Sunday, 25 November 2012

Film Review: Skyfall

Bond visits sunny Scotland
"Everyone needs a hobby...". 
"So what's yours?" 

Proving that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, Skyfall resurrects everyone's favourite MI6 agent for another round of classic Bond action, with what could possibly be the best entry into the series since Goldeneye.

Lurking in the shadows
Set later on in Bond's career than the events from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Skyfall is a standalone and self-contained narrative. The focus of Daniel Craig's third Bond outing is that of his relationship with Judi Dench's M and a sinister character from her past that threatens to tear MI6 itself apart.

First off, let's start look at the leads themselves. With the focus very much on Bond and M, Craig and Dench take centre-stage in Skyfall.

Since first appearing on our screens as James Bond in 2006's Casino Royale, Daniel Craig has become something of a household name. He is James Bond, he lives as that character now; for him, it must feel inescapable. For one man, the pressure at times must feel immense, taking on a role as iconic as Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who.

If he does feel said pressure at all, he never lets it show, both on and off the screen. From start to finish, Craig oozes 007; he is smooth, suave and sexy (ahem), as well as being rough and brawny when needed. The films opening half where Bond is weakened and vulnerable shows off Craig's range and does well to add depth to a character that often parodied himself in earlier decades. Craig's Bond is most definitely one that fits in with today's world, there isn't a single safari suit, autogyro or crocodile disguise in sight.

Meanwhile, it's great to see Judi Dench step forward for a starring role in this entry. Usually confined to 'being back at base', M is given a greater chance to develop into more of a three-dimensional character in Skyfall. Her history with Javier Bardem's Silva is a driving narrative point and also highlights the relationship that her and Bond have developed together. Also, it is great to see the writer's willing to move these characters along in a way that was never really worked on in earlier films, the Pierce Brosnan era for example.

"007. I'm your new Quartermaster"
"You must be joking"
Speaking of moving things along and without giving too much away, there are plenty of new additions to the cast that bode well for the franchise's long term ambitions. Naomi Harris is introduced as field agent Eve as well as Ben Whishaw, who is introduced as Bond's new Quartermaster Q.

Both are great additions to the Bond universe and they aren't just there to make up the numbers. They drive along the story and, in Whishaw's case, make for some brilliantly witty banter upon first encounter. Added with Ralph Fiennes' Mallory (whom I won't discuss for fear of giving too much away), it is great to see a franchise that is going that extra stretch to establish its own longevity.

Berenice Marlohe role as slinky Bond girl is underplayed, possibly on purpose. Unfortunately for her, M is the real Bond girl here and her character, Severine, is quickly made superfluous.

Javier Bardem's vengeful, mentally unstable and slightly homoerotic Silva makes a big enough impression to rank alongside classic villains such as Goldfinger, Blofeld and Le Chiffre; his vendetta against M and all of MI6 giving the film a great personal feel. His past blight at the hand's of MI6 also adds a touch of doubt; not enough for the audience to side with him, but enough to blur any usual good/bad distinction cinema so readily creates.

Visually, Skyfall is also a strikingly beautiful Bond film; making use of some epic locations, first-time Bond director Sam Mendes contrasts vibrant dashes of colour with visits to an Istanbul market and a Macau casion to the deep, dark shadows of an old manor in Scotland. Mendes also shows that he can handle a Bond style action set piece, the opening car/bike/train chase getting pulses racing form the get-go.

"We are the two rats left. We can either eat each
other. Or eat everyone else"
Skyfall then, is a film completely in comfort with its own conventions. It revels in adding little winks to previous adventures and trotting out the the icons of the franchise; the Aston Martin DB5, the Walther PPK and so on. It successfully manages to be a fitting celebration of 50 years of Bond and not get bogged down in cramming in as many knowing winks as possible; remember how Die Another Day went all bonkers with being the 20th film?

 Overall, Skyfall is not just an excellent Bond film, but an excellent film fullstop. It is a action-adventure that mixes explosions and bullets with heart and tears (yes, there will be tears). It is quite possibly Craig's best yet  (nipping past Casino Royale, but only just) and most importantly ticks all the relevant boxes of what to expect from the new Bond series. James Bond will, as ever, return.

I give Skyfall: 8.5/10

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