James Bond is undoubtedly my favourite film franchise. I’ll be the first to admit that it is one thwart with many a poor entry, partiularly in the latter half of the Moore run. Yet, it is a franchise that has proven to be, above anything, one thing; adaptable. Bond has seen its fair share of actor changes and reboots, all of which have been conducted with arguably huge success, from Goldeneye to Daniel Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale. Skyfall comes to us at a time where the nature of the franchise needs to readdressed after the far too frantic and Bourne-esque Quantum of Solace. My main criticism of that movie, and one of many other individuals I’m sure, is that it simply did not feel like a James Bond movie. This is very much a criticism that the producers took on board as, quite fittingly for the his 50th year on cinema screens, we have a James Bond that takes a respectful look back, while all the while proving that James Bond is still the action franchise to beat.
Ditching the quantum story line from the previous two installments, Skyfall opts for a classic stand-alone story, which begins with Bond seemingly meeting his end whilst trying to acquire a hard-drive that contains information regarding British agents undercover in terrorist organizations across the world. Having failed the mission and being left for dead, 007 hides away from the British Secret Service. That is until he realizes the potential to his country and to M (Judi Dench). It soon becomes clear that something from M’s past has come back to haunt her in the form of former agent/cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), the man behind the theft of the hard-drive, and one with a passion for revenge against M. It is up to Bond to put an end to Silva’s schemes before he fulfills his intentions, all the while dealing with his own insecurities and crisis of confidence.
Skyfall‘s script is a deftly balanced mix of action and emotion; suspense and humor, and most importantly a mix of both the old and the new. Through bringing back certain elements from previous Bond movies, Skyfall knowingly and respectfully winks back to its cinematic past whilst also having a well-developed story to keep the focus on the narrative and not the fact that this is a 50th Anniversary Bond movie (something Die Another Day failed to do on the franchises’ 4oth). The action is suitably globe-trotting, from the streets of Istanbul to the glamour of Shanghai, before refreshingly returning to a more local level for a chase through London and a final act set in the Highlands of Scotland. But what truly makes the story wholly satisfying are the more classical Bond elements. The fights remain suitably edgy, and certain character developments are rather dark, but the humour and sense of character has not been this well expressed in a Bond movie since the Connery days. The humour is certainly better applied, Bond’s dry sarcastic wit feel much more like a means to dissimulate himself from the darkness of his profession. It is a side of the character that Craig certainly has fun playing up. As was the same with Connery and Goldfinger, it is in his third outing that Craig has truly found his footing with Bond, namely because the script allows him to lay back a lot more and just have a bit of fun, whilst also maintaining the psychological depth of Casino Royale.
It is not only through Bond himself that the film feels like a refreshing combination of both old and new elements, it is also within its ensemble of characters. The film boasts quite the cast, from Judi Dench returning as M, turning in her most pivotal and memorable performances within in the franchise. Ralph Fiennes adds sophistication and class as Government official Mallory, while Albert Finney makes an entertaining appearance in the final act. Ben Whishaw makes for a surprising new Q; twisting the age dynamic between the pair for a unique take on a relationship we all thought we knew through and through. In terms of the Bond girls, there is a less definitive female character to occupy the role, what with Naomie Harris’s Eve playing support and Berenice Marlohe acting more as a device to plot the from point A to point B; the real Bond girl of the piece is in fact Dench’s M. Where the film truly shines within its supporting cast is in its villain. Javier Bardem is as you’d expect; skin-crawlingly creepy. He is a villain with a clear agenda, yet also an unpredictable temper and attitude. His ambivalent nature crossed with his bizarre charisma (and a classic Bond villain disfigurement) marks his Silva as one of the more memorable Bond villains of the franchises colourful gallery.
Sam Mendes, marking the first time an Oscar-Winning director has tackled a Bond movie, brings with him his visual gravitas and understanding of character to the Bond template. His work with cinematographer Roger Deakins marks out Skyfall as the most visually striking Bond movie and perhaps one of the most visual stunning films that I have seen all year. The bright palette of colours present the glamorous locations in all their glory, whilst also lending themselves to some very atmospheric shots when the shadows engulf the screen (particularly in the final act). Medes assured hand concerning image and drama do thankfully cross over into the action set pieces. While certainly not as confident as his visual flair and understanding of character, the action scenes (aside from some ropey CGI) impress, excite and are laced with humour, allowing for character to remain the focus point of the action. Mendes is a director who certainly seems to understand the Bond charm, and is surprisingly the first director that has indeed mixed these qualities to produce a very nostalgic, yet still highly original addition to the Bond canon.
James Bond is a franchise consisting of 23 movies that span over the course of 50 years. Therefore, it is a testament to the franchise that they can still produce films of this quality; making the franchise relevant and proving that if a fantastic creative mind is put at the helm, then there is no shortage of possibilities. Bond is a franchise I hold close to my heart; I have grown up with it since I was 5 years-old, watched every film at least 3 times (minus this one, but give me time) so it simply fills me with joy to have a new installment that is both fresh and encapsulating on all I love about Bond; the stylish action, the quips, the cars, the villains, the music (excellent work by both Thomas Newman and Adele), the girls, the villains, the list goes on. Skyfall epitomizes these elements to generate a dark, humorous and exciting spy action movie that more than atones for the short-comings of Quantum, while giving another fresh new lease of life into a franchise that I believe still has many years left to give. James Bond will return.