Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Alfred,Lord Tennyson. quoted by M
(I have attempted to limit spoilers to things seen in trailer)
M16 have lost a computer hard drive containing the true identities of NATO agents undercover in terrorist organisations. James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Eve (Naomie Harris) are in pursuit until Bond is shot and presumed dead. Held responsible for losing the drive, M (Judi Dench) is under political pressure when things take a dramatic turn for the worse. Bond returns, a shadow of his former self and sets about tracking down the person responsible, it soon becomes clear the answers lie close to home for M.
Die Another Day marked the 40th anniversary of the Bond movie series. Packed with nods to earlier movies some of which worked better than others but the film was terrible. I’m happy to report that isn’t the case here. For every nod to the past (The Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5) there is a reminder that this is a new modern Bond that exists closer to the real world than ever before (Q (Ben Whishaw) telling Bond they don’t go in for gadgets like exploding pens anymore). It is also a more serious film than we have come to expect, concerned with threats to national security not mad men bent on world domination. Another notable thing about Skyfall is how much of it is set in the UK. Although largely set oversees, Ian Fleming’s novels did spend a significant amount of time in England. The movies dispensed with this in favour of ever more exotic locations. Aside from the golf match at Royal St George’s in Goldfinger there is little of significance set in the UK. The travelogue of exotic settings helped cement Bonds image but in the ever shrinking world populated by increasingly well travelled people it takes more than that to impress viewers.
Bond movies live and die on the strength of their villains, the best villains are often the ones that are a reflection of Bond having a similar skill set but less honourable motivations. Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga rescued the otherwise poor The Man with the Golden Gun. Goldeneye took things up a notch by making the villain former 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). So how does Javier Bardem stack up? Anyone who has seen him as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men would know he was born to play a Bond villain. There are elements of his character and appearance that are typical archetypes of a Bond Villain, but there are also some new things thrown in. The most notable of the henchmen in Patrice (Ola Rapace) who doesn’t say much but shares some great action scenes with Bond.
To craft a beautiful looking film isn’t new for Bond, whatever you may think of Quantum of Solace, there is no denying that director Marc Forster and director of photography Roberto Schaefer’s film was stunning to look at. Skyfall improves on this, to make a desert landscape or an old DC-3 plane flying over it look good is one thing, but the drab underground interiors of Skyfall look as good as the bleak Scottish landscapes. It isn’t just the way the movie looks that sets it apart the, director Sam Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have achieved the near impossible, a modern day reinvention of Bond set in the present day but that feels live a Fleming story from the 60’s.
A staple of the Bond movies, is the so called Bond girls, they often fall on both sides of right and wrong and often straddle the fine line. Skyfall has just two such woman, Eve (Naomie Harris) a field agent working with Bond, who I expect to see again in future films. Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) who Bond comes across in the course of his investigation. But the greatest amount of screen time is given to Judi Dench’s M, the pair share a history and respect that along with comments on Bonds age suggests a lot has happened since Quantum of Solace. This is a Bond that would fit in well sometime after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service a damaged forty-something Bond that picks up after the last of the Ian Fleming novels. And that’s the interesting thing in three movies Craig has gone from newly promoted 00 to older more jaded version of the character than we expected. In short Craig has a greater character arc than all his predecessors put together. The cast is rounded of by a perfectly cast Albert Finney who lends a link to Bond’s rarely discussed past and Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, again a character we will most likely see again.
Well paced with the right blend of action and intrigue, is it the best Bond film ever? I am actually not sure, it has gone so far from what we have come to expect of Bond that I hesitate to call it the best Bond film of all time, but it is certainly one of the best films to feature Bond. Best of all it suggests the new beginning and a new direction will continue in future films. Craig is signed on for another two films but who will direct them? The franchise has a history of bringing back successful directors to direct multiple movies, Sam Mendes is one director really should come back to continue what he has done with Skyfall.