Skyfall review: Bond resurrected

007 must return from the dead in Skyfall, which resurrects all that's great about Bond. Check out our spoiler-free review.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
4 min read

"Everyone's got to have a hobby," says James Bond in Skyfall -- and his is "resurrection". Not only must 007 return from the dead to battle evil Javier Bardem, but the latest outing from Daniel Craig as Britain's deadliest secret agent resurrects everything that's great about classic Bond after the dour Quantum of Solace.

Bond is back with a bang under the watchful eye of American Beauty director Sam Mendes. A list of undercover agents has gone missing, and the search brings Bond up against the mysterious and feared Raoul Silva.

The rip-roaring opening sequence as Bond pursues a bad guy across Istanbul's rooftops and on to a fistfight atop a speeding train is just the first ferociously inventive set piece in a film littered with them. Where every post-Bourne action movie seems to feature a rooftop chase, Skyfall leaps from roof to roof on motorbikes, reminding us that no matter what the current cinematic trends, nobody does it better.

But it's not all punch-ups and shoot-outs: pulses race throughout as Skyfall shifts from slambang action to slowburning tension, Bond stalking his prey and facing off in nailbiting verbal duels sizzling with danger and deceit.

And it's all done with lashings of style: Mendes thankfully ditches the eye-botheringly frenzied over-editing of recent films, while the most thrilling action set-to is a brutal punch-up played out in battering silhouette.

It's also easily the most cinematically striking Bond film ever: from flinty London crispness to neon-drenched Shanghai, from dragonfire-lit Macau to mist-shrouded Scotland, every frame is a treat for the eye.

As the film moves between the lurid purple-and-blue neon of Shanghai to a surreal dust-covered ruined island, Skyfall reminded me of Inception: a high-stakes psychological game of cat and mouse played out in a fever-dreamworld of ruthless, broken people in immaculate tailoring.

There's no twisty-turny espionage or political manoeuvring with the CIA or previous film's baddies Quantum -- this is strictly personal. And never more so than in the final act, which riskily turns the Bond formula on its head. The film definitely slows at this point, but it does build to an apocalyptic climax unlike anything you've ever seen in a Bond film before.

James Bond has returned

Craig's Bond comes full-circle here: a man who can't even manage a shower and a shave without evoking the conjoined thrill of sex and death, Craig's blunt, beefy Bond is briefed not over champagne and caviar with the Minister, but while pumping out pec-bulging chin-ups.

Yet he's a less isolated and miserable figure, even cracking a funny or two -- and this more suavely rounded 007 is just one of the many of the classic Bondian elements on show, including one return that drew cheers and applause at the screening I attended.

The reboot process begun in Casino Royale is complete. Skyfall, like Daniel Craig, is comfortable in Bond's skin, boldly channelling classic Bond while exploring genuinely innovative territory. There's a fiendish villain -- but where past villains love gold, this baddie is Mr Silva. Bond is in service of the nation -- but his role is challenged in a Leveson-style inquiry. There's exotic locations -- but the real battleground is at home. They've even brought back Q -- but he's a computer hacker who doesn't go in for exploding pens any more.

The man with the golden wig

The strength of those Bond-brand elements is the only thing that can stop Javier Bardem running away with the film. Providing definitive proof after No Country for Old Men that the extent of his depravity is signalled by the silliness of his hairdo, Bardem's grotesque yet irresistible Silva is somewhere between The Dark Knight's Joker and Frankenstein's Monster, adoring yet hating his creator, burning with an all-consuming point to prove.

Bond and Silva spiral towards their doom in a sado-masochistic love triangle of caustic chemistry between them and spymaster M, played again by Judi Dench in her biggest role in the series. The human cost of her job, making life-and-death decisions about other people's lives -- and deaths -- comes back to haunt her and the people around her.

The other women in Bond's life include a feisty fellow agent played by Naomi Harris, but their interplay feels more forced than flirty. Much better is French actress Bérénice Marlohe, as the sinuous but fragile Sévérine.

Premium vintage yet audaciously innovative, Skyfall is easily Daniel Craig's best outing as James Bond and perhaps one of the best in the series. Reminding us why we love this old dog while showing us some bold new tricks, Skyfall lands in cinemas on 26 October. The resurrection is complete.