[UK/EU - October 26th - 1st November, 2012.]
[US/Canada - 9th November, 2012]
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney & Ben Whishaw
Hello children. Cast your blissful brains back to 2002. It was the 40th anniversary of the James Bond film series and the 20th Bond film was released in the disturbing, mutated form of Die Another Day. Jam packed full of ham-fisted references to past films, non-stop innuendos and an invisible car. Frankly, it was about as much fun as jumping into a threshing machine and watching all of your limbs breaking off and smacking you in the face.
Well, thank God they have learnt from their mistakes for the 50th anniversary by releasing Skyfall, the 23rd film in the series.
Now, before you assume this is a biased review from some young punk who loves Daniel Craig and has only seen the last three films, I should point out that I’ve never been an advocate for Craig‘s Bond before. He’s a great actor and he definitely should be in a Bond film, but on the opposite side as a Robert Shaw/Red Grant style villain. I’ve always felt he was miscast as Bond; and no it’s not just the blond hair (I’m not that petty). Actually, it’s his general physicality and the fact that he looks like a Russian body-builder or a retired millionaire footballer. Being someone who has actually read the Ian Fleming novels (and not just pretending to have read them like most people do, the lying greenhorns!) I know that James Bond is essentially a blunt instrument of the government, a cold steely killer who can easily disguise himself as a sophisticated gentleman. Now Craig’s Bond certainly has the ‘blunt instrument’ aspect but not enough of the sophistication and he’s just too rough around the edges, which is why he’d be perfect as a Bond villain. He can’t believably blend in like a secret agent. If you put him in a police line-up, I’d point at him and go “he’s the killer, the one with the massive bulking muscles and short blond hair with a face like a grizzled bollock! Oh shit he’s coming at me…” and so on and so on.
Admittedly, this served as a distraction in the first two films of his run; Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but that wasn’t the only problem with those films. Whilst what Casino Royale tried to do was admirable, it suffered from the first hour of the film being tedious and the action sequences feeling shoehorned in, to pander to the younger audiences. Casino Royale didn’t really begin until they actually got to… you know, Casino Royale. It could have been 90 or 100 minutes tops if you cut off all the fat. And as for Quantum of Solace? Well, let’s just move on.
It really says something about the quality of Skyfall that I finally warmed to Daniel Craig’s Bond. His appearance didn’t distract me at all and I greatly enjoyed his performance. Everything about the film was well judged. Sam Mendes’ direction felt seamless, not being afraid to be classically elegant instead of falling victim to the post-Bourne direction of action thrillers. The action sequences felt smooth and relevant to the story and because they were edited properly, you can actually see what is happening on screen, unlike Q of S’s pathetic attempt to mimic the Bourne style with its breakneck paced, epileptic cutting of shots. Honestly, they must have thought “if we edit it fast enough, the audience won’t realise the absence of a finished, coherent script.” Well I did realise, we all did.
Skyfall is visually one of the most stunning Bond films with Roger Deakins’ cinematography stylishly picturesque in every scene and location without being obtrusive, whether it’s the neon soaked night-scape of Shanghai or the mist swept highlands of Scotland.
Refreshingly, Skyfall is actually humourous considering how The Thingy of Wallace took itself a bit too seriously (and not in a good Timothy Dalton way), this is a welcome aspect of the series that had long been missing. Again, the jokes are judged perfectly, occasionally being laugh-out-loud funny without straying into Roger Moore-esque cringe-territory. The scene where Bond jumps onto the underground tube train is a particular comic highlight.
The film has a fantastic supporting cast with old characters such as Q returning, played in a brilliantly revised way by Ben Whishaw as a dry-humoured computer whizz-kid. The stand out performance, however, belongs to Javier Bardem’s villain, Raoul Silver, a peroxide-blond haired cyber terrorist (don’t worry, not like Die Hard 4.0). Once again he has proven you can sport a ludicrous haircut and still be menacing. It was his villain that I was looking forward to most about Skyfall and he certainly didn’t disappoint. His larger-than-life facial features, mannerisms and Euro-camp hairstyle perfectly mirroring the typically flamboyant way Fleming would describe his villains. He does have a physical “gimmick” (as do most of the pantheon of Bond rogues), that I won’t spoil, though perhaps more significantly, he’s a Bond villain you can actually empathise with on some level.
Since this is the 50th anniversary, there are some expected references; some subtle (Bond stepping onto the back of a Komodo dragon to escape its enclosure) some glaringly obvious (the reveal of the gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5). But unlike Die Another Day, Skyfall earns the right to use its references by placing them in a story that goes in bold, brave new directions for Bond. To the extent, in fact, that some people have claimed it no longer resembles a Bond film. Personally I welcome the change, and whilst the third act of the film, in which the action moves to Scotland, may put some of the younger ‘technology craving’ viewers off, to me it felt like a breath of fresh air. Without revealing too much, we discover Bond’s heritage and background, which managed to stay true to the novels and was particularly fitting for the on-screen character’s 50th birthday. When asked about the final act, Sam Mendes said that when Bond and M get into the DB5 there is nothing in the film less than 50 years old. I never expected to see a 21st century Bond film that, for awhile at least, is grounded so much in the past, that it some ways it even brings to mind Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) in its finale.
The only irksome flaw is that the DB5 happens to be the same one from Goldfinger. Since Casino Royale established Craig’s Bond on a separate timeline to the original series, this can be slightly jarring. However it’s plausible that it belonged to an old 00 agent from the 60′s (obviously not Sean Connery) and that Craig’s Bond has simply acquired it from Q branch.
So to tie-up all of these tentacles of SPECTRE together in some kind of contrived summary, Skyfall is entirely a return to form. It has a very fitting melancholic title song by Adele that you can actually remember and is probably the best since Tina Turner’s Goldeneye. Daniel Craig is on great form, looking like he’s really having fun in the role and Judi Dench delivers her best performance as M. Most impressively, it manages to balance the classic iconography and feel of the 60′s Bond era with something altogether modern, refreshing and exciting without turning the character into Jason Bourne.
All of this combines to create a film I would happily place in my top 5 of the series along with Goldfinger (one of the coolest films ever made) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the best story) Licence to Kill (the closest to Fleming’s original Bond) and Goldeneye (a great action film).
Well done Mr Bond, well done… now please, don’t fuck it up again.