James Bond is now 50 years old. Well, not James himself, Daniel Craig is in fact only 44 but this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film, the Sean Connery-starring Dr. No. It does seem fitting that a new Bond should release this year, but it is doubtful that it was planned too far in advance. Bond 23 (what became Skyfall) was initially scheduled for an earlier production and release, but MGM’s monetary problems (something that also affected Cabin in the Woods, released this April after a three year delay) forced it to 2012. This, however, has not done it any harm. With the recruitment of Sam Mendes, Skyfall has been shaped into a far better film than Quantum of Solace and one of this year’s most capable blockbusters.
As is often the case, Bond’s adventure is very much an international outing. England, Turkey, China and Scotland are all explored and each, to the great credit of the director and other crew members behind the camera, has a unique visual flavour, a particular standout being a brilliantly executed sequence in Shanghai, aesthetically marvellous, even if the current in vogue action action colours of blue and orange are a little overused. Mendes also successfully avoids putting in any obvious ‘plastic bag moments’, undoubtedly a boon to the tonal consistency of the film.
Speaking of tone, it is clear that Craig’s Bond still has at least some ability to move with the post-Bourne trilogy times. Gone are the ridiculous gadgets, near-fetishistic obsession with cars and rampant sexism. In fact, the true ‘Bond girl’ of Skyfall is Dame Judi Dench’s M, playing far more of a role than previously, when she was generally relegated to a nagging voice on 007’s radio. As has been promised, M is the central figure of this film’s plot, encouraged by the initially mysterious villain figure to ‘think on [her] sins’. Sins which make Bond’s far rather difficult, as he is shot, presumed killed, by a stray friendly bullet at the very opening of the film. Obviously he survives this (it would be a rather short film if he didn’t), but deathly imagery abounds in Skyfall, particularly in the opening credits scene, during which Adele’s theme tune is…ok. Unremarkable, but not terrible.
Once the villain is revealed, in the form of Javier Bardem’s Silva, the whole thing steps up a gear. London takes the brunt of the impact as holes are blown in MI6, the tube network and more. However, these sequences, unfortunately, can feel slightly anti-climactic, and far too convenient. That is, until the final set-piece. I won’t spoil it here, suffice to say that it is choreographed magnificently and genuinely feels like a true ending, something sorely lacking in today’s sequel-bait finales (even if the credits begin with a very confident ‘James Bond will return’). Silva himself is also a bit inconsistent, and definitely lacking in the menace possessed by Bardem in the Coens’ No Country For Old Men, even if his hair matches up in terms of ridiculousness. He is, on one hand, a singularly driven nemesis, aiming to strike at a personal target instead of world domination/destruction, a motive that I always far prefer during a thriller, although he can occasionally come off as too campy.
The performances are solid across the board, Craig and Dench are pretty much pitch-perfect in their respective roles, with an effective supporting cast behind them. When Bardem is good, he’s really very good, but a little too often breaks from his successful tone of menace, whilst Ralph Fiennes as government agent Mallory effortlessly slides from one British film institution (Harry Potter) to this. Ben Whishaw’s Q is a little underused, as are both of the non-Dench female actors. The lines they are given are never notably poor, and sometimes genuinely funny, but I felt that the chuckles sometimes brought me out of the experience and were slightly uneasy when the audience laughed in the very middle of a tense sequence.
Overall, Skyfall is an excellent piece of blockbuster entertainment with excellent performances, plot and an utterly brilliant endgame, despite its imperfections. Tonally, it is nearly consistent, but could do without the minor comedy (then again, what is a Bond film without quips and one-liners) and the occasional ‘ooh, look what we did there’ reference to previous entries in the franchise. Far better than Quantum of Solace and about as good as Casino Royale, Bond returns on excellent form and it is difficult to not recommend it to any action fans.
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem
Runtime: 143 mins