After getting my teeth drilled and filled for, hopefully, the last time in a while, I avoided inflicting my stroke victim-esque brand of conversation on people by ducking into the Ritzy to catch the 50th anniversary Bond, Skyfall. Here are some observations that came about from this experience, though I stress that these are musings, not an exhaustive review.
Before I go on, I want to note that 1) I’m pleased that a movie so beleaguered with pre-production (funding) issues has managed to pull itself together and 2) I’m chuffed that a lot of it is set in Britain.
Right. To it. Oh, hang on.
Quick plot catch up: Some Bad Guys have run off with a hard drive containing the real identities of every MI6 operative in the field (Hello? Purvis and Wade? Mission Impossible wants its opening back) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) is right fucking pissed off about that. Unfortunately for him, he’s got newbie agent Eve (Naomi Harris), carting him around Istanbul and she’s a tragically awful driver. He soon gets fed up of this, commandeers a bike and after a set of improbable but enjoyable stunts, ends up mano-a-mano with his quarry on top of a speeding train. Eve, keen to make up for her earlier failings, pulls up alongside the locomotive and gets both men in view of her scoped rifle. M, walled in by London rain and looking for a bit of excitement, tells her to take the shot.
Turns out, driving isn’t the only thing Eve is a bit crap at and she manages to nail our hero instead of the swarthy hard drive thief. Don’t worry though, Bond’s ‘death’ actually has very little bearing on the rest of the plot and he’s soon back to fuck up the cyberterrorist who’s behind all this nonsense, who turns out to be a fey Johnny Foreigner that MI6 used to call their own (Javier Bardem) with a particular bug to bear with M (Judi Dench).
Despite never saying “For England, James?” like we know all agents-turned-aggressors should, Bardem’s Silva is a real joy and taking his cue from the hard drive bandit in the opening, he steals every scene he’s in. I was sad that we didn’t get to see more of the him/Q/Bond axis. A tighter version of this film would’ve perhaps eschewed the functional Eve character and really got its teeth into that triangle but I know that’s not how Bond works. Bond is not a character drama, Bond is succession of plot points and exotic locations, strung together by a violent alcoholic with his arm around many, many beautiful women.
Speaking of beautiful, Roger Deakins does some exquisite lighting work here and, like Bond and Q scanning a Turner in the National Gallery, the audience gets a chance to sit there and soak it in, beneficiaries of Mendes’ restrained action direction. By mostly refraining from the cut-move-cut photography that has so dominated action movies of the last decade (yes, I am looking at you, Nolan), he lets us appreciate the intricately choreographed dance that is each fist fight. For me, there was one particular stand out: A silhouetted scuffle in a Shanghai skyscraper, filmed in a single wide shot, where Bond and Baddie are fighting over a gun, which occasionally goes off and flares the darkness. Let me tell you, it looks fucking sexy.
Now, a word on the ending. Well, not the ending, the ending is “shit blows up” as it always does, but rather, the TWIST! Early viewing Bondites kept finishing their reviews with “I won’t spoil the ending for you!” and when someone tells me “I won’t spoil the ending for you!” that means something huge and significant happens. Bond is not a franchise that’s fond of the Significant Ending, relying as it does on being able to pull the reset lever at whim. So if Commander Jimmy wasn’t going to reveal himself as having been a Commie all along and commit hara-kari off the top of the Shard, it means someone minor is going to snuff it. Not red-shirt minor, so that you still care a bit, but not, as discussed, Bond level of major. Basically, M. It was always going to be M.
“Judi Dench plays a big part this time around…” was the PR and and I filled it in with “…because when we plug her, we want you to pull the weepies.” Perhaps my natural smartarseness is why I wasn’t majorly affected by M’s passing*. I wanted to be, but I needed to experience it through Bond, and personally the movie didn’t really give me enough of a feel for the depth of Bond’s connection with her. Which is a shame, because the situation sets up a beautiful symmetry between Bond and Silva’s roles as “sons” to M. She abused them, but also saved them, and that second point is a biggie – Bond owes everything he is to M. Skyfall tries to hint at that depth/debt and, whilst it didn’t quite pull it off for me, the fine turns by Craig and Dench, coated with their natural chemistry, paper the cracks somewhat and I think most viewers will be made sadface by Marm’s fate.
In closing, this is an aggressively unapologetic Bond film which, to be honest, I think is the best way for Bond to be. Whilst it’s been shorn of some of the cringier excesses, the franchise is not going to evolve fully, it can’t, because Bond is essentially a sitcom character in a sitcom world and that’s how most people like and want him. Skyfall is the nuevo-Bond movies coming to terms with that and saying “here is my heart and there are my balls. Love them or leave them.” It’s a regression to old ways, but a very knowing one.
If you want to be fussy, you might perhaps point out that Eve ending up behind the Moneypenny desk, the Uhuru to Bond’s Kirk, unable to hack the man’s business of field work, and replacing the compelling MI6 matriarch, a fine and rare older actress role, with a well dressed, middle aged white dude (Rafe Fiennes) is possibly the wrong sort of regression. And that perhaps Bond shouldn’t fuck a fragile, sex trafficked woman who’s seeking his help. But that’s only if we’re being fussy. EDIT: Guardian opinion piece here and one from Wry Republic here.
Despite Chunnel sized plot holes and occasional dodgy spot of pacing, this is a well-bred action flick that’s up there with the best Bonds and a fitting 50th anniversary tribute. Brain off, thumbs up.
(Writer Side Note: This is Purvis & Wade’s last Bond outing. Looks like John Logan who co-wrote this time around will be picking up the baton).
*and haven’t yet found real love.