Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Skyfall, the 23rd screen outing for 007 sees Bond tackle the threat of cyber terrorism in a modern world which is very different to that which he first traversed half a century ago. The film, which I’ll open by saying is a lot better than the previous effort Thingy of Whatsit is a return to form for the series and puts Bond back in its place at the centre of the action thriller genre. Having lost a file containing the names of undercover agents, Bond (Daniel Craig) chases down the culprit only to be halted by MI6. Presumed dead, 007 begins to rot while MI6 comes under attack from a man with a score to settle with M (Judi Dench).
The film finds many parallels with its, Britain’s, MI6’s and indeed its central character’s place in the world. They all appear to be past their best, living in a world that has moved on, leaving them behind. Britain, a hundred years past its prime is being kept safe by MI6 whose field agents appear ill equipped to deal with the modern threats of hidden terrorists who wear no uniform and report to no country. Indeed the west itself appears to be losing its grip on the world and this is tackled with the appearance of Shanghai, perhaps this century’s New York. The motif goes further, examining the likes of M and Bond themselves and challenging them to prove that they are still relevant in the twenty-first century.
The film opens with an exhilarating chase through the streets and across the rooftops of Istanbul before venturing into the open countryside, getting bigger and crazier with each passing minute. The first ten minutes or so were by far the most exciting and entertaining of the film and come to a close with what would be a huge shock, had the trailer not been everywhere for six months. Following this the trademark title sequence arrives which is excellent although accompanied by Adele’s much overrated title song Skyfall. It’s about time the worldwide fawning over Adele ended. She has an above average singing voice. Excellent. Her songs are duller than a stick drawing of John Major and Skyfall is no exception. For a start skyfall and crumble do not rhyme. I must admit though, the song does sound better when accompanied by the title sequence.
It has often been said that Daniel Craig is a modern Bond for a modern audience and while this is true, as I’ve said, his relevance is questioned throughout the film. The terrific baddie played by Javier Bardem creates his lair not in a volcano or under the ocean but inside an empty building surrounded by computers. The twenty-first century Bond requires a twenty-first century villain. To combat this new threat, Q (Ben Whishaw) furnishes Bond with just a gun and radio, almost going against the grain and saying that they are aware of the technological superiority of the enemy. This also works as a metaphor for MI6 and Bond’s place in the past. A sub-plot to the film is M’s questioning in front of a committee of MPs. She is interrogated about her role and the role of MI6 and puts forward the argument that now we aren’t fighting Communists or rouge nations but invisible threats, MI6s role is even more vital. Obviously during the course of the film, Bond proves her right.
There were numerous things that I was glad to see in the film but many I could have done with out. Starting with the positives I was glad to see the return of characters such as Q who had been absent from the most recent films. I felt that the character’s absence had been a huge hole in the franchise and was glad to see him back in a new incarnation and with a much larger role than Desmond Llewelyn ever had. The line “Bond, James Bond” also makes a welcome return and I smiled when I heard it. Other things such as the Walther PPK are back and although it is never mentioned, Bond enjoys his signature drink, shaken, not stirred. I felt that the above had been sorely missed from the Craig era Bond and perhaps the producers have realised that making Bond modern and able to compete with the likes of Bourne and every fucking Liam Neeson film can be done while keeping some of the classic elements. There was talk during production of a Sean Connery cameo and while this never came to fruition I was glad to see one historic Bond cameo make an appearance and from the murmuring and chuckling in the cinema, others were too.
On the negative side the film was a little too long and lagged in places. The product placement (a real hatred of mine) was far too prevalent but some products I’d been warned about were advertised in a much more subtle way. I’d been warned about a certain beer being overly advertised but had I not been aware of it beforehand I’d never have noticed. In a way I’m angrier than if a huge billboard had been used as the company has got its name out there without it actually being seen on screen, the swines! A lingering shot of Bond’s watch also had my girlfriend and I turning to each other with rye looks on our faces. There were also a couple of scenes where only one make of car was visible which again I can only assume was intentional.
I was glad to see that there were a few exciting action sequences and that the script was fairly tight. The cinematography is excellent too and when I spotted the name Roger Deakins in the closing credits the reason fit into place. The man is renowned for creating visually stunning films with the likes of Revolutionary Road, True Grit, ...Jesse James..., Fargo and The Shawshank Redemption on his CV and he crafts some incredibly beautiful shots here with a latter sequence in Scotland standing out above the rest. The last half and hour of the film was also in my view its best. Sam Mendes too appears to be the perfect director to get the franchise back in the right direction, getting the most from a decent but not brilliant script and talented cast.
Daniel Craig’s performance is a little deeper than in his previous films but aspects such as stubble to denote his off the rails, sombre mood felt a little cheap. I’m still not as impressed with him as Bond as a lot of people but I am warming to him. Judi Dench has a much larger role than in her previous six Bond films and is as usual excellent, sharing some tender moments with Bond. Their mother-son like relationship is taken to new highs here. Ben Whishaw is a breath of fresh air as Q and I look forward to seeing much more from him in future films. Ralph (don’t call me Ralf) Fiennes brings his trademark grumpy persona to the franchise but Bond girls Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe feel underused and lack the exotic look of previous Bond girls. Albert Finney pops up with a brief but impressive appearance. The star of the film though is Javier Bardem. He plays the role in a deliciously camp manner and his accent, hair and mannerisms add up to a very memorable villain. I can barely remember who played a Bond Villain since Sean Bean but his character and performance may end up being used in future montages alongside Blofeld, Jaws and Oddjob.
There is talk that Skyfall is the best Bond film ever but to be honest comparing fifty years of film is fraught with difficulty. It’s like comparing Bryant to Jordan or Messi to Pele. They are all products of different worlds. What I will say though is that even though I’d heard positive things about Skyfall I was sick of the endless promotion and ready to hate it but I came out having enjoyed it more than any Bond I’ve seen since I was a child. The film matches its surroundings and has enough action and surprises to keep audiences entertained and I just hope the franchise can move forward from this, taking what was successful with it into the next fifty years.