The Pitch: You only live, er, six times. Possibly seven.
The Review: Here we are again, then. For the twenty-fourth time in fifty-three years, Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions unveil their latest film version of the escapades of the characters created by Ian Fleming in his series of novels. If you don’t know which characters those are, especially the one who has JB monograms on his towels, then this is probably the wrong review for you. It’s a difficult balancing act: hoping to attract in the ten people in the world who’ve never seen a James Bond film before while trying to satisfy the demands of three generations of Bond fans, each brought up on a different interpretation of the character and each longing for what they perceive to be Bond’s quintessential qualities. The pressure on Bond, and indeed on Eon and the production team, to deliver has never been higher and you only have to look at Skyfall’s box office in the context of the overall series to see why (worldwide, adjusted for inflation, in case you were wondering):
While first Pierce Brosnan and then Daniel Craig had begun to turn around Bond’s box office fortunes, Skyfall exceeded even the previous peak of the golden Sean Connery era. Now Bond is established in the modern era as a global brand, how do you go about replicating that incredible success with another satisfying adventure for the world’s least secret agent?
The first thing you do, if you’re the current heads of Eon (Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli), is that you do whatever you can to get Skyfall’s director Sam Mendes to come back again. You also ensure that the writing team of John Logan, Neal Purves and Robert Wade return to work out the next direction for the Bond franchise. The third and final significant step you take is to resolve all of the fuss and nonsense over rights to the most evil characters in the Bond universe – a rights battle that dates back to the fourth film, Thunderball and a wrangle that lasted nearly fifty years – and having reacquired the ability to use SPECTRE in your films you waste no time in making your next film the modern relaunch of Bond’s most nefarious nemeses. Thankfully you still have Bond’s MVP, Daniel Craig under contract, so it’s just a matter of filling out the cast, pitching Bond against SPECTRE and watching the fireworks fly. Or at least, it should be. But given the intensely personal nature of Skyfall, with Bond exploring his heritage and with the most prominent role for M of the entire series, the writers also feel the need to load Bond with further baggage, so we also get a return to the roots of the SPECTRE substitute organisation Quantum (set up in the first two Craig Bonds). We also get, somewhat unnecessarily and for the first time in the cinematic history of Bond, an exploration of Bond’s upbringing after his parents’ death with details lifted directly from the Fleming short story Octopussy.
All of this means that there’s a fair amount of exposition to get through and a large cast to navigate; as well as the returning characters of Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny and Tanner from MI6, we see Mr White (Jesper Christensen) and his daughter (Lea Seydoux), the standard verbally challenged henchman (Dave Bautista), a couple of other obligatory Bond women (Monica Bellucci and Stephanie Sigman), another oily British station chief C (Andrew Scott), and the mysterious link to Bond’s past in the form of Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man apparently doing rather well for himself at the evil organisation Bond finds himself investigating. For a secret agent, Bond’s spent surprisingly little of his time doing actual spying over the years, preferring instead to focus on causing women to fall swooning into his arms at the drop of a hat and getting steadily drunk to remind everyone he’s not perfect.
You might need a stiff drink if you think about the plot of this Bond for too long: it manages to achieve the double whammy of not only bloating the film out to a record two and a half hour running time, but it singularly fails to blend its disparate elements into anything resembling a coherent story in that time. Not only performing a little retconning on the last few Bond films but also on Bond’s previous history, what the plot actually does is see Bond globetrot around the world in his usual casual fashion, almost waiting for the plot to come to him. When it does, sometimes after interminable amounts of simply hanging around that didn’t need to be seen on screen, it fails to be either surprising or interesting. It’s pretty much the origin story again for SPECTRE and their leader, but in a story that could probably have been condensed into the first hour of a sharper film before we got on with the real business of SPECTRE’s plan. The attempts at making the threat personal fail to resonate in anything close to the same way as Skyfall, and the big third act reveals are thrown away so clumsily as to be almost risible. (You may also benefit from giving yourself a Daniel Craig Bond marathon before setting out for this one as all three of Craig’s previous outings are regularly referenced.)
