Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan
At the time, Casino Royale was exactly the thing the Bond franchise needed, taking the series back to basics, looking at the origin of Bond as the man he is, and adding some modern Bourne-inspired flair. And while I was a fan of Quantum of Solace, it also went almost too far over the dark-and-Bourne line, and it seemed like Skyfall was going to continue on this route, to the point that the trailer was practically unidentifiable as a Bond movie. Instead, it’s everything the series needed.
James Bond (Daniel Craig) apparently dies in a mission involving a file containing the identities of undercover British agents. When an attack on MI6 happens, though, he comes back to help M (Judi Dench) fight against and old enemy.
The actual plot can feel a bit jagged at times, with the second half particularly distanced from the first half and the spy antics getting caught up in itself and leaving the audience a little out of the loop. On the other hand, the parts that make it up work perfectly. Themes about death and growing old permeate the movie, with retirement from MI6 shown as an impossibility. As MI6 itself comes under fire from the government, the movie stands up as its own defense about the necessity for Bond, showing that, for the problems that Bond does have, we still want it.
What makes the movie truly work is the strength of Sam Mendes as a director. At first, it seemed rather odd to have him, considering he’s previously gone more towards art movies like American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, and the non-war war movie Jarhead. It quickly becomes obvious why he was hired, though. The camerawork creates truly incredible scenes. You see the fuse lit, and you just wait and wait and suddenly the scene explodes. The movie’s best moment is Bond sneaking up on a sniper in a dark building that’s only lit by advertisements going across it, the entire thing turning into a hall of mirrors, until it turns into a silhouetted fistfight with occasional muzzle flashes. It’s the perfect blend of cinematography and action, and very much seems like the antithesis of the shaky-cam quick-cut Bourne that influenced Quantum. And just as every scene builds up, the movie itself builds up to an action-packed finale that incorporates its tragic themes perfectly.
The movie also has an absolutely fantastic supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes as a government man standing up for MI6, Naomie Harris as action girl Eve, Ben Whishaw as a young Q. And the cherry on top of it is a blonde Javier Bardem as the villain Silva, introduced in a single take shot as he slowly walks towards Bond and tells a story about catching rats. He hams it up, but stays deliciously evil throughout. In general, while the movie deals with some dark themes, it seems to recognize that the series got too dark. It lightens things up just enough. Gadgets are reintroduced in a small way, there’s enough jokes being tossed around. One scene involving a fistfight and a lizard borders on cheese, but it’s a nice cheese. It’s a movie that knows it’s OK to be thoughtful and fun.
Maybe not quite the reinvention of Casino Royale so much as shaking things up a little in just the right way. It’s Bond at its finest: fun, exciting, and showing off an excellent director and cast.