"Skyfall" is unlike any James Bond movie you've seen before. While the film pays homage to the previous installments, first-time Bond director Sam Mendes reinvents the superspy's story, taking him into far darker territory. The result? Arguably the most well-crafted and thrilling film in the franchise's 50 years.
This time around, Bond -- who has been publicly pronounced dead but remains in hiding after a botched mission -- is brought back to “life” to recover a hard drive from a cyber terrorist named Silva (Javier Bardem). While his mission seems simple, loyalties are questioned between Bond (Daniel Craig) and his superior M (Dame Judi Dench), for she might be responsible for the previous near-fatal mission. And while M is hiding secrets of her own, she's also the target of Silva, who will stop at nothing to bring her and MI6 to their demise.
When "Casino Royale" was released, Craig immediately jumped to top of everyone's favorite Bond actor list for his grounded, man's man portrayal. He's got the chops with his physicality, sexual machismo, and cool demeanor. So what's left to develop? "Skyfall" presents Bond as an aging and wounded soldier, who doesn't blame the organization for his pain but rather accepts it as part of the job. Revealed to be an orphan, Bond seemingly continues to function as if MI6 is his family and M as his mother.
Dench paves the way as the true Bond girl of the film. Strong-willed and determined to get the job done, M's quip-filled scenes with Bond explore their professional yet symbiotic relationship that's based on trust and mutual respect. For Bond, it's not about his service to her Majesty, but rather filling the void in his otherwise empty soul. For M, she may come across as cold and manipulative, but like Bond knows the stakes of the game they are playing.
It's hard to discuss “Skyfall” without mention of its memorable villain, Silva. After delivering a chilling, award-winning turn in "No Country for Old Men," Bardem gives another standout performance as the bleached blonde, impeccably dressed terrorist. Like every Bond villain, quirky mannerisms and odd physical traits are present. He's playful at times and whimsically sadistic at others. Like the rest of the film, Silva's motivation feels more believable than previous villains as he simply wants revenge on those who wronged him rather than being hell bent on world destruction.
The man responsible for delivering us such a thrilling entry to the series is none other than Academy Award winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty). I was shocked to see that his new approach to the material isn't necessarily out with the old and in with the new. Mendes gives plenty of winks and nods to all the Bond classics: the cars, the girls, the gadgets, the exotic locations, the dry one-liners and the occasional over-the-top stunts are all present. He even resurrects the old but familiar character of Q (Ben Whishaw), to provide some comedic relief and self deprecating humor to the series.
But what Mendes does differently is that he presents the story as if it were actually a real world scenario. The atmosphere is dark, the drama is amped up and the characters feel real. The icing on the cake is cinematography. The action sequences are crisp and coherent and will literally have you jumping out of your chair. And whether it's the neon skylines of Shanghai or the grey skies of London, the shadowy landscapes set the stage for a bleak espionage-filled world. And also worth noting is the obligatory opening credit sequence that visually arresting and equally haunting with Adele providing vocals.
Mendes' approach to Bond will be undoubtedly compared to Christopher Nolan's Batman redux, both humanizing established material and presenting it in a sleek and stylish way. It's just a shame for future entries because the bar has just been raised high. Not only is this new Bond entry the most thrilling and emotional to date, but it is responsible for bringing new energy and excitement into a franchise that doesn't seem to quit ... just like the central character.