Normally Bond films can get away with a half-baked plot if everything else is at the top of its game, but that’s where SPECTRE’s inadequacies truly become apparent. There’s no denying that the opening credits sequence is up there with the very best of Bond, a single tracking shot through thousands of extras capped off with toppling buildings and spinning helicopters. It’s a shame that no other sequence comes close to matching it, with a car chase which has Bond on the phone for most of it, ignoring the peril completely, being a particular example: set reports indicate that seven of the new Aston Martin DB10s designed and produced especially for the film were written off during filming, but the results of that carnage don’t seem to have ended up on screen. The finale is a particular damp squib, with an almost apologetic lack of action and a dilemma that feels overly familiar to anyone who’s seen any of the major comic book movies of the last twenty years (*cough Spider-Man *cough* The Dark Knight *cough*)
The performances are also a very mixed bag, and it wouldn’t be so much of an issue if SPECTRE’s continued attempts to trade on nostalgia weren’t constantly throwing the film’s failings into sharp relief. Take, for example, a train sequence which is reminiscent of both Eva Green’s first confrontation with Bond in Casino Royale and Sean Connery’s bust up with Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love; they’re both decent enough callbacks but all they do is remind you of how short they fall in comparison to the originals that they’re referencing. The writing for the female characters also borders on disastrous; Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci’s characters seem to be slipping back to being subjected to the sort of casual misogyny that Goldeneye was mocking eight films ago and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny is made to look even more stupid here than she was clumsy in Skyfall (example dialogue: “You’ve got a secret. Something you can’t tell anyone.”). Christoph Waltz does his best with an underwritten role, but of the support it’s only Ben Whishaw, building delightfully on his role as Q that comes away with any real credit.
It’s a curiously empty film; seemingly the extras budget was used up in Mexico City as Rome seems to be virtually uninhabited and SPECTRE’s lair has around 1% of the staff of your average volcano lair, staffed mainly by people in black sweaters who look like they’re queuing for interviews for jobs at the nearest Apple Store. (I mentioned the five main roles for the 00 division earlier, and the film also does a cracking job of convincing you that no-one else works there.) I can’t even say good words about the music, Thomas Newman’s score inexcusably missing at least two open goals to throw in the Bond theme which would have elevated the brief moments when the action scenes work; when Goldeneye was rescored to put the theme back into the tank chase, you have to wonder why Newman and Mendes’ handling is so sacrosanct. Sam Mendes’ direction only really comes to life in the pre-credits sequence and in a couple of well-framed hero shots later on, and Hoyt Van Hoytema’s cinematography is serviceable without ever hitting the heights of Roger Deakins’ impressive digital lensing of Skyfall, yet another high bar from a film which wasn’t perfect but outperforms this follow up in almost every regard.
The one thing that saves it from being totally abject is its star: Daniel Craig has looked comfortable in the role from day 1, but now he fully inhabits it and feels as comfortable with the quips as with the moments of genuine emotion. We can only hope that this isn’t his swansong, as there’s plenty that could be done to improve matters for his next outing. When Goldeneye and Casino Royale launched the Brosnan and Craig eras respectively, they gave the series fresh momentum while capturing what made the series great; SPECTRE is absolutely content to replicate what it thinks made Skyfall a box office champion and as a result makes a film that’s overlong, languid and often listless and crucially missing the energy that made all of the aforementioned films work so well. This is mid-table Bond at best and would be lower but for Craig’s rock solid performance that at least anchors the film, but it failed to leave me either shaken or even stirred.
Why see it at the cinema: Much of the later action will be a complete washout by the time it gets to DVD or TV, so do catch it on the big screen. The big screen and sound system will also allow you to appreciate Sam Smith’s not-actually-bad theme song all the more.
What about the rating: Rated 12A for moderate violence and threat. Moderate, sadly, is the operative word; no-one would have faulted the BBFC for calling it “undercooked” or “a bit limp” instead.
