Well, that took a while, but after four years of languishing in MGM’s cash-strapped development rooms, James Bond is finally back on the big screen, just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary.
The question is whether Skyfall, directed by the esteemed Sam Mendes, is a worthy showcase for half a century of martini-swilling, Aston-driving, megalomaniac-stopping, not-returning-gadgets-even-though-specifically-asked-to-by-Q-Branch-ing “spy craft”.
The answer: Of course it is.
After the controversial installment that was the dour Quantum of Solace, Mendes and his team inject a well-needed vein of humor into the proceedings, and take Bond closer back to his roots than since Daniel Craig first donned the tux.
For one thing, Skyfall sees the return of the classic Bond villain in the form of Javier Bardem’s Silva. After ‘Embittered Frenchman’ in QoS and Casino Royale’s somewhat colorless Le Chiffre (despite beating our hero’s knackers with a knotted rope), Silva may be the most out-there threat that Bond’s faced since… Blimey, a long while. A camp, almost prissy sociopath, Bardem doesn’t quite go No Country For Old Men on us, but his magnetic portrayal of the former MI6 agent hints at (and in one memorably gruesome moment reveals) the scarred monster beneath the surface. A monster created in part by Judi Dench’s frosty M.
In the pre-title sequence released in the build-up to the film’s premiere, M orders operative Eve (Naomie Harris), one of the film’s two “Bond girls”, to “Take the shot”, which, gone awry, sends Bond plummeting off a moving train to his presumed death. Yeah, right. When Bond is drawn out of “retirement” by events in the capital, he’s no longer the smoothly working machine he once was, and Bardem’s Silva is waiting.
Shortly enough, Bond’s back on his customary tour of exotic locales, from Shanghai to Macau, bedding the local beauties in the form of Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine (or should that be Silva’s Sévérine?), during which the film carries itself beautifully through the usual motions. From the opening bike chase across the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to a neon back-lit fistfight atop a skyscraper, Mendes proves he knows how to shoot action and, in the latter case, bring his more art-house sensibilities to bear. With Roger Deakin as a cinematographer, who worked previously with Bardem on No Country…, this should come as no surprise.
Maybe it’s sentimental.
Maybe it’s a cheap way to drum up some emotion.
In any case, the third act, whatever you think of it, is a brave venture forth from the standard formula, and – with it’s mist-shrouded moors and ancestral manse – my god, it’s beautiful. Bond is on his back foot, haunted, hunted, and personally, I’m more excited about the future of the franchise than I have been in a long while. If this is Craig’s last appearance in the role, it’s a worthy one. So, bring on the old-new Bond, put another auteur in the director’s chair, and let’s get back to work.
So, all together: ‘JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN…’