IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 143 mins
REVIEWED DY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
MI6 agents James Bond and Eve assist on a mission in Turkey in which an MI6 operative has been killed and a hard drive stolen. The drive contained details of all NATO agents operating undercover in terrorist organisations. During a lengthy chase after the assailant Bond is shot from a train by Eve, who misjudges her shot. He is posted as “missing, presumed killed”. Five of the agent’s names are released onto the internet, with the promise of more the next week, and the head of MI6, M, comes under political pressure to retire. On her return from the meeting, MI6 is hacked and an explosion occurs in the offices, killing a number of MI6 employees. It seems that a ghost from M’s past has come back to haunt her……
I suppose I’m an unconventional kind of Bond fan. A fan I definitely am, and not just of the films, but I’m that strange kind of fan who prefers Thunderball to You Only Live Twice, Moonraker to The Spy Who Loved Me, thinks that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is possibly the best movie of the whole lot and considers Roger Moore a very good 007. Something I am in agreement though with the majority is that Quantum Of Solace was a disappointment after the stunning Casino Royale, which superbly ‘reinvented’ Bond and made him ‘relevant’ while still wallowing in what makes Bond films such glorious fun. In fact, I would go further than that, it was a bloody embarrassment and an insult to Bond. I will never forget coming out of the cinema and wondering what kind of crap I just seen, from the abysmal pacing [o yes, let’s start a film really fast and have it get slower and slower] to the atrocious editing of the action to the boring plot. The next Bond film just had to be better, didn’t it?
Well, Skyfall has certainly had the best reviews any Bond film has had; being a bit of a Bond freak, I’ve read many reviews of the early films written when they came out and they weren’t universally liked by the critics I can assure you. Some are saying Skyfall is the best Bond picture ever. I even read a review that claimed it was one of the best action movies ever! To them I say; did we see a different film? Yes, Skyfall is a huge improvement over the last one, and it is a pretty good film, but it’s very flawed indeed and I wouldn’t even class it in the top ten Bond films, let alone as the best one! It’s certainly enjoyable, has some inspired ideas and scenes and is very well acted throughout, but it’s also very awkward and uneven. It’s like three separate films doing battle with each other; a Sam Mendes film, an old-style Bond film with all the ingredients we have loved for years, and a sort of deconstruction of the whole series. Individually there is much to like, but put together the film is somewhat of a mess and in the end doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself.
The opening is fantastic. Well, it would be, except for one small but important detail. The gun barrel that appears at the start of each film. Where is it? Casino Royale just about got away with having it at the end of the pre-title sequence leading into the song, but Quantum Of Solace had it at the end of the film. Yes, the end of the film. Sadly, Skyfall does the same thing. I just don’t see the point of doing it because it makes it slightly less of a Bond film right from the very beginning, but then again, I’m not a fan of many of Barbara Broccoli’s decisions, so I’ll just leave it at that. Anyway, the opening scene proceeds with some superb action with a chase through a Turkish market that I’m sure I saw Liam Neeson go through a few weeks ago and a truly Bondian bit of business involving a crane and a train. A fight on the top of the train is not earth shattering, but it does the job and, unlike in Quantum Of Solace, you can see what is going on. Then we see Bond surprisingly hit and fall to his death [though we know it know he’s not really dead, don’t we?], after which we go into Adele’s theme song. It’s a brave stab at a more traditional sort of Bond song after the last three, but is partly undone by its insipid arrangement and Adele’s extremely limited skill at tune writing. The titles are very good though, and things are very promising indeed.
Well, the film carries on being good for the most part, but, to be honest, I’m not sure if it ever reaches the heights of the opening sequence[ what I call Goldeneye syndrome]. The early scenes are all serious and sombre before 007 goes into the field again and here I must say that Roger Deakin’s photography soon becomes outstanding. A scene in Macau with lanterns everywhere is simply beautiful to look at and really seems to capture a sense of the archetypal exotic place that we dream of going to but never will, while a sequence in Hong Kong has Bond in a room while light from various neon signs outside stream in through the windows in an almost psychedelic fashion. An early fight scene is shot in silhouette, and it does seem that director Sam Mendes has really found a way of combining some kind of directorial artistry with the usual Bond elements we expect [remember the opera scene in Quantum Of Solace which was interesting but stuck out like a sore thumb?].
