Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Synopsis: Bond’s loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. Whilst MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Given that, in his first outing as James Bond two movies ago, Daniel Craig portrayed the super-agent as something of a callow youth, it’s a little disconcerting to find that he’s already showing signs of wear and tear. Talk about accelerated ageing. To be fair, Craig always looked a little too grizzled to play the young and inexperienced version of Bond, and those weather-beaten features are emphasised in Skyfall to show the rigours of time. Of course, the movie’s preoccupation with ageing and tradition isn’t about James Bond the man so much as James Bond the franchise. Jostling for audience attention with the likes of Jason Bourne and a whole host of comic book super-heroes, Skyfall, the 23rd film in the Bond franchise — released almost 50 years to the day after the first Bond film — is really a couple of fingers jabbed rudely in the pretenders’ direction. It might be the oldest franchise around, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be the best. Skyfall even eschews the gadgets for which the series is famed and returns to the basics — guns and knives — to ram home the point, and by the end of the movie one can’t help but concede that the point has been well and truly made.
Skyfall opens with the usual set-piece, with Bond in pursuit of a terrorist across Istanbul — including a market full of fruit stalls which you just know will be sent tumbling in homage to one of cinemas’ longest and most enduring cliches. The terrorist has in his possession a list of the identities and whereabouts of all of MI6’s undercover field agents. This lengthy introduction is filled with the over-the-top spectacle we’ve come to expect from a Bond movie, and concludes with Bond’s apparent death as he is hurled into a river from the top of a train by a long-distance shot from Eve (Naomie Harris), one of his own agents. The movie adopts a more measured tone after this explosive intro, although it fails to explain how Bond survived the apparently fatal gunshot and fall. In fact, although much is made of an earlier wound he received from the terrorist he was pursuing, no further mention is made of the shot that blasted him off the train. This apparent disregard for narrative logic is perhaps Skyfall’s major flaw — it doesn’t exactly detract from our enjoyment of the film, but it leaves us scratching our heads at times.
As we all know, though, you can’t keep a good man down, and it’s not long before Bond emerges from anonymous retirement after MI6’s headquarters is blown up by a mystery assailant who also managed to hack into M’s (Judi Dench) computer and insert cheeky graphics. Much is made of the tetchy relationship between Bond and his boss, with the sketchy back story given to Bond’s childhood suggesting he sees her as more than just a boss, a fact reflected in arch-villain Silva’s affectation of calling her ‘Mother’.
Silva is played with relish by Javier Bardem, whose eye-catching role in No Country for Old Men no doubt had a large part to play in him winning this role. Silva’s a hulking gay cyber genius. He’s also the flip side of Bond. He too was once an agent and a favourite of M’s and, like Bond in that opening sequence, he was forsaken by her when it was a choice between his life and that of a number of other agents. But whereas Bond goes off the rails for a while and then turns up for work out of shape and in an unkempt condition, Silva takes it personally and vows to get his revenge. Bardem is one of the highlights of the movie, so it’s a shame we couldn’t have been introduced to him earlier as the movie is half over before he makes his first appearance. Once he does make his belated entry, though, the movie shifts up a gear as he and Bond engage in a game of cat and mouse consisting of chases, gunfights and explosions.
Skyfall is by far the most self-aware of the Bond movies to date, with repeated references to previous movies, including a reappearance of the iconic Aston Martin complete with ejector seat and machine guns. There’s even a character called Kincaid, who turns up late in the film when Bond returns to his childhood home for a final showdown with Silva, who is played by Albert Finney but who was actually written with Sean Connery in mind. What a treat that would have been, and how neatly the circle would have been completed. The film looks sumptuous, thanks to the traditional cinematography of Roger Deakins, and is refreshingly free of the curse of the wobbly-cam. Undoubtedly, there are some noticeable plot inconsistencies, and the one-liners are particularly unimaginative, but overall Skyfall proves to be a worthy and welcome addition to the Bond franchise — a franchise which will no doubt be running long after the likes of Jason Bourne have hung up their firearms.