My cinema experience: VIP seats at the Vue in Cambridge had plenty of legroom and the sound and projection were very reasonable; just a shame that the film’s middle stretch was so unengaging that someone two rows behind me fell asleep, judging by their rather prominent snoring. The lethargy of the audience in getting up to leave at the end told its own story.
The Score: 6/10
Box office figures courtesy of www.007james.com
Warning: I’ll be getting into a very thorough discussion of Skyfall here, on the presumption that you’ve already seen it. If you haven’t, take in my non-spoilery review of Skyfall first, then go and watch the damn thing, then come back.
Is it really two years since this all started? Two years since BlogalongaBond became a thing, and without which I wouldn’t have sat and watched
a Bond film a month for two years Bond films at increasingly random and desperate intervals. (It also wouldn’t have spawned goggle-eyed love child BlogalongaMuppets, but that’s another story, one to be told halfway up the stairs.) I set out to prove that Bond films have had an unerring effect on each other and also on cinema in general, that fifty years of history have developed a template from which Bond films are now almost able to be produced like vodka martini flavoured jelly from an Aston Martin DB5 shaped mould. So for a series of articles based on what the future effect of a series of films has been, how the chuntering thunderballs do I write about a film that’s only been out a week? In the words of our very own M, The Incredible Suit, “you didn’t think this through, did you?”
First, I’m going to distract you with a review of what’s gone before, and some Bond Legacy stats. I’ve been back over the past 22 Bond Legacy posts, and totted up that I found 91 legacies in total, all of which can either be felt in effect in subsequent Bonds or in cinema in general. I then worked out, giving the slight benefit of the doubt to two or three borderline cases, the number of that 91 which can be seen in Skyfall. Here’s what I found:
So out of 22 previous Bonds, eighteen have an element in them which was seen for the first time in a Bond film, but reoccurs in Skyfall. Out of the 91 total legacies, 48 can be seen in some way, shape or form in the film itself or the surrounding hype and marketing. That’s now one heck of a formula. If we’re trying to find the most influential Bond films, then clearly From Russia With Love and Goldfinger continue to set the pattern, sharing 13 legacies between them, although in terms of percentages, it’s the last two Brosnan films that have a 100% record, followed by Dr. No at 80%, and four Bond films (Moonraker, Octopussy, Tomorrow Never Dies and Quantum Of Solace) have no identifiable element unique originally to them which appears again here. Sadly, the wait for another double-taking pigeon goes on.
Of those 48, some are more influential than others, no doubt the increasing desperation of me in small part to keep the theme going all the way to the end. If you’re looking for a formula, though, then I’ve picked out the top third of that list for a slightly more detailed look.
1. Dr. No: Product placement. Lots and lots of really, really obvious product placement.
Yes, product placement has been in place ever since Dr No, but instead of a small British production company run by two ex-pat Yanks, we now have one of the biggest studios in the world protecting its profit margins by putting a brand on everything that isn’t nailed down, and a few things that are. But it has been, and always will be, a friend to Bond, and at least Daniel Craig hasn’t had to resort to making any dreadful commercials. Much.
2. Dr. No: The theme tune. Dum-ba-da-ba-dum-bum-duma-dum-ba-da-ba-dum-ba-da-da-BAAAAA-ba-ba-ba…
There are two regular Bond themes, one which makes an appearance in every film in some form – and be aware, Eric Serra, if you don’t put it in they’ll hire someone who will – and Thomas Newman takes the opportunity to sprinkle the theme liberally through the score. It won’t go down as one of the great Bond scores as it’s a little generic, but it feeds enough Bondy moments to soothe the senses rather than angering them.
3. From Russia With Love: First appearance of Q. Now pay attention, 007…
One of the biggest problems for twenty-first century Bond has been how to fill the void left by Desmond Llewellyn’s portrayal of the man who ensures Bond has manly guns and a good supply of exploding toothpaste. Ben Whishaw’s Q is a reinvention for the 21st century, happy to give Bond a gun and a radio and do all of the techy stuff himself, leaving Bond more the blunt instrument than ever. I don’t want a return to invisible cars, but it would be nice if the tech department could give Bond some more gadgets next time for, y’know, actual spying?
