Practically every Bond film in the last 50 years has the same final promise before the credits roll: “James Bond will be back”. But that’s all we ever know – and the expectation surrounding this latest 007 endeavour was at an all-time high before its release last Friday. Sure – we knew it was Daniel Craig, and we knew what the baddie looked like, and the ever-present Bond girls, and the new geeky Q... but that tells us nothing really. And after the slight disappointment of Quantum of Solace (probably not helped by the brilliance of Casino Royale, nor by the competition of Nolan’s excellent The Dark Knight), Skyfall needed to be something spectacular.
Well, it’s safe to say that this one certainly hit the target.
Director Mendes (American Beauty) takes us on an almost classically familiar journey with some excellently spun twists. We join Bond in one of the best opening chases ever – racing motorbikes over rooftops in Istanbul in a desperate and hair-raising attempt to retrieve a stolen computer disk that holds the secret identities of NATO agents working undercover in terrorist organisations. Despite Bond’s best efforts, the disk is lost – and, heart-stoppingly, for a moment so is 007 himself. But, of course, it’s all a ruse and our eponymous hero returns after Adele’s cracking opening sequence – older, unkempt and distinctly off his game. In the wise eyes of M (Dench), however, he is still the best man for the case, and is retrained and retested under the watchful eye of the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (Fiennes). To solve this latest case, Bond is sent off to some of the most exotic parts of the world: Macau, Glencoe and Shanghai to name a few…
Six years on from Casino Royale, yuth; Craig gives a truly stirring, funny, action-packed performance… even if he does run a bit like an ostrich. Surely this confirms that Craig is the best Bond ever to grace our screens. Whereas, in Royale, Bond was a cocky, trigger-happy Oxford graduate, in Skyfall our man has matured but not lost his touch. The one-liners make a tentative but very welcome return, and Bond’s rapport with his colleagues is sharper and wittier than ever. Scriptwriters Purvis, Wade and Logan constantly remind us that Bond’s physical prowess is diminishing, but his verbal sparring with both M and new bad guy Raoul Silva (Bardem) is quick and as nimble as it has ever been.
Silva himself – a disaffected ex-agent with several emotional issues – is horrifically creepy. Bardem portrays this latest madman with a wonderfully unnerving camp turn, making Silva one of the strangest villains since the Roger Moore films. His filthy, blond, nicotine-stained hair (which awkwardly brings Julian Assange to mind) only enhances his performance as it hangs nauseatingly around his face. Along with his ‘courtesy’ and his constant flirting, Bardem creates a tension-filling character whose next move just cannot be predicted.
Backing up the main pair is an absolutely stellar supporting cast. Dench is back for yet another outstanding performance as M – in trouble over her decisions yet, as always, fiercely defending them.
With a lot of new faces, Dench’s arrival is almost reassuring, and she makes much more of an appearance in this film than in any of the others, and with much more emotion. Fiennes’ appearance, though new, is also hugely welcome. Mallory is stuffy, uptight, and argumentative – but you can’t help liking him. Which is good… but no more said here.
The new gadget-man Q is unveiled, and is the epitome of ‘geek chic’. With his floppy, tousled hair,stylish specs and Scrabble mug, it’s probably safe to say that, while the gentlemen in the cinema were focusing on the latest palmprint-identifying handgun, the ladies… weren’t. Nerdy good looks
aside, however, Q (Ben Wishaw) is another man with a fast line in patter, and strikes up an instant, and reciprocated, loyalty to Bond. He is definitely a favourite new character, and one that many will be looking forward to seeing again. Only two Bond girls worth mentioning – pretty field agent Eve (Naomie Harris), who has a warm and sexy vibe about her and is something more than Bond’s colleague (but what is her surname…?), and the beautiful but expendable Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe).
Mendes and the writers let the quieter moments pause, but they have also proved rather good at the ‘loud bangs’ side of things too. Nine-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins makes the ambitious action sequences – which had the potential of being utterly ridiculous – the most beautiful in all the films. The wonderfully tense opening scene in Istanbul is soon beaten by the fight in Shanghai, where Bond chases an assassin through a glass skyscraper which constantly flicks between pitch black and bright light thanks to the rolling neon adverts outside. And frankly none of the fights even come close to that in the Komodo dragon enclosure.
Fifty years down the line and the world is still utterly hooked on Bond. Times have changed, terrorists have advanced and nobody believes that Bond needs to go to the moon anymore – and the new films prove, beautifully, that the 007 franchise is moving spectacularly forward. “We don’t go in for exploding pens any more,” quips the new Q – and nor do audiences.