[This early review of Skyfall is submitted by CA reader Dalton's Chin Dimple, an avid fan of James Bond]
I am going to try and remain as spoiler-free as possible and not discuss anything that hasn’t already been revealed in teasers, trailers and the cast interviews for Skyfall. I will also avoid mentioning anything that would take away your enjoyment of the film. Let me say straight off that I could see this James Bond movie being divisive. I think people will either love it or hate it. I don’t think many people will come out in the middle.
The reviewers in the press are talking about Skyfall being “Best Bond Ever!” but I think some people expecting a wildly different Bond (in character and modus operandi) to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace will be disappointed. If you like Daniel Craig in the role and enjoy the new direction the franchise has taken since Casino Royale in 2006 then this will be right up your alley. If you long for a return to the suave of Brosnan or, even beyond that, Moore’s light-hearted approach, then you are unlikely to enjoy this.
Whilst this film contains a level of humour some have felt lacking from the franchise recently, it also reintroduces an element of the camp and grotesque to a villain and takes care to finish with a large number of familiar Bond staples in place. Nevertheless, this is still Craig’s Bond. To me, it clearly signals the end of this “Bond Begins” cycle. His origin is now told and the world around him established, however this Bond will still clearly make mistakes, reflect a lot of the characteristics from Fleming’s novels and most importantly bleed…… a lot!
The film opens, as with all of Craig’s movies, with no gunbarrel / iris and throws you directly into an ‘in-flight’ mission to retrieve a hard drive that has been stolen from a laptop in an MI6 safehouse in Istanbul leaving a lot of dead (and not so dead) bodies in it’s place. The pre-title sequence is a triumph because it is large, spectacular and over the top but manages to remain brutal, bruising and realistic (within reason…. well this is 007!) at the same time.
Craig is superb as a pissed off rottweiler of a field operative refusing to be beaten despite the sheer number of times it looks as if the thief of the hard drive has escaped. The ante is continually being upped as the protagonists try to maintain the upper hand over each other in, on and over various forms of transport. As you know from the trailers and other publicity, this doesn’t end to well for 007 and segues into Daniel Kleinman’s opening title sequence.
Like all Bond themes, Adele’s song is much better over the titles than when played on the radio. The titles themselves are a mixed bag with some amazing imagery and clever ideas however theme and style wise they are a mix of Kleinman’s previous efforts from GoldenEye with the clever and highly different Casino Royale style so seem a bit confused and, at times, too cartoony. The events of the pre-title sequence feed directly into the main-plot and set the stage for a pretty grim time for MI6 and in particular M, as something she did in her past drives a villain with a complete obsession for getting even with her.
With oversight breathing down M's neck in the form of Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, the man from the Cabinet office with a direct line to the Prime Minister, coupled with a hostile board of inquiry into her handling of events she refuses to back down and has to take a risk with the preparedness of her most trusted agent when a blatant and very public attack directly on MI6 drives him back into action from his self-imposed exile straight into a game of cat-and-mouse with a villain who is always one step ahead of them forcing them to react every step of the way. The hard drive is simply the start with the villain constantly ramping up the pressure even when seemingly beaten.
I think some of the reviews I have read have misunderstood some of the themes on display in this film. With Bond only getting his 00-status in Casino Royale they have an issue with Bond’s physical condition and relevance being questioned so soon, as per GoldenEye. Bond’s mental and physical state is a central theme in this film, but that is in response to the events at the beginning of this film. The challenge is not to Bond personally, but to the whole way in which espionage is run and the realm defended in this day and age of cyber terrorism and hidden enemies lurking in the shadows instead of knowing which nations were your enemy like the old days. There are those that see both M and Bond as too “Old-Skool”.
One of my favourite moments is a nice exchange between Bond and new Q when Q grudgingly admits that sometimes it is still necessary to have somebody to pull the trigger, despite the fact that he can do more damage in 10 minutes with his laptop than Bond can in years with a gun. Bond’s icy response is that knowing when NOT to pull the trigger is equally important.
Also central is the relationship between Bond and M. Make no mistake, there is only one ‘Bond girl’ in this movie and it’s Judi Dench as M. She gets masses of screen time, some great lines and does her usual excellent job. She also has a highly unexpected (especially in a 12A certificate) use of the F-word delivered perfectly. Apparently the BBFC have something internally that they refer to as the “Dench Factor” which is that they get twice as many complaints about swearing in films when Judi Dench does it!!
Javier Bardem is clearly having an absolute blast in this and manages to be chilling, outrageous and camp all at the same time but never coming across as anything less than deadly, with menace even in his deliberately not-very ambiguous sexuality. He also requires no henchman character – a Jaws or an Oddjob – because he fulfils both that role and the primary villain role in one sitting! His single, long, continuous entrance shot with his monologue on rats is excellent.
Another highlight for me is some of the gentle references to 007s back story without them being too blatant. If you have read Pearson’s Unauthorised Biography or any of Charlie Higson’s excellent “Young Bond” adventures you will pick out some nice touches. If you are not that familiar with the man who would be Bond, then it doesn’t matter and is certainly not in your face like, for instance, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
Albert Finney appears towards the end in a role that I could stand to see repeated in coming movies, primarily due to some great lines. It is clear that Her Majesty’s finest operative is not used to be addressed with comments like “Just you try and stop me, you jumped up little shit!”
You can’t talk about this film without mentioning the cinematography. Roger Deakins work is absolutely flawless and complements the tone of the film perfectly. It really is very noticeable. One highlight for me is Bond stalking an assassin through the deserted upper-floors of a Shanghai office building with the shifting neon lights and patterns reflecting off the multitude of glass surfaces to create shadows and hiding places that are constantly moving. The movie has plenty of moments like that, where it is clear that a master is at work. Even though this film is far less of a travelogue than previous films, with a lot of the action taking place in London and Scotland, Deakins choices really help nail a great look and feel. Thomas Newman’s score is also nicely different from David Arnold’s work without it being distracting (e.g. Serra in GoldenEye or the disco Conti styling of For Your Eyes Only).
So is this the “Best Bond Ever” ? Definitely top 10. Probably top 5. Possibly top 3. How high you place it on your own lists depends on what elements of Bond you enjoy and which ones you can leave. It depends how seriously you take continuity in the Bond universe. If Blofield and Bond not recognising each other in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (despite having met in the previous movie, You Only Live Twice) bothered you when you watched it then there are a couple of things in Skyfall that will bug you.
To frame this, I love Casino Royale and think Quantum of Solace, whilst far from perfect, is undeserving of a lot of the flack it gets. I loved Skyfall and can’t wait to see it again. My Mum and Dad had their first date to see Dr No in Leicester Square in London so I took them with me to see this and they both enjoyed it but my mum thought it was too violent. Another person who accompanied me moaned about the lack of a proper villain’s lair and liked the fact that killer animals make a welcome return. So you can see where the division line forms.
I will be seeing Skyfall again and buying the BluRay, but I am just a hopelessly obsessed Bond fanatic. One thing is for sure though, until I watched this film I personally NEVER thought I would have a tear in my eye come the end of a Bond film.