4. From Russia With Love: Bond soundtrack pattern. The case of the mysterious Wendy Crumbles.
I do think Adele was the right choice for a Bond theme (although I’d still like to hear what Muse could do with it; sadly my dream of the Manic Street Preachers performing one is probably now long gone). However, there is one big issue with that theme; many of the best soundtracks, from either John Barry, David Arnold or the occasional greats from others, take either the opening or closing title song and weave it through the score. But Paul Epworth’s orchestration for Adele’s song is so Bond-based in the first place, when the orchestral version of the title track kicks in as Bond enters Macau kicks in it feels as if the film is about to disappear up its own arse. Also, Adele’s lyrics are sometimes incomprehensible – I cannot now hear the track without thinking about the infamous Wendy Crumbles – and she also seems to be shoehorning in references to what Lolcats would think of Bond. Zat Skyfallz, indeed.
5. From Russia With Love: Bad guy with a hidden face. Hidden in plain sight, it seems.
Now here’s an interesting wrinkle on an old chestnut. Blofeld’s face was hidden out of sight for the first two and a half films he was in, building up to a big reveal. We see Javier Bardem’s gurning blond mug after just over an hour, but it’s not until he discusses the effects of his poisoning and removes half his face that we see the true nature of evil. One of the most satisfying and disturbing moments of the otherwise saggy middle of this Bond.
6. Goldfinger: Evil plans that defy rational explanation.
“So James, here’s my plan while I touch the inside of your thigh. I’m going to steal a hard drive which you’ll only fail to take back when one of your own team shoots you by mistake, which I’ll then use to moderately threaten the government of a former world power. I’ll then let you kill my rather dull henchman, allowing you to track him down via his gambling habit and then I’ll have a woman seduce you to bring you to my run down lair who I’ll later shoot for no reason. But it’s fine, because I know that even though you’ve failed your physical and mental tests at MI6 after being repeatedly shot, you’ll be good enough to capture me with perfectly timed helicopters, where you’ll take me back to your base so I can then escape again and kill my old boss in front of anyone watching dull government boards of enquiry on satellite news channels. If anyone tries to prevent my escape, probably you, then I’ll drop a Tube train on their head. This is all because I hate my old boss. I will then probably forget all about the other secret information I’ve stolen.”
“Really? Her flat is really easy to break into. I break in and sit in the dark all the time. Sometimes it’s hours before she comes home.”
7. Goldfinger: The coolest car in the world. Unless you get excited by VW Beetles.
One of the biggest gripes of nerds who need to get out more – in other words, people just like me – is that we get a brand new Bond who acquires a brand new Aston Martin in Casino Royale, but it appears he still has the fully kitted out one, with machine guns and ejector seat, in a dodgy lock-up in London somewhere. The look he gives when Silva blows it up, though, is priceless, and it’s good to see the man still has priorities. However, if he doesn’t get Q to kit out the one he won in Casino Royale with all the same gadgets, I’d be astonished; I’m willing to bet the winnings of a high stakes poker game that’s not the last we’ve seen of the Aston.
8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Bond’s complex relationship with women, especially closest to him. If this is a male fantasy, it’s not one I’ve had often.
Casino Royale was the first time that Bond didn’t end up with the girl. In this one, there are three main women; one who shoots him, and is so generally incompetent she has nothing better to do than to go halfway around the world to give Bond a wet shave before eventually taking a job as a glorified PA; one a a former sex slave who Bond immediately shags, then tosses off a casual witticism in an attempt to look cool around the lads when she’s shot in the head, and the third who’s become virtually a surrogate mother to him over the past three / seven films, he fails miserably to protect from becoming ever so slightly more dead. Good work, James.
