|Image: Sony Pictures|
The last Bond film, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, was probably the worst film in the series, a boring collection of bland ideas that failed to gel, compounded by a woefully bad or badly-cast bunch of supporting actors and confusing direction. After a series of unfortunate events with the credit-crunch stricken production company, Bond is finally back with a new film for his fiftieth anniversary on the silver screen. So, is 007 back on top? The answer from us is unequivocally affirmative.
To say that Skyfall represents an improvement over Quantum of Solace is doing the film a disservice: it is hard to believe that they were produced by the same people. Judging against the failings of the previous films is perhaps unfair, but serves to highlight what has gone so right this time: where Quantum had the discordant warbling of Jack White and Alicia Keys for its title track, ‘Another Way to Die’, ‘Skyfall’ is world class songstress Adele giving us a beautifully haunting song which suits the film to a tee; where Matthieu Amalric was an underwhelming presence as villain, Javier Bardem walks the fine line between believable maniac and cinematic supervillain with consummate ease; where Quantum’s plot involved overcomplicated and badly plotted global machinations by a wannabe-Spectre, Skyfall is about personal relationships and human failings.
Serious props must go to director Sam Mendes. Daniel Craig was apparently surprised at the size of the sets, which lack the scale we might associate with Bond’s cinematic outings. However, the smaller scope of the film allows Mendes to capture his locations with stunning clarity. Sir Roger Moore criticised Quantum for lacking a sense of geography (which was putting it mildly), but in Skyfall every place, whether soundstage or location, has a distinct character. The way Mendes captures London is especially good, all wet stone and grey skies, with the tube accurately depicted as a nightmarish crush of people. This is not to say that the action scenes don’t pack a punch – those coming for good rucks and nice explosions are not short-changed either.
One thing Skyfall brings back to the series is a sense of camp and playfulness. While Casino Royale was praised for bringing the grit, it also sapped some of the magic. Here, amongst other nods to the past, we (finally!) get the welcome return of Q Branch, in the guise of new Quartermaster Ben Whishaw, who has great chemistry with Craig. Skyfall also marks the return of a very special car with certain very special attributes, the likes of which have been sorely missed: people in the audience were whooping with delight.
Of course, great locations and gadgets would be nothing if the cast weren’t up to scratch, but thankfully this time nobody is miscast. Daniel Craig goes from strength to strength, especially unshackled from the emotional baggage of the previous two instalments. Dame Judi Dench takes centre stage as M, and once again shows how right Eon were to cast her way back in GoldenEye (17 years ago, it beggars belief!). She is a truly classy presence, even when dropping an F-bomb (which must be a series first). Javier Bardem makes for a satisfyingly physical villain, affable yet febrile, and most of all disconcertingly tactile. One encounter with Bond feels like a reference to Craig’s role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Giving sterling support are Bérénice Marlohe, with her wonderfully expressive face, and Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear and Ralph Fiennes who, along with the aforementioned Ben Whishaw, make up the new MI6 family. I can’t wait to see them all again soon. Spare a thought, though, for poor Elize du Toit. After being completely wasted in Doctor Who, she is once again lumped with an entirely thankless role. The girl deserves better!
Skyfall isn’t perfect – the plot feels rather recycled, with central features of a villain with a personal vendetta against M and Bond’s disappearance and return to active duty in particular being overly familiar from Pierce Brosnan’s time. The climax also feels a tad forced – emotions bubbling under the surface are far preferable to outpourings where Bond is concerned! That said, the final scene leaves us in a strong position for further adventures, with the MI6 domestic situation restored to a glory it hasn’t experienced for a long time. I will say ‘hat stand’, and leave it at that.