Skyfall, the latest James Bond outing, marks a defining moment in the franchise, a make or break decision to scale things down, tighten the characters and their histories, to become more the thinking man’s Bond. The film does not break in the attempt.
Skyfall begins with a Bond who has put his rage from Quantum of Solace behind him. We see a man who is an MI6 secret agent, but an MI6 secret agent who will use any means to succeed – sounds familiar! He is tracking down a stolen hard drive containing the names and whereabouts of deep undercover MI6 agents, information that could destroy the credibility of the British Secret Service. However, he is shot and presumed killed on assignment, and must make a full recovery to stop the insidious plot to undermine Britain and it’s spy network.
Cue a rather fantastic opening sequence featuring Adele’s Skyfall theme. Whilst you might not be a fan of hers, this opening is dynamite! Easily up there with Goldeneye and is full of imagery reminiscent of the opening of Live & Let Die, director Sam Mendes’ favourite Bond film.
The film easily makes up for the fumble that was Quantum of Solace. Where that film was little more than a two hour action sequence with little-to-no intelligence, the next chapter not only reverses this but blatantly ignores Quantum‘s existence! Skyfall is a thinking man’s Bond; gone are the days when we would expect to see the agent para-surfing away from an orbital death ray. Those concepts are well and truly buried as James Bond becomes a human being and not a popular icon.
You might say “Didn’t they start doing this in Casino Royale?” and yes, whilst Bond’s serious nature began with that film, here we get even more character driven stories. The plot relies entirely around the relationships between Bond, M and the film’s antagonist Raoul Silva, played by an ever-creepy Javier Bardem. The film’s pacing is slow and steady; we see Bond struggle with injury and recovery, whilst also delving into the unexplored regions of his past and where he came from, and as such the film boasts one of the most ‘complete’ Bond characterisations yet.
But it isn’t all talkie and story, although it should be stressed how the film leans more towards them, and there’s still the trademark kinetic action and very real stunts. The action is far more physical and wonderfully photographed (compared to the ham-fisted shaky-cam of Quantum of Solace) and this is showcased beautifully in a moody, elegant scene within a Shanghai skyscraper. However, one of the film’s minor drawbacks is that it begins with the best action piece and peaks too early; the opening scenes involve a chase sequence that leads Bond and his target into ‘boarding’ a train. Audiences will be laughing and praising the distilled awesome as Bond doggedly refuses to give up.
There are plenty of comedic beats throughout too. Asides being given (and excelling with) the most intriguing Bond script yet, Daniel Craig proves he is more than capable in encapsulating what Bond is. The dialogue can be snappy when it needs to be, especially between Bond and our new Q, played by the young Ben Whishaw. Initial fears of this casting rapidly melted away as the characters immediately fell into the familiar rapport but with a neat twist:
“A gun and a radio,” Bond mutters to Q about his new gear, “Not exactly Christmas, is it.”
“What were you expecting… an exploding pen?” Q parries wearily, “I’m afraid we don’t go into that sort of thing any more.”
The heavy lean towards character and story may divide audiences as some look for the familiar global catastrophe or world domination storylines from previous Bond films, of which there are many. Too many perhaps, and the franchise is long overdue a story like this.
Director Sam Mendes has done an excellent job bringing Bond back with vigour and poise, focusing intently on the characters and their histories rather than the action. It is great to see Dame Judi Dench getting more presence this time, and how they still manage to make a unique villain after the thirty-odd that the franchise has presented impresses and amazes.
James Bond will Return!