After 50 years on the screen, any given franchise should fizzle out. For me, it just seems that no franchise would be able to constantly think of new situations to put its characters in and also keep us entertained at the same time. Yet, that is exactly what the James Bond franchise has done. Dr. No premiered in 1962 and introduced us to the woman-loving, action-seeking, and martini-drinking character of James Bond. Since then, a total of six actors have come to portray Bond. In 2005, Danial Craig took the reigns and brought us a Bond unlike anything we had seen before.
For my money, Craig is the best actor to play Bond, if not the best Bond in the franchise's history. "Casino Royale" is, after all, my favorite James Bond film and while "Quantum of Solace" was a big letdown, I still believe the Craig has come to embody Bond in the way that author Ian Fleming had originally intended.
In the 22nd installment of the franchise, we open on Bond in Istanbul. Along with Eve Moneypenny, Bond is chasing down a mercenary who has stolen a hard drive that contains the identities of undercover agents across the globe. During the intense opening sequence, Bond and the mercenary are fighting on top of a train, and Moneypenny must set up a good shot in order to take out the mercenary before he escapes with the flash drive. She misses, however, and Bond is sent into a river and presumed dead.
Back in London, M is on her way back to MI6 headquarters when she receives a cryptic message. Before actually get back to MI6, the car carrying her is stopped. After getting out of the car, she witnesses an explosion within MI6 headquarters. Bond hears about the attack and decides to return to London, where M assigns him to a new mission, despite the fact that Bond has failed all of his field tests. From Shanghai to Macau, Bond is lead on a journey that ultimately brings him face to face with Raoul Silva, a man with a past connection to M.
The entire plot of "Skyfall" all seems so modern and grounded. That's probably what I loved most about the film. Past Bond films have presented ridiculous scenarios, with Bond being equipped with everything from a pen gun to a laser polaroid camera. With the introduction of Craig as Bond, however, all of those silly gadgets have disappeared. Bond is presented as a more stripped down character which results in a film that is much more real. Even the plot, about cyberterrorism, is possible in this day and age.
Aside from presenting one of the most impressive story lines of the entire franchise, though, "Skyfall" also features masterclass performances. For my money, Craig deserved an Oscar nomination for "Casino Royale," and he seems to deserve one for "Skyfall" as well. Craig portrays Bond as a conflicted individual, as someone who seems to be affected by the missions he partakes in. We are also given a glimpse into Bond's past, which gives Craig the change to shine in a role that he was born to play.
Additionally, the supporting performances are just as powerful. Judi Dench, in her seventh outing as the head of MI6, is worthy of an Oscar nomination. M has always been a bit character in Bond films; someone we see onscreen for a brief amount of time and forget about later on. That's not the case with Dench's M in "Skyfall." M retains some of her wit, but like Bond she is left to meditate on the many deaths she has been a part of. For once, there is real character growth for M. She's the mother figure for Bond and throughout the entire film we learn more about her motives and what drives her to do what she does.
Javier Bardem also creates one of the most memorable Bond villains of all time. When trailers of "Skyfall" were beginning to come out, I was initially worried that Bardem's character would ruin the film. All early indications showed Silva as a flamboyant villain with little development. That's not the case at all. Silva is flamboyant, but he has an interesting back story. Like Bond and M, he struggles with the choices he has had to make in the past. The difference, however, is that he doesn't arrive at the same justifications as M and Bond. Silva wishes to use cyberterrorism to rid the world of all MI6 agents whose sole goal it is the protect Britain. With his portrayal of Silva, Bardem creates a character that joins Anton Chigurh as one of the more memorable villains of late.
Of quick note are the smaller performances from Albert Finney, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whishaw. The use of Fiennes and Whishaw helps to set up future installments that I will eagerly await. The direction of Sam Mendes is also great. He creates not just a great Bond film or a great action film, but one of the greatest film of the year. The cinematography of Roger Deakins is also award worthy, and Adele's theme song is one of the franchise's best.