Bond 23 has taken a long time coming to the big screen. Much-delayed due to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s bankruptcy in 2010, Skyfall – as Bond 23 was eventually christened – finally hit the theatres this month. Not surprisingly, expect to be bombarded with an insane amount of Bond-themed merchandise advertisements when you go to watch this film. It starts off with Bond-themed watches, Bond-themed cars, Bond-themed fragrances (“the smell of a British spy, now available in a bottle near you”)…and then quickly degrades to Bond-themed Android tablets and Bond-themed phone contracts (“available only on O2”).
What you really want to know when reading a film review is whether the film is worth watching. Skyfall is undoubtedly a thumbs-up according to that criteria. The film opens with a high-tempo motorcycle chase weaving through the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, straying slightly from the parkour-based opening sequences favoured by the previous two Bond films, and then continues to up the stakes in a chase across the globe that spans Shanghai and Macau. At the same time, the plot is also centred much closer to home, as much of the later acts in the film are based in central London.
I was apprehensive of Sam Mendes being the director for Skyfall. On one hand, Mendes is undoubtedly a good director with the pedigree of Revolutionary Road and American Beauty – surely one of the most iconic films of the 90s – to his credit, but on the other hand he also directed Jarhead, which I personally find to be a needlessly boring and pointless war film. Mendes, thankfully, plays to his strengths and made Skyfall into a film that is much more grounded in reality and provides character development throughout too. One of the key plot points in Skyfall is that a list of secret identities of NATO agents is compromised and a turned agent threatens to expose these names online: a nod, undoubtedly, to the Wikileaks saga that has been playing out in the past few years. It’s small touches such as this which make the film more realistic than the almost-cartoonish Bond villains of old.
Yet, it is undeniable that the tone set in this film has been heavily influenced by others films in recent years such as the Bourne series or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. There are times when scenes in Skyfall seem like pastiches of films that have come before it: motorcycle chases (Bourne series uses this heavily), an interrogation scene with the villain in a jumpsuit imprisoned in a glass cage (Silence of the Lambs, X-Men, The Avengers), the villain disguising himself as a police officer to attempt killing an important character (the Joker in The Dark Knight). Such heavy borrowing distracts the film from standing as a truly great film in its own right.
Daniel Craig is one of my favourite Bond avatars because he brings a kind of aloofness and sauveness to the character of James Bond which you would expect from a cold-blooded killer. This gravitas that Craig adds is important to play foil to the equally strong screen presence of Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, the villain in this piece. Bardem is particularly masterful in portraying a wounded MI6 agent with a chip on his shoulder, where the mayhem he causes by leaking the identities of secret agents is only part of a bigger plan to kill M out of personal enmity. As ever, Judi Dench does a fine job as the straight-talking chief of an intelligence agency in a world that does not understand the importance of what secret agents stand for. Also introduced in this film are Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory (M’s boss) and Ben Wishaw as Q.
Another point where Skyfall departs from tradition is that it doesn’t have a titular Bond girl. Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine, in gaudy make-up, does provide a ‘bad girl’ character but that sexual attention is also divided with Naomie Harris who plays Eve Moneypenny. There’s some homoerotic sexual tension between Bond and Silva in some scenes too, especially in one scene with Bond tied down to a chair with Silva running his fingers through Bond’s suit and asking “What’s your regulation training for this?”
Overall, Skyfall is a worthy addition to the line-up for James Bond films – now in their fiftieth year – with a lot of emphasis on feeling more realistic yet every bit an action film that keeps you hooked till the end.
Rating: 7 / 10