James Bond, rather like Bruce Wayne/Batman, is an orphan. Orphans, according to M, make the best recruits to MI6. Skyfall is the 23rd film in the Bond franchise, and in its 50th year. I think gravitated me towards this instalment (after the shockingly appalling Quantum Solace) was due to it being directed by Sam Mendes. Mendes cut his teeth in theatre and came to film rather late on. He hasn’t made that many films but as they say quality over quantity from American Beauty, Road to Perdition (frankly impressed by Tom Hanks turn as a baddie) and Revolutionary Road. Along with the cinematography of Roger Deakins (he has worked extensively with the Coen Brothers and with Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road) who is just superb. Mendes gives the Bond franchise a kind of sensitivity and intensity not just some rip-roaring roller coaster action adventure film.
Skyfall is a much more personal film, a personal voyage for Bond and M too. Film starts with the usual fast paced, awashed with stunts introduction, takes place in Turkey with Bond and another operative, Eve, chasing a baddie who has just nabbed a hard drive with all MI6 operatives on there. Bond gets shot by accident and disappears, M is being hunted by ghosts from her past which culminates in the destructive of MI6. Bond comes back from the dead. Though he’s not up to par physically nor mentally. He’s damaged ready to meet another damaged former agent cum peroxide cyber terrorist, Silva (a nod to Bond’s Spectre peroxide nemesis, Grant, in From Russia With Love). There’s the usual crisscrossing the world, Turkey, Shanghai, London, and the denouement being set in Scotland. Home for Bond enticing Silva to his lair thereby confronting their collective demons.
There’s is of course your perfunctory Bond women. Eve holds her own including a gun. At the start she comes across as an equal to Bond expertly as a field operative. There’s the wise cracks and intimacy which doesn’t lead to sex. But of course there’s the doomed Bond woman, Sévérine in this case, who suffers and will, at some point, be sacrificed for the greater good. Oh, and with Bond sex leads to death. The story that underpins this film is Silva and Bond’s relationship with M who shows herself as a steely character willing to condemn and sell-out her operatives at a whim, not thinking of the damage nor consequences. In some ways, as opposed to previous Bond baddies, you sympathise with damaged Silva. There’s a scene where Silva is captured, M meets him and denies that she ever really knew him. Silva implores M to call him by his real name. She walks away. Yet she admits to Bond who he really is and what had happened to him showing her own steely pragmatism that comes across as cold.
There’s something different about this Bond. The cinematography is impressive, especially the Shanghai scenes, shows a real rich texture of colours and manipulation of light. Bond creeping up to the assassin at a backdrop of bright advertisements reflecting on the glass, the silhouetted fight scene is very dramatic. I wasn’t sure about the added humour and wise cracks thankfully no 1970s style double entendres but I kinda preferred Daniel Craig’s Bond as a tense jawed miserable sod.
Javier Bardem creates this camp rather damaged character, Silva, over-the-top yet rooted in reality. The man has his own demons and revenge is on his mind while Bond it’s all about resurrection. I do feel sorry for Bardem because every time he plays a baddie he has the dodgiest haircut (No Country for Old Men). Unfortunately, Bardem doesn’t really appear in the film until half way through, which adds the mystery. He has the usual Bond style villan ticks and mannerisms but he pulls away from a cartoonish interpretation. There’s a geeky version of Q, all anorak and specs. Lots of product placement (hell, what else is gonna pay for the film!) and of course….a vintage Aston Martin with ejector seat (well, it is 50 years).
Overall, I am still undecided whether I really liked the film. Mendes gave Bond a more personal dimension and humour….and a Ms Moneypenny (Eve of course all desk bound now…unfortunately). The opening titles were just too surreal for me and unlike the previous two Bond films, there were scantily clad women doing the usual swirly dancing. I had hoped that had been kicked into the sexist dustbin but alas no…Indeed I know as a Leftie you shouldn’t really be going to see a pro-imperalist kick-the-crap-out-of-Johnny-Foreigner-all-ruling-class-Queen-and-country bullshit… but suspend your political consciousness for 2 hours or so. I still doubt whether the Bond franchise has run out of steam especially since the Bourne films surpassed regards to action adventure. Bond will be forever the spy the British ruling class would love to have. As Matt Damon (Bourne trilogy) once quipped, “Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it, and drinks martinis and cracks jokes”. Even with Mendes at the helm… Bond is still a relic still being revamped and resurrected… But how long for?