Director:- Sam Mendes
Starring:- Daniel Craig, Judy Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes
Runtime:- 143 minutes
For the longest time it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, but after 4 years and major studio disputes, Bond is back. Following on from the blatant Bourne rip off that was Casino Royale and the narrative mess that was Quantum of Solace, Sam Mendes takes the helm to try and steer the British superspy back on course.
Having barely navigated the ludicrously complicated plot of Quantum of Solace, it is refreshing that Skyfall’s story is a relatively simple one. A computer hard drive containing the identities of every secret agent working undercover in terrorist organisations is stolen and it is up to Bond to get it back. The blame for the theft falls squarely on the shoulders of M (Judy Dench), who becomes the driving force for the plot from then on. After so many years as the franchise’s stern matriarch, it is good to see Dench have more to do than rolling her eyes at Bond’s cavalier approach to espionage.
2006’s Casino Royale, not only marked Daniel Craig’s Bond debut, but it also marked a new direction for the stalling franchise. After the debacle that was 2002’s Die Another Day, which saw then Bond Pierce Brosnan evading a massive laser beam from outer space in a rocket car, the consensus was a retooling for the 21st century was needed. The need for change was further emphasised by the box office and critical success of The Bourne Identity, which introduced a new kind of cinematic spy, someone edgier, grittier and more resourceful than his martini-drinking counterpart. Matt Damon’s Bourne character was used as a template for the modern day Bond. Casino Royale said goodbye to the silly gadgets and innuendo, replacing them with a ruthless, stern, and occasionally vulnerable character. Despite reservations that this new cynical Bond was unrecognisable from what made him such an institution in the first place, this approach proved to be very popular with audiences, at the time becoming the highest box office earner of any film in the series.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the series, Skyfall thankfully pulls off the delicate balancing act with the realist and ridiculous approaches, creating a film that should satisfy fans of old and new school Bond. Still containing the hard-hitting fights scenes which gave Craig’s Bond a grittier edge, Skyfall is a film that nods to the past while asking questions which are relevant to modern day. In an age dominated by technology and where so much can be accomplished from in front of a computer screen, the usefulness of Bond and his secret agent brethren is called into question. With one foot rooted in modernity the other is still planted firmly in the traditional camp pageantry of the Connery and Moore years. These flourishes come in the subtly sublime- Bond adjusting his cuffs after leaping onto a speeding train- to the outlandishly absurd- a fist fight in a Komodo dragon pit- but there is enough to satisfy the most nostalgic fans.
The real revelation however comes in the form of Javier Bardem, taking the reigns as public enemy number one as Raoul Silva. A memorable villain is something that was drastically missing from both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. So how refreshing therefore to have a character who is tortured by the past, think of him as the monster to M’s Frankenstein, and yet clearly relishes in evil deeds. He is the perfect flamboyant foil for an aging Bond, complete with a secret island lair and seemingly able to summon passenger vehicles at his will to crush unsuspecting enemies. Being afforded more back story than so many of Bond’s nemeses allows for Bardem to create a truly menacing presence, during a speech midway through the film he undergoes a physical transformation which is as sinister as it is surprising. Not since Heath Ledger’s portrayal as the Joker in The Dark Knight has a screen bad guy left such an impression.
Whilst marking a distinct return to form, Skyfall is by no means perfect. Daniel Craig offers a more rounded portrayal as Bond than previous instalments. He plays the role of the aging hero struggle in a young-mans business well, but as an actor is not blessed with a wealth of range, he never strays far from quiet, brooding smugness. It is fine as a default setting for the character, but more is required. Further questions are sure to be raised about the Home Alone inspired finale, and whilst they just about get away with it there is the suggestion that the film’s climax renders all the efforts that came before it rather pointless. This criticism could be just as easily dismissed as cinematic pedantry however.
Small niggles aside, Skyfall is a success. For the first time since the early days of Brosnan’s reign the franchise has produced a film with memorable theme song, a compelling plot, a thrilling villain and a sense of fun that does not spill over into the realms of absurdity. Like the man himself, this effort creates intrigue, with a level of unpredictability that achieves something that no other Bond film has in many a year, namely whet the appetite for future instalments.