When I heard the new James Bond film was coming out, I was fairly nonplussed by the news. The posters didn’t really tell me anything other than the title, Skyfall, and that Daniel Craig looked like his muscles were going tear their own way out of his tight blue suit. It’s a shame that my feelings for Bond films had reached this level of near apathy. For a large portion of my childhood James Bond movies were major events.
My favourite birthday activity has been a simple one. Go see an entertaining movie on the big screen and eat a burger. It’s what I did most years as a kid and Bond films were often summer releases so a fair number of them were viewed on past birthdays. I grew up into mid-period Roger Moore and my first Bond on the big screen was The Spy Who Loved Me. I’ll never forget the thrill at seeing that legendary opening sequence where he skis off the edge of the cliff for real and you are left hanging, open-mouthed, and then Union Jack parachute and the signature music. Chills.
Even on the small screen the old Connery Bonds were event TV and still stand up as classics. Then Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and even my young teenage brain realised there was something lame going on up on the screen. Ever since then, Bond has never had that feeling. There was nothing like it at the time. Well, nothing much with the kind of budget Bond demanded. And once they rebooted with Pierce Brosnan there were really so many other great action movies and other films that did it so much better. I’m sorry, Carly Simon, but someone does do it better – Bourne anyone?
Brosnan devolved into overblown Sci-Fi nonsense after a promising start with GoldenEye. I enjoyed the Daniel Craig reboot of Casino Royale, yet… it still didn’t feel, to me, like Bond, like that kind of film that is epic and ridiculous and captivating all at once.
A couple of days before we saw Skyfall I decided to watch the second Craig Bond, Quantum of Solace, and hen realised after ten minutes that I’d already watched it and it had utterly slipped from my memory. It’s a peculiar, wordless, unrelenting mess of a movie and I fell asleep at one point during it. But it was very interesting to see it in contrast to Skyfall.
On the 50th anniversary of James Bond, Skyfall is the perfect Bond film. Sam Mendes as director and Roger Deakins on cinematography were inspired choices, bringing the movie much-needed depth of character and theme, and some astounding imagery. What we have is a mature film, well plotted, beautifully paced, expertly acted and thrilling in its quieter scenes as well as its train-crashing-through-walls sequences. It ticks all the Bond boxes: Madcap opening action scene which, like Spy Who Loved Me, ends on an unexpected fall from a great height; trippy credits sequence and lushly romantic theme song; girls; violence; gadgets; camp villain fond of explanatory monologues. It’s all there and more.
I can’t recall a Bond film, ever, that contains a theme like this one and has that theme permeate every pore of the film. It is undoubtedly Old vs New – the old ways versus the new technology; the old commanders moving aside for the young blood – young geeky Q verbally sparring with Bond in the National Gallery is a highlight. It’s a theme a couple of the modern Bond reboots have wrestled with, realising the difficulty of finding a place in the modern world for this ‘sexist, cold-war dinosaur’ (I think is approximate quote from GoldenEye). Skyfall updates the villain to the modern world with the very real threat of cyber-terrorism, but cleverly takes Bond back to basics – “A gun and a radio” – and in terms of the usual globetrotting nonsense that goes on, it is kept to a minimum with the most impressive scenery being in this fair country. The tracking shot of Bond’s Aston Martin driving up the A82 into Glencoe is jaw-dropping, making spectacular use of Scotland’s ancient glens for the mist-drenched finale. Albert Finney playing a rather handy Ghillie has easily the best line of the movie with sawn-off shotgun in hand.
There is some top-drawer acting talent throughout. Judi Dench almost steals it with the most heartbreaking moment in any Bond film, surely; Daniel Craig showing he’s more than just a thrusting bull of a secret agent. Javier Bardem laps up the villain role, underplaying it at the right moments, but moving into true hammy supervillain mode when it’s required. Naomie Harris is also excellent as Bond’s fellow agent. Bérénice Marlohe slinks around, both sexy and damaged in an all-too-brief role. Lets not forget Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw in new roles destined to continue into the coming sequels.
It’s not all sheer perfection, of course. There are ridiculous moments worthy of any Roger Moore film – Komodo dragons (recalling the alligator scene from Live and Let Die); the cyber-gobbledigook with the various hacking scenes making computer hacking look far more glamorous and cinematic with its insane mutating graphic displays than the far more prosaic command prompt window it probably entails in real life. And then there is the inevitable misogyny. One might say it wouldn’t be Bond without it, but there is one scene that could have been cut. And I’m talking the shower scene on the yacht. Yes, Bond, perhaps creeping into the shower naked behind a woman who you have just worked out is an ex-abductee of the sex trade from a very young age isn’t perhaps the most sensitive thing to do. And then she gets ignominiously shot with a glass of whisky on her head and she’s all but forgotten. Pretty rough. And as a friend pointed out to me, it seems that the old guard wins in the end as M is once again a man and Bond gets to have his ‘over the desk’ innuendo with Moneypenny once more.
Excessive nitpicking? Hmm, fair points I think. Especially if Bond is to continue as a relevant entity for this era. I think they will have a hard time topping this one to be honest. I doubt Sam Mendes will be back for another go, which is a shame. The film is exquisitely put together and that is its greatest strength – the attention to detail and the attempt to create a great cinematic story rather than just flog a product.