Just for a change, I thought I’d take a look at the new Bond film. Variety, yeah? That’s why I’m known as the Steven Soderbergh of the film blogosphere.
Whilst I think the hate for Quantum of Solace has been way overblown, I think everyone agrees it was a bit of a misfire and certainly not a worthy sequel to Casino Royale. As I’m sure you’re very much aware after the complete media bombardment of all things 007, it’s the 50th anniversary of Bond and the last thing they need is a right turkey stinking up multiplexes when they’re trying to fence fragrances. Thankfully, Skyfall is a return to form. It’s bloody brilliant and I will attempt to justify my position on it using my “big boy” words.
When a hard drive containing all the names of undercover NATO agents is stolen, M (Judi Dench) and MI6 comes under fire for their negligence, mostly led by the newly appointed chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). All clues lead back to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) a devious master hacker who has a personal score to settle with M. M brings in Bond (Daniel Craig), who’s not exactly in the best shape following a very near-death experience. Bond must stop Silva from releasing the names before more agents are compromised. Along the way, he gets help from the glamourous but fragile Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), rookie field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and the new Q (Ben Whishaw). The plot is solid. This is exactly what Quantum of Solace was lacking, a simple story with a clear goal. Skyfall is probably the most personal Bond story since Licence to Kill, or even On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With the Craig films they actually seem to be more about creating a three-dimensional hero rather than a blank slate for audience projection purposes. Thank Christ too. For the first time in a Bond film, Skyfall is as much about M as it is Bond which is a bold move that totally pays off. Skyfall actually takes it time in building characters, even the incidental and secondary characters have enough room to breathe and evolve, as exemplified by Fiennes’ Mallory.
Daniel Craig is really comfortable as Bond now. As I said before, one of the only positives about QoS was the fact that Craig hit his stride as 007 amongst all those plot things that didn’t make sense. That’s not to say he phones it in here, after his brush with death, Bond is a broken, past-it agent. He spends a good part of the film unfit and bestubbled. Skyfall contains some proper demons, both internal and external for Bond to battle and Craig does an amazing job. Fuck the critics, he is the best Bond. Judi Dench gets some more to deal with than she has before and reminds us why she’s the national treasure she is. She gives her best performance yet as M and reinforces the stroke of genius it was to cast her all those years ago in GoldenEye. In a lesser film, she’d be the best thing in it, but Skyfall has the scene-stealing Silva played with glee by Javier Bardem. People who have seen the Coens’ No Country For Old Men will know how villainous Bardem can be. He’s utterly charismatic. He reminded me a lot of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. Much like the Joker, he’s amusing but undeniably scary at the same time. I don’t want to give too much away about him, but suffice to say he’s one of the best Bond baddies ever. It’s an incredible performance. Bérénice Marlohe gives a great turn as Sévérine and leaves a lasting impression with the limited screentime she has. 28 Days Later‘s Naomie Harris also does well as Eve, who hopefully does become the recurring character the film sets her up as. Also, hooray for Ben Whishaw as the new Q and the bearded lovely that is Albert Finney.
Skyfall has some amazing sequences. The rollicking pre-credits sequence which evolves from a car chase to a bike chase to a digger bit to a fight on top of a speeding train is awesome and classic Bond. The title sequence and song are also fantastic. Three cheers for Daniel Kleinman and Adele. There’s some seriously entertaining stuff set in subterranean London, a great and tense encounter in Shanghai, it’s just all good. It’s all building to the incredible third act. It’s a grim, stripped-down almost gothic finale that works unbelievably well. It’s quite similar to Straw Dogs but with way more things going bang. I saw the film at the Cardiff IMAX which added a whole new level. Christ, I felt some of those explosions in my sternum. The film is amazingly shot as well with Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins getting the very best out of the exotic locations. Shanghai in particular has never looked so stunning.
Much has been made of the product placement, but I have to say I didn’t really notice it. There was outcry at the notion of Bond drinking a Heineken, but it’s in a very low-key way. It hasn’t replaced the iconic vodka martini. The sparse tuts I heard in the screening when Bond took a swig of the bottled horse piss were soon girlish squees when the Aston Martin DB5 turned up. Double standards, innit. Perhaps in another 50 years’ time audiences will be cheering when 007 downloads a Heineken X5 to his throatdrive. Also, I don’t really have a problem with product placement, as long as the camera doesn’t linger on something for too long or there are lines of dialogue drawing attention to a specific product. Plus, whatever pays the bills. All that sponsorship paid for about a third of the total budget of $150-200 million.
There were only a few little things that bugged me. There are some needless CGI Komodo Dragons at one point which are at real odds with the realistic tone of the film. Also, I don’t think Craig is cut out for the one-liners. There are a few here that just feel crowbarred in. I understand the producers want to get back to classic Bond and a bit of humour is part of that. The film is genuinely funny at times but none of the laughs came from the forced quips. Dalton also had the same problem and was hampered with them in The Living Daylights. Please drop these in future, people. Also, why did the film end and not start with the gunbarrel again? Bond 24 better not do this too.
There are some surprises in Skyfall that I just don’t want to spoil. Suffice to say the stage is now set for future Bond adventures. As Bond himself says in the film, it’s a “brave new world” and I cannot wait to see where they go from here.