Skyfall | Movie review
Sam Mendes brings James Bond into the real world, for better or worse.
“We cannot afford to lose that list,” M radios to her agents. You half-expect a title card that says, “MacGuffin!” The most pedigreed director ever tapped to helm a Bond picture, American Beauty’s Sam Mendes tackles the assignment with a professorial high-mindedness. This time Daniel Craig’s 007 takes his rendezvous with Q (Ben Whishaw) in the National Gallery. The scenario seems written as a thesis statement on the superspy’s age, mortality and ongoing relevance in a world of stateless villains, with M (Judi Dench) labeled as an explicit mother figure. (As 2006’s Casino Royale proved, a few of these “humanizing” touches go a long way.) The villain, an effeminate cyberterrorist (Javier Bardem) with a clear romantic interest in Bond, nods to several decades of coding. And Mendes, as is his wont, has hired A-list talent—cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer Dennis Gassner, Adele for the title song—to class up the periphery.
With that roster, Skyfall was destined to land above the franchise’s Roger Moore low lights, but what Mendes delivers is a mixed blessing: a Bond film so self-serious it condescends to the frivolities it pretends to honor. The director pulls off a superb middle hour, beginning with a glass-skyscraper Shanghai assassination whose use of mirroring suggests prep viewing included…well, The Lady from Shanghai. In Macau, Naomie Harris treats Bond to the world’s most erotic straight shave; later, in London, James pursues his target through rush-hour foot traffic in the tube. While arguably in poor taste after 2005’s Underground bombings, it’s easily the most gripping set piece Mendes has ever devised. If we must bring Bond into the real world, that one chase should serve as a model.