Skyfall is a heck of a movie. Beautiful cinematography, outstanding acting, amazing stunts and special effects. It hews tightly to the conventions of the Bond franchise, yet does it all in a fresh and intriguing way. “Bond, James Bond,” “shaken, not stirred,” the meeting with Q, the fancy car with ejector seat… all are present, as expected, but handled unexpectedly and with a dry understated wit. But though the film is structurally identical to every other Bond film, it’s substantially darker and deeper than any of them.
As usual, the film begins with a spectacular extended pre-credits fight scene, but this one ties in with the rest of the film much more tightly than I can recall seeing before. There are exotic locations and stunts (a brutal fight silhouetted against the digital billboards of Singapore is outstanding) but they are surprisingly gritty and often Blade Runneresque, and the final standoff in the dark and fog is simultaneously reminiscent of every other Bond climax in the secret lair and a complete inversion of that trope. Not high-tech in the least, it’s feisty and handmade. And there are Bond girls, to be sure, with the expected misogyny, but each of them is given a very different send-off than what we’re used to, and Bond’s primary female companion this time is M (Judi Dench, brilliant as always). The longstanding relationship between them and the complete lack of sexual tension give this film an emotional core that I’ve never seen before in a Bond film.
In many ways Skyfall reminds me of one of my favorite films: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It shares that film’s themes of age, death, loss, and obsolescence, and like that film it ends with a new beginning, a revitalization of the franchise that acknowledges and continues its history yet also reinvents itself with new characters and new energy.