"Skyfall" is the 23rd "Bond" film but what's more significant, it marks the 50th anniversary of the 007 franchise. This film also appears to mark a turning point in the life of James Bond - arguably even more so than Daniel Craig's first stint as the eponymous hero in 2006's "Casino Royale". "Royale" presented a notably more intelligent "007" film than usual and introduced a completely made over Bond: Craig added a depth to the character never seen before and, what's more, he was the first blond Bond! Craig's third outing as James, "Skyfall", has been called by some "the best Bond yet". Whilst it is clearly one of the best films to come out of this franchise, it is not very "Bond".
The plot revolves around a stolen hard drive containing the names of almost all British secret agents hidden within terrorist organisations around the globe. Someone hacks into MI6, and M and the department come under public scrutiny. Even the plot smells modern, with its themes of terrorism and political accountability.
Daniel Craig has proved himself a brilliant choice as James Bond time and again and, as the protagonist, his solid performance holds this film together. However, key to the unique quality of this film are the new characters it introduces, with a few revamps of some familiar names. Q - who has typically been played by older, British gentleman of a generation older than Bond himself - is brought into the Craig franchise in the guise of Ben Whishaw, a twenty-something, computer-hacking, technological genius!
The best addition is of course this film's villain, Javier Bardem, who has already played one of the most feared bad guys of the 21st century in "No Country for Old Men". Similar to Craig's Bond, Bardem's Silva is a character with reason, motivation and method behind the madness, unlike most Bond villains. Silva is incredibly intelligent but also tortured by his horrific past. Bardem is both terrifying and heartbreaking in this role. The film would be worth a watch just for this performance.
What really sets this "Bond" apart from the rest, however, is the second half of the film. The first hour or so is classic 007: gorgeous women, gratuitous sex, fast cars, a fight on top of a moving train, exotic settings. It delivers them all at an exciting pace and with the fantastic stunts and scenery we've come to expect from the Craig franchise.
But the last hour is almost like an entirely different film. An original "Bond" movie is not an easy feat after 50 years and 22 forerunners but Sam Mendes has achieved something truly new. He takes James back to the basics in a final battle set in the wastes of Scotland, with one car, a few rifles, a few sticks of dynamite, an elderly groundskeeper and M at his side. This "Bond" isn't all about the fancy weaponry, the snappy one liners and the sexy ladies; there's plot and heart.
That's not to say that there are no holes in this tale, indeed it seems inevitable with intricate spy movies such as these that a few questions will go unanswered and that the audience will have to be very liberal with its imagination. Our villain, Silva, appears to be the greatest hacker ever, yet very little is actually explained of how he manages to foil MI6 to such an extent! It would also appear that Silva, this cleverest of all men, has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to this attempted destruction of the British Secret Service, which I find a little implausible. Nevertheless, what "Skyfall" may lack in credibility, it makes up for through brilliant performances and a truly thrilling, and at times moving, film!