Before I begin this review, I have to admit one thing: “Skyfall” is the first James Bond movie I've seen all the way through. I know, I know, I have seriously deprived myself both as a film lover and a critic. That said, it's rather similar to “Star Wars” (which I have seen, never fear) in that the conventions are so well-known, and have been lovingly (and not so lovingly) parodied so often that my aforementioned Bond deprivation doesn't mean I can't get the joke.
What's wonderful about “Skyfall” is the balancing act it pulls off; it acknowledges how quaint and old-fashioned the very concept of James Bond is in today's society, when nerdy guys with laptops can cause as much or more havoc as the evil Bond villains of yesteryear without being nearly as fun or watchable.
Yet this acknowledgment in no way prevents “Skyfall” from gleefully embracing all of said clichés with gusto. It opens in some familiar territory: Bond (Daniel Craig, who seems to have reinvented and revamped Bond for a new generation) and his latest girl Eve are in an exotic locale, where something of great value to MI6 has been stolen.
Bond, of course, pursues the bad guy and actually gets into a fight with him on top of a train, although it's a great credit to this film that something so familiar can actually feature some creative and downright jaw-dropping flourishes. However, this is one fight that actually ends badly for Bond, after M. (the always indomitable Judi Dench) orders Eve to take a risky shot that allows the bad guy and the intel to get away, and Bond to apparently be killed. With that, it kicks off a glorious musical and visual credits sequence that serves as a kind of tribute to the character, which is only fitting since the first Bond film, “Dr. No,” came out in 1962, exactly 50 years ago. (Well, in 2012 it was. I must say, I have never enjoyed a credits sequence so much.)
Bond survives of course, and decides to secretly retire in a to a peaceful, beautiful location with a woman to match. It's a charmed life that bores him to death and drives him to drink, so when he hears of an attack on MI6 and M., you suspect that he returns to action without too much reluctance. But what he lacks in reluctance he makes up for with instability. You'd think he'd be used to brushes with death, but it turns out the movie has decided to actually examine what can happen to a mind and a body after years of espionage and all the secrets and isolation that entails.
And things only get more interesting when our villain is revealed. Javier Bardem, once again paired with a great role and a bad haircut, plays the magnificently deranged Silva, a former spy who was apparently the golden boy before Bond, with a fateful decision by M. playing a major role in his journey to the dark side. He is a twisted reflection of what Bond could have been, and could still become.
Because this villain isn't out to destroy the world as much as Bond's world in order to fulfill a personal vendetta against M. and MI6. But the stakes don't feel smaller or less personal as “Skyfall” decides to delve into Bond's background and journey back to his childhood home, and defiantly bring in a few old tricks into our shiny new world.
But don't worry, there are plenty of glamorous foreign locations to marvel at and be awed by, as well as several creative action sequences. And of course, there are the two obligatory Bond girls. (Really, you'd think by now they'd learn not to sleep with Bond until the adventure's over. Otherwise major health problems tend to crop up. Also, why does this master spy tell everyone his real name?!) But these ladies feel more obligatory and disposable than usual; the focus here remains on what is probably Bond's longest relationship, that with M., as well as the toll some of her decisions have taken on her and those around her. And in spite of compulsively watchable fight scenes, there are a few points where our suspension of disbelief is pushed a bit too far.
The main problems in “Skyfall” actually come from it not taking a few more risks: not much more about Bond is really revealed, and he seems to recover from his mental and physical injuries a bit too quickly and abruptly.
But for the most part, this is a Bond movie that is able to do it all: blend the old and the new, make personal stakes loom just as large as worldly ones, and even flesh out Bond a little more after all this time. Not to mention make me determined to find out what I've missed out on.