Skyfall, the third Bond film with Daniel Craig playing the infamous title role and the first with Sam Mendes at the helm, has a release date which marks the 50th anniversary of Dr No- the first ever Bond film.
As well as being charmingly placed historically, it’s also the film MGM productions hoped would drag them out of past financial troubles, bounce back from the utterly plot lacking Quantum Of Solace (2008), as well as aiming to attract both old and new fans alike.
So no pressure then.
Fortunately, it achieves nearly everything on its to-do list with flying colours. Despite the attempt towards a sort of 21st Century Bond from the very beginning of the Daniel Craig era, this one comes the closest, whilst still remaining witty, visually spectacular, engaging and, honestly-really good fun.
Without wishing to give too much away, the film opens on James and fellow MI6 agent Eve, sharply played by the wonderful Naomie Harris, as they chase a shady looking character who just so happens to have the details of every double agent lodged in a terror cell the world over. When ordered to ‘take the bloody shot’ by a deliciously ruthless M (Judi Dench), Eve accidentally hits her fellow agent, rendering him ‘missing presumed dead’. He proceeds to enjoy the quiet life in a way only James Bond really could, only returning to London to report for duty when he learns of an attack on MI6 HQ, right in the heart of London.
Once back, he meets the brand new and brilliantly nerdy Q, played by Ben Whishaw, as well as Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new Security chairman. M then makes the questionable decision to send the damaged Bond back out into the field in search of the perpetrator of the attack, who she suspects is someone she used to know- a journey which also takes Bond rather further back into his own past than we’ve seen before.
Several sensitively placed innovative camera tricks at key moments make this a beautifully shot film, with impressive set pieces and locations on a huge scale. It also has far more of a storyline than several of its predecessors, as we are drip fed equal parts subtle and not so subtle hints along the way, with a couple of juicy twists thrown in for good measure. It also does a lot more thematically than I anticipated, with dialogue tropes and metaphors referencing the overall narrative arc and feeding into it. It is also well paced, and, for the most part, satisfying for fans and newcomers both.
Hugely pleasing for Londoners, Skyfall follows on nicely from this Summer’s spotlight on the capital, with many key moments happening in all too familiar locations. Residents will particularly enjoy rush hour scenes, which, although not nearly busy enough, give audiences a chance to see Bond in an everyday world he, for all his competencies and skills in the field, knows very little about.
Also on the plus column were director Sam Mendes’ fine cast. Naomie Harris’ character brings a lot to the franchise for female fans, with her sparky and assertive performance- a presence only added to by the formidable figure of Judi Dench’s M. We’re far from there yet ladies, don’t be over hasty with the bunting, but there were a couple of moments in Skyfall, which I count as at least one more than in any other Bond film, where it almost, almost felt as if Bond were having a professional conversation with fellow people, as opposed to the stereotypical subordinate sex objects and bossy matriarchs we’ve seen before. Phallic symbols and naked women were kept to a tasteful minimum in the title, treatment of the Foreign was less horrifically problematic than usual, and Judi Dench was used to her full potential for the first time since her “because I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” opening speech back in Goldeneye. Ben Whishaw’s young, floppy haired Q also added a lovely new dynamic, softly manoeuvring the spy genre out of the macho boys’ club it so often becomes.
Skyfall is a well-made and emotionally arresting film, which I was able to enjoy without the usual concern for ‘the Other’ that the Bond franchise usually induces.
My only real worry, and with it my only real criticism, is the end. There are heaps of fan pleasing moments, self-referential jokes and clever little winks to the audience, true. And plot wise, it’s damn near close to perfect. All boxes are ticked, and the story is taken full circle whilst simultaneously moving forward to a new era.
I am proud to call myself a fan of the Bond franchise, but as well as this I’m also a woman, and, most days at least, a woman with a brain. On a personal level, I was bitterly disappointed that, having made so much progress in a positive direction, it was all taken away again at the last moment. Frankly I’d dearly love to be able to enjoy the films just as much as the boys without having to switch my brain off, constantly waiting to be returned to the ‘norm’ of a subordinate position.
So as a fan, I loved it. A satisfying story, well put together, with fantastic set pieces, emotional moments and witty lines in equal abound. As a woman, however it all niggled just a little.
It seems a grave shame that one always seems to be at the other one's expense.
**** (and a half, for the niggle)
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