Skyfall | Film reviews, news & interviews
With Sam Mendes at the helm, the 23rd Bond movie may be the best one yet
It's Bond number 23, and if you were to suggest to me that it was the best of the lot, I might very well agree with you. This is a terrific James Bond movie, thoughtfully written, shrewdly cast and taking stock of everything that the 50-year-old franchise has come to mean. But even if it wasn't a Bond film, it would still be darn good.
In this year of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, it's also surprisingly and rather touchingly British, right down to Adele's stridently Bassey-esque theme tune. In a staggering feat of cross-marketing, they even got the Queen to appear in that celebrated early trailer. It's probably no coincidence that it has a British director, Sam Mendes, and his cast is packed with so much British thespian firepower that you can't help wondering if theatreland doyen Mendes is plotting a return to the RSC.
Alongside Craig and Judi Dench's M (pictured right), there's Ralph Fiennes as a secretive backroom spook, Naomie Harris as a saucy new-look Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw as Q. No longer a harrumphing old martinet, Q has left exploding pens and submersible cars behind in favour of advanced computer geekhood and adorably floppy hair. In addition, there's a nimble turn from Rory Kinnear as M's assistant Tanner, Albert Finney as Kincade, the ancient retainer to the Bond family, and Helen McCrory as the haughty chairperson of a Parliamentary committee investigating the incompetence of M and the British security services.
The Daniel Craig incarnation of Bond has mercifully turned its back on the era of megalomaniacs with private armies and spacecraft trying to conquer the world from inside extensively refurbished volcanoes, though the villain in Skyfall (Javier Bardem's camp and lispy Silva) does posess a small, albeit hopelessly derelict, island somewhere in the South China Sea. Silva is an unnaturally capable antagonist bent on diabolical acts of cybercrime and mass destruction, not least blowing up the MI6 building on London's South Bank, but at its core Skyfall is concerned with human relationships and betrayals. Uniquely, the writing team (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan) have been given licence to create some back story for James Bond, which we glean amid climactic scenes shot in glowering, wintry Scottish glens. I can exclusively reveal that his parents were named Andrew and Monique (Naomie Harris with Craig, pictured below).
Previous Bonds have made glancing references to the decline of British influence in world affairs, clandestine or otherwise, but Skyfall is drenched in lingering sadness for the passing of an age. "Emotional" isn't a word much associated with the 007 canon, but from Craig's battered, world-weary Bond (suddenly a much older-looking man than he was in 2006's Casino Royale) to Dench's autumnal performance, there's a distinct sense of a changing of the guard. It's banged home when Dench recites a chunk of Tennyson's elegiac Ulysses: "We are not now that strength which in old days/ Moved earth and heaven..." Is it coincidence that Fiennes's character is called Mallory (I'm thinking Le Morte d'Arthur here)?
It's as if Mendes has decided that he's got a fine bunch of actors, so he might as well take them out for a spin. Craig artfully evokes a Bond capable of warmth and wit, albeit eked out in tiny portions, while the relationship between himself and M is rendered in unexpected depth. It's helped along by the return of Bond's Goldfinger-era Aston Martin DB5, heroically restored to active service. "Go on, eject me, see if I care," raps Dame Judi as Bond toys with the famous red button on the gearstick.
Of course, the traditional Bondian virtues have not been neglected. There are thunderous set-pieces with underground trains, helicopters and a variety of ordnance. The long opening sequence in Istanbul is a thrillingly shot mini-movie in itself, as Bond pursues the murderous Patrice (Ola Rapace, ex-husband of Dragon Tattoo's Noomi) who's getting away with a complete list of NATO undercover agents. A vertiginous and bone-crunching sequence encompassing cars, motorbikes and trains ends with Bond taking a long drop from a great height (Bond and Patrice feel the strain on the train, pictured above).
It's Silva's onslaught against the British secret service - hastily relocated to the underground car park in Smithfield, it would appear - and specifically M, that triggers Bond's return from a long, death-like absence. Older, slower and distinctly off the pace, the once and future 007 manages to raise his game sufficiently to take the fight back to the enemy, whose creepy sexual ambivalence and mother fixation confront him with challenges that Ian Fleming never envisioned. Amazingly, this is a Bond film that makes you think as well as feel. Did you ever imagine you'd read that?
Overleaf: watch the trailer to Skyfall
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