9. Diamonds Are Forever: The increase in poor quality jokes. A secret agent walks into a bar…
When Bond hit the Seventies, it went from a spy adventure with occasional titting about in the bosses’ office and the lab to a full on gagfest with gags that left much to be desired. Poor old Roger Moore gets the stick, somewhat unfairly, for a lot of that, but Skyfall was too much of a compensation to the humourless and dry Quantum Of Solace on a couple of occasions; if there’s a version available on Blu-ray that doesn’t have any of the stupid scenes in the Underground, I’ll happily buy it.
10. Live And Let Die: The use of swearing to look proper hard. Language, Timothy!
Live And Let Die had the first “holy shit!” of the series, and Dami Judi kept up the PG swearing in Quantum before letting rip with the first ever F-bomb here. When driving home afterwards, Mrs Evangelist felt that an opportunity for the Denchmeister to let rip with a full, hard 18 rating torrent of f-, c-, m- and possibly even q- words was now sadly lost forever (her suggestion of “c***tacular almost caused me to drive off the road). Maybe Fiennes will be up for it.
11. For Your Eyes Only: The regeneration game. It’s all the same to me.
Despite a constant need to reinvent itself, up until the Craig Bonds the series did its best to maintain that this was always the same secret agent, who with the best will in the world would either now be into his mid-Seventies or going into carbon-freeze in between missions, so that Moore, Dalton and Brosnan all at various points mourned the loss of Tracy, even though technically none of them married her. Or did they? Skyfall takes this a step further, and goes out of its way to suggest that this is the same Bond we’ve always had, we just saw him get his first two kills six years ago, but somehow he’s magically earned fifty years’ worth of backstory. I look forward to John Logan’s next two films telling us the story of how Bond won World Wars 1 and 2 single-handedly.
12. A View To A Kill: The game’s the thing. Although I always preferred Sonic myself.
Yes, continuing a trend that started with A View To A Kill, there is game content available so that you can pretend to be the world’s greatest secret agent in the comfort of your own living room. The 007 Legends game has DLC (that’s downloadable content to anyone over 35) relating to Skyfall, which means you too can play as Patrice or Eve Moneypenny if you’ve got a PS3, each character having their own special gifts. (In Moneypenny’s case, it’s light typing and not being able to shoot straight. It does make the game really hard to finish in one sitting.)
13. The Living Daylights: Putting the (re-)boot in.
Despite all being one interconnected story, somehow the Bonds manage to reboot themselves every couple of films, with each new actor giving a different take on the same character, even though it’s regularly made explicit that this is the same character all the time. (Bond’s shrink must be on a massive retainer.) This is the third and most egregious Bond reboot of the last three films, with us now getting a new version practically every time, and this time we appear to have been rebooted right to the end of 1964. From shunning all of the trappings of the character and using a stripped down version, by the end of this film we now are totally in Bondage again; let’s try to stay there for the next one, and keep our hands off the reboot button, shall we?
14. Goldeneye: A relic of the Cold War.
Goldeneye was the first film where Bond had to justify his own existence; Skyfall takes that a step further and asks all of MI6 to state its place in the world. Dame Judes does this by rocking up at a hearing and, rather than making detailed statements about policy or effectiveness, just quoting some Alfred Tennyson. Classy.
15. Tomorrow Never Dies: No material from the novels.
Skyfall has to once again rely on an original plot, for most of the novels and short stories have now been adapted and there’s little to draw on. Significantly, one thing that Skyfall does do is delve deeper into Bond’s past, featuring the ancestral home and even the gravestone of his departed parents. Maybe future instalments will tap further into this peripheral history of Bond; for example, after his parents lost their lives, young Bond went to live with his aunt, Charmian Bond, in the village of Pett Bottom, and if that’s not an open goal waiting to be scored, I don’t know what is.
16. Die Another Day: The anniversary waltz.
After Die Another Day clumsily shoehorned in references to the rest of the series, including Q having Rosa Klebb’s shoe from From Russia With Love in his workshop, Skyfall imbues the golden film and diamond book anniversaries with some more subtle nods to the rest of the series and a few other tips of the hat, including Bond’s favourite whisky, a 1962 vintage. The going rate for a bottle of that make and era would set you back around £1,250 these days; if that’s how well being a spy pays, where do I sign up?
