Director: Sam Mendes.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw.
Run Time: 143 minutes.
Skyfall finds everyone’s favourite secret agent, James Bond, forced to face a dangerous figure from his employer’s past, while trying to regain his killer instincts after a brush with death. So far so good, I thought. Sam Mendes signed on to direct, which was fantastic news, with Daniel Craig reprising his role as 007, leaving me very excited for Skyfall. After the abysmal Quantum of Solace (2008), and Studio MGM’s money troubles, things looked like they were getting back to the level of Casino Royale (2006), which for my money, was the best of all the Bonds.
Sorry to disappoint, but Skyfall is not ‘the best Bond ever’, as some media outlets and film reviewers would have you believe. It has its moments, but for me, it was too much of a departure from what is expected from a Bond movie. Casino Royale was enough of a departure in itself, but at least held to the Bond tenets, even if it did give them a spruce up. I felt it too soon to change it so radically again, but there you go.
The cyber-terrorism plot is also great on paper, with the identity of embedded agents released on Youtube and MI6 headquarters being blowed up, but after that, it is disregarded in favour of a more personal vendetta. I felt this element could have been expanded further, taking an almost Reboot approach to the plot, using Bond’s dependence on gadgets against him, before forcing him to use his innate old dog skills to thwart his enemies. Instead we jump straight to this second stage, making the themes of Bond and M’s relevance in modern espionage and how they cope with it, feel heavy handed. We are constantly reminded they are old and out of touch, rather than allowing us to form that opinion ourselves. Casino Royale already pared back the franchise enough, and with added back story (Jimmy always works best when mysterious and unknowable), it was just too much. I’m not completely against the back to basics idea, but just felt it could have been handled with more care.
Action fans shouldn’t be too disappointed, with plenty of spectacular (if sometimes contrived) set pieces and close quarters combat, almost making up for the more human aspects of the story, which were sadly lacking. It did get a few things right however, with Daniel Craig once again proving why he’s the best Bond (blasphemy, I know, but hear me out). He nails all the crucial elements that others may have lacked: he’s suave, tough, cold, brutal, darkly funny (and for the ladies), sexy, plus he can actually act. He presents a flawed and slightly sociopathic Bond, which only makes you like the magnificent womanising bastard even more. In Skyfall he performs admirably, as he has done for his run as 007, let down again more by elements out of his control. Dame Judy Dench gets to show a more vulnerable side to her brash portrayal as M, while Ben Whishaw has a surprisingly likable and humorous turn as Q. Like Gemma Arterton, Naomie Harris just didn’t cut it as a Bond Girl, with a rather pine scented performance not helped by equally wooden dialogue.
This of course, leads us nicely to our Bond Villain, Javier Bardem’s camply menacing Silva. His inclusion was what most whetted my appetite, and once again, I was left slightly disappointed. Don’t get it twisted, Bardem is a fantastic actor, and he does play the role well, but most of his best lines were in the trailers, which you couldn’t escape from if you tried. He was nowhere near as menacing the equally bad haired Anton Chigurh form No Country for Old Men (2007), but he did bring humour and gravitas to the role. Again, the writing let the character down. His motives felt inconsistent (I know he’s supposed to be unpredictable and fucking mental), and I was hoping for something additional to the straight revenge angle. The cyber-terrorism is more of an afterthought after the beginning, with a missedto mirror Le Chiffre from Casino Royale in his rooting to real world organisations, and terror attacks sold to the highest bidder. There also wasn’t much sticking of the boot into M. I would have preferred him to either try to straight up kill her of mess with her a lot more. As Bond’s shadow and mirror opposite, the character had great potential, but obviously to me there is a pattern emerging, regarding bad writing and plot. Silva just felt rushed and didn’t feel focussed enough or well rounded as our big bad, which removed some of his all encompassing menace for me.
As Blockbusters go, it wasn’t entirely disagreeable, but felt a bit underwhelming (as opposed to Royale’s minimalism) and predictable. The idea of Bond losing his edge and having to go back to basics is interesting, but two films too late. Hopefully Skyfall will act as a stopgap for greater things, but for now it fails to take the mantle of best Bond ever. I appreciate Mendes’ bravery in tackling a franchise almost fatally wounded, but whether the world was ready for his vision is another story. If you like stunningly beautiful action films and aren’t too precious about cinema like I am (it almost works as a dark popcorn movie), then please don’t be put off, as it has redeemed a lot of the damage caused by Solace. However the film for me, like most of the year’s big hitters, failed to live up to the hype.
Score: 7 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: Casino Royale, Jason Bourne series.