James Bond has seen more than his fair share of highs and lows.
Six actors have played the franchise star over the decades, and they all offered distinct takes on cinema’s greatest spy. The series hit a new peak, however, when Daniel Craig made his debut as 007 in Casino Royale. The Martin Campbell-directed 2006 blockbuster brought the Bond franchise to a refreshingly dark and grounded place, one that highlighted Craig’s rough and vulnerable performance.
The film kicked Craig’s run as Bond off with a bang, but its follow-up, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, failed to meet the bar set by its predecessor. In response, Craig and company took a four-year break from Bond. During the brief hiatus, Craig approached his Road to Perdition director, Sam Mendes, about helming his next Bond outing. Mendes eventually agreed to take on the project, and in 2012 Craig came back with Skyfall.
Upon its release, Skyfall was seen as a return to form for both Craig and the Bond franchise as a whole. 10 years later, it ranks as not only one of the best action movies of the 21st century, but as the most well-made Bond movie in history. It’s now available to stream on Netflix, and we suggest you do so ASAP.
Skyfall opens with a thrilling prologue, one that ends when Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) nearly kills Daniel Craig’s James Bond after being ordered to take a risky shot by their MI6 boss, M (Judi Dench). The film then follows Bond as he’s forced to come out of hiding when Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent presumed dead, begins staging a series of increasingly dangerous cyber attacks.
The more that Bond and Silva’s paths entwine, the clearer it becomes just how similar their relationships with M are. By the time Skyfall’s third act rolls around, the film essentially stars a triumvirate of Dench, Craig, and Bardem. Skyfall is able to explore Bond’s relationship with M in a way that forces him to come to grips with his trauma and his duty to England, the nation he’s dedicated his life to protecting.
Skyfall grappling with one of Bond’s most important relationships allows its actors to dig deeper into their characters. The resulting performances are, unsurprisingly, among the best in the franchise. Coming off Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale, Craig’s Bond enters a phase of his career that doesn’t allow him to resort to his usual self-destructive coping methods, but forces him to come to terms with his history of violence and his deep, unshakeable loneliness.
For her part, Judi Dench uses her mannered, no-nonsense presence as M to devastating effect. And Javier Bardem saunters on-screen and quickly secures his place as the best villain in Bond history. His Silva is physically, mentally, and emotionally unhinged, a man whose wounds have festered for so long that he’s been consumed by them. Bardem is impossible to look away from.
That’s especially true in his first scene, which unfolds over the course of one long, unbroken take as Silva steps out of an elevator and begins to walk slowly towards his fellow spy. While doing so, Silva gives a frightening monologue that lays bare the similarities between him and Craig’s 007. The clarity his speech provides is reflected by the blocking of the scene; after starting as a vague figure across the room, Silva ends the scene standing directly in front of Bond, his intentions suddenly as clear as his appearance.
The scene is shot with the same patient, theatrical, and elegant approach that’s come to define Sam Mendes’ style. Sometimes, Mendes can make his films feel stiflingly precious, but in Skyfall it imbues the film with a constant sense of assured artistic control.
There’s never a moment when it feels like Skyfall is going off the rails or losing its grip on its own story, which is far from a guarantee in the Bond franchise. And, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall also looks exceptionally beautiful from beginning to end.
From Bond’s arrival at an amber-lit, smoky Macau casino via river boat to his confrontation with a hitman in a Shanghai high-rise, Skyfall is brimming with some of the most well-shot and well-lit sequences of the 2010s.
The latter moment not only plays out almost wordlessly, but stages Bond and his combatant as two featureless silhouettes fighting against the backdrop of a nearby building’s neon blue LED ad. It’s just one of many reminders of how beautiful an expensive blockbuster can be when they’re made with actual care.
The same can be said for the film itself. As a Bond adventure, Skyfall nails everything it needs to. The film manages to deliver not only the best Bond performance of the century, but also the best villain, theme song, and script.
Skyfall is simply an exceptionally entertaining and emotionally compelling piece of popcorn filmmaking, one that sacrifices neither quality nor entertainment to deliver one of the most well-made and artistically minded blockbusters of the past 25 years.
Skyfall is streaming on Netflix.