There’s something enjoyable about award-winning, worthy directors taking on fluffy entertainment. Lately, it just seems to work in their favour. Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop as The Dark Knight. Kenneth Branagah threw Chris Helmsworth into an omnipotent smackdown in Thor and now Sam Mendes is skulking around the shadows with Daniel Craig in… Baaaa-da-dum, baaaaa-da-dum, badabadadum! Skyfall.
With a hard drive containing the names of all NATO’s undercover agents stolen, Bond (Daniel Craig) is the only man who can bring it back. Too bad the head of MI6, M (Judi Dench) made a bad call which saw Bond taking a bullet in the shoulder in Istanbul and straight into the bottom of a vodka bottle. Will Bond recover? Will M make amends? Will Daniel Craig wear those blue shorts again? All these questions, and ones you never thought to ask, will be answered in this, the 23rd Bond bonanza.
Craig has shaped into a worthy contender for best Bond. In Skyfall, we find him more broken than in Quantum of Solace – being shot will do that to you. Red eyed and stubbly, he’s a long way from the days of Brylcreem and Sean Connery. And the effects of the pre-credits scene echoes throughout the narrative. Unlike Die Another Day when Pierce Brosnan recovers from months of brutal torture at the hands of the evil, communist Asians like it was just a dose of the clap. But he’s not all sullen faced; Craig’s Bond has developed a sense of humour. Less ‘The bitch is dead’ and more arched eyebrows. A fight in a Komodo dragon pit raises just as many genuine giggles as it does gasps.
Craig goes toe to toe with Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva; a man with an almost Oedipus complex over M. If Bond is order borne of chaos, then Bardem, as the demented techno whiz, is what happens when that order goes full circle. Bardem stalks the film like a grandiose 70s quiz show host, chewing the scenery and spitting it out into the faces of those around him. He is a powerhouse and we haven’t seen an act of show stealing like this since the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
But Skyfall is not just about two men puffing their chests out and trading blows, the script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan means we also focus on Judi Dench’s M. Rather than just being the bookends to Bond’s adventures, Skyfall sees M understanding the consequences of her actions over the years. With Ralph Fiennes’ Chairman of Intelligence and Security Committee breathing down her neck for answers, a large part of the film concentrates on what kind of future a woman like M can have in the modern world, when technology means the shadows of the world no longer exist. There are almost reflections of Stephen Frears’ The Queen in Dench’s performance, as she finds herself to be the archaic dinosaur she once accused Brosnan’s Bond of being.
And that’s the other thing this film achieves. It questions the relevance of Bond. When Casino Royale was first announced, there were some who wondered if there was a place for the martini guzzler in Hollywood when Jason Bourne was sweeping up the box office. Now, six years on, those questions are being raised again within the narrative of the film. MI6’s new quartermaster (Ben Whishaw) even wags his finger, acknowledging that the days of spy chasing are almost over. This kind of introspection bleeds through to the finale, which couldn’t be anymore different from the likes of Goldeneye, Live and Let Die and even Quantum of Solace. And by god, does Skyfall feel better for it.
Is Skyfall perfect? Well, not quite. There is one scene that just doesn’t settle well with us. Dubbed in EBFS as ‘the Scotch scene’, Bond is made to witness an act of violence that shows how truly unhinged Silva is. In the aftermath of this abhorrent behavior, Bond utters a line that just doesn’t work. Now, it’s very likely that this is an attempt by all involved to show him trying to mask his emotions, but quite frankly it just comes across as flippant. It smacks of trying too hard, but it does highlight that this modern Bond is so ingrained in our subconscious that a line that echoes the ghost of Roger Moore past just doesn’t feel right, so they must be making some progress. Throw in a Bond girl who has been sex trafficked since she was 12 and we can see why some people have taken offence to this instalment.
That said, these matters, despite all the hype they’ve generated for Greg Orton and the press, are a very small part of the bigger picture. That bigger picture being that this is one of the best Bond movies in recent years and proof that you don’t have to rely on trinkets, like invisible cars, euphemistically named women and bald-headed cat strokers to keep the flame burning.
In summary, Skyfall is fantastic. Pure and simple. It’s unadulterated fun that reaffirms why we all got excited about Casino Royale. Mendes has constructed a Bond film that doesn’t even have to be a Bond film. Yes, the Bond brand gets the bums on seats, but it’s the talent on-screen that will keep you in there. Take out the recognisable traits of the 50 year old franchise and you still have a taut, entertaining spy thriller, which is more than you can say about other franchises such as Twilight and The Dark Knight.