In theory, it should be easy to make a good Bond film. Everyone knows the ingredients: fast cars, beautiful women, cool gadgets, breathtaking action, exotic locations, a memorable villain, a dastardly plot; and the unflappable superspy at the centre of it all, armed with his Walther PPK and pithy one liners.
However, when you sit down and analyse the structure, it turns out to be very delicately balanced: things can go disastrously wrong. Make the gadgets too outlandish and it veers unhappily in the direction of science fiction (DIE ANOTHER DAY). Focus too heavily on the action and the plot gets smothered (QUANTUM OF SOLACE). Deliver too many quips and everything becomes a vapid parody of itself (the majority of Roger Moore’s output). It’s lucky, then, that for the series’ 50th anniversary fans have a Bond film that seems to get almost everything right. It keeps the complex, serious tone set by the last two films, but subtly intertwines the rest of the franchise’s DNA, especially that of the Connery era. It is a modern action thriller well balanced with traditionalist sensibilities.
… the plot jettisons the Quantum organisation angle […] and introduces a brand new threat …
Much as GOLDFINGER veered away from the Spectre storyline introduced in DR NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in favour of a standalone story, the plot jettisons the Quantum organisation angle that was building in the previous two films, and introduces a brand new threat. SKYFALL sees former operative Raoul Silva hacking into the government’s security systems, exposing the identities of field agents and then bombing MI5’s headquarters. Bond is sent to track him down, but it soon becomes clear Silva has a much more dangerous, personal vendetta involving his former employer.
The film starts with a frantic chase sequence in Istanbul involving cars, motorbikes, trains and even a JCB. It’s a hectic sequence, showing that director Sam Mendes is quite capable of handling a pulsating action scene. However, this energetic pre-title sequence is a false advert for those expecting a repeat of QUANTUM OF SOLACE’s mistake of action overload. Instead, the film slows down, establishing credible characters and motives. It is so unhurried in its pacing that, apart from a couple of brief fist fights, there is hardly another action sequence until the halfway mark of the film.
The calculating, matriarchal boss is happy to (quite literally) put her agents in the firing line …
It’s a credit to Mendes that he allows the characters to breath and develop. Craig continues to explore Bond’s dramatic angle – the troubled, cold killer who isn’t getting any younger – but at the same time has fun with his larger than life persona and dark sense of humour. Bardem is also on great form as the eloquent blond Silva, a computer genius with some serious “mummy issues”. In a lesser actor’s hands the role might have come across as unintentionally comical, but Bardem strikes the right balance between an invasive campness and believable menace. However, it is Judi Dench’s M that steals this film. The calculating, matriarchal boss is happy to (quite literally) put her agents in the firing line, and adds an extra layer of complexity to proceedings. Some of the film’s best scenes don’t come in the shape of gun fights or explosions, but rather in the terse, complex relationship between M and Bond.
“Exploding pens? We don’t really do that sort of thing any more,” quips Q.
It’s not all dramatic character studies, though, and in the second half of the film a series of hyperkinetic action set pieces take Bond from China to London and Scotland. There are explosions in the Underground, bullets flying in a country house in the Highlands, and even some brilliantly delivered Tennyson before a gunfight in a governmental inquiry. Fans will also be pleased to see the reintroduction of certain franchise favourites. After the revolution of CASINO ROYALE, which was free of many laboured Bond tropes, SKYFALL sees the smart reintroduction of some classic Bondisms, most notable Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’ Eve. Whishaw’s Q is the epitome of geek chic: a quick witted computer whiz who, in a clever reversal of the traditional Connery/Llewelyn relationship, trades smarmy remarks about Bond’s age. However, rather than the increasingly outrageous gadgets that Bond was previously kitted out with, Q’s gift of a gun and a radio stay true to the grounded reality in which the franchise has found itself post-Brosnan. “Exploding pens? We don’t really do that sort of thing any more,” quips Q.
SKYFALL perhaps marks the time when Craig can be officially recognised as “The Second Best Bond Ever”, and it is easily his most enjoyable entry to the series. And more importantly, it is a fitting way to celebrate 50 years of England’s greatest cinematic icon.