Phones, alcoholic beverages, a fragrance – even an entire Sky Channel has been created to honour James Bond in what is a historic year for the British spy. I have been a Bond fan as far back as I can remember and hotly anticipated the new film – yet what I was confronted with was somewhat different to what I expected. Did that make me feel bad about it? Well…
Review – Skyfall
2012, 143 mins, 12A, Dir. Sam Mendes, starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris.
There’s a moment at the very beginning of Skyfall that assures you that you’re in the right place. A character enters the frame, far away and very out of focus, and yet the brief burst of music tells you exactly who it is. And in the ensuing chase scene in Istanbul, once he has driven a motorbike through the Grand Bazaar, that character narrowly makes a jump from one train carriage to the next, immediately adjusting his cufflink as he straightens himself. Ladies and gentlemen. James Bond is back.
As an attack is made on MI6 and the names of undercover agents posted on the internet, M finds her position under threat while secrets from her past begin to surface. Bond has to track down the source of the attack and neutralise it, while also trying to save his position as a double-O agent.
The story is strikingly and unusually personal to both Bond and M, and it is by far the most mature Bond we’ve ever had. Sam Mendes gives us everything we would expect from the franchise – cars, bullets, explosive action, exotic women, even the odd double entendre – but also so much more. It is daring in its emotional exploration of Bond, in its introduction of M as a major character, and in its pacing. It cannot be denied that this is a Sam Mendes film, and yet it is so quintessentially Bond. The action sequences are really quite spectacular, and what’s more, you can tell what’s going on! Unlike the constantly shaking camera of its predecessor, Skyfall takes a restrained look at the action, and the film, with the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins, does look absolutely beautiful, particularly in the fight in Shanghai, a swirling scene of bright neon colours and silhouettes.
Skyfall also triumphs in its villain. As Silva, Javier Bardem has a creepy haircut and an even creepier manner, trying to unsettle Bond on their first meeting – if his proposition fails to scare Bond, then it certainly scares the audience. What makes him work other than Bardem’s truly brilliant performance is the character’s constant stepping-ahead of MI6 – he is a formidable villain of the computer age, a hacker, not bent on world destruction, but on something different entirely.
With a bigger role, and with a lot more to say, Judi Dench shines as M. She retains her fierce banter with OO7 and yet shows emotional depth when confronted with her past ‘sins’. Her relationship with Bond is one of the film’s main themes and one of the main reasons why it succeeds; Daniel Craig is equally impressive, not just in the physical sense as we would expect, but in indicating that there is more to his character than we might believe. It’s weighty stuff, and they pull it off.
But above all, Skyfall represents a return to the classic era of Bond, even within the guise of a more modern setting. Adele’s theme tune is powerful and melodic, unlike the thudding failure that was ‘Another Way to Die’. The Aston Martin DB5 shows up to a great fanfare, and Ben Whishaw appears as the new (and very good) Q. Jokes are made in both of these instances about the car’s gadgets and of Q’s young age – the film is smart and self-knowing despite the seriousness of the story. And it is also very British. Bond’s patriotism is often commented on, and the London locations were certainly very familiar; OO7’s pursuit of Silva both in Whitehall and in a crowded tube station was exhilarating to watch.
Skyfall emerges from the financial troubles of MGM as a confident and mature return for the British spy. It is well-written and acted, and has a more artistic and restrained sensibility whilst never abandoning the explosions and gunfire that make the Bond films so recognisable. Sam Mendes’ direction of the story and of the characters makes this film utterly unique, and while I don’t want to ruin what happens right at the end, I think it’s safe to say that I can hardly wait without strangling someone for the next film in the series. Welcome back, OO7.