Yes, the title of this post does rather give things away – I loved the new Bond movie. Have you been to see Skyfall yet? You really should. In the UK the new 007 adventure, the first in 4 years, came out on Friday. In the US however it is not due to be released (in Imax) until 8 November and Australia is going to have to wait another month (for the full schedule of its international roll out, click here). Well, I went to see it yesterday at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in the heart of London’s West End, which is where the Bond premieres were always held when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. In fact I went to see Moonraker there in the Summer of 1979 amid gigantic crowds. Well, 33 years later and the crowds were still heaving and thronging very excitedly (took 20 minutes of queuing just to get it into the auditorium) but with my intrepid crime-busting friends Nick and Nora (cover names, of course) I eventually made it through security and the assigned seating. And what did we find? Well, avoiding any major spoilers, here’s what …
“Take the bloody shot!”
The pre-credits teaser is the hallmark of any Bond Movie for most viewers (let’s face, it informs the taxonomy for most appraisals i.e. ‘remember the one with the bungee jump?’ or the ‘when he skis off a cliff?’ or, well, you know what I mean). Here we get a really extended sequence in Turkey, one that will have ramifications for the entire plot. Bond is on the hunt for a stolen hard-drive which holds details of undercover NATO agents. The pursuit will be on foot, by car, train and motorbike with the aid of agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and is wonderfully dynamic and impressive and has several wonderful moments though the use of CGI to make the stunt drivers look more like Craig is not entirely successful. Bond is relentlessly on the case but, in what will prove to be the first of many echoes of The World is Not Enough (TWINE), his employers lose faith in our hero ensuring that the mission fails and he is left for dead – cue the title song by Adele, easily the most memorable tune since the mid 90s (and the longest) and great graphic titles by Daniel Kleinman, who once again is tasked with resurrecting the spirit of Maurice Binder.
Given that this is the 50th anniversary of the film series it would have been strange had there not been some nods to the past and there is definitely a retro vibe here, which is very welcome. Indeed there is quite a Cold War and grungy, low-tech feel to the ambience with MI6 relocating to an underground bunker built in Churchill’s time. Bond was seemingly killed of in the teaser of several titles in the 60s including From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967) so it isn’t much of a surprise that we are given no details on quite how he survived his ‘death’. But he decides to remain out of the game feeling betrayed – or at least until MI6 is blown up and M herself becomes the target of revenge from a previous associate with a grudge (again, all seen in one of the better Brosnan films, TWINE). Of the several nods to the past, the most notable is the return of Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, which is heralded with a musical sting from John Barry’s score for Goldfinger (1964) and which got a round of applause at my screening – and rightly so, it’s a lovely moment when the vehicle is pulled out of retirement.
But this is definitely a Bond for the modern era, certainly one that belong to the post 9/11 and 7/7 era (the latter is evoked with a stunning setpiece in the London Underground). And there remain plenty of nods to the Jason Bourne films (Bond is frequently seen with an earpiece in constant contact with mission control), though much less frantically than in Quantum of Solace thankfully, while Bardem’s nihilistic blonde villain owes more than a little to the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But this is none the less a traditional Bond movie, first and foremost, in the sense that the main character and the traditions that have grown up with him, from the books and the films and the supporting cast of characters, are centre stage throughout. The personal revenge storyline is fairly linear, and one assumes derives from the input of co-writer John Logan, while the nods to the original Fleming novels more probably come from Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (who have co-written all the Bond films since TWINE and are well versed in the content of the books).
I mentioned in a previous post, Fifty Shades of James Bond, that my favourite Bond films, the ones that seem to resonate the most and last the longest, are the ones with the strongest female characters. In Skyfall, despite the enticing presence of a couple of two stunning ladies in shapely forms of accident prone agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and the genuinely exotic temptress Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), the villain’s main squeeze, the real ‘Bond girl’ is Judi Dench, here making her seventh consecutive appearance as M. She gets a lot of screen time as she, and MI6, are literally put on trial by both the government and Silva (Bardem), the psychologically and physically scarred antagonist who knows a bit too much about M. Like the British bulldog figurine we see on M’s desk, Bond is daringly presented here as a slightly aging man, truly the last bastion of the British Empire, an outmoded idea here given more than just a new lick of paint for the new Millennium. In a world couched in the shadows, his straightforward devotion to duty is the only thing that can save us. The villains scoff at this and ridicule our hero’s belief in Queen and country, which is represented by Dench who of course has played more than one British monarch onscreen. So, along with fantastic (in every sense) action scenes and splendid production design, we also get much more character development than we have been used to, though well in line with the bildungsroman that is the resurrected early Bond played by Craig.
Does this Bond movie get it at all right? No, of course not. The back-to-basics poster is pretty naff and unoriginal for one thing; the mighty Albert Finney appears in the concluding part of the film but is given far too little to do; Thomas Newman’s score is absolutely fine but is less adept at using the Monty Norman theme than usual composer David Arnold; not enough is made of the foreign locations (especially the section in Shanghai, which could almost have been in any modern city); and the film is probably a smidgen too long and could have been snipped here and there. Having said that, I love the fact that the most important scenes are allowed to develop in quite a deliberate fashion and at length with plenty of good dialogue, such as the meeting between Bond and Severine. This approach is seen at its best in a fight filmed entirely in silhouette and in one shot too with no cuts – unexpected and brilliantly executed and one assumes very much down to the presence of theatre director Sam Mendes. On the other hand, at 143 minutes it really should have been pruned a bit.
But these are mere nitpicks. Director Sam Mendes has given his excellent cast of actors plenty of room to explore their roles, with Ben Whishaw doing very well as the new Q (and smartly reversing the series tradition by being much younger than 007); Ralph Fiennes also gets a nice role as the bureaucrat sent in to get M to put her house in order; Bardem is a wonderful, unexpectedly campy but sinister and vulnerable villain, a truly damaged evil mastermind; and then there is Craig who remains a stunning Bond, whether wearing a Tom Ford retro tux or unexpectedly sporting a scraggy beard tinged with white (just like mine in fact ) as great at the love scenes as in the fights. After the uncertainly of Quantum of Solace (a film I none the less liked) in which our grieving hero was turned into a mere shell of his former self, Bond is really, finally, definitely back. Good.
The official Skyfall website can be accessed at: www.007.com/skyfall/