Daniel Craig

Skyfall (2012)

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.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin books were a large part of a number of childhoods. Tintin the man-child journalist leaping from adventure to adventure with his dog, Snowy, by his side and a cavalcade of colourful and unusual bit-players, from Captain Haddock to Thompson and Thomson. So, when it was announced Speilberg was heading up a film version, it wasn’t so much a surprise that it was going to happen, but that it had taken so long.

With Speilberg directing and Peter Jackson on producing duties, it was down to Steven Moffat to put together a script. After banging out a first draft and accepting the job as producer for Doctor Who, fanboy Moffat handed scripting duties to Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). So, that’s a hell of a lot talent on board before you’ve even got the cast. The latest and greatest dog-piled onto a greenscreen set to be motion captured and dropped directly into the very pages of Tintin’s world. How thrilling!

So, where does that leave us?

Unfortunately, with a very average adventure film. Despite everything that’s thrown on screen in an attempt to entertain, it all misses the mark.

No one could argue that the plot, for what it is, isn’t fast paced. In fact, it’s too fast paced. There’s no time to catch your breath or absorb what’s happening. It’s set piece, after set piece, after set piece. A sub-plot involving Thompson and Thomson on the hunt for a pickpocket is loaded with running around and slapstick, when it could have been wisely used as a sort of interval from the action. Even the most ADHD ridden child high on Vimto will want to stop for a fag break.

The animation/motion capture is impressive and EBFS would never take that away from everybody involved. However, it can’t be denied that that everyone looks a tad unearthly. And there’s that niggling thought that if you were going to that much effort to make everyone look ‘human’, why not just use… I don’t know, humans? Tintin’s dead fish eyes were a constant reminder that nothing happening on screen was real. It may as well have been Skyrim. Did The Polar Express teach us nothing?!

The tone of the movie is equally niggling. On the one hand, it does feel like a ripping yarn for boys, but on the other hand it’s all a bit too, well, silly ie Haddock using his alcoholic breath to fuel a plane. This could be the fault of the mixed bag of writers. Separately, each of them are strong writers in their own rights, but together the script seems to suffer from whose interpretation of the Tintin world is actually being put forward for consideration. Snowy chasing the bad guys only to have a cow fart in his face sums up the whole film really.

With Hugo and pretty much anything by Pixar already out there, it can be said that there are better family films. And it’s a shame, because all the signposts suggested that this could have been a cracking piece of work. If we can take anything away from this, at least, Like Moffat’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, there’s always that glimmer of hope that a child will want to pick up one of Hergé’s actual books and that can never be a bad thing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

There have been a lot of reviews that have jumped on the bandwagon of comparing David Fincher’s latest with the Swedish original. Completely natural, but after a while it just turns into a pointless ‘who would win in a fight? Superman or Godzilla?’ argument. Director of the 2009 version, Niels Arden Oplev, asked why anyone would see Fincher’s when they could see the original. Somehow suggesting his is the superior version. We would like to retort with why should you see either when you could read the book? It’s called choice, Oplev.

Anyway, with all that in mind, EBFS is going to stick its fingers in its ears, go lalalalalala and pretend there hasn’t already been an attempt to bring Steig Larsson’s novel, Men Who Hate Women, to life. Okay? We’re all agreed? Let’s move on then.

Disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkist (Daniel Craig) is hired by retired CEO Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grand-daughter 40 years previously, believing her to have been murdered by one of her own family. During his investigation, Blomkist hires Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara); a researcher for a security firm and ward to the state. As the two grow closer to the truth, they grow closer to each other. And that’s the potted version.

With a plot encompassing rape, revenge and Nazis, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dense film based on a dense book. In a similar fashion to LA Confidential, Steven Zaillian shaves off a number of characters superfluous to the main plot; keeping it lean, mean and vicious. Like Lisbeth Salander herself. The credit sequence itself is a primal scream, reminiscent of Fincher’s Fight Club, encouraging, nay, demanding you pay attention (see above). The film simmers, never rushing to conclusions. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ script throbs at the back of your head, almost penetrating your brain during the scenes of violence.

Both the leads stand out for very different reasons. Mara is superb as Salander; playing her equal parts violent school child and intelligent sociopath. If there was someone else who had played this part before her, and EBFS is still refusing to acknowledge there is another film during this review, then Mara certainly holds her ground in comparison. She’s subtle; her blank expressions showing so much of the character within. Not bad for a girl from Urban Legends 3. Craig stands out because he’s the only one NOT putting on a Swedish accent. We can only assume he kept impersonating the Swedish Chef before Fincher gave in and let him do his own thing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a brutal film that stays faithful to the original. If you’ve already decided not to see it because of some allegiance to another version that may or may not exist, you owe it yourself to make the effort to this. As Salander said, there will be blood.

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

Cowboys and Aliens follows Daniel Craig, who wakes in the middle of desert, injured, with no memory of who he is and a metal bracelet strapped to his wrist. Immediately attacked by bounty hunters, he kills them, steals their clothes and strolls to the nearest town. It’d all be very James Bond, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re in the 1800’s. Arriving in town, after 20 minutes of more exposition, everyone is attacked by aliens, who lasso various town members, including Harrison Ford’s son and Sam Rockwell’s wife. Realising that his bracelet is a weapon, Daniel Craig leads a posse to hunt down the hogtying bastards.

Whilst Craig is solid, never having to extend his repertoire beyond smoldering, it’s Harrison Ford who stands. Playing his wealthy and influential cattleman in the way one would imagine Han Solo would have turned out if he hadn’t got involved with those bloody rebels. He acts as the voice of the audience highlighting the absurdity of what’s going on around him. Faced with knowledge from Olivia Wilde that the invaders are here for gold from them tharr hills, Ford cries ‘What are they going to do? Buy something?’.

It all sounds a bit daft and, in other hands, it possibly could have been, but director, Jon Favreau, insures that everything is played deadly serious. Too serious one could argue. Whilst the film is no doubt entertaining, it could have done with maybe a just a few nodding winks to the camera to let the audience know everyone is in on the joke. Favreau has shown from his Iron Man input that he is capable of mixing action and the comedic quite well, so it’s a shame it’s not shown here. With a few more lines from Ford, this wouldn’t seem so po faced.

Direction wise, Favreau is dependable, ensuring that we never see the aliens for longer then a few seconds. Well, until the end when it becomes a massive explosion of CGI and the movie starts to resemble an XBOX game. The fact that Favreau stuck to his guns (ha! a pun) and didn’t shoot the film in 3D is commendable. 3D has a long way to go to prove that it isn’t a flash in the pan. And no, you can’t mention Avatar. It’s not even fun 3D, it’s just Sam Worthington reenacting Who Framed Roger Rabbit with giant blue people. I’m drifting….

In summary, Cowboys and Aliens is a fun film if not entirely memorable. The mash up of genres feels a bit like stunt marketing and I’m sure we’re opening the floodgates to a series of cheap knock offs… Ninjas vs Crocodiles anyone?