Sorry it’s late but it is still worth a read...Benderby presents......
Directed by Sam Mendes
Rated PG for Pretty Good
Bond. James Bond. Women want him, men want to be him. Martinis want to be shaken by him, entendres want to be doubled by him. But things have changed of late. After five decades of boozing, bedding and blowing things away Bond was reborn, rebooted, rebranded. Daniel Craig represented a younger, untamed Bond. Whereas Bond has generally possessed a near cruel sangfroid, Craig is hotblooded and impetuous, callow rather than callous. It was refreshing, and a chance to inject new life into a sagging and bloated franchise, weighed down by gadgets and burdensome tradition.
Bond films used to be stand alone episodes with the standard model features: a die-cast Bond, revolving villains/women/toys. Drink, shag, shoot, rinse, repeat. The new Bond has bucked this trend with continuity of backstory and character development. Over the course of the three Daniel Craig editions James Bond has wisened, agendas continued, vendettas maintained. ‘Skyfall’ adds new depth and breadth to the Bond story, with massive changes afoot, and groundwork set in place for future instalments. It is entertaining, occasionally great, and maintains more than enough Bond tropes to keep the mob sated.
Beginning as usual, the film drops you in the middle of a 007 mission. Bond is in pursuit of a target with crucial and sensitive data. A foot chase turns into a car chase, turns into a motorcycle chase, turns into fisticuffs on top of a train. It’s cracking stuff, although riding motorcycles on the roof of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar seems a bit cheeky. Shockingly, Bond comes out second best. Believed dead, he drops off the radar to sulk and engage in drinking competitions. Meanwhile things are going pear-shaped at MI6. Due to the failure of the Istanbul mission, M (Judi Dench) is facing her own career-ending issues, and when headquarters are targeted with devastating results, things get a little… uncertain. Bond must return from his ‘liquid retirement’ to contend with a formidable figure from M’s past, as well as face his own past and prove he has a future in MI6. The theme of obsolescence recurs throughout ‘Skyfall’, with the “old ways” struggling to remain relevant in a “brave new world”.
Javier Bardem is delightfully creepy as the villain Silva, fallen agent and former protégé of M. Cut loose by M in a cut-throat piece of pragmatism, he is consumed with bitterness and vengeance, and utterly twisted. He toys with Bond, prodding his weak points and proving his superiority; his master plan, which slowly uncoils over the course of the film, is malevolent and genius. Silva is seeringly sadistic, eerily effeminate, and alarmingly oedipal. He has become unhinged, dwelling on his rotted relationship with M, and it gets a bit Freudian—“Mummy’s been very bad”. He’s easily the best thing about Skyfall.
The brutal simplicity and stylish elegance that seemed to encapsulate the new Bond is diluted somewhat in ‘Skyfall’ with a shot of the old Bond extravagance and bombast. The film makers haven’t quite got the mix right in this cocktail. For starters it’s a tall glass to fill, at 143 minutes. Parts do drag, and the attempt to fit in a rather lengthy plot, flesh out all the requisite characters, set up for the next film, and include the mandatory action, sexiness and location hopping of James Bond™ is problematic. You begin to understand why the next instalment is rumoured to be spread over two films, although I’d argue less is more. I felt at times as though the Bond-y elements were stapled onto scenes in order to meet some magic publicity-friendly threshold. There is a story to tell here, but it is occasionally weighed down by the need to remind people that this is a Bond film. It’s difficult to tell who is at fault here, the writers for creating an overly complex and demanding recipe, the director for stumbling on the preparation, or the producers for pushing their product too hard.
The patter is typical 007—double entendres, sexual innuendo and sly digs—and playfully cliched, but it frequently failed to click for me. The Bond charm is predicated on verbal foreplay but there just wasn’t enough juice in the delivery, and some of the banter barely made sense or was stretched beyond it’s semantic limits. It gets a bit mindlessly quippy. The repartee between Bond and the rudely youthful ‘new’ Q (Ben Wishaw) is cute, but lamentably predictable. For me, the dialogue did not always measure up, and the actors did their best with some pretty thin material.
I’m a fan of how Daniel Craig has portrayed Bond so far, and the morbid and wounded Bond of ‘Casino Royale’ worked a treat, but when it comes to the cocky gamboling of Agent 007, I still have doubts. He’s a good actor with some limitations. He doesn’t pull off the sly humour as comfortably as other Bonds, and since the scintillating fatalistic romance with Eva Green in ‘Casino Royale’, hasn’t really convinced in the bedroom department. It doesn’t help that he struggles to look the part. With the physique of a staffordshire terrier, his boxer-like gait, windmill ears and a face that looks like a fist, the adjectives ‘lithe’ and ‘suave’ do not come quickly to the tongue. The film opens on a blurry silhouette coming towards the screen, and from the moment he begins stiffly hulking down the corridor it’s fairly obvious who it is. As he gets closer you spy two large protusions on the side of his head. Is he wearing headphones? No. It is Daniel Craig and his bat-like ears. (Hopefully he can’t hear me type this or I am a dead man.) The man is a sinewy nugget. Obviously this is fine for action scenes, but 007 should be equally comfortable in both a bar room brawl and a ballroom waltz. There is a scene where Bond is approaching an achingly exclusive Macau casino by boat; in the warm lights of the lanterns and surrounded by luminescent beauty, he looks distinctly out of place. More Heineken™ than vodka martini.
Roger Deakins, regular Coen brothers cinematographer, has delivered a nice looking film, with lush and vibrant composition (particularly the Shanghai sequence). He enhances the exotic locations with some intriguing angles and daring camera-work. It’s fun to look at. There are some superb action sequences, nicely shot, with tight and economical violence (a scene where Bond takes down several of Silva’s henchmen in the blink of an eye is raw awesome). The music is suitably Bond-esque and rarely misses its mark, although I found the Adele theme song mildly disappointing.
The director has performed admirably, contending with a rather demanding task. Maintaining tradition whilst innovating, evoking the past whilst preparing for the future, entertaining within a tight framework of merchandising and publicity expectations, Sam Mendes has proved a decent steward of James Bond™.
Too long, didn’t read? It’s not nearly as good as ‘Casino Royale’, but quite a bit better than ‘Quantum of Solace’.
Skyfall leaps from a speeding train into Australian cinemas on November 22.