When making a Bond film there’s always pressure to fill the criteria associated with the hit franchise: spectacular action, a sinister villain and a seductively intriguing girl to name but a few. Sam Mendes must have felt this pressure, especially when you consider that Skyfall coincides with the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. Thankfully, instead of painting a dull homage to the franchise, Mendes has had the audacity to draw outside the lines. Don’t worry, it’s not a big change to the blunt instrument of MI6 you know and love, but Mendes has introduced dashes of artistry, wit and heart that were absent in Quantum of Solace.
The first ten minutes are electric. Daniel Craig tentatively edges his way into a dark corridor, the only glimmer of light falling upon his bloodshot eyes and furrowed brow, instantly introducing you to the weary Bond you will accompany for the erst of the film. From the opening scene we see that he’s a bond that’s losing touch, not just with his skills, but with his enthusiasm and his love for the job.
M (played by Judi Dench, who unashamedly steals the film) is distinctly machiavellian as she risks Bond’s and his fellow agents’ lives more and more to tie up loose ends. She comes under increasing political pressure as the film goes on (due to the loss of a list of agent names), to the extent that she even comes under public inquiry – think MI6 meets Leveson. This opens a rift between her and Bond, as she becomes responsible for his brush with death in the opening scene, a dynamic that evolves to an emotional level unrivalled in any previous Bond film.
The action is frankly astounding as Craig leaps from a mechanical digger to a mutilated train, having already chased the enemy on motorbike over the rooftops of Istanbul – yes, rooftops. Mendes’ precise eye for a shot, combined with Craig’s amazing technical stunt skills (at one point he convincingly dispatches five enemies at close quarters with ease, unarmed, in a matter of seconds) suits the grittier nature of the film – you feel it all. The sheer physicality of the stunts combined with the earthiness of the explosions make you feel each punch and burst of fire in your navel, so much so that when Bond is subjected to a seductive straight razor shave later on, you fear for his life as blade scrapes across cheek.
In fact the whole film’s attention to detail is incredible, not just in the exquisite soundtrack that unashamedly manipulates your emotions, but in the little moments on screen that help you live the film. Whether it’s noticing M’s slightly askew teardrop necklace as she panics at each new revelation, or the condescending nature of scotch being handed to her in talks of resignation, Mendes delicately shows rather than pushing details in your face – a welcome change from the obvious nature of QoS (yawn). The eye for environment is also exquisite; the bleak grey streets of London match M’s countenance, and the murky fog of Scotland depicts a last hideout for a broken MI6, all captured in remarkeable detail and care, creating a genuine visual treat. Speaking of visual ecstasy, the opening credits are delicious – if I could hang them on loop in a frame, I would.
All this artistry is useless, however, without a convincing villain and plot, which are both conveniently supplied by Javier Bardem‘s chillingly touching depiction of an ex-agent back for revenge. His opening scene establishes him as perhaps one of the most subversive and terrifying Bond villains ever. On the surface he is assured, flirtatious – friendly even. His true nature as a sinister villain taking glee in superiority is quickly and brutally unveiled, however, and you soon forget the humorous back and forth between himself and Bond that had previously reassured you so much. Indeed, the dialogue is one of this film’s strengths, not so much in the prescription one-liners (which are still more hit than miss), but more in the emotional exchanges between Dench and Craig. The witty exchanges are also insightful, Craig noticeably commenting that it is a “brave new world” having been introduced to the ingenious new Q (ingenious in this case referring to both character and actor Ben Whishaw), as the new MI6 struggles with new staff and an evolving new threat – cyberterrorism.
While this films continues the evolution of the Bond series from laborious iterations of a formula based around cheesy one-liners and boyish gadgets, to a significantly more poignant series based around Bond’s ever changing characterisation and discussions of which resource drives the world, one can’t help to notice a few pitfalls this film fails to swerve. The character Severine is a good, yet limited character sketch, simply due to a lack of screen time. Similarly, while Raoul Silva (Bardem) is an incredibly adept villain, capable of launching tube trains at Bond, he remains vengeful on a solely psychopathic level, rather than causing disaster on as great a scale as previous installments of the series. Bond isn’t saving the world this time, he’s saving M and the administration of MI6.
Skyfall is a fantastic Bond film, but not for the reasons that previously validated the franchise. Craig is an emotional, tortured soul of a Bond; the nonchalantly coiffeured days of Brosnan are long gone. Skyfall, with its nuance, drama and stars of the franchise’s future, definitely takes the series in a different direction. I, for one, like where we’re headed.
- Skyfall might not be the limit as Sam Mendes rumoured to direct next Bond after all (independent.co.uk)
- Review- Skyfall (etickner95.wordpress.com)
- Product placement in pictures: Skyfall (brandsandfilms.com)
- Penélope Cruz to play Bond girl in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall followup (guardian.co.uk)
- Sam Mendes Likely to Direct Next Two Bond Films (slashfilm.com)
- Sam Mendes to direct next Bond? (guardian.co.uk)
- Sam Mendes set to direct the next Bond film (telegraph.co.uk)