So, as you can see, the template is well in force; these are just a sampling of the most significant, but there are over 30 other cultural references from the Bond series that are in some way to be seen in or around Skyfall. Given that Bond films could now just recycle that for evermore, without ever having to invent anything new – and if the initial box office is anything to go by, they could do that very well – what will be the enduring legacies of Skyfall when we come to look back in a few years’ time? I thought I’d have a go at picking out four of the most likely things that crop up in Skyfall that we might see again someday.
1. China in your hand: I think we’ll see more trips to China
Bond’s been to Chinese territories before, including Macau and Hong Kong, and also to Chinese waters, but Skyfall marks the first time the series has been set in actual proper China. Following an increasing trend of films to have Chinese set sequences, and building off the back of the significant increase in box office that Quantum saw in the Chinese territories, it’s a big market which the Bond films will have to be increasingly creative if they’re going to continue to exploit. But one thing which Bond’s never done on screen is active military service in time of war; maybe if rumours of a two part story are true (even though Craig’s said they aren’t, but after Naomie Harris no-one’s going to believe anything any of them ever say again), then maybe Bond could infiltrate China as they look to take on other big world powers like the USA, Russia and Papua New Guinea? (All right, and Britain.)
2. Bond might be keeping the British end up in more ways than one
In the pivotal scene when Bond and Silva first meet, Silva makes some suggestive comments to Bond, only for Bond to dismiss the idea that it would be his first time. We’ve seen Bond take down any woman in his path, but the closest he’s come to bedding a minger is Grace Jones. What if Bond really had to suck it up for queen and country, and bed a woman with a face like a hippo’s arse? Or maybe Bond’s sexuality is actually a little more complex than we’ve all been led to believe, and actually he could bed both women and men on the path to world domination? The possibilities are potentially endless, and the template might have to be edged rather than pushed, but we live in more enlightened times and Bond’s bed hopping is one area ripe for further exploration now his psyche and his family have been laid barer.
3. Techno techno techno techno: Q Branch will keep the gadgets to themselves
The Bonds have moved further into the world of techno-terrorism, with Q Branch seemingly less keen to spend their cash on gadgets for dunderheaded spies and more keen to buy rooms full of servers and dodgy Sony Vaios. I give it about four Bond films before James loses it completely and tries to eradicate all of the world’s geeks to take us back to the dark ages, when men were men and women were, er, women. (Genuinely don’t know where I was going with that.) But cybercrime looks to be the way of the future, as long as it can be made to look interesting on screen.
4. The look of love: Skyfall could be the dawn of the auteur Bond
I’ve already mentioned it a lot across the three Skyfall-related posts I’ve written, but Skyfall was the best Bond visually by every one of the country miles between London and Scotland. Now that big names in their fields such as Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins have been allowed loose, and other contributors such as second time editor Stuart Baird and composer Thomas Newman have had their say, that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson will have the confidence to let others loose. I will go to bed tonight dreaming that a Nolan / Pfister Bond may one day become a reality. (With a David Arnold score, of course.)
And that’s it. I don’t think I missed any significant legacies, although there were probably a few minor moments that slipped my gaze, and if I watched the whole lot again, maybe that fresh insight would leap out. (Not for a few years, though.) Still, if you’ve spotted a genuine legacy I’ve missed, then get commenting, always keen to receive feedback from my readers, which is normally people telling me where I’ve gone wrong. Why break the habit of a lifetime?
Next time: Bond returns in two years in Bond 24. The increasingly shorter titles to allow for Twitter hashtags and the like suggest Risico of the remaining titles, although equally short alternative options might be Bang, Phwoar or Oof. So, see you in 2014 for Oof, then.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day / Casino Royale / Quantum Of Solace
Go deeper for the full BlogalongaBond experience, courtesy of The Incredible Suit.
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