The Review: Who’s your favourite James Bond? Throughout history, men have fought duels over lesser arguments. Whenever more than one actor has taken on the same role, in anything from Doctor Who to Robin Hood, it seems that human nature is to try to understand which one we have a personal relationship with. I’m not going to get into that debate here, other than to say I was brought up on Roger Moore, so have more of an affinity for his films than others who might have started with Sean Connery or Daniel Craig. None of them really look anything like Ian Fleming’s description of the character, so it all comes down to manner and behaviour. Daniel Craig’s first two films have set a new pattern, in the same way that the first Bonds of all his predecessors have also established a distinctive style, each markedly different. So how do you get audiences who are saddled with the expectations of specific Bonds, not to mention the cumulative weight of fifty years of history, into cinemas for the latest Bond?
Apparently what you do is create a curious hybrid of the old and the new. Firstly to the old: Daniel Craig’s Bond has gone from young stag to weather-beaten old sea dog in the space of two films, skipping through off-screen history to develop a back story that doesn’t feel earned. This Bond’s now well entrenched in MI6, and the core group from Fleming’s novels (M, Q, Tanner, played by Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear) are now all present, correct and getting decent amounts of screen time, like a globe-trotting episode of The Office. The core elements of the series are all in place, including glamorous girls such as Berenice Marlohe, music and title sequences that feel Bond through and through from series regular Daniel Kleinman and newcomers Adele and Thomas Newman and actual globe-trotting, from Istanbul to the Far East and back to London itself. The net result of this is to make Skyfall unmistakably Bond, and old elements are regularly trotted out to crowd pleasing, if occasionally logic-defying, effect.
For the new, this is still a Bond willing to take a few risks, even if they are small ones. First and foremost is the overall structure, with a significant amount more emphasis on personal relationships. Goldeneye first pitched Bond against an old colleague, but at times Skyfall verges on an industrial tribunal with guns, innuendo and homoerotic undertones. It’s the latter, embodied in Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, that gives Skyfall its most interesting edge, treading a line that’s finer than you’d expect between effete and brutal. New characters also widen the film mythology, including more government operatives in the form of Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris, and even an unseen element of Bond’s past in the form of Albert Finney. But there’s also a number of inversions of standard Bond themes, with some role reversal in the final face-off and a real willingness to put character before action, no doubt due to the influence of director Sam Mendes. The greater desire of the second generation Bond producers to allow directors and their teams to put more of their own stamp on the series has been increasing over the past ten years, and reaches thrilling new heights with the contribution of cinematographer Roger Deakins. Despite shooting on digital rather than film, Bond has never looked as sharp or as rich as it does here.
The melding of old and new, self-reference and mild innovation feel like they should be moving the series on, but somehow we’re left with the feeling of treading water; after three Bonds Daniel Craig’s tenure seems to have regressed into Bondian adolescence rather than progressing further. While the more character based approach is to be lauded, and it’s arguable that this is also the best acted Bond as well as being the most impressive visually, there’s a compact feel after the early expansiveness of the Istanbul pre-credits chase, and the action especially when running round London feels sub-Bourne and undercooked, as if the movie’s in need of one more strong action set piece. There’s also a slight regression in terms of character development, and attempts to retain the cold heart given to Bond by his previous experiences present a callousness verging on misogyny. The last frustration is the humour, of which 90% is a welcome lightening of the over-serious take of Quantum Of Solace, but 10% is sub-Roger Moore cheesiness and sticks out a mile. It’s frustrating, for while this is another great Daniel Craig Bond film it’s not the outstanding Bond film which we’ve never had, the mixture of elements not fulfilling their potential to be a best in series. But I have a sneaking suspicion that a few more folk will be answering the question of their favourite Bond with Daniel Craig’s name after this, and both they and I look forward to seeing what else he can do with the role.
Why see it at the cinema: If you’re going to wait for the DVD, you might as well be dead to me. Why do I bother? (Kidding. But seriously.) If you still need convincing, I will reiterate that it looks stunning on the big screen – so much so I’m tempted to hunt down an IMAX for a repeat viewing – and it’s the perfect embodiment of a mutual audience enjoyment experience. There was applause at the end of the screening I was at. If you’re in the UK, you might just need to book first though…
James Bond will return in my Bond Legacy review of Skyfall, where I’ll be looking at the previous legacies and their effect on Skyfall, looking at if anything was missed in my earlier Legacy summaries and trying to work out where we go from here.
The Score: 8/10