When a hard drive containing top-secret data is lost in the field, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to recover it. However, when the mission ends badly and the information finds itself in the hands of an intimidating threat with immense skill, M (Judi Dench) must come to terms with her troubled past, reacquaint herself with an old friend and do everything in her power to ensure MI6 – and every single one of its undercover operatives – withholds its position as a serviceable service.
Fifty years after making his first film appearance in Dr. No, James Bond returns in Skyfall. Boasting a screenplay that’s been deftly constructed by a trio of talented screenwriters (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan all made valid contributions) and an immensely accomplished director at the helm to oversee it all in the form of Sam Mendes, Skyfall cleverly roots itself in the very essence of Ian Fleming’s creation, despite the fact it’s not a story of his own.
The narrative, from its elaborate pre-credit sequence that tracks Bond and fellow agent Eve (Naomi Harris) through a dusty terrain as they attempt to reclaim the hard drive from the clutches of an unknown foe to its nail-biting finale set in the heart of Scotland, is every bit as fast-paced, taut and sophisticated as you have come to expect. This ensures the film bears more of a resemblance to Casino Royale than the sprawling mess that was Quantum Of Solace.
Nevertheless, and for all the contemporary flair it exhibits, Skyfall remains perfectly in-keeping with the very core of Bond, from the gadgets and the beautiful women to the sharp one-liners and thrilling set pieces. It’s through the modern context and links the central narrative has with the goings-on in the real world that sets Skyfall apart from other instalments and it enables it to have a more meaningful impact on its audience. The main villain may come in the form of Silva (Javier Bardem), but the real threat is that something as seemingly insignificant as data can bring about severe destruction.
Mendes, who has a knack for understated, tense pieces, works his magic behind the camera, turning what could be a film that simply hinges on a familiar formula and into a more consistent, tenebrous and svelte thriller – one that’s a definite cut above the average thriller. That’s not to say he skimps on the action (the explosions and fight sequences are some of the best and most thrilling around), but his desire to make Skyfall more of a personal experience allows for his particular stance and style to flourish.
His decision to rope in frequent partner and acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins perhaps lends to some of the films more pronounced achievements. The way in which the camera follows the characters around, invading their personal space and sense of security, not only enables the uneasy atmosphere to ravage the audience throughout, but also empowers the already capable cast to deliver an array of truly exhilarating, commanding and knotty performances.
Craig is utterly believable in his interpretation of Bond, a man forced to ask some personal questions about himself and those he trusts the most. The chemistry he shares with Dench, who’s the undoubtedly the beating heart of Skyfall, is palpable, lending itself to a more believable construction of Bond and M’s testy relationship. Bardem fits the villain role well with his menacing Silva, and Ben Whishaw deserves high praise, too, particularly for the way he comfortable slips into the role of Q and makes him a more charming and valued ally to Bond.
Skyfall not only represents what a reputable Bond film should be, but also what audiences deserve to be presented with when they see an action-thriller. It’s well-constructed, succinct, unsettling and packed to the hilts with overblown, yet appropriately inspired action scenes. More importantly, however, it’s undercut by a formidable sense of realism and a charming wit that will have you experiencing a wide range of emotions from its energetic start to its teasing and calculating end.