Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes
Running Time: 143 mins
Release: 26th October
Ejector seats and exploding pens; disfigured foes in island lairs; Queen, country and Q branch—and of course that theme tune. Since Casino Royale and the abysmally austere Quantum of Solace, the vestiges of Bond history have been quietly removed from the the public eye, like your racist old uncle, or denim jackets. Now on the franchise’s 50th anniversary we have Skyfall, a film not afraid to revel in its hereditary hokiness, while still delivering a thematically rich and character driven tale. It’s as much an ode to Bonds of past as a step into the series’ future, and it’d be easy to dismiss the film as wanting to have its cake and eat it too. However it would seem that in Skyfall’s case there really is a shocking amount of cake to go round.
Opening with the de facto chase sequence—this incarnation a spectacular rooftop motorcycle pursuit through Istanbul come jcb-on-train onslaught—the film wastes no time in blowing a hole through Bond after a slight mishap involving an over callous M (Judi Dench) and the shaky rifle sights of newcomer Eve (Naomie Harris). Que Adelle’s ‘Skyfall’(a Bond theme more effective in context) as 007’s lifeless body is dragged into a subaquatic abyss. The emotional weight of this moment is somewhat dampened by the very swift reveal—surprise!—that of course Bond isn’t dead, he’s just a bit shaken (add your own pun) and has been making use of his apparent demise for a bit of R&R. Well that’s not much fun, but thankfully a terrorist attack on MI6 drags an unsteady Bond out of his grave and onto the trail of the enigmatic villain behind the escalating assault on his alma mater.
And what a villain he is. Bardem’s mysterious Mr Silva is a loving throwback to the flamboyant antagonists of Bond’s past, and the perfect antithesis to the character: bitter and corrupted, flippant and self serving. The seeming omnipotence afforded him by his mastery of all things digital is something completely beyond 007, a creature of habit, or as Whishaw’s Q snarkily implies ‘an old warship, ready to be hauled away for scrap’. Bardem portrays a data libertarian and master of organized chaos, a chilling blend of Julian Assange and The Joker. Indeed comparisons to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy could also extend to the characterisation of Bond; an aging and wounded soldier whose spirit is strong even if his body is not.
As the brutal assault on everything 007 holds dear escalates, so the tension ratchets up to match, with much of the conflict this time happening on home turf. A frenetic foot chase through rush hour London unfolds with gut wrenching urgency, and the surprise action finale demonstrates the franchise isn’t afraid to stray from type while delivering raw energy with the focus of a supercollider. Less successful is an elaborate hacking sequence, which for a film so caught up in the tides of technology, feels distinctly outdated. Q’s jargon laden commentary of the event is ripe with cliched nonsense; In fact beyond his introductory butting of heads with Bond, Whishaw’s Q brings little to the film.
As elegant a Bond film as there has ever been, Skyfall is delightfully self aware and purposeful in execution. It sags a little in the middle, mostly due to a bout of the same unfettered globetrotting that has plagued the series’ past. But it’s this very same willingness to embrace its history that makes Skyfall so special. It holds a mirror to both the character and the franchise, and the reflection is not too shabby at all.