Well, it’s hard to think of a movie that would be more fitting to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bond movie franchise but I’ve not seen many reviews also pointing out a number of the problems, both minor and major, in the latest 007 adventure. Oh, I saw one negative review that was ripped apart by everyone and their auntie but that seemed to be more a case of someone jabbing a stick into a hornet’s nest than someone seriously critiquing the movie.
I’m not going to be silly enough to say that this is a bad movie. It’s not. I’m also not going to be silly enough to say that this is a bad Bond movie. It’s not. I am, however, going to be silly enough to say that it’s not actually a great movie and it’s certainly not, in my view, the best Bond movie. I will endeavour to defend those statements shortly. Please continue reading and keep all cursewords ready to shout at me once this review is finished.
What’s the story this time, then? Bond (Daniel Craig, now seriously able to be considered in that ongoing “best Bond ever” argument) is shot while on assignment, after an order given by M (Judi Dench), and he’s declared dead. Of course, it’s not the first time that news of his death has been greatly exaggerated and so our hero reappears when he’s needed most, after an attack on MI6 itself that causes death, destruction and a lot of mistrust. The government isn’t sure if the likes of M and 007 are even needed any more. Perhaps they’ll change their minds when the dastardly Silva (Javier Bardem) starts to shake things up even further.
For the first 40 minutes of Skyfall I was genuinely worried. I wasn’t having a good time and I knew that I’d have to defend my opinion against a huge majority who already rated the film as one of the best of the year. The big opener, for a start, just felt all wrong to me. It was overedited and made too much use of obvious stunt doubles. The end of the opener was good but then, sadly, it moved into a disappointing title sequence accompanied by that awful Adele song (I know a lot of people like it, I think it’s one of the worst Bond theme songs ever). The title sequence improved, thanks to some dark and interesting imagery, but the song didn’t. As the movie continued, I found myself getting irritated by a number of things, some small and some big. For example, I really resented the obvious Heineken product placement. I know, I know, Bond has always been full of product placement and it’s rarely been subtle but this just felt uncharacteristic. I was then majorly unimpressed by an action set-piece that takes place in a building full of reflective glass in Shanghai – it just felt overdone and gimmicky. Some nice set design waiting for a fight to happen.
The cast were all good, Daniel Craig and Judi Dench being already well established in their roles but I also liked Naomie Harris in her role, Ralph Fiennes was great and Berenice Marlohe was a lovely addition to the ensemble. Rory Kinnear gets, I think, the most screentime he’s had yet in the Bond world and his character, Tanner, is really enjoyable. Ben Whishaw as the new Q was, for me, the weakest addition but that’s only because the character didn’t feel quite right, he was just a bit too young. Albert Finney is given just enough to do in the last quarter and he’s as good as ever. Then we have Javier Bardem who almost steals the entire movie and certainly pushes it into first gear. He doesn’t appear until about halfway into the film, by my reckoning, but he makes that second half quite a thing of beauty, in both the way his villainous schemes pan out and also the way he talks to Bond and M.
As silly as it may sound, I find it hard to predict how Bond fans will ultimately react to this one. It respectfully references the history of the franchise while also, very nicely, allowing for the elements to be brought crashing down and to be built back up again but there are so many moments that don’t FEEL like a Bond film. People who love great films may rate that as a good thing while Bond fanatics may rush here to tell me that I’m talking nonsense and that every scene practically overflowed with essence of Bond but I stand by my view. The Bond moments that are there are often great, especially a wonderful sequence in Macau that mixes in the charm of the character with some action and beautiful women, but they’re just few and far between in a movie that runs for almost two and a half hours.
Director Sam Mendes has done a good job, as have writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, but it’s one thing to be influenced by a film like The Dark Knight and to take away lessons from it and it’s another thing entirely to direct a Bond film that will make people think scene x and scene y and scene etc could all have been lifted directly from that barnstorming Christopher Nolan movie.
Skyfall is very good, it’s very enjoyable and that great second half builds to an absolutely fantastic finale. But looking through the gun barrel, and then checking on the world around to maintain perspective, it’s not the best Bond. Even if it does have the best car in it.
DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES
WRITER: NEAL PURVIS, ROBERT WADE, JOHN LOGAN
STARS: DANIEL CRAIG, JUDI DENCH, JAVIER BARDEM, RALPH FIENNES, NAOMIE HARRIS, RORY KINNEAR, ALBERT FINNEY, BERENICE MARLOHE, BEN WHISHAW, HELEN MCCRORY
RUNTIME: 143 MINS APPROX