“So much for my promising career in espionage”
Ten years ago saw the release of Die Another Day, it was Pierce Brosnan’s fourth outing as Bond in 007’s 20th official outing in the year signalling the 40th anniversary of James Bond on-screen. That film is famous for many reasons, it not only signalled the end of Brosnan’s tenure as Bond, but was a turgid piece of celluloid, potentially sounding the death knell of a stale and repetitive franchise. The vultures could be seen circling overhead, was it time for 007 to hand in his Walther PPK?
Many established brands have been rebooted in recent years, Batman, Spiderman, Superman with varying results, Bond’s transformation in the last decade is that of a true renaissance man.
“Be careful what you wish for…”
Since the announcement of the film’s title; “Skyfall” on 3rd November 2011 (also my birthday hint hint) the film’s plot has been shrouded in more secrecy then the mist covering the mountains of Scotland that appear in the film. To reveal the plot of the film and all it’s events would only lead to spoilers, so I will not delve into too much detail, instead I shall merely skim the surface.
Skyfall, is the third outing for Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s famous spy, and we find our hero on the hunt for an aggrieved former MI6 agent; the leviathan Raoul Silva, portrayed brilliantly by Javier Bardem, a man hell-bent on destroying MI6. We are introduced to Silva via a wonderfully framed monologue in a lair befitting that of a contemporary Bond villain. The film takes Bond to Istanbul, Shanghai, Hashima Island, bombing around the streets of London and to Scotland in his latest and (arguably) greatest mission as he attempts to defend the true queen of England, that being M (the head of MI6) with Judi Dench returning for the seventh time.
(Bond) “Everyone needs a hobby… ”
(Silva) “So what’s yours?”
Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition) takes over directing duties from Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, The Kite Runner) and not only returns the new-and-improved (Quantum blip aside) Craigian Bond to Casino Royale levels of excellence, but creates a new benchmark from which the franchise can grow. The film pays homage to Bond history in a more mature and intelligent manner than the aforementioned Die Another Day, with subtle nods and winks to its past rather than the perfunctory size 10 clogs which Lee Tamahori (The Devil’s Double) thundered around in 10 years ago. That cgi-induced nightmare is now a distant memory, instead its back to basics – plywood, models and good old pyrotechnics!
After an enthralling pre-titles sequence with a wonderful attention grabbing opening (required after 30 minutes of adverts!) you are soothed by the dulcet tones of Adelle’s masterful “Skyfall” title track, an instant classic. The film continues to thunder along at breakneck speed for the remainder of it’s 143 minute run, capturing your imagination and attention en route. A feeling that many a cinemagoer would have felt during Dr. No in 1962.
Credit must be given to Bond producers Barbarra Broccoli and Michael G Wilson who in response to the realism of Bourne called a halt to the typical Bond trademarks, the gunbarrel sequence, gadgets and pantomime villians, opting instead to take the character and the series back to basics. A controversial move that angered and confused many, but has paid off on the evidence of the last decade. These Bond trademarks are slowly being reintroduced in a manner befitting the series new mature and modern approach.
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough – present) return to script writing duties and are joined by three time Oscar nominated John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo) and together they create a masterful story rich in intrigue, drama and suspense that would make Fleming proud. Logan has been rumoured to have proposed a two part story for Bond 24 and 25 with Craig returning for outings four and five. Roll on 2014!
“007 reporting for duty”
The film is in many regards similar to the structure of The Man With The Golden Gun, that film, while a Bond outing is not centred around Bond but instead the hitman for hire Scaramanga, a man who charges a million dollars a shot and possesses a superfluous third nipple. In Skyfall, the focus centres on M and the relationship with others, Bond, Silva etc. Silva refers to M as “mummy” throughout and it is obvious the mother relationship of Silva and M is the mirror of M and Bond centring on trust and loyalty and how fine those lines can become. M calls the shots, and superfluous aside, we assume the standard two.
As Silva, Javier Bardem, delivers a performance of terrifying magnificence, and hasn’t had such a curious hairstyle since No Country For Men. Whilst Craig is effortlessly superb as Bond yet again, giving Connery a challenge for title of “best Bond ever”, Bardem’s performance (at times unscripted) is likened to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight as the portrayal of a villain outshines that of principal character with such ease. The cast of Skyfall is rounded off with wonderful support from Naomie Harris (28 Days Later), Ben Whishaw (Perfume), Albert Finney (The Bourne Legacy) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List).
On paper you have all the ingredients to make a wonderful film, Sam Mendes directing, Roger Deakins on cinematography duties, Adelle on vocals, a John Logan script and a multi award winning cast, what could go wrong? Nothing! Skyfall is not only a wonderful Bond film, but a wonderful film in general. It is hard to single out contributors to Skyfall, but one must note the work of Roger Deakins, whose digital cinematography is a sight to behold, and must be a shoe-in for at least an Oscar nomination if not Oscar himself. I hasten to add Bardem’s portrayal of Silva and Judi Dench as M are other possible awards contenders, but perhaps for Bardem it might be too soon since Heath Ledger’s Joker for this to happen, much like to the unfortunate timing of Joaquin Phoenix’s 2005 rendition of Johnny Cash (Walk the Line) a year after Jamie Foxx in Ray.
Awards potential aside, Mendes and co have crafted the most emotionally engaging, intelligent and rewarding Bond film to date, that has since been dubbed “best Bond film ever”. When you consider what has gone before; From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldeneye and more recently Casino Royale to name a few, its a bold statement indeed. Ultimately Skyfall is what the modern Bond should be about, a delicious retrospectively introspective tail devoid of clichéd commonalities that embraces the world around it, be it the Dark Knight, Straw Dogs or even Home Alone (you can’t miss it) to create a Bond of it’s time and yet timeless.
Unlike the Craigian Bond of today who avoids cliché, I will join the huddled masses in clichéd chorus and sing “best Bond ever”…..for now.
Rating: 5 / 5
words by david rushe