Review: Skyfall / Cert: 12A / Director: Sam Mendes / Screenplay: Neil Purvis, Robert Wave, John Logan / Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw, Helen McRory, Naomi Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney / Release Date; Out Now
He’s back - and how. Four years after the almost painfully-ruinous Quantum of Solace the Secret Service’s most resilient and timeless super spy is back in Skyfall, which will surely soon find itself sitting somewhere near the very top of every Bond fan’s favourite movies in the fifty year-old franchise. Director Sam Mendes (along with writer John Logan who kicked co-writers Purvis and Wade’s script into slick, sophisticated shape) has taken the Bond series by the scruff of the neck, dusted it down and, with the help a few discreet and more than welcome nods to the series’ past, dragged it alive and kicking into the 21st century in ways that neither Casino Royale or the woeful Quantum could even dream of. This is James Bond for the post-Bourne generation, this is Bond finding himself and his place in the scheme of things after years struggling in the wilderness and this is the film which has pretty much guaranteed that 007’s future has never looked brighter. Seriously, Skyfall is that good.
The last two Bonds tried too hard to reinvent the perfect wheel. James Bond movies are very specific beasts and James Bond is a very specific character with a very specific style. Tamper with that at your peril. Attempts to turn Bond into some angst-ridden, post-Cold War ageing agent, battling to remain relevant in a gloomy post-9/11 world where super villains stroking cats in hollowed-out volcanoes are just too frivolous to take seriously, led to two anaemic movies which tried to make Bond something he was never meant to be. Bond on the big screen is supposed to be larger than life, his enemies are meant to be ruthless, pitiless barking mad psycopaths with some unique mental or physical abnormality. Recreating Bond as a gritty rival to Jason Bourne or Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt just misses the whole point of the man. We love Bond and his exploits because they’re wild flights of fantasy with just one Roger Moore eyebrow arched in the direction of the real world; Bond is the ultimate escapist hero and bringing him down to Earth isn’t just a mistake it’s just plain wrong.
Sam Mendes is clearly on the same page but he knows that in this day and age we need a bit of meat on the flesh and bones of our heroes otherwise they’re just rather dull cyphers. So Skyfall - which opens with a breathlessly-inventive, lengthy action sequence designed and positioned to put the ‘bang’ back into Bond - cleverly pits a real, emotional and ageing 007 into a scenario which cuts closer to home courtesy of an insane villain with a major grudge and an apparently-endless army of typically disposable Bond henchmen. Skyfall sees the very foundations of the Bond series - M, still played here by the redoubtable Judi Dench and MI6 itself - under threat; M is being targeted by an old agent with a personal axe to grind and a Leveson-style official enquiry with its own agenda as it questions not only M’s competence but whether Britain still needs MI6’s old-fashioned espionage techniques. A certain Mr Bond, missing and presumed dead but quickly back on the scene when MI6’s headquarters suffers a terrorist attack, is on hand to remind everyone that…well, yes, we certainly do need his very special skill set and with the insane Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) on the loose like some unstoppable force-of-nature assassin, who else is there to turn to?
Skyfall just doesn’t put a foot wrong. Spines will tingle as Adele’s gets-better-every-time-your-hear-it theme song kicks in over a defiantly Maurice Binder-ish title sequence and, even during a lengthy sequence where Bond gets himself match fit again our attention never wanders because we’re so invested by now in Bond and we’re all willing Skyfall to not fumble the ball so catastrophically dropped by the messy Quantum. Before long Bond is off to Shanghai, slugging it out in casinos and smooching Marlohe’s token Bond girl Severine (and some aficionados may bemoan the lack of any proper romantic interest for our hero but then maybe some of the old Bond tropes really don’t have a place in the modern world). Bardem electrifies the screen as the ambiguous Silva who captures and torments Bond before being himself captured and then escaping his M16 cell in London to reap a whirlwind of carnage on the city. But in the end Skyfall (it’s the name of Bond’s ancestral home deep in the Scottish Highlands) is about the series’ two most enduring and important icons - Bond himself and M - brought together by circumstance, M very much the mother-figure 007 never had. Bond and M flee London courtesy of a familiar old ‘friend’ but Silva and his stooges are in hot pursuit and the stage is set for an explosive edge-of-the-seat final battle at the very place where Bond the boy became Bond the man. It’s brilliant.
Skyfall is a classic Bond movie despite being cast very much away from the classic mould. It’s witty but never camp, its action sequences have the ‘wow’ factor of the old Bond but with a genuine sense of realism - Mendes does his best to avoid the traditional Bond punch-up, the best here being an in-silhouette fight scene - and all the explosions and impossible escapes we’ve come to expect from the series but have found ourselves missing in the last couple of movies are back. Daniel Craig finally makes his proper mark on the series - he oozes charisma and edgy charm here - and his performance in Skyfall finally sees him realise the potential stifled in two films more concerned with being different than exploiting a fine actor. Dench is as commanding as we might expect, Bardem is a terrific and genuinely dangerous adversary and there’s solid support from Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Rory Kinnear all of whom are to be welcomed back into the Bond fold any time they like.
The ultimate kudos though, must go to Sam Mendes. He’s struck right at the core of where Bond went wrong, thrown away the pretension and just delivered a scorching, intimate adventure story, beautifully photographed by cinematographer Roger Deakins and scored by Mendes old-hander Thomas Newman (whose music cues contain innumerable little riffs on old Bond themes) and with enough kisses to the past films to raise neck-hairs the world over. Twelve months ago, most would have written-off James Bond as the “sexist, mysogynist dinosaur” he was accused of being by M back in GoldenEye, his place on the big screen taken by the new spies on the block. But he’s back - possibly better than ever - and very clearly ready for action for the next fifty years. Make mine shaken, but not stirred…
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10