Well this is it. The end of my Bond themed journey. I’ve spent the whole of October watching and reviewing every Eon produced Bond film and now this is the end. Skyfall has just been released here in the UK and I saw it last night. After the link is my full review. Here’s my short one: This film is excellent.
As Skyfall opens Bond (Daniel Craig) and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) are trying to stop a bad guy from escaping with a hard drive containing the names of every MI6 agent currently working undercover in terrorist cells around the world. In true Bond pre-credits style the chase takes us through the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul (or Battlefield 3…), along busy roads and eventually onto a train. After M (Judi Dench) makes a decision for Eve to take a last ditch shot at the villain she instead accidentally hits Bond and sends him falling to his assumed death from the bridge the train is crossing at the time. When the credits have rolled we learn M is facing a lot of trouble over the loss of the list, Bond is missing and the new owner of the list has intentions to it as part of a revenge plot aimed at M herself.
As you’d expect from a Sam Mendes film this story isn’t a simple case of Bond must stop bad guy. The film’s plot and character relationships are all multi-layered and played out to their fullest without once feeling overplayed. The juggling act Skyfall does between action, character and tone is really quite a feat. There’s moments when the film is action pack and full of Bond bravado. There’s moments where threat and tension are brought right up front. There’s times when nearly everything comes to a stand still to allow the film to breath and focus for a few moments on the mood. As far as Bond films go this is the most tonally diverse and maybe, dare I say it, the most well scripted.
Javier Bardem makes for a brilliant multifaceted villain in the form of Silva. He’s a man hell bent on revenge and has links to M from her time before being head of MI6. He feels betrayed by a decision she made in the past and now has every intention of causing as much misery and pain on her that he can. You learn early on, before he even appears, that Silva is not a man to be messed with. The gradual build up to his reveal and his first scenes are enough to set him up to be one of the best Bond villains so far. I’m honestly not trying to over hype this. By the time he’s had his first 10 minutes on screen you will have a full realisation of his character, his evil and just how much tension he can create through a few simple actions. One scene in particular where he sets a challenge for Bond is a scene marks him out as one of the most purely evil creations in the Bond series. Also he has fabulous hair. Not such good teeth though…
When Bond returns to England to resume his duties as a general all round blunt instrument of death it appears he’s missed a few steps. See getting shot multiple times and falling off a very tall bridge can do that to you. I love that the film makes no attempt to tell you just how he survived. We can assume that whatever he did it was very Bond like. He’s spent a few months getting drunk, risking his life in dangerous drinking games and risking God knows how many STDs by banging any local women he can find. Throughout the film his injuries, a physical repercussion of M’s decision at the films open, play into every action scene. He struggles to hold onto the underside of a lift, He’s getting out of breath and his aim is some way off. Every action sequence becomes meaningful. It also helps that each sequence is different from the last. One I particularly liked was very retro Bond. In it he’s fighting a bodyguard in a pit inside a Asian casino. Naturally the pit is also home to two massive, and quite hungry, Komodo Dragons. This recalls sequences in earlier Bonds where he would end up having to avoid some sort of predatory animal and I’m sure that was Mendes’ motivation for this.
Now I certainly need to talk about how well this film has been shot. I use no hyperbole here when I say this is the best shot Bond film in the series. It’s plain beautiful. Moods, colour tones and framing are all utilised to an incredible level. This is to be expected of Roger Deakins to be fair but for a series that has generally shunned visual flair in favour of spectacle it is really nice to see a Bond film that looks as stunning as it’s action is packed and it’s drama is conflicted. I don’t know where to start when attempting to point out some of the films more beautiful shots. Bond riding a boat into a Shanghai island casino has a colourful dream like quality. The Shanghai tower block sequence recalls Blade Runner in it’s use of neon and darkness but with added reflections everywhere. Must have been a nightmare to shoot. A scene near the end has the night sky lit only by fire as shadowy figures move through the silhouettes cast by the trees and terrain of the Scottish Highlands. There’s many more but you have to see it for yourself. This is an Oscar nominating level of cinematography here. I could only see Samsara being a challenge to this to be honest.
I really shouldn’t make this such a gushing review but it’s kind of hard not to. After the disaster of Quantum Of Solace it’s so good to see Bond return to the form of Casino Royale. I’m not sure yet if I’d say this was better but I think if I watched this again I’d know for sure. As I mentioned with Casino Royale, I could easily accept anyone picking this as their favourite Bond film. On a technical level it may well be. The film’s arc is so brilliantly crafted along with how well it’s scored and shot, that it’s really hard to find fault. There’s a few instances of slightly dodgy CGI, the Komodo Dragons in one shot for instance, but that will not detract and there’s plenty of bigger budgeted films these days with worse effects.
There’s no mention of Quantum in Skyfall at all. It leads me to believe that they’re either taking a break or abandoning that plot thread entirely. It’ll be interesting to see if any reference is made to the organisation in the next film. Personally I’d rather they dropped anything that referenced Quantum Of Solace and instead set about reviving SPECTRE or maybe even SMERSH. I liked how the early Bonds had the threat of an evil organisation hanging over each adventure and I’d like to see that return. Seeing as serialising storylines in films has become the norm in recent years it would be a benefit to the series as a whole to do so.
As the film progresses we see a real change to the universe that Daniel Craig’s Bond is set within. By it’s end (SPOILERS) we’ve seen the setting loop around to a point that could be considered the real beginning of the series. Along the way Sam Mendes manages to work in references and gags tied to the previous incarnations of Bond paying tribute to and sharing the fun of those films with the audience as we go. I think one element of the film will have continuity nuts raging but screw them, this film is superb. It’s so good I may have to consider giving my mentally held top 5 Bond film list a bit of a reshuffle. I say top 5, I should say top 3… maybe 2. If the rumours are true that Christopher Nolan is set to direct the next Bond film he has been left with a very good jumping off point. The Bond producers have usually been attracted to relatively unknown directors before the Daniel Craig series, even giving a few first timers a go along the way, but this film and Casino Royale prove just what a matured directing talent can do with the franchise. In the end Skyfall is one of the most well crafted Bond films yet, and one of the best action films of recent years. Adele was wrong, this is not the end, this is the new beginning for Bond and I’m ready for more. Maybe not 23 of them in the space of a month… give it a couple of years at least.