It's iterated often in Skyfall that the old fashioned ways are sometimes the best. It's a persistent theme that permeates both the literal narrative and the conceptual approach to the 23rd entry in the storied James Bond franchise. While the story debates the virtue of antiquity in a modern world, the film adheres to Bond tradition as seen through a filter of contemporary dramatic substance for present-day audiences to appreciate. The Bond is old-school (rustically so at times), but the treatment he gets is fresh.
With the theatrically-minded Sam Mendes at the helm, Skyfall indulges us in a sense of detail to character that is uncommon to Bond films. None of the previous 22 have dared plumb the depths of 007's traumatic past and haunted present that this one attempts to – with some success, as well. Nor have any of them explored the practically maternal relationship between Bond (Daniel Craig's third outing) and his MI6 shot-caller M (reprised once again here by Judi Dench). Skyfall puts their connection front and centre as one of the main driving forces of the plot.
M is under attack by an embittered ex-agent named Silva (Javier Bardem) who seeks revenge for past wrongs. Bond, while convalescing in secret after an exhausting opening mission involving an excavator on a moving train, feels compelled to end his alcohol-fueled siesta and return for duty. Bond is definitely older and feeling less invincible than the indestructible incarnations from decades prior, but even though the signs indicate he should retire, M knows this old dog still has some tricks.
While not every thematic bullet that Skyfall fires satisfactorily hits the paper target, it's more than enough to keep Bond-weary cinephiles who don't much care for the series engaged nevertheless. The strength of the character arcs elevate it out of standard Bond ruts and into the realm of intelligent actioners in the vein of the Bourne movies or Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Stalwart Bond fans need not fear a total overhaul though, because Mendes and his writers not only respect, but revel in most of the classic Bond idioms. The formula remains intact, with some sly in-jokes referencing staples from older Bond films, be it his unmistakable Aston Martin from Goldfinger or his relatively obscure pen grenade from Goldeneye.
Probably the biggest deviation Skyfall makes from most Bond adventures is the staggering pedigree of its crew. You could be forgiven for thinking it was an Oscar bait movie just by its credit list. Roger Deakins delivers a jaw-dropping showcase of some of his most invigorating work to date, proving that the master cinematographer hasn't lost a step in his transition from traditional celluloid lensing to the brave new world of digital. You can chalk this up right now as yet another Oscar that he deserves to win but will likely lose. Production designer Dennis Gassner comes up with impeccably detailed environs for the film's memorable set pieces. Sound editors Karen Baker and Per Hallberg head up the rough-and-tumble sound effects, smoothly mixed by Scott Millan and Greg P. Russell, who also had Thomas Newman's slick score to figure in. Chris Corbould astonishes with his practical in-shot effects, while the amazing stunt team surely deserves the SAG's award for their daredevilry.
***1/2 out of ****