Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, Ian Fleming
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judy Dench, Javier Bardem
“England… Mi6… so old-fashioned!”
Bond used to be simple. You either loved it or were entirely indifferent to it. Only now there are those who love classic Bond but hate the new dark and edgy incarnation, and so we end up with the odd chimera which is Skyfall – something of a compromise between the two era’s which potentially could please both groups, or alienate everybody.
For an outsider the rebirth of Bond made total sense. The character had become a dinosaur, a tragi-comic caricature continually dragged out from an age long past to make a quick buck. His habitual quipping in the face of mortal danger, serial womanising, and world built upon clichés had grown ever more embarrassing, and once the unfashionable spy genre had been rejuvenated in the guise of violent and edgy thrillers led by hard as nails protagonists who actually got down to the dirty business of espionage, the cat was forever out of the bag. Revisiting the unintentionally comic vintage films may be good for an ironic laugh but watching Pierce Brosnan prance around in the post Cold War world was only damaging to the reputation of such an iconic character. Despite the guaranteed box office success Bond films are quickly derided by all except the most devout of acolytes. The decision had become an obvious one; either let 007 die in piece or, if raking in cash really is a must, then adapt to the modern world.
Following on from the triumphant rebirth of Casino Royale, a film which could be enjoyed by non fans and fans alike, and the disappointingly glossy, never ending action scene bore-fest which was Quantum of Solace, Skyfall continues the return of Bond’s relevance, managing to find a nice balance between the escapist action and tense drama, while unexpectedly sneaking in some stunning art house direction.
Skyfall does everything you would expect from Bond. Large scale international set pieces, over the top action scenes, and those bizarre convoluted life or death scenarios 007 always finds himself in. For a big budget blockbuster, all the boxes are ticked.
In the by the numbers spy plot, Judy Dench’s M takes something of a centre stage as she is put up as the sacrificial lamb after a major intel leak. Not exactly new territory, but it is used well to explore the murky and complicated political world the secret service has been overtaken by. Not just literally then is it time for Bond to adapt to the new world. Get it?
There is an admirable attempt to add some layers to the traditionally 2 dimensional background characters by delving into everybody’s past. Even the traditionally mysterious and stiff upper lipped Bond gets involved in digging up emotional skeletons from the past and answers some questions which edges this towards a kind of Bond Begins territory.
But Skyfall’s greatest asset is its electrifying villain Raoul Silva who lights up the fairly bog standard intel leak story with some serious chaos. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why this character works, being both overly camp in a classic Bond way, and displaying the kind of showmanship to be expected of an evil warlord type. Silva has also been imagined in a kind of creepy way that only a 1960s mindset could attach to a sophisticated gay European, and yet somehow he still comes across as both sinister and genuinely threatening. Had anyone other than Bardem played the role it could easily have become silly, and perhaps slightly offensive, but watching him swagger his way through the beautiful finale, Silva looks more iconic than Bond.
And that beautiful finale. This is Bond as we have never seen it before with as much attention paid to aesthetics as they are to cars flying through air and women bending over as Bond raises an eyebrow. All of which is no surprise given that Sam Mendes is at the helm. From the neon backlit silhouette fight, to the haunting fire and icy mist of the final showdown everything is carefully, delicately shot, and is the ultimate visual experience of Bond we are ever likely to get.
At its worst Skyfall indulges in some heavy handed attempts to placate the army of traditionalist fans who feel increasingly alienated and betrayed by the gritty direction the series has moved into. But in truth these efforts probably just piss them off even more. Past Bond films are the butt of most of the tongue in cheek jibes, which at first simply adds to the legendary dry British wit personified by 007, but after a while it feels like hard man Daniel Craig is pissing all over poor old Roger Moore and co. In the tradition of recent reboots the references and little jokes are not exactly woven into the story; they are more like needless side sketches, and for those who don’t even care about the series they become unwelcome interruptions as characters pause after the punchline and practically wink to the camera.
Despite the slightly messy marriage of the different Bond era’s, and the odd sense that this is yet another reboot, Skyfall is Bond at its best. It does everything you would expect and adds a new level of incredible film making which could never have honestly been expected. It’s difficult to now see where the series can go from here. Does it move further into the classy visual artistry, or return to the comic book action of old? Or should this simply be the high note with which to retire her majesties most whored out secret agent?
The answer: $$$