let the sky fall

I’m not going to go overboard on spoilers in this, because I think it would do any potential viewer a disservice as Skyfall is a film that should be enjoyed without spoilers. Yes, a spoilerhound such as me has been converted to non-spoilers. Or well, at least not seeking out the blow-by-blow description of the film on the net… but here is one spoiler I’m aiming at gunbarrel nerds. The gunbarrel is indeed at the end, so if you base a Bond film on where the gunbarrel is, you’ll hate it. That’s all I have to say.

If you recognize that the Bond films need to evolve with the times, however, read on. Skyfall is the best Bond film since Casino Royale, and in many ways feels like the sequel that Royale deserved. Pretend Quantum of Solace didn’t happen, and plonk Skyfall in as the sequel instead, and the series holds up much better and indeed the tone feels a lot more consistent, and so does the continuity. To sum up my opinion: Skyfall is an unadulterated triumph on pretty much all fronts.

The plot? Without giving the whole film away, it starts with a laptop containing details of all of NATO’s top undercover agents falling into the wrong hands when a mission of Bond’s goes horribly, horribly wrong and this causes a lot of difficult for MI6, Bond and M in particular. That’s all I’ll say about the story… we’ll move onto the actors and characters to avoid this turning into The Skyfall Spoiler Site.

Let’s start with Daniel Craig’s James Bond, shall we? Casino Royale featured him at the beginning of his career as 007, a cocky, confident agent who’d just gotten his licence to kill and was out to make a name for himself. He met and fell in love with Vesper Lynd, a beautiful double agent who betrayed him and committed suicide, breaking Bond’s heart (and his balls, literally) and left him feeling dour and glum. He continued the dour, glum performance into Quantum of Solace, and that was the film’s fatal error – a Bond film should not be about a stony faced Bond wandering about the place looking angry all the time. Okay, he was grieving for Vesper, but Bond has lost many girls in many other films and to have him wandering around sulking is something you don’t want to see.

So, Skyfall lets Daniel Craig actually enjoy himself in the role, and it pays off. The result isn’t like where Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore punned their way through the film with innuendos ripped from English seaside town postcards, but rather it makes Craig’s Bond a lot more likable and a protagonist we actually care about. He’s basically the confident Bond from Royale, but with the actual experience to back it up and it shows in both the actor and the character. Craig handles the character well, and it feels both surprisingly traditional and yet new at the same time. He’s allowed to make jokes and have fun, but doesn’t do so in the sometimes cringe-inducing manner the Moore/Brosnan era films did. Everything flows naturally, and feels great.

The villain, Silva, is a brilliant piece of work by Javier Bardem. As I said in the previous post, he’s a more preening, camper version of Julian Assange who feels like a very contemporary threat for Bond to face down. He has the penchant for monologuing of the best Bond villains and is just as extravagant, but unlike many of them his plans and motives actually make sense and it helps the film that he’s not a deformed, balding billionaire who has genetically engineered himself into a younger version to escape Bond and wants to melt the icecaps with a laser satellite to create a new world.

It really is better that such stuff remains in the past, as aside from making the Bond films look creakingly dated in their sensibility, Austin Powers rendered it unusable without the audience cracking up with laughter at, rather than with the film such as in the case of the Powers-esque Die Another Day. Javier Bardem’s performance is weird and wonderful, and up there with Julius No and Goldfinger in the terms of Bond villains. Gustav Graves begone!

The role of Q is restored to the series, but updated to keep up with the rest of the changes. Ben Wishaw plays a new kind of Q, one who’s younger than Bond and thus makes Bond the old fart, with the trademark Bond/Q exasperation returning in the form of Q clearly being annoyed at having to explain everything to the older Bond. He’s also given a lot more to do than Desmond Llewellyn or John Cleese ever were, and manages to make the idea of MI6 having a “gadget guru” believable again as it’s plainly obvious he’s a lot more important to MI6 than just sitting around waiting to repair the invisible car when it gets smashed up again. There’s also a few nods and winks to tradition as well as an acknowledgement about how times and film culture have moved on from the Bonds of old. I look forward to seeing him return in future films.

Judi Dench’s M is absolutely essential to the film’s plot, and to reveal any more would slip the review over into major spoiler territory, which I don’t want to do. Suffice it to say, she gives a brilliant performance, her best in the series and she steps up to the plate for M’s most important part in a Bond film, ever. Naomi Harris is enjoyable as Eve, giving her a wonderfully flirtatious air in her dealings with Bond, and Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, a senior civil servant who finds himself at odds with M after her disastrous loss of classified information, is very good as well. These last three have very important roles to play in the main meat of the film, so I’m just going to leave them be. They’re very, very good though.

The gadgets are also quite subtle too, with the main ones being a radio and a fingerprint activated Walther PPK. There are others too, though, one or two of which will make dedicated Bond fans like myself a nostalgic smile. Subtlety really is a strength here…

So I’ve raved about the film, but I do have one criticism about all of this: it’s taken six years and three films to reboot Bond. Part of this is due to the Writer’s Strike of 2008 which lead to Quantum of Solace getting into scripting difficulties, and boy does it show, but I felt that Skyfall contains all of the elements that Quantum should have had. Royale was the origin story, and really had to be about reintroducing Bond to the audience more than anything else.

Skyfall feels like a true sequel to that story because it does all of the things that should be done in a “second installment” of a reboot – brings in a character we got to know in the first film, evolves them and brings in a whole load of new characters and elements for them to play with.  When Skyfall finishes and Bond marches across the screen in the gunbarrel, it has the effect that the same sequence at the end of Quantum was intended to have – that Bond is back and rejuvenated for the 21st century. All of the traditions of the Bond series have been brought bang up to date, the table is set out and now the Craig era of Bond has truly begun. It’s just a shame they had to have an entirely pointless film about Bond sulking before they got to it…

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