UK (2012) Dir. Sam Mendes
Admittedly I’m behind many other reviewers when it comes to voicing my opinion on this box office juggernaut ($600 million taken worldwide and counting) but better late than never I say.
Everyone’s favourite British spy agent 007 James Bond returns for his twenty third big screen outing which sees our perennial hero (Daniel Craig) track down a stolen computer hard drive which contains list of all the MI6 agents currently working undercover across the globe. Thanks to some not so sharp shooting from his fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), Bond fails his mission and subsequently takes a summarily enforced sabbatical. But when the seemingly infallible MI6 headquarters are attacked and many of Bond’s co-workers are killed, the mission just got personal for Bond.
The headlines have proclaimed that “Bond Is Back” following the successful but critically mauled Quantum Of Solace from 2008 and if the frenetic and dramatic scene setting opening sequence alone doesn’t convince you of this then nothing will. But as much as this pre-credit prologue is classic Bond, the rest of film offers quiet a few surprises in both tone and content.
Amidst the testosterone fuelled mayhem and explosive set pieces we have a more character driven story that not only peels back the many layers of our iconic but complicated hero but puts a fair portion of the spotlight on Bond’s long suffering superior M (Judi Dench). M’s layers of mystique remain intact but Skyfall gives Dame Judi a lot more to do and flesh her usually stoic character out to lengths hitherto unseen, thus this film in many ways belongs to her more than it does Daniel Craig. This may appal those who look to Bond films for pure escapism but the truth is it actually makes for a better film, proving that risks do pay off.
The plot revolving around the stolen list is purely functional, serving merely as a conduit for the early action scenes and to introduce us to the now essential villain, this time played by an uncharacteristically blond Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, a former MI6 against with a grudge against M who has chosen now to extract his revenge. Bardem is an Oscar winner and has a track record of playing dangerous and fearful villains as well as top notch drama performances. Here however, while Silva has an unhinged coldness about him, there are time where he seems so camp, I wondered if Bardem’s former master Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar hadn’t taken over directing duties for his role!
As flimsy as the plot may seem, it is the fall out that matters and to go any further with summarising it will spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet. Again, risks with the characters are taken as the story shifts into a more human interest drama territory and while the guns and girls are left behind for a large chunk of the third act, this proverbial calm before the storm provides us with arguably the most emotional and best acted moments ever seen in a Bond film.
Acting in a Bond film? You read that right. Sam Mendes has given us a Bond film that more than ever before relies on light and shade rather than the a two hour plus adrenaline rush that the franchise is not just known for but pretty much popularised and put on the map. As dull as this may sound to some this really is one the key strengths of this film and draws the viewer far deeper into the plight of the cast than before.
Usually Bond has to take out a global threat because it is his job to and does it. This time the motive is personal and brings out a different and welcome side to Bond, who has more to fight for than kudos and his next bedroom conquest. This humanising of Bond may seem like sacrilege to the hardcore devotees of Ian Fleming’s creation, but it’s not like they haven’t tried before – Remember the ill fated wedding in On her Majesty’s Secret Service? This time, however, they get it right.
But it wouldn’t be a Bond film without the creative and credibility testing action scenes and Skyfall delivers them in spades, pushing both the inventiveness and excessiveness to new levels in the beginning, while stripping things down for the final act, to demonstrate that keeping it simple is just as effective as having the latest technology at hand. After being absent for the Daniel Craig films, Q returns in the form of nerdy posh boy Benjamin Whishaw, whose youth is not lost on grizzled “old” Bond but proves his worth when it really matters later in the film.
Another new face to play a pivotal role in the story is Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the former army man who does little to endear himself to MI6 but things have a funny way of tuning out. For anyone who saw Casino Royale as something of a reboot/prequel for the Bond franchise, Skyfall completes the circle to bring us back to the world of MI6 we’ve known since Dr. No in 1962.
Skyfall is either the greatest Bond film or the most disappointing as it takes many risks with the popular formula. Personally I liked that it took risks while maintaining everything that makes a Bond film a Bond film. But If one ever wondered if Bond could survive into the 21st century then this film is conclusive proof he can.