James Bond has died — and survived — before, in the opening scenes to 1967’s You Only Live Twice. In Skyfall, he is back to triumphantly do it again. But it isn’t a ruse: with 007 atop a moving train fighting for possession of a hard drive containing classified personnel data, MI6 head M (Judi Dench) orders field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) to take a difficult shot, and it is Bond who falls.
Cue Adele with a theme song every bit as much at pains to achieve classic Bond status as the opening. And it is a success on both counts, even if the action doesn’t top the Parkour-infused teaser that introduced Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale.
When Bond resurfaces, MI6 is contending with the new oversight of security committee chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who wants to oust M, while facing an escalating crisis resulting from the leaking of those all-important personnel files by an unknown mastermind with a vendetta against the agency.
Backed up by Eve, tantalized by a mysterious beauty named Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), and modestly equipped by his fledgling Q Branch quartermaster (Ben Whishaw), Bond pursues answers to the island lair of cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), formerly an agent under M’s command.
Almost certainly the loveliest Bond outing to date, Skyfall is as visually arresting as one might expect of a film bearing the names of director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins.
But most notable of all is the overarching return to form after the franchise faltered with the joyless, incoherent Quantum of Solace. By contrast, Skyfall is packed with energy and humour, still exhibiting unabashed illogic but on a smaller scale and mostly to keep the plot motoring along like a vintage Aston Martin (which does make a crucial reappearance).
The Bond girls are finally Bond girls again, though — true to the involvement of Judi Dench — they are not all cut from the cloth of helpless passivity. And Silva as antagonist, particularly in the capable hands of Javier Bardem, harks back enthusiastically to the flamboyant villainy that characterized classic Bond.
With Daniel Craig at last fully inhabiting the mantle of 007, it is fitting that Skyfall offers some novel hints at the life and youth of James Bond, illuminating his relationship with M and throwing Silva’s opposite nature into relief.
Skyfall Lodge, Bond’s childhood home and the setting for the film’s final act—in which the glorious old Albert Finney outshines everyone else playing the caretaker—makes for a wholly unexpected contrivance that turns the climax into a home invasion thrill-ride that might have capped off a Christopher Nolan remake of Straw Dogs.
With Daniel Craig signed up for at least two more adventures, forget Quantum of Solace, Bond is back.