The past few years have not been kind to our favourite secret agent. The tepid response to Quantum of Solace robbed the momentum of the newly rejuvenated Bond franchise and though I believe it’s an unfairly treated film the visceral action and pin-sharp character details of Casino Royale were dulled and the verdict was clear: a muted Bond simply would not do.
Then MGM’s financial woes scuppered plans for Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond and though we were teased with Sam Mendes as director Bond 23 went dark and the future of Bond was an uncertain one.
We are now months later and Skyfall is upon us with both Craig and Mendes on board, Roger Deakins behind the camera and a host of new (old) faces to welcome (back). And it was well worth the wait.
To be clear I won’t be going into spoiler territory at all here. There is much to enjoy here and certain moments you won’t see coming and I want it to stay that way.
The film opens with a flourish, throwing us straight into the action. The familiar chase whose purpose is unknown is present and correct and though the action doesn’t have an elegant flow, and is at times lost completely, it is a breathless display. Only when we get beyond Adele’s pitch perfect theme do we get into the film proper and the feeling comes upon slowly that things are different this time.
Mendes handles the traditional Bond with respect and a sense of fun and part of the early part of the film allows Bond’s world to readjust and the film benefits greatly from the new focus. The dizzying fights in the casinos of Macau and the dank sewers of London get the blood pumping just as they should. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is sublime; the fields on fire, the neon fantasy of Shanghai and the dour, solid stone of London – Bond has never looked this good.
The new faces bring much to the series. Ben Wishaw’s Q has a far greater role than expected as does Naomie Harris’s field agent Eve. Only occasionally does the script let things down. There is, at times, the lack of a consistent tone and while Bond and Co. call on double-oh exposition once too often it is the uneven dialogue in the early part of the film which breaks the spell. Javier Bardem’s villain also threatens to destabilise the film somewhat as the broadness of his character takes time to adjust to. Only when Bond responds in kind does it become clear. It’s not his show, the heart of the film lies closer to home.
The evolution of this new Bond is given its fullest form here. Not only in the emotional depths and vulnerability he finds but the film’s nature is evidence too that something is changing. This is a classic Bond film and something new. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace had shades of the Bond of old with a tough Bourne like strength in the mix, something which here has been replaced with a confident new hand. What is emerging is an action series which is no longer seeking to borrow from the films it originally inspired, nor to coast on past glories. Bond is finding its feet on new ground and the results are exhilarating.
It was a smart decision to make the threat personal. This is not the faceless opera house threat, nor are we faced with the outlandish supervillains of the past, and when the film changes focus it feels refreshing and charged with energy. There are some wonderful nods to the Bond of old, some are sly winks and others are woven into the story but none outstay their welcome and at journey’s end there is the feeling similar to that at the climax of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek in that the old, once torn down, is rebuilt both new and familiar and undeniably exciting.
Daniel Craig’s Bond is now his own and in forcing Bond to confront his past and defend his beliefs what emerges is a far more human character than we’ve seen before. This is the film’s strength, where is succeeds like no other. The fight, in the end, is personal and what Skyfall does is to break Bond down, rebuild him, send him spinning through his very own hell only to emerge anew, returned and resurrected. And above all triumphant.