WE ARE 50 years on from Dr No, the first movie outing of Ian Fleming’s MI6 agent, James Bond – AKA 007 – who likes his martinis a particular way, his women easy and his surname so much he says it twice.
Craig displays an emotional profundity and internal struggle in his icy blues that allows the audience to see beneath the suit (sometimes literally, but who’s complaining?).
After the writers’ strike turned out a disappointingly limp second outing for Daniel Craig's Bond in Quantum of Solace, expectations are set so high for Skyfall that meeting them could be Bond’s biggest challenge yet.
When the details of every NATO agent are stolen, M (Judi Dench) makes the tactical decision to force field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) to take a shot to stop the thief. Unfortunately, Eve accidentally hits Bond instead, the thug gets away and 007 is announced missing, presumed dead.
A terrorist attack on MI6 leaves more agents dead and the villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), reveals himself to be the same cyber-terrorist that stole the NATO details. He begins to release the names of five agents every week along with videos of their deaths, but his motives are seemingly ambiguous.
This forces Bond, who has been spending his death drinking scorpion chasers and popping pills against the pain of his injuries and hurt pride, to return to London to offer his help in catching Silva. Meanwhile, new Chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is holding M to account for her decisions and wants her – and Bond - to retire early. When it appears that M is the subject of the terrorist’s plot, it becomes a race against time for Bond to find Silva – but is he still up to the task?
If Casino Royale (2006) brought us a post-Bourne version of Bond, Skyfall pays homage to a Nolan-era-Batman. The Bond formula now contains a mix of gritty, dark interpretations of characters, ambiguous villains and conflicted heroes. However, Bond is a franchise like no other – no matter how much it reinvents itself, there is a series of targets the filmmakers have to hit: explosions, car chases, gadgets, beautiful women and memorable villains. The trick is keeping it all fresh.
So for Bond’s twenty-third outing, there is a theme of out with the old, in with the new. Fiennes’ Mallory is there to point out how M and Bond are getting on a bit and the shiny new Q (Ben Whishaw) is a whippersnapper bent on bringing Bond back to basics with more realistic gadgetry.
The experienced Bond scriptwriters have even allowed humour back into the fray, without resorting to the cheese ball puns of old. This all works well, but the storyline feels recycled. There is a hint of The Dark Knight, but without the exhilarating anarchy, and a rehash of GoldenEye (but thankfully without the space weaponry).
Skyfall is a no-holds-barred visual feast. The opener is a stunner and ticks all the right boxes. There’s a rooftop motorbike chase, the obligatory puns and Bond shaking off a gunshot wound like it’s a mere paper cut so he can carry on a pursuit involving a digger on a train. It’s everything you could want from a Bond film. Similarly, the scenes in Shanghai are a sumptuous eye banquet and the London underground set piece gleams with improbable lustre.
But this all comes as standard with Bond.
Director Sam Mendes’ polished touch is more apparent in the details – as it was in the beautiful Away We Go (2009) and the harrowing but no less beautiful Revolutionary Road (2008). Mendes knows he can allow M and Bond to be the stoic characters they need to be amongst all of the huge, IMAX-enhanced action, and say very little while their performances speak volumes.
Craig is as craggy as ever in his third outing as the globe-trotting spy. Another, less confident actor might have struggled with a character that has very little to say when he isn’t delivering a pun. Craig, however, displays an emotional profundity and internal struggle in his icy blues that allows the audience to see beneath the suit (sometimes literally, but who’s complaining?).
Dame Dench’s M is another character that could be guilty of being a one-dimensional archetype. But in Dench’s experienced hands M becomes a master class in subtly and exquisite clothing. This is her seventh outing as the Head of MI6 and her transition from office ‘ma’am’ to being in the thick of the action couldn’t be more welcome or well played.
The Bond women are less exciting. Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine is fine as Bond women go – sexy, vulnerable, dangerous – but doesn’t really stand out against the plethora of Bond women past. Eve is much more of a hands-on Bond woman (although not as literally as Sévérine). Unfortunately, the conclusion to her storyline is little more than a patriarchal pat on the head for a job well done.
In No Country for Old Men Bardem was terrifying, yet instead of utilising his knee-quaking abilities, Mendes has camped out Bardem with a distractingly bouffant blond hair style that severely hinders his capacity to instil fear.
When Silva ties Bond to a chair at his first opportunity and gently caresses the spy’s collarbone, there’s a brief inkling that this could be a villain to remember. Unfortunately, the murderous diva is quashed for the remainder of the film into the forgettable mould of your average, unstable Bond villain and you’re left wondering what’s in it for his cannon fodder minions.
The thin plot and backcombed villain almost result in Skyfall being a dissatisfying addition to the series. Thankfully, Craig is still ensuring that audiences can find new depths to an old favourite and Mendes’ daringly low tech and emotional climax guarantees that this is a Bond to remember.
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