His name is Bond, James Bond.
Whenever a new Bond film is released, every reviewer jumps on the chance to say “Bond is back”. It’s a phrase that’s lost all meaning. Back to what? Bond has had almost as many faces as Dr. Who, has fought baddies across almost as many time periods as Dr. Who, and has a time line almost as convoluted as… well you get the idea. Nonetheless, Skyfall released today (Friday 26th October 2012) in the UK meaning that technically Bond is back. The 23rd film in the Eon Productions James Bond film series, Skyfall was directed by Sam Mendes, and features Daniel Craig in his third cinema outing as 007, and for the first time the saying makes sense. Bond IS back.
What I mean by this is that Bond is back in a film that feels like a Bond film. It has its own identity, and is not trying too hard to be something else (e.g. Jason Bourne). Skyfall is the closest any Bond film has managed to get to the classic feel of the Connery Bond films since Connery hung up his Walther PPK. Its a Bond that rings true with Flemings classic English gentlemen spy, but also combines the grit and edge that fans cried for more of after 2006’s Casino Royale.
There’s plenty of action in Skyfall and it’s clear to see that Bond is still an agent and an assassin as portrayed in Casino Royale. Skyfall treats audiences to plenty of gun fights, fisticuffs and cars so that fans of the original Bourne trilogy, and of Casino Royale, will have plenty to appreciate from an action perspective with the dark tone these films focused on carrying over to many aspects of Skyfall. However, just as importantly, Skyfall avoids the over-the-top action nonsense that let Quantum of Solace down. That’s not to say the film is tame. It has plenty of outrageous Bond-esque action, but it manages to keep everything feeling just about believable within the real world.
What Skyfall also does extremely well is bringing some wit and charm back to Bond. There are some excellent one-liners and lots of James Bond in-jokes and nods to the classic Connery Bond films (perhaps in part due to the fact its Bond’s 50th Anniversary). Daniel Craig delivers these lines, alongside the action and the more heartfelt moments brilliantly. There’s a dryness to the delivery of puns, and a confident charm around women that Bond and Craig have lacked in the last few films. Additionally, Skyfall isn’t afraid to include some emotional moments, and Craig gets a chance to show his skills as an actor here too, like he did towards the end of Casino Royale.
Skyfall is all about reuniting Bond’s past with his present. The reintroduction of Q (played brilliantly by Ben Wishaw, who nails the confident geek role perfectly) and other forgotten characters, alongside a future new main character (excellently played by Ralph Fiennes) is a brilliant touch. Introducing these characters for the future and bringing them back into the Bond universe is a master stroke by director Sam Mendes. The updated and young approach to these characters (Q is basically a computer genius this time round) is also a clever touch, and is used to fuel one of Skyfall’s main themes; Bond’s getting old. There’s an acknowledgement that Bond has been around and done a lot before Skyfall, and it’s the first time that Bond’s personal life has been looked at in much detail in film. Additionally, there are a couple of girls that Bond has his eye throughout Skyfall. Naomie Harris plays a fellow agent (Eve), and there’s plenty of chemistry between Bond and her throughout. At times it feels a little scripted and forced, but for the most part she acts as a brilliant equal to Bond, and it’s great to see a strong female character who is able to hold her own in the action sequences, even if it is a little bit ambiguous as to how far their relationship actually goes. Additionally, Berenice Marlohe stars as Severine (the girl Bond does sleep with), but her appearance is quite brief. She seems extremely confident in the role and it’s a shame she wasn’t in the film more. Ultimately though both Bond girls are a little bit forgettable and the ‘Bond-girl’ role seems less important in Skyfall than in previous 007 outings.
The plot in Skyfall takes a more back to basics approach than has been seen in Craig’s previous Bond outings. The plot running between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace has been abandoned (for now at least), and instead Skyfall focuses on new baddie Silva as he pursues a personal vendetta against MI6. Javier Bardem makes for a great antagonist, mixing craziness, creepiness, clever forward planning, and a tech-savvy nature to create a modern, yet classic-feeling Bond villain. Silva’s personal mission helps the audience find a connection with him too; he’s definitely the bad guy but it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him. Additionally Silva’s personal mission allows the film to take a somewhat melancholy, but down to Earth, look at the world as it is today, and its nice to see an introspective nod within the Bond franchise to how the world, and the threats citizens face, have vastly changed since the 60’s. It also means that Judi Dench’s M plays a much bigger role than usual. She is superb as usual, and it’s about time she finally had a larger screen presence in a Bond film other than just barking orders.
Skyfall isn’t without criticism though. Firstly Skyfall is very long, with a run time of 143 minutes. Skyfall has just enough steam to keep it going, but the final third does begin to feel slightly dragged out. Secondly, there are a few odd moments that pop up. During an early chase sequence the filming manages to make the sequence look dated with actors looking like they’re stationary with a moving background behind them, whilst there’s also the odd moment where it is obvious that the man involved in the chase is not Daniel Craig but a stunt double. There’s also a moment where a rush-hour train appears to be missing any passengers. The biggest problem for Skyfall, however, is its confused time line. Characters are introduced that Bond should know if this is later in his life and set after the other films, whilst there are nods and references to Bond’s past that wouldn’t exist if this is supposed to be earlier in his career. It’s easy to overlook these; Bond has a notoriously convoluted history, so it’s preferable to ignore it and consider each film on its standalone merits, and luckily none of these inconsistencies serve to really weaken the film. It’s no good arguing that Bond and 007 are codenames either; Skyfall has something to say about that.
Skyfall is probably the Bond film you’ve been waiting for. It’s one of the best Bond films ever. It takes the grit and action of Casino Royale, the class of Connery’s early Bond films, and just enough James Bond cheese, to create a wonderful blend of action and nostalgia. It’s clever enough to know what it’s doing too, making references towards Bonds past, whilst re-introducing classic parts of the Bond universe that have been forgotten in recent years. Even the introduction and Bond theme song fit perfectly with the nostalgic presentation in Skyfall. It’s rare for me to complement an Adele song, but it really does fit. It’s also the Bond film that assures Daniel Craig wins second place on the list of best Bond’s. If he was already second place in your list (which is likely) then Skyfall assures that he’s narrowed the gap and is now an extremely close second behind Connery.
The credits assure us that Bond will be back. I certainly hope that he will be if we’re going to see more Bond like this. Skyfall is the first Bond film in a long time that manages to nail the James Bond formula. It’s not a Bourne wannabe like Casino Royale, and it doesn’t try too hard to be a Bond film like Quantum of Solace did. It’s just Bond; new and old combined to create something worth watching.
This time, Bond really is back.
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