(WARNING: This review contains some mild spoilers.)
MANILA, Philippines – Believe the buzz. “Skyfall,” the new James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench, is the best Bond ever. It’s certainly the best reviewed, with good reason.
"Skyfall" completes the reboot of the 50-year-old Bond franchise that started with “Casino Royale” in 2006. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Here are 4 reasons why "Skyfall" will leave you shaken and stirred:
1. Everything old is new again. After Sean Connery started the franchise in 1962’s “Dr. No,” the Bond films seemed to have entropied into a checklist of the old and familiar: the cars, the funky gadgets, the locales, the women. Even Q, played by Welsh actor Desmond Llewelyn, got old.
“Casino Royale” destroyed that mold in 2006. Craig’s Bond didn’t care if his martini was shaken the right way. His car didn’t have gun turrets and he didn’t have an exploding alarm clock. Craig as Bond was someone vicious, brilliant and almost perpetually angry. He was also good at putting some righteous fury at his enemies and receive the same in return -- a response, perhaps, to the popularity of Matt Damon’s Bourne movies.
In this movie, Bond keeps the physicality but also mines his past. All the familiar Bond bells and whistles are back. M’s back. We’ve got a new Q (Ben Whishaw), who’s both a computer genius and a weapons master. We’ve got the cool gadgets but without a sci-fi bent including a gun that only Bond can use and a GPS tracker.
We’ve even got the return of a familiar vehicle that drew some very loud applause from some folks in the theater. Watching that scene was like seeing Frank Miller’s Batman unveiling the new Batmobile, built like a Sherman
2. It’s a travelogue. I love movies that show some flair in presenting their locales. There are at least three IMAX shots in this movie that made my jaw drop: they were so beautiful. In IMAX, this movie is going to burn your brain. Roger Deakins’ cinematography seduces the eye with an electric view of Shanghai, a night-lit river cruise of Macau and the glorious highlands of Scotland. After this movie, I suspect a lot of people are going to want to see those three locations and do their own sleuthing.
3. That "Dark Knight" connection. As seen in the trailer, "Skyfall" finds Bond on a mission in Turkey to get back a stolen computer disk when he is shot by an MI6 operative while fighting on top of a train. He is presumed dead but resurfaces after the bombing of MI6 headquarters. Information on the disk is then used to compromise several intelligence agents staying in NATO organizations.
There is also a plot to target M for her supposed sins. It is now up to Bond to find out who stole the disk and why he is targeting M.
Director Sam Mendes was previously reported to have said that Christopher Nolan’s "The Dark Knight" impacted him before he filmed "Skyfall." He’s since denied it but the influence is there. There’s a delicate balancing act in this movie to make it believable and real world, especially when it comes to MI6 and Bond.
It’s when the bad guy, Javier Bardem’s Silva, is introduced that the film teeters slightly into Blofeld territory. If Bond was Batman, Silva is his Joker. They’re damaged sides of the same coin, one clinging to loyalty and love of country, while the other has discarded it. Bardem has great fun in his role, makes these weird popping noises, to almost comic effect. Silva plays dangerously close to camp but swings back to show why he’s literally damaged goods. He also has these Rube Goldberg-ian plans that seem excessive but amp the spectacle just the same. The only thing missing for him is his own tagline, like “Why so serious?’
4. It’s got heart. (Warning: Massive spoilers ahead!) This movie keeps changing on you: it’s an action flick, travelogue, spy movie and siege movie. It’s Bond back to his essentials, back even to his past. "Skyfall" isn’t the name of a brand new doomsday machine being chased by
the bad guys, it’s actually much closer to home. Bond has always been portrayed as putting queen and country above self but this movie adds another layer to his personality in his relationship to M.
More than that, it’s got something to say. "Skyfall" earns its spurs as the pantheon’s best by placing human connections front and center. It shows us a Bond that is willing to endure pain not out of some grand notion of loyalty to the crown but out of respect and daresay love for an elder.
At one point in the story, M tells Bond: “Orphans make the best recruits.” This story shows how the orphaned Bond still yearns for something more than just belonging. And when you lose that love, it’s like the sky falling.