The plots of James Bond films are usually confusing to the point of being irrelevant and just an excuse for bond to go shagging and shooting his way around the globe. Skyfall has its fair share of bedroom gymnastics and killings but it also has greater psychological depth and emotional complexity than just about any Bond film as it forces 007 to delve into his traumatic past. This film also has a few surprises not the least of which is a vaguely comprehensible storyline.
After the usual pulse-pounding pre-credits sequence in which no amount of product placement or terrorising of the local non-anglo population is too much, Bond is sent to track down a sinister cyber-criminal Silva (Javier Bardem) who threatens to reveal the identity of MI6 agents in the world’s hotspots. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that M (Judy Dench) is Silva’s real target and that out of the entire MI 6 organisation, only Bond can be trusted to protect her.
With Skyfall, Daniel Craig confirms he’s one of the great Bond’s, perhaps second only to Connery. His minimalist yet charismatic approach is compelling throughout this film. He also adds a previously unforseen element of vulnerability to the character as Bond heads into middle age, is badly injured, gets on the sauce and finds himself in a world where technology seems to be making field agents redundant. More than any other Bond film, except maybe the post-cold war Goldeneye, Skyfall makes a statement about Bond’s place in the world. In focusing on some of Bond’s psychological skeletons it does forego some of the expected action and less patient cinema-goers might find this film a little slow. There are, however, some stunning action sequences topping and tailing Skyfall.
While various so-called Bond girls float in and out of this film, the woman who really matters is M and Judy Dench delivers her best performance in that role. She mixes resilience with touching vulnerability as her position as MI6 leader and her life are threatened.
As the mocking, sadistic villain Silva, Javier Bardem – sporting yet another disturbing mop of hair – is wonderfully creepy and menacing. Because he’s a real threat to M he makes Bond, for once, appear genuinely heroic and necessary. Bardem’s performance is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s demonic turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight, particularly in his unnerving ability to always be one step ahead of his opponents. In fact director Sam Mendes seems to have been heavily influenced by Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of Batman as some plot points and other characters in Skyfall recall The Dark Knight. Thankfully, Skyfall isn’t too derivative of The Dark Knight but like that film, re-invigorates a franchise by taking it into darker territory.
Mendes walks a fine line here; the more serious, introspective tone could have grated against the inherent silliness of the traditional Bond elements. Fortunately Mendes negotiates this tight rope expertly and has crafted such a visually stunning, atmospheric and convincing film that we’re prepared to overlook some pretty ridiculous scenarios and monster plot holes. He also cleverly off-sets the film’s dark tone with some light comic touches (such as the odd quip) and cleverly integrates Bond mythology with new developments in the saga.
With Skyfall Mendes has not only created one of the best Bond films of recent times – and for my money Craig’s best – but also a legitimately impressive drama.
Nick’s rating: Four stars.
Director(s): Sam Mendes
Release date: 22nd Nov 2012
Running time: 143 mins.
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