It is time to talk of Skyfall, the latest installment in the long-running Bond series based on Ian Fleming‘s books. I don’t usually review new movies, which might seem odd for a film blogger, but I require at least two viewings before I can write comfortably about a story in all its ideology and technical nuances. And it’s true that like most moviegoers, when you first emerge from a good film, you’re trapped in a kind of feel-good, awe-filled haze. You can’t see its flaws clearly yet, and you don’t really know how good a film is until you can’t get it out of your head two days or two weeks later. That’s why I’m going to attempt a semi-timely review again for the underrated gem that is Cloud AtlasIn this case, I’m still in that feel-good, awe-filled haze, but it’s strong enough that I can’t not write about it.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say Skyfall sees the newest James Bond (Daniel Craig) come to terms–appropriately after 23 films–with his age.  Our favorite charming, ever-composed spy finds his armor chipped (almost literally) after a thrilling opening sequence where he and another guy brawl atop a moving train. Similarly, his boss, MI6 director M (Judi Dench) reveals her more vulnerable side as she’s faced with unwelcome scrutiny for her actions, past and present. A great deal of the movie is dedicated to the exposure of these cracks in hitherto flawless heroes ultimately destined for success after a little bit of trouble. These are the Bond movies after all. If Bond has an actual foible, it’s that he’s sometimes too courageous. But he’s not even stupidly courageous. He’s James Bond. He’s never bested for long.

To be honest, I’m not a particularly avid Bond fan so I can’t really speak at length about the film in the context of the series; although, I would say that this is easily the best of this reboot. Commendably, Skyfall stands just fine on its own thanks in large part to Sam Mendes. Mendes, who directed the previous post’s Road to Perditionis not the most obvious choice to direct a Bond film, but thank goodness he defied expectations. He added much-appreciated depth and introspection, and arguably reinvigorated the franchise with much of its old spirit. The classic, only slightly modernized Bond theme, courtesy of Thomas Newman, pops up often as do several “old” characters with new twists. This feeds into the film’s largest theme: “Sometimes the old way is the best way,” purrs Naomie Harris‘s Eve, and if there is  a message to be found anywhere in the story, this is certainly it. Bond and M grapple with their “maturity” in a fast-paced new age where they feel out of place and/or are often told by others that they should. The merging of the traditional with the modern is offered up in response, one cannot survive without the other, cleverly hinted at in an exchange between  Bond and Ben Whishaw‘s Q.

Ben Whishaw & Daniel Craig

Q: Age is no guarantee of efficiency.

Bond: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.

Q: Well, I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.

Bond: Oh, so why do you need me?

Q: Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.

Bond: Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas.

The acting has never been better. Finally given the room, Craig and Dench both shine. An adorkable Whishaw, Harris and Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory all prove solid additions, but as per usual it’s the villain who steals the show. A blonde-haired, gray-eyed Javier Bardem, perfectly at home as a psychopath with a bad hairdo (see No Country for Old Men), plays the sadistic Silva with great relish. He seems to have a lot of fun, and it’s fun to watch him. Silva has serious beef with Dame Dench’s M and in one of the film’s few shortcomings, his actions make more sense than Bond’s in the grand scheme of things. Once again trying hard not to give too much away, but Mendes was obviously influenced by The Dark Knight in many respects, most obvious in the handling of Silva. But make no mistake, he’s still a unique brand of crazy. He’s not just obsessed with M, he idolizes her, designating her a maternal role in their relationship, thereby connecting him fraternally with Bond. When we first meet him, Silva tells a story about how he and his hopefully biological grandmother trapped a bunch of rats and forced them to feed on each other until only two are left. In Silva’s mind, he and Bond are the last two rats. This becomes a recurring motif throughout the film where the two literally embark on a rat race in the tunnels of London and the Scotland underground.

The last two rats: Bond and Silva (Bardem)

And that’s all I’m going to say. If I go any further, I’ll have to spoil it and it’s really worth it to watch the story unfold. One last thing though: The cinematography is stellar, thanks to nine-time Academy Award nominee Roger Deakins. That he’s never won actually recommends him. It means he’s extraordinary enough to get recognized but not enough to win, for the Academy is nothing if not predictable in its awards. The fight scenes are elegantly and excitingly choreographed for sure, but they would be nothing without Deakins’s deft eye and his ARRI Alexa camera. Here’s hoping for a tenth nomination.

That is all.