Sunday, 30 December 2012

Skyfall (2012) - Sam Mendes

Bond is back. And about bloody time too. What with all the trouble with MGM (the co-owners of the Bond brand) almost going belly up, it felt at times that there was more chance of seeing Welles’ version of The Magnificent Ambersons than ever seeing Bond at the cinema again. Then there was the awful muddled Quantum of Solace which was still lingering in the memory reminding everyone just how bad Bond could be. Skyfall had a lot to live up to. It accomplishes just that though, and then some. Mendes has managed to reignite the Bond franchise and make it feel like something worth getting excited about again. Which is not bad when you consider the series is almost old enough to get a bus pass now.

So right from the off we get what is possibly the most exciting pre-credit sequence in a Bond film ever, a chase scene that propels along at a super rapid pace. From cars to motorbikes, to motorbikes on rooftops and finally to that old chestnut a fight on a moving train. With a digger and some VW Beetle's. Mendes lays waste to any fear that the director behind American Beauty might not have the chops for action within these first few minutes.

For the first time in 20 years we have a title song that sounds like it belongs over those gorgeous opening images too. While we're talking about Bond music, David Arnold’s attempts at bolting traditional orchestral flourish to synth modernism which worked about as well as it did for Marvin Hamlisch’s frankly laughable score for The Spy Who Loved Me, have been dropped along with Arnold, in favour of Mende’s composer of choice Thomas Newman. Like so much else in Skyfall it’s totally the correct decision.

There’s no need to go into the story here since it’s Bond. He’s still a British spy with a license to kill on the heels of a bad guy that will find that out by the end of the film. Some things have to stay the same don’t they? There is a plot point that is lifted straight from Marvel’s Avengers film, but I’m certain it must be pure coincidence. As in the previous Bond benchmark - Casino Royale (no not the original, silly) it’s far more personal this time round. World domination isn’t on the table, and there are no Ken Adam inspired villains liars either. Noughties Bond has to be different, there's no more jumping in the sack with anything with a pulse for example. The need to jet around the world isn’t so important now either since travel is cheaper than it was during the Connery/Moore days. So Turkey and Shanghai are the exotic locales for the first half of Skyfall, while London and the Scottish Highlands are used to perfection for the second.

Being the 50th anniversary film there are nods aplenty to the 22 films that preceded it. Not in Die Another Days awful hanging of old props around Q’s workplace, no it’s a little more subtle this time. There are all sorts of things for the viewer to spot, so I won’t spoil anything by listing them here. My favourites though were the Live and Let Die and On Her Majesty's Secret Service moments. Another thing I got a kick out of was when Bond is served his favorite drink, we see it being prepared but we don’t hear him say the immortal line. As I said it's all a bit subtle.

As was already known Daniel Craig is Bond perfection, but for this film he’s flanked by some of the best actors around. Dame Judi returns as M and gets more to do in this film than all her other Bond films put together. Then there’s Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris as MI6 types, both manage to play about with their stereotypes and have great (and this is a term I hate using, but I will anyway) character arcs. Albert Finney turns up towards the end of the film and gets the best line of all for his effort. Then there’s Javier Bardem as the naughty type who Bond is trying to defeat. Bond films are only ever as good as their villains, think back to Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies if you don’t believe me. The past has seen some real corkers - Charles Grey, Donald Pleasence and Telly Savalas being the three that immediately come to mind. Well Bardem is up there with them. He gives his character a depth and despite some proper looney moments manages to keep him on the right side of parody. His entrance is reminiscent of that great Omar Sharif intro in Lawrence of Arabia, and let's face it if you're going to borrow then you should always borrow from the best.

There are some problems with Skyfall, it’s a little overlong for instance and there are some typically Bond lapses of logic at times. But the overall film is so good that you can forgive it almost anything. Where does Bond go from here? Well seasoned Bond watchers will know that every time the series gets a re-boot the first film is always dark and gritty. After that the one liners creep in along with the silly gadgets. So in three films time we should have Daniel Craig swinging from a tree shouting like Tarzan. God help us.

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