Throwback Thursday Review:
By James Murphy
Director: Sam Mendes
Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Certificate: 12A /PG-13
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes
Genre: Action /Adventure/Spy Thriller
Plot /Story: A computer hard drive is missing and it contains the locations and identities of all our deep cover agents tracking terror groups worldwide. Bond is missing, presumed dead. Mi6 comes under attack from a skilled terrorist, determined to see the organisation and its leadership suffer a deadly defeat. Only one man can help: 007, reporting for duty. Is he up to the challenge?
This is a very difficult film to review objectively. I would go so far as saying that it is my ‘toughest assignment yet’ (permit the 007 analogy, in context). Skyfall won universal praise in 2012 and it marked the fiftieth anniversary of a beloved, British franchise. It grossed a BILLION dollars!
As we prepare for SPECTRE this year, now seems an apt time for a ‘throwback Thursday’ review. It’s set up well by Skyfall: a film that existed both as original thriller and wider tribute to the Bond mythology. It gave an examination of what makes the Bond character ‘tick’, redefining his appeal by peeling back layers and reliving the past, whilst renewing things to move forward.
The last time that happened, we got Die Another Day (2002, the 40th anniversary year and the great Pierce Brosnan’s swansong as 007 ). That film was vilified, just like Licence To Kill and Quantum of Solace: brave Bond films, nonetheless loathed by many critics. But I love those entries to the series and I see strands of their DNA in Skyfall.
Why did Skyfall succeed, where some of its predecessors tried and failed to please all breeds of viewer and fan? The answer is simple: it was made with cohesion, confidence, conviction and craftsmanship at every level.
The acting is the main selling point. Daniel Craig continues to convince as an actual veteran of battle as well as the archetypal pulp hero of the Fleming novels. He is world weary, grumpy, ruthless and clinical. But he is also charming, well-spoken and there is every hint that Craig’s Bond is a gentleman. He owes a debt to predecessors (Dalton’s depth and Connery’s poise) but this is still Craig’s role.
Judi Dench has never been better as M. Javier Bardem also gives value as villain: possibly the best in the series’ history. There are nods to other Bond adversaries (Robert Davi’s Sanchez, Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga, Sean Bean’s Travelyan). But Bardem is the first opponent in a Bond film to actually frighten me in a long while, c/o his bad wolf at the door psychological game-play.
There is a great supporting cast. Even cameo roles stand out (Helen McCrory: we love you, such a shame that you are not playing Bond’s lover). Look out for Ralph Fiennes (himself once mooted as a possible 007): villain or ally? Wait and see, as you are kept guessing until the end. Sam Mendes is an actor’s director and that admirable quality is clear in every scene of the film.
What about plot, locations, gadgets or plain old fashioned escapism? Bond travels the globe, beats up baddies and jumps onto a moving train or two. The opening scenes are a rousing triumph. And there is a thrilling chase through London, finally harnessing the city’s backdrops in an original and exciting fashion, with familiarity married to freshness in the scenic shots.
But Bond just isn’t having much fun. True, he endures a trauma at the start of the film, but realistically, even the ‘gritty’ Bond of the Fleming novels would simply have moved on quickly. Where is Bond the connoisseur? Why can’t we now watch him ordering dinner or buying a suit etc? It would not compromise the reality, but enhance the film’s social fantasy.
The new Q is also just an annoying boffin. They may as well not have bothered. The joke at the expense of the series’ past backfires. ‘What did you expect: an exploding pen?’ he asks. Well yes, actually. You need not have invisible cars to have fun with gadgets. It is a lazy myth that we cannot have Bond enjoy technology simply because everyone now has a mobile phone.
The denouement is compelling and stunningly photographed (thank you, Roger Deakins). But its tone and motif owe much to Batman, Peckinpah, Inspector Morse, The Bodyguard and just about everything except Bond films! So, instead of simply enjoying the climax, one finds oneself asking ‘why not just send in more Police or the Army?’ and bemoaning the fact that the villain’s master plan is actually a tad dull and domestic.
But the quibbles are minor. Rarely has a Bond film had such a palpable sense of family onscreen and that befits the reality of its creative union behind the scenes. Director Sam Mendes is a gentleman and a visionary; Producer Barbara Broccoli is a champion of film in all its forms.
How will they top this effort? They’ve already answered that. It’s called SPECTRE and is released later this year.
007/10: England expects everyone to love Skyfall on repeat viewings! It stands the test of three years.
James Bond (and James Murphy) will Return