Is Bond ageing, or just growing up?
27th October 2012
Skyfall opens with Bond getting shot by his own side and falling into a river: missing, presumed dead. But just as I was getting my coat on and preparing to leave the cinema - no! - he re-appears as an embittered beach bum recovering from his wounds. Only news of M struggling with a new and remorseless enemy tempts him back to service.
Skyfall takes over where most Bond films end: in the Connery / Moore era, catastrophe is averted with seconds to spare, and Bond celebrates by shagging someone in a lifeboat. In 'Skyfall' the catastrophe is happening already: agents are being bumped off and by the end of the movie so much of London has been damaged, and so many have died - including one of the main protagonists - that one could hardly call it a victory for Bond. This makes 'Skyfall' a brave Bond film: there is more plot, more dialogue and more ideas than most Bond films put together. 'Skyfall' gets its tension from, not so much the action scenes, which can sometimes lack pace and purpose, but from a sense that M and Bond just are not up to it any more. Plus Javier Bardem makes a plausible enemy : there is no improbably large secret organisation like SMERSH or Quantum to deal with, just a disgruntled but brilliant ex - MI6 officer, able to out-hack the nation's computers whilst M looks like she is struggling to keep up. There is an emphasis on age and mortality, although the central message evades us here: it feels as though what starts out as deep thought is just a plot ruse to make Bond and M seem more vulnerable.
Credit has to be given to the cinematography: Mendes creates some fantastic scenes and imagery. This Bond has moments that look like serious cinema. However I have to warn some of those shots are brief and squandered in the extensive trailers so lack the 'wow' factor by the time you get to see them on screen.
Craig must surely have confirmed his place as the best Bond ever , although to be fair the character has changed so much a straight comparison with his predecessors is impossible, but I do look forward to a Leveson - style enquiry into the journalists who claimed he would flop just because he was blonde - remember that?
Dame Judi Dench steals the show - and most of the best lines - as 'M', but then you probably knew I would say that. And talking of characters, 'Q' makes a return, not as the miscast John Cleese, but as a younger geekier version. But it is hard to impress with gadgets in such a tech - savvy age: as Bond moans when he opens a box with his gadgets, 'it's not exactly Christmas'. The only fun to be had with the gadgets is that as often as not Bond would find some novel way to use (and abuse) them, but in Skyfall both gadgets are used up within minutes. Not so much 'Q' as 'Y'?
'Q' is not the only icon from Bond's past to be resurrected: we see the Aston Martin DB5 (which got a round of applause in the cinema) and the film ends in M's old panelled office from the Connery / Moore era. All these temporal distortions may frustrate some. I can understand why the producers would want to keep some of the old Bond DNA, but on the other hand, either Bond is being updated or he isn't.
These issues aside, this is a thoughtful, even daring Bond; so is this the best Bond ever (as some have stated)? Well, it depends what you are looking for. Most people watch Bond for a bit of escapism, but this Bond can be a bit, well, depressing. Whether British audiences in particular are prepared to warm to a Bond that says, basically, 'you're sh*t and you know it' remains to be seen. Personally I think full credit to the Bond producers to take the franchise into new and grown-up territory. No, my main issue is that the film seems to play with too many ideas - many thrown in from other films ( 'Highlander', 'Citiizen Kane' and 'Die Hard' to name but a few) and never quite finishes them. It feels like it has been written by a committee. One cannot help but wonder if the deleted scenes might tell us more about the film than what we see on screen. So although this is a worthy addition to the Bond canon, I will stick with 'Casino Royale' as my best Bond film ever. A film does not have to have lots of ideas to be big or clever. Casino Royale had a simple plot, brilliantly executed. I hope Sam Mendes is kept on for the next few films, though, the best may be yet to come.