Skyfall, you will not have been able to avoid, is gaining great reviews around the world is now in cinemas across Japan. What did our film writer, Christopher O’Keeffe, say after finally watching the film?
As the familiar riff of the opening theme tune kicks in you know what you’re in for. It’s one of the most recognizable pieces of music in cinema history and is as iconic as the character it’s tied to: Bond, James Bond.
Its the 50th anniversary of the year the British super spy took his first step out of Ian Fleming’s novels onto the big screen, creating one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Since 1962, when Sean Connery first put on the tuxedo in Dr No, James Bond – codename 007 – has been an enduringly popular character. The series has changed in style and tone over the years and every generation has their favourite lead-man, with current incumbent Daniel Craig hoping that with this 23rd addition he can cement himself as a rival to Connery’s original.
Casino Royale, released in 2006, re-established Bond in an era of Jason Bourne and Parkour, after Pierce Brosnan’s run wound itself down with convoluted plots and Roger Moore levels of cheesy action and puns. Passing on the torch and re-establishing the Bond franchise in the modern era, Casino Royale presented a darker, more serious Bond at the start of his career. The more vulnerable, flawed agent struck a chord with audiences and the film was a huge success, as was Daniel Craig’s performance. The follow-up, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, failed to keep up the momentum mainly due to its somewhat meandering plot. Now, with some nods to the past, Skyfall sets up the future of the character.
This is Bond with all the familiar tropes but without the cliché.
Sam Mendes, a director known for his portrayal of complex relationships in films such as American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, makes his first out-and-out action movie. Not unfamiliar with violence, the ‘Road to Perdition’ director does a great job in bringing the right balance to the film, creating some real heart-stopping set pieces, including a thrilling chase in the iconic pre-titles sequence and a brutal fist fight in front of the neon lights of a Shanghai high-rise.
The film, as expected of a Bond movie, looks stunning. The dour, over-cast greys of London set the tone for the bureaucracy and in-fighting of the various government departments and the panoramic views of the historic buildings mirror themes of ageing and crumbling empires. A Macau section is pure Bond escapism; we watch as the agent enters a ludicrously decadent floating casino, complete with komodo dragon pit, to meet stunning Bond Girl, Berenice Marlohe.
Craig continues to be a confident Bond with a knack for the best features of the character; he’s smooth, charming and ruthless when necessary. 007’s ability is questioned after returning from a particularly grueling mission and he must prove that he still has what it takes both mentally and physically.
Judi Dench’s ‘M’ has always shone in the series, having a more playful relationship with the preceding Bond, her interactions with Craig have always felt more intense, with feelings of mutual respect and admiration arising from a shared past in a dangerous line of work. The nature of this relationship is built upon here as the film in some respects deals more with M’s character than it does with Bond, and her story, with potential retirement ever-nearer, runs parallel to that of the title character.
Dench has always carried a great sense of authority in her position and her withering put-downs of Bond’s more roguish traits hint at her role as a surrogate mother figure. A decision early on in the film that risks Bond’s life and results in his apparent death muddies the waters of this relationship and sets up the confrontation with the main villain, an agent whose life M has sacrificed in the past.
Javier Bardem returns to playing a villain for the first time since he terrified in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, and he continues to play a bad guy rather well. His vengeful rogue agent ‘Silva’, like all good Bond villains, is a well-heeled, powerful and cold-blooded killer with a facial deformity requisite for the role. Bardem plays the creepy genius-maniac to perfection as he carries out his plots, not with a grand scheme to take over the world but with a single-minded vision to destroy M, his ‘mummy’.
Skyfall also sees the reintroduction of series staple ‘Q’, Bond’s supplier of guns and gadgets, after an absence in the previous two films. British actor Ben Whishaw takes up the role, the youngest to do so at the age of 31.
The film isn’t perfect, like most films these days it’s slightly too long and Bond, particularly in the opening scene, has a touch of the Superman about him, but that being said Skyfall is an excellent addition to the franchise, accessible to both fans and newcomers alike.
Adele’s theme song, although not quite as bombastic as Goldfinger or as fun as Live and Let Die, is the best in years, and there are some good jokes referencing the history of Bond, fitting for the anniversary. The original Aston Martin DB5 returns, too.
Daniel Craig still needs a couple more successes under his belt but, on this form, the question, “Who’s your favourite Bond?” may soon become even more difficult to answer.
Text by Tokyo-based film writer Christopher O’Keeffe, who also runs and writes for the Seven Cinemas website.