‘Skyfall’ is really something. As a James Bond film it is stunning, as an action-packed blockbuster it is stunning and as an emotive, well-shot piece of work, it is stunning. Director Sam Mendes, best known for his debut movie ‘American Beauty’, presents his take on Bond in such a simple, yet effective manner. From the blurred opening shot, right till the climax to end all climaxes, with plenty of breathtaking landscapes and explosions inbetween, it’s a credit to Mendes that he’s managed to craft such a film, containing some of the modern-day popcorn film staples (rooftop car-chases), but mixing it up with some scenes harking back to his own artistic roots.
We begin with 007 (played by the increasingly impressive Daniel Craig), chasing down a foreign henchman in, and on top of, the streets of Istanbul. It’s a blistering sequence, which succeeds in whetting the appetite, and getting us in the mood for a rip roaring two and a half hour ride. It flits around the world, although not as often as say the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, from Istanbul back to London, mere seconds before jetting us off to Shanghai with Bond, before returning home for a barnstorming last hour and a half or so. The story is relatively simple and straightforward, for a 007 film that is, and manages to delight a wide variety of audiences, a fact shown by the £20million box-office it pulled in on it’s opening weekend alone, making it the best performing Bond film ever, and 3rd on the all-time list. It will certainly make squillions more, I know I’ll be going again, and with all the buzz building for it’s US release in just a fortnight, it could turn out to be the biggest outing 007 has ever seen!
Anyway, back to the actual film. The thing that struck me the most was at times it felt like an arthouse flick, with intelligent shots (the aforementioned blurred opening frame), beautiful scenery, but, most importantly given Daniel Craig’s previous performances, it gave Bond his humour back! His confrontations with lead villain Silva were few and far between for my liking, but when Craig and Spaniard Javier Bardem shared the screen it was incredible. Aswell as the ‘arthouse’ features above, were the obligatory explosions, with CGI not a huge part of proceedings, with hand-to-hand combat visceral and real, it sets it apart from the likes of the CGI-heavy ‘Avengers Assemble’ (which I loved, but it’s nice to see a change from the old superhero genre, which for me is just starting to tire).
In his own way Bond is an invincible superhero. He survives a couple of situations which leave him in dire circumstances that in any other film would be seen as ridiculous and unbelievable, but because it’s Bond it’s accepted. I don’t mind though, the legend that ensures this franchise is the longest running in cinematic history (23 and counting!), just keeps on giving. Daniel Craig’s presence in the role is really growing on me. The way he’s aged through his own mini-trilogy adds to the character, who, initially, under his stewardship was a bit dour and devoid of much emotion. Now, in a similar way to Christian Bale in the ‘Batman’ films, he’s evolved and Bond as a character has benefited greatly. He’s funny aswell as being able to do all the action bits when he needs to.
Whether this is due to the new director or not, talks are already ahead for the inevitable sequels, with the co-writer rumoured to pen the next TWO, and perhaps a return for Mendes in the directorial chair, something I’d love to see based off the back of this piece of work, and especially given that not many Bond directors get a second bite of the cherry, visible through the lack of running continuity. Plus, if he keeps the development of Bond going, perhaps in the same style as, again with the same reference, Christopher Nolan and ‘Batman’, we could see new boundaries being broken for Ian Fleming’s famous agent.
Silva is a disgusting human being. He shares the same DNA as Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker, in that his is someone that the audience can truly love to hate, someone who is almost sub-human in the respect that he feels so disconnected and depressed with fellow mankind. Javier Bardem is unrecognisable but still brilliant in this role, breathing life into a role that is destined to be amongst the top Bond baddies of all time. As I briefly mentioned, the showdowns between our man and Silva are intentionally tense, unpredictable and, rather funny. Silva’s sexuality is played with, in a good-natured humourous manner, going places that aren’t usually explored in this franchise, another risk I think Mendes took, given the universal appeal of Bond to young and old. It’s a shame Bardem’s character isn’t utilised moreso, as he is merely hinted at until just before the halfway mark, with his appearances thereafter still not consistent, but memorable all the same.
Then we have the mainstay, queen of MI6 herself, M. To be totally honest, I’d never really appreciated or cared for her character in the modern-day ‘reboots’, she was just there, never really interesting me. But ‘Skyfall’ changed that for me, as she takes centre stage, the link between Bond and Silva, the key to the entire film. Dame Judi Dench is also quite funny, her understated ‘banter’ with 007 raising a few smirks. Other supporting characters, Q, played by a young Ben Whishaw, is again used fleetingly but proves he’s more than capable of being MI6’s gadget guy, whilst Ralph Fiennes is a bit pointless, not having much value to the storyline, until the very ending proves his inclusion in the film was justified.
‘Skyfall’s Bond girls were a mixed bag, Berenice Marlohe, playing the mysterious Severine, wasn’t given a whole lot to do and could’ve done with having more of an emotional connection to the proceedings, her rapport with 007 was much better than the other Bond girl. Naomie Harris, is Eve, an MI6 field agent who’s well used to working with Bond, but her conversations with him, lack a spark of chemistry, she seems too safe and, again, suffers by not having a huge amount to do, with what she gets, she does an okay job with, nothing more, nothing less, just okay.
The soundtrack was interesting to me, with Thomas Newman, who collaborated with Mendes on his most successful film to date, ‘American Beauty’, dropping a couple of rhythmic themes from that in amongst modern-day electronic beats and the trademark Bond guitar riffs just when he has to. It’s an intriguing mixture that forms the basis for such a film that evokes both modern and older action films, both Bond and non-Bond. Adele’s theme tune of the same name is also a bit nostalgic, with flashes of Shirley Bassey’s previous theme tunes ringing in the ears. It was a real coup for the film to grab Adele, one of the world’s most popular artists ever, and especially now in her prime whilst she’s continually setting and breaking records in the music world, her small inclusion here worked well with the opening credits sequence, with resurrection the theme…
I went into Bond 23, with mixed expectations, I’d heard it was amazing, perhaps the best Bond yet. Whilst I’m not going to call it that quite yet, especially considering, ashamedly so, it’s only my 3rd Bond movie, it’s certainly one of the best films of the year. I’m almost inclined to call it the best I’ve seen so far, although something is stopping me from saying it’s better than ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ or ‘The Avengers’, it’s certainly as good, with the third act in particular taking it to a different place. It’s seen briefly in trailers, but the location really comes as a surprise and a breath of fresh air. The car, the house, everything reeks of classic Bond, and kudos goes to Mendes for managing a perfect mix of the old and the new, to create a great tale for the masses, for the superfans and the casuals alike.