Skyfall opens with a silhouette of Daniel Craig. As the actor walks from the shadows and into the light, we see his character slowly take form. He’s suit up and holding a gun. A typical James Bond introduction. Continuing in the Bond tradition is a long chase, this time ending with Bond’s death. Cue in the Skyfall opening theme by Adele. It is, visually, so damn appealing but it also has some dark emotion lurking underneath. Now you know what to expect from the film.
We see that Bond has survived and is living a luxurious life in secrecy. He needs painkillers to cope with a life amiss of purpose and it’s been long since he’s received that shot of adrenaline he’s become a slave to. MI6 is his only way out. His boss, M (Judi Dench), hands him a new assignment. Bond heads to Shanghai, a city that’s inhabited by skyscrapers, decorated in lustre and coloured in neon. The filming locations are great. Not just in Shanghai but throughout the film.
Bardem characterizes Silva with a slightly high-pitched voice, but not too high to caricaturize him. A diabolical nature exists at one end of his character and at yet another end is an anguish he can no longer live with. Silva has an undying rage aroused by an interminable feeling of betrayal that sinks deep and stings his every waking moment. He intends to bring M down and with her he drags along the entire MI6 operation.
M is probably the most powerful character here. Her character isn’t developed much but when she declares “Orphans always make the best recruits,” we see her in a whole new light. She plays the manipulative mother-figure that takes in orphans who have no sense of purpose or security, as if they didn’t matter, and turns that to her advantage. When Silva gets her attention, she punishes and then abandons him. Her character is sickeningly real but none of this pricks her conscience for she strongly believes that she’s fighting for a bigger cause. Silva hates her for what she’s done but loves her too much to be able to actually kill her.
Silva’s undying rage is matched by Bond’s undying loyalty. Silva’s always a step ahead in this cat-and-mouse game but Bond realizes he needs to think two steps ahead if he wants to outmatch him. Where Silva feels manipulated into making his choices (which M disregards as civilian oversight) Bond feels responsible for the choices he’s made. Both characters have similar forces acting in their lives. But the very forces that weaken Silva make Bond feel stronger. And with Daniel Craig’s features, Bond looks like a big wildcat that can endure it all.
Director Sam Mendes (who debuted with the great American Beauty) capitalizes smartly on Daniel Craig’s physique, going for silhouettes to trace the actor’s solid stature. Another director with a love for testosterone, like Stallone, would’ve unabashedly boasted his actor’s muscles. Skyfall scores satisfactory points for action but it doesn’t quite live up to the benchmark set earlier this year by The BourneLegacy. This is Mendes’ fifth collaboration with Thomas Newman, a composer who can masterfully articulate muted sorrow from merely arranging sounds, but this is Newman’s first attempt at grandiloquence. And once again, he triumphs.
I love how Mendes cuts to the light of day from the dark, fiery atmosphere after the final showdown between Bond and Silva. Bond is standing at the edge of a building like a towering figure. He’s staring at a fluttering British flag. The camera backs away from the flag and Bond slowly makes his way into the scene from the side. It looks as if he’s spreading himself across the screen, conquering it.