Art by Katie Bacigalupi

As promised at the end of each installment of a James Bond film, Bond is back for his 23rd feature film titled SKYFALL. SKYFALL is directed by Sam Mendes (ROAD TO PERDITION) and serves as Daniel Craig’s third appearance as our favorite British spy. The previous two Bond films (CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE) were unique in that they went together like toast and jam; something rare for a Bond film. Most installments are pretty much self contained stories where the only prior knowledge needed is that Bond is a secret agent who has great taste in style, enjoys a shaken beverage from time to time and is an absolute ladies man. Pussy Galore anyone!? While SKYFALL does indeed serve as a time lined sequel, it strays from the path of Crag’s previous outings in favor of a fresh new narrative that both reminds us why we love these movies and gives the series an opportunity to start fresh again.

On paper, the overall story here is nothing too complicated or intricate. Someone from M’s (Judi Dench; THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK) past has resurfaced to wreak some havoc and it’s up to Bond to stop him before he destroys MI6 (The agency Bond works for) from the inside out. Along the way things get personal, allegiances are tested, and parts of Bond’s past come to surface as well. While I never like to spoil anything for moviegoers, I will say that SKYFALL continues the trend that ROYALE and QUANTUM set before it in that it explores James Bond as a character in more detail shedding light on what his motives are and why he is the man he is. SKYFALL definitely delves deeper into Bond’s past than most other films and it was extremely interesting putting all the puzzle pieces together here. While SKYFALL does indeed give us new insights, no real complete answers are given so there is still an awesome air of mystery to the character. The best way I can explain it is to say that if Bond kept a diary that spanned 100 pages, we just got to read 10 of those pages with SKYFALL. You know there’s more, but what you read is just juicy enough to speed dial your gal pal Denise and spill the damn beans! “Denise, you will never guess what I just learned about James! I’ll give you a clue. It’s JUICY!”

Bad analogies aside, my main point is that SKYFALL has a very interesting and engrossing story. The film runs at a brisk 143 minutes (Second longest Bond film ever) and not once did I ever feel as if it dragged on. This is mainly due in part to just how beautiful everything is shot. SKYFALL is almost undoubtedly the prettiest Bond yet. Whether in Scotland, China, or Turkey, every single location is just wonderfully shot and is a pleasure to look at. The cinematography here may be too crisp and clean for some nitpickers, but holy cow, I loved every frame. Very rarely do I appreciate a good location shot more than an  intense action sequence, ESPECIALLY in a Bond film. When I think back at the “Oooo and Ahhh” moments of this film they are definitely the sweeping shots of the landscape and environments. Well done SKYFALL team!

Which brings me to my biggest nagging problem with this film, “The action dammit!” I make it no secret that I am a HUGE fan of a well done action sequence. What better place for me and my inner nerd child to travel than a James freaking Bond film! Let’s just say that I was a bit let down in this department. I’m not saying the action was “bad”, but I am saying that what we got has all been done before. *cough* fight on top of a train *cough*. Ok, to be fair, we never saw Bond leap off a Komodo Dragon after fist fighting someone in his lair. Now before you think you are some kind of a clever smart ass and nitpick the crap out of this scene, just remember that this IS a James Bond film that DOES have a reputation for being a bit corny. Sure the Daniel Craig films have strayed away from the corn, but I think a fist fight in a Komodo Dragon pit that ends with a little dragon jump boost is a fitting ode to the Bond films of ole. In short, shut up about it because it does not ruin the damn movie. My main gripe here is that there was very little action, what we got was pretty standard, and I don’t have any moments to think back on that really had my jaw drop. CASINO ROYALE had some spectacular chase sequences and QUANTUM OF SOLACE took it up a notch and delivered some of the coolest and most consistent action sequences in my Bond memory. Yes, I loved QUANTUM OF SOLACE and thought it was some good fun with kick ass action. Deal with it.

Luckily for SKYFALL, the interesting narrative, the beautiful locations, and the top-notch cast overshadow any missteps in the action department. Yes Daniel Craig is back as Bond and he delivers what is likely his best portrayal of the character to date. The Bond in this film is broken, flawed, and desperate at times yet he still maintains his “cool factor” and overall charm. It’s good to see a version of Bond who is deeply flawed both emotionally and physically. Really makes you want to root for the guy. SKYFALL really portrays the character as an older beast who needs to prove his worth in a current day society that may view him and what he does obsolete. A cool and fun concept for the character if you ask me. It modernizes the character in a way that really make you wonder if the world needs people like him or not.

Besides Bond, we have Judi Dench as M who has a much bigger role here than in most iterations. While she may not be one of my favorite actresses of all time, she has served this franchise well and gives a noble and powerful performance. Audiences are also treated to the introduction of Q (the gadgets and tech expert in past films) played by Ben Whishaw (CLOUD ATLAS) and Naomie Harris (MIAMI VICE) as a young up-and-coming field agent in MI6. We also have Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort in the HARRY POTTER Series) as a higher-up within MI6, Albert Finney in a very memorable role that I will not spoil, and the relative unknown Berenice Marlohe as the closest thing to a “Bond Girl” we get in SKYFALL. Last but not least, we have Silva played by the talented Javier Bardem (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) who serves as SKYFALL’s main villain. Now, I love me a good Bond villain, and let me tell you that Bardem as Silva is most definitely a good Bond villain. In fact, the interest I had with this movie quadrupled once this guy showed up. His performance is eery, eccentric in all the right ways, and just plain fun. I loved this character and thought he was the best thing about this picture. His performance overshadowed pretty much everything else going on in this movie. Yes, he’s that good here. Swooning aside, I’m just glad I wasn’t disappointed with my Bond villain in SKYFALL. When it comes to all the characters in this film, I was not let down by any of them and really enjoyed all the performances.

Once the credits rolled and we are told that Bond will return, I was left mostly satisfied with what just happened. Sure there were a few annoyances with the lack of action, but other than that the whole package was damn fine. Damn fine indeed. The cinematography and locations were breathtaking, the narrative was simple yet satisfying, and the actors all did wonderful jobs with their performances (Especially Bardem). There are a lot of twists and turns here with a handful of narrative and character surprises I did not fully expect. The pacing of SKYFALL was smooth and engaging with no dull moments that I can think of. It has taken me a few days to fully appreciate SKYFALL, and I have come to realize just how great this movie turned out to be even though I desired much more action and wow-factor. This is a very serious and mature entry that sheds some light on the character of Bond making him an even more intriguing character than I already thought. SKYFALL is a wonderful entry in the Daniel Craig Bond series that feels both like a continuation AND a fresh start for the franchise. I can’s wait to see where this all goes next.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10