Skyfall Review

November 2, 2012

At the end of their first meeting in this new incarnation of Bond, Ben Whishaw’s Q turns to Daniel Craig’s 007 and asks; “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t go in for that anymore.” Which tells you quite a lot about this leg of the spy series which celebrates its half-century with new film Skyfall. The gadgets are subtler; the story draws on real life concerns, while the ladies are more than playthings, clothed (for the most part).In fact the only boobs I saw were in the audience chortling with discomfort at the homoerotic subtext of Javier Bardem’s terrific villain, Silva.

That being said Sam Mendes’ intriguing debut as an action director gets rather entangled in its desire to sate so many tastes. So not only is it not a traditional Bond flick, it is not a wholly new creation either, making fudged reference to the series’ lineage and half hearted stabs at the coy interplay between Bond, the babes and the bad asses.

It’s an intelligent and enjoyable addition to the cannon that proves that its producers are at least trying to keep it relevant to these grim times without throwing out what made it so special in the first place.

A passable opening action sequence sets up the spine of the flick, which asks us to consider the cost of a human life. Something M (a stunningly good Judi Dench) must weigh up as Bond goes through his usual pre-credits shtick. A car chase becomes a fist fight on top of a speeding train as bullets fly, bodies roll and a field agent (an overly ironic Naomi Harris) tries to get the clean shot that will take out an enemy who has in his possession the name and location of all of NATO’s undercover operatives.

Needless to say it doesn’t go well and -as Bond is sent to find out the identity of the maniac who is slowly unearthing the moles and who has blown up head office, the conflict between the old and new way of doing things in the intelligence community is paralleled by the challenges facing this movie, itself trying to adapt to how Bond should be presented.

For all intents and purposes fantasy is dead. While once it was the cartoon aesthetic that wowed the audiences of the Batman flicks, or the suave sophistication of yesteryear’s Bonds dispensing with caricatured Russians in their volcanic hideaways, a side of reality is now ordered with our action pie. We’ll accept our heroes to have super strength and be seemingly impervious to bullets…to a point. So long as it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch. As long as we can relate it to what’s going on in the world today. And so long as we get to see the gin soaked psychological scars.

And so it is here, with a mentally and physically spent Bond, whose past is brought centre-stage for the spectacular showdown, where Home Alone meets Scarface, at the movies end.

We are given an interesting riff on the relationship between M and her double-0s, shown how the threat of bureaucracy is almost as dangerous as the one posed by the enemies ‘we must fight in the shadows’, and through Roger Deakins stunning cinematography, it is implied that the East is rising while the West crumbles.

But it doesn’t dwell on these points; rather circles back upon itself rehashing tired Bond formulas. Rather than tackling the question as to whether there is a need for characters like Bond and M in the 21st century, it takes dead-end detours to exotic locations, inspite of the fact that the more claustrophobic action sequences in London are far more exciting to watch. Rather then fleshing out the antagonism and betrayal that underscores Silva and M’s relationship- and which tie him to Bond, the movie plums for improbable escapes or diversions from death, so well mocked in Austin Powers.

More worryingly,  for a filmmaker of Sam Mendes stature, its twists and turns were met with audible moans from the audience as they nearly always hung on improbable mistakes made by characters who are, if not super spies themselves, make their living in the community.

In Silva, Skyfall does possess the best villain the series has had yet. Bardem minces outrageously in front of the uber-straight Bond, an afront to everything he is and believes in. Revealing the cost of serving ones country when it does not serve you his opening monologue is gorgeously executed, enveloping us with camera trickery and gory verbal imagery. Arriving one hour into the action, he brings the- to this point, staid picture to life.

The rest of the new cast (Harris, Ralph Finnes) are depressingly one note, there to provide fodder for a reveal that people with guide dogs could see coming. While the scars left by Vesper Lynd are still raw. the Bond Girls have been sidelined yet again. There’s a blink and you’ll miss her turn from Berenice Marlohe, who brings nervous, manic energy in an under utelised role, which- I hope, the film makers wanted to use to contrast Bonds detachment with M’s own  disregard for the safety of her agents. Something she needs to do so she can go on making the decisions that keeps the world, or at least the Empire, safe.

When allowed be his own Bond, Craig is the definitive one. Able to credibly pass as a riled up action hero, a weary agent or a bemused man-child, his biting tongue spilling acid over the more louche delivery of previous incarnates. His interplay with M is engaging; there is a sense of something being at stake. But he struggles when he is called upon to deliver the punchier dialogue- the sherry and slippers slapstick of Roger Moore, the affable asides of Pierce Brosnan. You have to wonder why they felt the need to soften his edges.

If they are ever to make the Bond that is truly relevant to the now they are going to have to shake of the ghosts and whispers of those gone by, that flicker throughout this movie like the figures in its opening credits. Really get under the skin of this damaged character so as to make his treatment of women and his dedication to the job ring true, rather than be seriously questionable.

The dire Adele theme tune, sums up what’s wrong with an otherwise worthy picture. It pays too much lip service to Bonds gone by, and in trying to fit into a familiar formula it can never truly be itself. It has the horn but lacks the honk. One needs to make its peace with the other for the series to progress.


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