Yes, it’s taken me a week to get to this, but I was in the midst of Horror Week. I made that sacrifice for you, Dear Reader. I hope you appreciate it.
It all leads to this.
On a mission in Turkey, James Bond is wounded and presumed dead. In London, M finds herself the target of someone looking to bring her down in revenge for something that happened many years ago. Will James return to save his boss? And what does “Skyfall” even mean anyway?
So, after 50 years of saving Britain and the world from certain destruction, Bond is back in what is possibly the most low-key and personal adventure he has yet faced. It may also be the best. I’m going to be clutching at straws later to shine a light on any flaws in the film, but in the meantime just let me bask in the glow of a fantastic action movie.
This has been a big year for big movies. We had The Avengers, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, each the culmination of something, each with a massive built-in fanbase and each determined to expand the scope of the genre they had been shoehorned into. Skyfall is arguably the biggest of them all but it instead chooses to look inwards, to tell a smaller, more personal story than has been expected in the past. In terms of plot, it is comfortably the most straightforward Bond film in years, but there is still plenty to do and the two and a half hour running time never feels excessive.
After three turns in the tux, there can no longer be any doubt whatsoever that Daniel Craig is an ideal choice to play the international man of mystery. He is the most human Bond yet; prone to injury and almost frailty but still fearless and ironic and quick-witted. Judi Dench again stars as M in the character’s largest and most critical role to date. It almost goes without saying at this point but she is extraordinary, showing a steel exterior over a more vulnerable core. The relationship between the two is more personal than it has ever been as well, taking the mother/son dynamic that has been hinted at repeatedly and pushing it centre-stage.
But as the old saying goes, a Bond film is only as good as its villain. On that front, Skyfall is a winner. Javier Bardem is magnetic as Silva, the man behind the attacks on MI6 and on M herself. His goal is simple (revenge) but his plan is masterfully intricate. The character himself gets one of the all-time great introduction scenes, walking towards a restrained Bond from the middle distance to close-up, delivering his own monologuing backstory. He doesn’t want to kill Bond or torture him, he wants to flirt with him. With its obvious Lawrence of Arabia homage, it’s a magnificent scene; both actors on the absolute top of their game. I love his lair too, shot on Japan’s abandoned Hashima Island.
But you want to know about the Bond girls, don’t ya? Okay then. I can’t say enough good things about Naomie Harris as Eve. A singularly beautiful woman, her scenes with Craig just crackle with energy. French actress Bérénice Marlohe doesn’t have quite as much to do in her role as Silva’s femme fatale. Her character Sévérine is little more than a plot device unfortunately, but she makes an impression nonetheless.
As far as the crew is concerned, Skyfall is hitting the A-list in just about every category. Oscar-winner Sam Mendes has been on-board as director right through the film’s troubled development phase in the wake of MGM’s bankruptcy. While some may have doubted his ability to helm a big-budget action flick – considering his background in more character-driven pieces like Revolutionary Road and Away We Go – he proves himself to be up to the task, and then some. Cinematographer Roger Deakins gets to indulge himself fully in set-piece after set-piece. The Shanghai sequence in particular is incredible, as are the fantastic widescreen vistas of Scotland where the film’s Western-like climax occurs. Chris Corbould returns from Nolan’s Gotham City to serve as the special effects supervisor, making this his twelfth Bond film. Don’t be surprised to see him up against himself come awards season. Speaking of awards, I wonder what the odds are of seeing both Batman and James Bond in the Best Picture category. That might be worth a flutter.
I like Adele’s song too. I had managed to avoid it entirely in the run-up to the movie’s release (by the simple expediency of only listening to classic rock radio stations) so it was a fresh experience for me, but it fits the mood of the film very well. It also adds to the theme of the past returning that runs through Skyfall, harking back to the classic title songs of the Shirley Bassey days.
Time for that straw to be clutched. It’s not even a complaint, but while Skyfall is very keen to acknowledge Bond’s cinematic roots in his fiftieth year, it sort of glosses over the humour that used to be such a big part of the franchise. Every scene of Dench and Craig together sparkles with their shared wry wit, but some of the more typical one-liner moments feel just a bit forced. Also, Eve missed a glaring opportunity in the rambunctious opening sequence. The moment when her Range Rover was dodging the VWs that were falling from the train was just crying out for a “bug on the windscreen” gag. It didn’t quite ruin the film, but I expected more from returning scripters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Tut tut, fellas. Must try harder next time, okay?
There are few franchises that have embraced marketing and product placement as much as the Bond movies. Skyfall increases the trend towards (relative) subtlety in the aftermath of Brosnan’s glory days, but makes up for it with a ton of Bond-related advertisements before the movie starts; everything from phones to 007-brand aftershave. If you’re sensitive to such things, feel free to hang out in the lobby until about twenty minutes after the scheduled start time, as long as you have reserved your seats in advance.
So that’s Skyfall. Thrilling, emotional, fulfilling. Even at fifty, the old boy still has plenty of life left in him.