As the film progresses through it becomes less and less sure of itself. Some potentially great scenes are almost thrown away, such as a fight in a pit with Komodo dragons. The CG reptiles look poor and the sequence lasts just a few seconds. Compare this, for instance, to the famous bit of Roger Moore’s Bond on that tiny island surrounded by alligators in Live And Let Die? Despite being in a generally light hearted film, that sequence took its time, was allowed to build, and the first time you see it you even feared for Bond. This film is even a little dull at times. After a while it seems that Mendes and his writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and the incredibly erratic John Logan, are fond of supposedly witty references to Bond’s past [o look, it’s the Aston Martin DB5!], but are almost ashamed of typically Bond things like cool action where you go “wow” and Bond charming every woman he sees. Come the end, where there’s lots of rather mundane shooting in some admittedly gorgeous orange/yellow lighting, it’s evident that Skyfall has become a ‘Sam Mendes’ film more than a Bond film. That’s not automatically a bad thing; Mendes is a good filmmaker, and it’s nice when a Bond film tries a few different things, but if an auteur tries to stamp his mark on it you end up with something too different from what a Bond film should be. You would have thought they would have learnt their lesson from the last one.
Something else you would have thought they would be stopped doing would be to rely on crappy CGI but sadly they haven’t [look out for an atrocious bit with a train]. One wonders how on earth films used to manage without it, but they did. I must emphasise that I’m certainly not saying Skyfall is poor. In fact, it is quite good, but makes some seriously poor decisions and actually Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol, which had in part a similar plot, is a slightly better picture overall and certainly more entertaining. It’s good to see Bond spending a lot of time in London for a change, and the climactic scenes have some wonderfully eerie shots of the Scottish Highlands that make them resemble an alien landscape, but by then it doesn’t really feel like you are watching a Bond film at all. The script has its interesting aspects, most notably an overall theme of the modern computer-dominated way of doing things taking over old-fashioned ways, and it’s nice to have both a new Q and a villain who has personal reasons for doing things rather than just doing them for the sake of it.
The story manages a couple of decent surprises at the end and you may even cry, but there are some glaring plot holes [whatever happened to that list that was supposedly so important?]. Skyfall is badly missing certain things, including sex. Bond should be the old smoothie and isn’t, and even when he does sleep with women we don’t even see them [except for one near the beginning] in bed! Connery’s Bond was considered ‘past it’ in Never Say Never Again, yet still tried to ‘screw’ everything in a skirt. You should feel that Bond can walk into a room and ‘have’ every woman in it. The near-avoidance of one of 007’s defining traits in this film makes we wonder if that dreadful thing ‘political correctness’ [the thing that’s destroying freedom of speech] is responsible, but then why is one of the supposedly major female characters [Berenice Marhole’s role is truly thankless] little more than a sex object [though damn fine she does look!]? In any case, Craig’s Bond [like Timothy Dalton’s] seems more interested in violence than sex. The most sexual scene is actually a very interesting one between Bond and the main villain Silva, which is full of homosexual undertones [or rather overtones]. Despite the overall serious tone, there is slightly more humour than the last two films and Daniel Craig is even given some funny lines that Roger Moore and Sean Connery would have enjoyed. He displays a lighter touch at times while still giving the part great depth, and overall he’s getting better and better. Javier Bardem is a wonderfully scenery-chewing villain, reminding me a bit of Christopher Walken’s. I’ve always found Judi Dench a little overrated as she’s virtually the same in everything she does, but she has some great scenes in which she is allowed to shine without going anywhere near the idiocy of her turning up everywhere in Quantum Of Solace. A bit where she drops the ‘F’ bomb is really pointless though.
Thomas Newman’s score is basically a generic modern action score with lots of drum loops, electronics, ethnic sounds and not one melody, but it works well enough. It probably sounda like I didn’t like Skyfall, and I did; every now and again there is a bit which is really inspired or just screams BOND and it’s never unenjoyable, but I just don’t see why it has been so loved by the critics. I don’t think any film since the 1960’s has approached the style, the sophistication, the sheer panache, of the very early Bond entries. I wouldn’t expect Skyfall to do that, but infuriatingly it has a few frustrating flourishes that almost do. But, dare I say it, a few of the Roger Moore efforts were more fun too. Skyfall is pretty good in fits and spurts, but the best Bond film? No way. I wonder what will happen if Christopher Nolan directed a Bond film. Some will probably say it’s the best film ever made.