Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Bond 23 a.k.a SKYFALL has been on Australian screens for just over a week. This review will contain mild spoilers in its main section, so you have been warned. It morphs into a fanboyish rant in the final section, which will annoy many, especially those who haven’t seen the film because there will be more spoilers still. So if you are planning to view the movie, consider the number rating in paragraph six to be your stop point.
SKYFALL is a well-crafted Bond film that intelligently navigates the expectations of the fifty-year-old franchise’s worldwide audience. This is Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007; he has proved himself as the toughest Bond since Connery. Sam Mendes is an experienced film director with AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999), JARHEAD (2005) and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008) on his resume. The excellent Judi Dench returns as ‘M’. The whole package ends this three-movie cycle on a celebratory note.
Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have delivered a story that is slower than the frenetic pace of QUANTUM OF SOLACE. One of the criticisms of Craig-era Bond is that the movies have been too influenced by the speed and ferocity of the Jason Bourne pictures. In SKYFALL, we have plenty of time to breathe and take in the glossy ambience and gritty action.
Javier Bardem plays Raoul Silva, the brilliant rogue M16 agent who threatens the British Secret Service on its home turf. His inside knowledge makes him an opponent who needs to put down as quickly as possible. Bardem’s Silva is a confident super villain whose over the top presentation harks back to old school antagonists like Blofeld. Bond has to use all his wits and intelligence to prevent Silva from destroying MI6. As the movie unfolds we discover more about Bond’s early life than ever before and here it becomes clear that for 007, his job is his life and the closest thing he has to a family.
Clocking in at two and a half hours, the movie brings the introduction of the new Bond to a close. As film critic and friend of AccessReel, Travis Johnson points out, Daniel Craig’s Bond has been given an unprecedented three-picture creation arc. SKYFALL is the full stop to the reboot and from now on we understand that this 007 and this MI6 are the real article. This M. This Q. This England. The Eon Production team have successfully taken Ian Fleming’s character almost full circle. SKYFALL is a 50th birthday gift to fans. It has the big action set pieces we’ve come to expect and it also reassures us that from Bond 24 onwards, the franchise is in safe hands.
There are points when the story and the action drag, however I believe most film-goers will be entertained by SKYFALL. I rate it 6 out of 10.
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We now enter into further spoiler territory, so for those of you who want to catch the movie with a mind unsullied by my unseemly nitpicking, I suggest you take this opportunity to leave now. The reason I am bothering with this annex to the main review, is that I am in two minds about the movie. I was genuinely entertained at one level and authentically irritated at another.
It has been well-documented that QUANTUM OF SOLACE was the victim of the writers’ strike. Its first scene was the continuation of CASINO ROYALE’s last scene. This confused the punters somewhat. Hardcore fans recommend watching QoS directly after CR, and having done that, it does make more sense that way. It is easier to see it as part two of the Vesper Lynd story and it further sets up the mysterious Quantum organisation. However it suffers from meagrely written expository scenes sandwiched between a few too many pointless action scenes. It’s a breathless ride where you have no clue where you are headed much of the time.
Conversely, SKYFALL hangs around. It has loads of detail and is happy to keep talking. When Bond takes the boat to the Casino in Macau, it’s a nod to old school Bond where being in an exotic locale and hobnobbing with the wealthy was impossibly glamorous. These days, that stuff is simply not as engaging, partly because we have seen too many Bond movies. Mendes and team are very consciously repositioning Bond as the suave secret agent who needs very little in the way of high tech spy gadgetry and whose taste in fashion and grooming is classic. He still uses a straight razor as he take pains to show us.
In a sense, this return to old school Bond is wise because it’s his Britishness that continues to distinguish Bond from Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt. My concern is that Old School Bond also meant a lot of Old School Cheese. The jokey kill lines, the double entendres and the underground lairs. Raoul Silva’s lair may be not have a basement level and his hired goons don’t wear coveralls and drive around in little electric cars like the henchmen of yore, but his character is somewhat thinly-sketched and ridiculous.
Which brings us to this open can of worms – what about Quantum? One of the best sequences in QoS was when Bond threatened the organisation as they met, hidden in the crowd, at the opera, talking to each other through headsets. Quantum was shown as ruthless, ultra-wealthy and impossible to pin down. They weren’t the SMERSH or SPECTRE of the earlier films. They were the elite of the “one percent”; pulling strings and making governments do their bidding. In interview, a year ago, producer Barbara Broccoli hinted that Quantum would again be the villain of this piece, but somewhere this idea was dropped and we are left with Bardem as the most disgruntled ex-employee in history. Poor Judi Dench’s M has to mouth some platitudes about the Cold War being over and now threats to the security of the realm come from the “Shadows”. But unless she’s referring to Hank Marvin and the guys, it feels like an opportunity missed.
Yeah, enough already, I know. Bond changes with the fashions of the time and the Broccoli family who continue to produce the films have done well to keep this property viable for half a century. Yet I know that I am not alone in feeling that some of the excitement of CASINO ROYALE Bond might be lost in this return to the status quo. By SKYFALL’s end the retro-fitted MI6 headquarters is back with a male M and a female “secretary” called Moneypenny. The old hat rack and even the padded leather door to M’s office has returned. All very nostalgic. But CASINO ROYALE gave us the “blunt instrument” whose next move was unpredictable. This was not simply because we didn’t know Craig, but also because he is the kind of actor who can keep an audience on its toes when he has strong material to work with. In the final analysis, I am worried that we might be witnessing a return to James Bland. We shall see.