Faith & Film: Skyfall

“Skyfall” is the new, eagerly anticipated James Bond movie. It’s been four years since the last Bond movie and 50 years since the first Bond movie, “Dr. No.” “Skyfall” is the third movie with Daniel Craig as Bond. In every respect, it is worth the wait.

“Skyfall” begins with a customary edge-of-your-seat sequence. This time it’s a chase on the streets, rooftops, train tracks, bridges and tunnels around Istanbul. It ends with a wounded Bond falling off a train, over a bridge, and into the sea. He is presumed dead. But we know better.

In the meantime, British Intelligence Headquarters has been bombed in London. Bond reappears at the house of M (Judi Dench again, non-smiling, resolute and steely-eyed.) She demands that Bond undergo a rigorous training before returning to the field. His mission is to find the person who knows the identities of NATO agents. The names of agents are being released on the web, thus endangering their lives and the entire intelligence network. Bond is off to Shanghai, and engages in a spectacular fight against an enemy in a high-rise building with the neon-lit night sky in the background. This scene is stunningly captured by nine-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, who deserves another nomination for his work on “Skyfall.”

“Skyfall” next covers familiar territory as Bond meets a beautiful woman in a casino, has a martini, then escapes from a group of thugs. The woman then leads him to the secret island headquarters of Silva (Javier Bardem.) We discover that Silva is a former British agent who was captured and tortured by the Chinese. Silva blames M for abandoning him to his fate, and is set on revenge against her. There’s one exciting action scene after another, through the streets and subways of London, finally culminating in a great sequence in a remote, abandoned house in Scotland, with ties to the Bond family.

At a surface level, “Skyfall” is great entertainment, sleek and exciting. Yet at another level, there’s more depth to this film. Both Bond and M are aging and face their mortality. The world is much different than the Cold War era of spies. M addresses this in a meeting with the Prime Minister, in which she argues that British Intelligence is more important than ever, in a world in which the enemy can be a terrorist, indistinguishable from anyone else. Although most elements of the Bond films are still there, including the beautiful women, exotic locations, chases, guns and gadgets, espionage is a much more serious business now. While there is some humor, “Skyfall,” like Craig’s first Bond film, “Casino Royale,” is somber and dark, with an air of gravitas missing from many of the earlier films.

We even learn about a little about Bond’s childhood that made him the man he is today. We also discover that even M is fallible and vulnerable, and is warned to atone for her sins. Silva is a great Bond villain, who like the other characters, has been wounded and betrayed. Yet his hatred and desire for revenge turns him into a monster, with shades of both Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates with his mother issues!

The credits are first-rate all the way. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) balances the dark drama with spectacular chase sequences and special effects. Mendes gives his own creative stamp to the film, while grounding it solidly in the 50-year Bond tradition. Craig leaves no doubt that he can hold his own as Bond. Oscar winners Dench and Bardem lead an excellent supporting cast, including appearances by such legendary British actors as Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney.

After 50 years, the end of the Cold War, and many mediocre entries, many believed that James Bond movies had become obsolete. Yet, here he is roaring back, better than ever. At one point, Silva asks Bond if he has any hobbies. “Resurrection,” he replies. Yes, indeed.

Tom Condon, OP