Bond franchise finds fresh new style in ‘Skyfall’

Jordan Beck

After half a century, some might wonder if we still need James Bond. In a nutshell, that is the question at the heart of “Skyfall.”

As the 23rd official Bond movie, it’d certainly be understandable if this installment in the long-running franchise showed signs of aging. Instead, director Sam Mendes deals with the changing times by addressing them head-on. It’s a risky strategy, but it pays off.

The plot starts simply enough: during a mission in Istanbul, Bond (Daniel Craig, appearing in the title role for the third time) is accidentally shot by a fellow MI6 agent.

He survives (of course), but in a way that could allow him to fake his own death – which he does, using the opportunity as a way to retire from espionage.

Inevitably, a catastrophe back in London compels Bond to come “back from the dead” to rejoin the agency, despite the fact that he’s not sure he’s fit for the job anymore.

If that summary sounds vague, it’s because it is – but for a very good reason. While the movie’s plot stays close to the classic Bond formula at the beginning, “Skyfall” takes quite a few detours over its two-and-a-half hours.

It’s not a Hitchcock film or anything, but there’s definitely more to it than “Bond saves the world and gets the girl.” As such, the less you know about the movie’s plot going in, the better. You have been warned.

So, the story is good – it’s even better than usual. But it’s just as rich visually, thanks largely to the involvement of cinematographer Roger Deakins.

One particularly gorgeous scene is an early fight sequence set in a Shanghai skyscraper. The twist: the glass room they’re in is illuminated almost entirely by LED billboards on the building across the street.

During their brawl, Bond and his opponent are silhouetted against a constantly-changing, psychedelic background. This serves as a representation of the extremely fresh visual approach that the franchise has taken, but it’s also reminiscent of the hyper-stylized opening sequences. This “new-but-classic” feeling is omnipresent throughout “Skyfall.”

It’s especially noticeable in the movie’s theme song, performed and co-written by the 21st-century crooner Adele.

She’s a perfect fit for the series, and “Skyfall” (the song) captures the sound of Shirley Bassey’s golden-age Bond themes while adding its own modern twist.

Similarly, the film’s score (written by Thomas Newman) introduces a number of synthetic textures and unusual harmonies to the usual strings and brass. Needless to say, that theme pops up all over the place, too.

Despite all this, possibly the most impressive thing about “Skyfall” is that it doesn’t feel like it belongs to a 50-year-old film franchise. At least, not in the ways that Bond fans might come to expect.

While it definitely has a sense of history (as acknowledged by a number of subtle references to earlier Bond films hidden throughout), there’s an undeniable freshness to the movie as well.

Far from being an antique, the finished product is one of the most exciting blockbusters in a year full of them. As it turns out, the world does still need James Bond, after all.