A powerful and gripping thriller that stands alone and turns the Bond signatures to its advantage.
First there was the need to surpass Quantum of Solace, which received a mixed reception and a retrospective critical 'nibbling', if not a mauling.
Then the financial woes of its parent studio. Finally the announcement of Sam Mendes' participation as Director, and widespread critical acclaim raised viewers' expectations to dangerously high levels.
Is it possible for a film to meet such expectations?
I'll answer it with a simple example: at approximately the halfway mark, my other half looked past me, curious at the lack of any usual irritants like chattering couples or rustling bags, to see the faces of the audience, lit by the screen, staring in rapt attention. Hundreds of them. Silent.
After a brave and punchy opening with great stunts aplenty, Skyfall leads us into a plot very firmly set in a modern Britain where MI6's relevance is in question, and the agency itself under lethal attack. While the first (approx) two fifths of the movie are very good indeed, they do feel very similar to what's gone before, and I was waiting for the wow factor to kick in.
It happens the moment Javier Bardem enters as bad guy Silva.
Leaking charisma and confidence from every pore, he gives a bravura performance that makes his one of the great Bond villains. Playful, honest, cruel, appallingly twisted, and physically dangerous (unlike the main villains of 'Royale' and 'Quantum'). His excellent and nuanced performance raises the game entirely. Delightfully, Craig is on spectacular form and rises to meet him, delivering a deeper Bond loaded with patriotism, fury, resentment and baggage, and all supporting players try to match the leads. Dench is utterly superb in the most demanding part that M has played yet. Naomie Harris gives her agent Eve a sparky c*ckiness and capability that makes her feel like one of the first genuinely useful supporting agents, and Berenice Marlohe is excellent - giving an almost feral, wounded animal performance - at one stage half seductress, half terrified.
None of the set-pieces feel like they 'slot into' the traditional Bond mould, and yet the traditions are honoured, with Ben Whishaw's welcome and fun 'Q', considerably more backstory than ever before, flashy locations and at least one crazily over-the-top set piece at the beginning.
The visuals also have to be commented on. This is easily the most gorgeously shot Bond film in memory, with scenery and colours that ravish the eyes, but also a character depth and a plot to match. At one stage Bond and M simply stop and admire the scenery, and their brief exchange is one of the most gentle and honest of the series.
Strikingly impressive, visually dazzling, packed with plot and decent character motivations, and so rich and densely filled that it almost demands second viewing (roll on Blu-Ray!). It singlehandedly feels like it rejuvenates the franchise and yet dovetails beautifully into everything that's gone before. An incredible triumph and a terrific movie.
It's a must-see movie.