The people who made “Skyfall” couldn’t decide on a satisfying way to open their movie: Do they go with the foot chase, the car chase, the bike chase or the train chase? Naturally, they went with the only choice that made sense — go with all four.
The unrelenting pre-title sequence in “Skyfall” is a knockout, nearly achieving the same high-octane level of suspense as the construction site sequence that kicked off the first Daniel Craig Bond adventure, “Casino Royale.” But “Skyfall” does have a leg up on the other Bonds on at least two fronts: 1) “Skyfall” creates suspense by killing Bond off early on (or do they?); and 2) the title track by Adele is easily the best Bond theme in 50 years.
“Skyfall” offers up plenty of other pleasures, too. The movie seems to be on some sort of crusade to out-top itself as it breezes through its pulse-pounding 143-minute running time. “Skyfall” is so slick and fast-paced that you might not even realize its primary villain (Javier Bardem) doesn’t even make an appearance until the movie is over an hour old. Up until that riveting reveal, there’s a nominal plot involving Bardem’s attempts to settle a score with M (Judi Dench), who must live with the guilt of putting her agents in the line of fire day after day.
That’s all well and good, but the most exciting aspect of “Skyfall” is its over-the-top relentlessness. Bond is shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, scorched and nearly drowned over the course of the movie, and he’s just one character. That’s nothing compared to the damage inflicted on the rest of the cast, which includes one guy being dropped off a building and another getting eaten by a lizard. But “Skyfall” is no mere cartoon. A lot of the shootouts have a grimness that emphasize the reality of Bond’s situation, particularly one gunfight set in a courtroom where everyone is fair game, including the Prime Minister.
But the movie is mostly about having fun. Ralph Fiennes pops up, as do Albert Finney and Naomie Harris (Calypso in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) to class up the joint. There’s a new Q (Ben Whishaw) who cracks a witty joke fans of the previous Bonds are sure to enjoy (“Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go for that anymore”). And there are plenty more references to previous Bond adventures (the Aston Martin DB5, an appearance by 007’s Walther PPK) to keep a smile on your face as the violence threatens to become overwhelming.
All in all, “Skyfall” sets the standard for more adventures to come, with that old chestnut, “James Bond Will Return,” popping up to reassure us this is only the beginning. This is a franchise that will endure for generations, and here’s hoping they can maintain “Skyfall’s” level of quality in years to come.
★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
Rated PG-13 for nonstop violence and a few strong words. 143 minutes, 2012.
Director: Sam Mendes. Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench.