vital information to the world.
Craig spearheads the cast with his intimidating interpretation of the secret agent. He has the charm Bond is famous for, but Craig’s gritty interpretation makes his version look the most dangerous. His cold stare and his delivery of clever lines contain just a hint of angry malice. Harris also charms with her performance as Bond’s confident, clever partner. Though she does not have as much screen time as Craig, her character shows moxie and wit comparable to Bond’s. Dench also delivers a commanding performance as the patriotic, but cold, espionage puppet master.
Javier Bardem shines as the psychotic Silva. Bardem flaunts the aloof sophistication trademark in villains throughout the 007 series but also adds the menace of a volatile madman. His character’s bipolar personality balances creepy and crazy, and his performance holds a similar caliber to Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men.” The scenes between Bardem and Craig represent not just a duel between dangerous men but a competition between two talented and confident actors.
Bond movies hold a reputation for strange sets in some of the most glamorous parts of the world. “Skyfall” is no exception, showing some of the most beautiful location shots in the series. A casino in Macau sits on a calm lake, illuminated outside by fireworks and glowing dragon statues. “Skyfall” also boasts one of the most visually alluring fight scenes in the Bond series, simply by virtue of its background: vibrant Hong Kong skyscrapers.
The wild locations of Bond’s adventures are only one of several classic entities the 50th anniversary film makes to the series. Sexy Bond women — check. Physically deformed but technologically superior bad guys — check. Lairs with dangerous exotic animals — check. But “Skyfall” does not just rehash old tropes; its story contains a strong human element that departs from some of the conventions of the series. Bond’s rustiness shows when he comes out of retirement, making him a more empathetic character by forcing himself to rely more on the more cunning aspects than Olympian strength or perfect marksmanship. The film has a personal touch, revealing some of Bond’s past and depicting a villain not out for money or world domination but rather simple, raging revenge.
If the film has any faults, they may lie in pacing. The story frequently takes the stage over action, making the film feel slower at points than its predecessors. The climax takes place far away from a self-destructing moon-base, a sinking submarine or a stadium-sized satellite dish, instead ending up in a place central to Craig’s Bond character and relevant to the themes of this story.
“Skyfall” matches the sex appeal and shine of the series it venerates. Its strong cast and fresh storyline serve as a colorful milestone that exalts the series’ successful past and sets the framework for a positive future.
Overall rating: 3 stars