If you were to describe the 23rd official James Bond film without revealing that it was a James Bond film, it might sound something like this: “Oh, you know, it’s that movie with Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Dame Judi Dench and stars Daniel Craig as a guy who works for the government; it's basically about all the issues with security in a digital age and whether certain agencies should have more transparency. Yeah, and it’s directed by that American Beauty guy, Sam Mendes.” Oscar bait, right?
Luckily, I got myself into a press screening of Skyfall this week, and while I’m not sure it will be nominated for Best Picture, there is certainly some award-worthy stuff in this movie. Skyfall may be the first James Bond movie that is actually a movie first, a spy movie second, and a James Bond movie third. We’ll have a crazy spoiler-filled review for you on Friday; but until then, here are seven spoiler-free reasons why you’ll probably love it.
7. The Cast
Though I was super bummed that Jeffrey Wright wasn’t reprising his role as Felix Leiter of the CIA, the cast in this 007 flick is astounding. Judi Dench kills it, as she has since 1995’s Goldeneye, and has developed a genuinely touching chemistry with Daniel Craig’s 007. Ralph Fiennes has an interesting role which proves to be really pivotal by the film’s end. If you’re wondering what the heck Albert Finney is doing in this movie, the only clue I can give you is: SCOTLAND. Ben Whishaw as “Q” is adorable, while Javier Bardem is a weirdly funny Bond villain who genuinely frightened me. Naomie Harris as Eve, a fellow MI6 agent, is great and very memorable. Daniel Craig is brooding as usual, but is given such an interesting story to work with that you really start to care about James Bond in a new way. And he looks cool as hell, as usual.
6. What is Skyfall?
The answer will shock you, and not in a way I think anyone could have expected. Watch that gorgeous title sequence closely, because all the clues to what is going to happen in the rest of the movie are totally there! The plot of this movie seemed from the trailers (and even some of the opening scenes) to feel a bit like typical spy movie stock plot. But, when the film finally gets to its end, you can’t have predicted where you’d end up...and when a Bond movie manages to be unpredictable, it’s like a new color has been discovered. (And this really is the best title/credits sequence in Bond movie, ever.)
5. Lots of References to Previous 007 Outings That Aren’t Corny
Die Another Day tried really, really hard to make sure it referenced nearly every single James Bond movie up to that point, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the film series. Now, with this being the 50th anniversary of Bond, Skyfall has taken on a similar burden. Initially, I assumed director Sam Mendes wasn’t going to try to fit in too many homages, but once the allusions started popping up, I was delighted. There’s a fun sort of mash-up of alternate universes within this Bond movie, where you believe Daniel Craig is somehow the same character who fought Blofeld and Goldfinger. And, without giving too much of the film’s ending away, there are brand new aspects to the James Bond story, rendered here for the first time.
4. Bond Likes the Ladies, But is Not a Womanizer
Since Casino Royale, the Daniel Craig films have been slowly pulling away from presenting 007 as someone who has lots of casual sex for the sake of power and control. By the time we get to Skyfall, this version of the suave ladies man seems to view sex in a more normal, relatable way. Yes, he’s slick, but somehow I don’t feel like Bond feels entitled to sex, nor is his getting the girl necessarily a foregone conclusion. Plus, in this film, the most important woman in Bond’s life isn’t someone he’s involved with romantically. Instead, it’s all about his boss, M.
3. The Social Relevancy of 007 is Addressed
Since the introduction of Judi Dench as M, the Bond series has attempted to address what a Cold Warrior like 007 is still doing hanging around in the current zeitgeist. What is the point of someone like this anymore? Back when James Bond was still Pierce Brosnan, M called him a “dinosaur,” and a “relic of the cold war.” In Skyfall, Javier Bardem taunts James by saying, “Is there nothing left of the old 007?” The difference between this movie and GoldenEye is that the former was addressing the politics of the end of the Cold War. This time, the soul of the character is actually being explored. Sam Mendes seems to be asking himself one question over and over again, “Why does this character matter?” And the answers continue to be surprising.
2. The Action is Some of the Best You’ve Ever Seen
It’s really hard to top the awesome foot chase scene in Casino Royale, and it was unfortunate that Quantum of Solace had such a choppy car chase sequence to kick things off. But the opening scene of Skyfall may be up there with the car chase in Bullitt or The Bourne Identity. It’s nice to see that in the ten years since Die Another Day, I couldn’t spot one digital effect anywhere in this movie. Seemingly, every single stunt was done for real. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came out Daniel Craig actually got shot a few times just for added realism—it’s that hardcore.
1. It’s Emotional!
I don’t think you need to be a James Bond fan to be moved by what goes down in this film. Like I said, this is a solid movie in its own right before it’s an action movie or a Bond movie. There are formulas and expectations that go along with any genre movie, particularly a Bond film, but Sam Mendes does a totally impressive job of keeping Skyfall a little less melodramatic than previous entries. In terms of real drama, real stakes, and actual concern for where these characters end up, this may be the best Bond movie ever. Of course, the paradox is this movies relies, at least partially, on that accumulated history.
A few weeks ago Daniel Craig revealed he was moved to tears by Adele’s performance of the theme song. At the time I thought that sounded a little hokey and kind of lame. But, after seeing the film, I have to admit I did tear up more than once. IN A BOND MOVIE!
Okay readers, spies, and risk-takers: check back with us on Friday as we discuss all the action-packed, spoiler-filled craziness that happens in Skyfall!
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com and wonders why this never happened to the other fellow.