IT’S 50 years since Bond made his first big-screen appearance and in Skyfall he is feeling his age. This is less alarming than the scene in Moonraker where the g-force rippled across Roger Moore’s face like a tornado in a cornfield, and yet also fitting for the more serious-minded Bond embodied by Daniel Craig.
Director: Sam Mendes
Running time: 143 minutes
* * * *
Since there is much to enjoy about Skyfall’s surprises, I’m going to skimp on plot detail where possible. Yet since Bond is supposedly felled during this film’s exciting ten minute opening sequence, it’s reasonable to reveal that he does come back, but with a greater sense of mortality.
It’s also not giving too much away to say that writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with John Logan, drop a few more of the best-loved Bond tropes, such as Moneypenny, Q, and a favourite sports car into Skyfall, but smartly rearranged. Ben Whishaw’s Q, for instance, is a geek who looks about 12, but with the exasperation that characterised Desmond Llewelyn’s relationship already in place. (“Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more.”) We also see Bond’s Scottish home, a dour stately pile in a place that closely resembles Glencoe with a hangover. No wonder that when Bond is asked to free-associate the word “country” early on, he snaps back with “England”.
Judi Dench is also back as Craig’s scolding distaff M, and you may wonder how on earth she manages to train this blunt instrument into a sleek assassin but also call Pierce Brosnan a sexist, misogynist old dinosaur in Goldeneye. Maybe we should regard these Bonds not so much as reboots, but as parallel universes where Bonds can exist as ironic, glossy, or hard-edged instead of causing nosebleeds amongst Bond fans trying to accommodate all the contradictions across 23 films.
In the Craig universe, villains are assuredly scarier and less fiscally driven than the Dr Evils of the 60s – although just as loquacious and well-heeled. This time 007’s nemesis is as blond as Bond, but more chemically damaged; former agent Silver (Javier Bardem) has been maddened by betrayal, psychosis and an ineffective cyanide capsule, and has some specific Mummy issues with M which threaten the lives of all who work for her. This resolves the usual problem of why villains like Bond to hang around their gaff for a chat, instead of killing him at the first opportunity: Silver knows that Bond is M’s new favourite son, so it makes sense to keep him alive to torment her. He also enjoys some outrageous flirting with Bond himself, making him a rare camp action character who isn’t John Travolta or Nicolas Cage.
In a sense, M is the main Bond girl for this adventure, although the movie still has an appreciative eye for a dame – Naomie Harris is a spirited sidekick, while Berenice Lim Marlohe gives a memorably edgy performance.
Overall, Skyfall is an accomplished action movie which allows Bond a little more psychological complexity and stronger emotional beats. Only occasionally does the plotting flag enough for you to wonder whether this more realistic Bond should be accepting the recession’s effect on his spy games. Certainly the gadgets have been scaled back, but Bond still checks into glossy hotels wearing bespoke suits.
Maybe in Bond 24, someone will say, “Congrats on the successful mission Bond, but I’m afraid we’ve had to put you in economy for the flight back.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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