Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Judy Dench, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney
Bond films are cyclical. There’s always a steady drop in quality following each Bond recasting, and it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable reboot. The Daniel Craig Bond films were always going to decline; the only real surprise is that the drop off was so precipitous.
Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is calling the shots this time around, but he’s hamstrung by a hackneyed script that recycles elements from not only the Bond franchise, but a number of other action thrillers as well. Superspy James Bond (Daniel Craig), having been hung out to dry by the head of British Intelligence, M (Judy Dench), slips into the tuxedo once more to butt heads with Raoul Silva (a ludicrously blonde Javier Bardem), a rogue agent seeking revenge against MI6. Cue the usual far-flung locales, high-speed chases, and over the top action sequences.
The problem is that it’s all so bloody joyless. For all its alleged glamour, Skyfall is a dour and self-important film, too busy trying to justify its excesses to revel in them. Craig’s Bond is a tortured, introspective assassin, not a suave and savvy ubermensch, and the film goes out of its way to underline that, despite the girls, the guns, and the glory, 007 is having no fun whatsoever. For the modern, post 9/11, post-Jason Bourne Bond, the life of a jet-setting alpha male is a tiresome one.
The Bourne influence is especially prevalent in the film’s climactic fight, which takes place at the Bond ancestral home in rural Scotland. As an action sequence, it’s serviceable enough, but it’s sorely lacking in scale and tempo. You do get to see Albert Finney turn up as the shotgun-toting groundskeeper, so that’s something, but it’s a far remove from the world-saving exploits we’re accustomed to.
The biggest problem, though, becomes apparent when the viewer realises that, for all the noise and movement, Skyfall is just an extension of Casino Royale‘s origin story. Here we are, three films into Craig’s tenure as Bond, and the producers are still rearranging elements of the mythology that were perfectly fine just where they were. We don’t need to see Bond meet Q for the first time, or Miss Moneypenny, or whoever, any more than we needed to know that Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO. By Skyfall’s close, Bond is just about ready to start being a recognisable Bond, but surely, by this stage of the game, we should be well past that point?
In its defence, the film does boast some beautiful cinematography from regular Mendes collaborator Roger Deakins, and Ben Whishaw’s take on gadgeteer Q is decent, even if he does turn up just to hand Bond a literal Chekov’s Gun. Other than that, there’s not much to recommend. In updating Bond for the 21st century, all they’ve managed to do is render him unrecognisable, and Skyfall could be any big-budgeted thriller of the last decade.
(First published in X-Press, Issue 1345 21/11/2012)