Skyfall is a more confident and impressive offering all round, marking the 50th anniversary with a film which looks far back into the series' past while also making a conscious effort to appear modern and cutting-edge. The result is technically superb, with Sam Mendes bringing weight to the characters and the visuals being some of the best in the whole series. But the film also demonstrates how fundamentally little Bond has changed, something which is cause for both concern and celebration.
The Bond series has always been at its best whenever it has had to defend its existence. The previous attempts at reinvention - Casino Royale, and Goldeneye before that - were prompted by perceptions that the series was old-fashioned, caused respectively by the game-changing Bourne series and the end of the Cold War. But while these films are impressive technical exercises, which still feel in isolation like a breath of fresh air, the basic formula has remained more or less the same for 50 years. The series has become so much of a genre in itself that any claim of reinvention or radical departure should be greeted with extreme caution.
Bond has always assimilated ideas and stories raised in other films; it's one of the many ways the series has remained relevant, or at least appeared to be that way. Skyfall continues to follow the trail blazed by Bourne by showing the extent of high-tech surveillance, and how advances in communications have changed the way that decisions are taken about people's lives. Both the villain and the revamped Q branch borrow from The Social Network, a film which argued that the world is now run not by governments but by technical wizards, and by extension how 'nerds' have grown from being perceived as harmless and weak into a force to be reckoned with.
Skyfall also contains a number of prominent visual references to other films, past and present. The entire sequence in Shanghai owes a massive debt to Blade Runner: the shot of Bond's gun in moving close-up and the fight against the Japanese signage are eerily close to Ridley Scott's masterpiece. There are also touches of Inception present in the lift scene and on the villain's island, whose ruined buildings could have come straight from Christopher Nolan's Limbo.
On top of all that, the film contains a great many nods to its own back catalogue. Much of the plot, while appearing original, hints back to conversations in Goldeneye. The allusions to Bond's parents are akin to the scene with 006 among the fallen idols, and the central duality is structured along the same lines: like Alec Trevelyan, Silva was betrayed by his homeland, and represents what Bond could have been had things turned out slightly differently. The journey "back in time" in the iconic Aston Martin DB5 is a direct nod to the Sean Connery era, Silva has a passing resemblance to Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me, and there are two passing references to The Man with the Golden Gun, in Shanghai and with the shooting of the mirror at Skyfall.
The key point here is that everything we see, we have seen before, either in the Bond series or in the many other films on which it draws. What makes Skyfall successful (and memorable) is the way in which these ideas are presented or repackaged, so that they appear either original or become distinctive to the character. Having an abundance of references was largely to be expected, given the occasion that is being marked, and if nothing else the film scores over Die Another Day by actually having a coherent and interesting story.
The central irony about Skyfall is that its story is very much anti-Bond, but it is being told in a by-the-numbers, classic Bond way. The story is a not-too-distant cousin to The Ipcress File or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, insofar as it uses a troubled yet distinctly British protagonist to focus on the changing mechanics of the secret service, particularly the ways in which technology is altering or eroding the role of agents. This is reflected in the numerous scenes of M answering to politicians, the increasing dominance of Q branch, and the conversations between M and Mallory.
But whereas Tomas Alfredson went against the grain with his film, openly eschewing the conventions of a spy thriller, Mendes tells this story in the manner of the classic Bonds. We go through the same motions as all the Bond films after Diamonds are Forever, with Bond being sent on a difficult mission after a riveting pre-title sequence. He snoops around with an attractive sidekick-cum-love interest, who despite seeming more forthright and independent still takes a back seat, in more ways than one. After several fights with secondary villains, he and the main antagonist meet and talk about the plot. There then ensues a cat-and-mouse chase over several locations, eventually resulting in Bond triumphing, sometimes with a deep personal cost.
If we try to see Skyfall as a genuine reinvention of the Bond series, we will quickly come unstuck as these clichés keep coming. No-one has yet had the confidence to fully abandon Bond's gadgets, vodka martinis or inherent sexual magnetism; even when Timothy Dalton made him cruel and dangerous, the character was still placed within conventional surroundings. If, on the other hand, we see this film as a genre exercise, whose mechanics we know inside out, then the film takes flight and becomes remarkable. It's like a well-directed production of The Mousetrap: predictable and often silly, but presented so confidently that it becomes endearing.
Taken purely as a Bond film, Skyfall is an incredibly well-made addition to the series. Despite its prominent references to other films, it is visually distinctive and spectacular. The film is shot by the fantastic Roger Deakins, who collaborated with Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. He paints the film in a number of metallic greys and silvers, giving the action a polished sheen even in its most kinetic moments. Mendes' camerawork compliments him very well, relying less on Bourne-inflected hand-held work and more on longer, sweeping shots to establish the scale of the locations.
Mendes also comes up trumps in making us care about the characters. It's tempting to just view them as archetypes and therefore let the film wash over us, but even with all our cynicism we do invest in Bond and the people around him. Daniel Craig is beginning to rival Dalton for the title of Best Bond, continuing the intensity he cultivated in the last two films and really showing the strain of the character. Javier Bardem may be more pantomime here than he was in No Country for Old Men, but he's still intimidating, and his introductory shot is one of the best in the series.
Judi Dench remains compelling as M, and the film takes the time to show how her relationship with Bond has developed over the series. While Bernard Lee's M more or less stayed the same from film to film, her M has gone from calling Bond a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur" to some form of emotional kinship. Elsewhere Ben Whishaw impresses as Q, clearly drawing on Brains from Thunderbirds, and Ralph Fiennes is in his element as Mallory, though at times he tips over into his performance as Victor Quartermaine in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Skyfall is a highly enjoyable and technically impressive way to mark 50 years of James Bond. It's nothing like as ground-breaking as has been claimed, with all the clichés of the series being celebrated in amongst all the subterfuge. But as a genre piece in and of itself, it delivers on almost every level, thanks to the believable central performances and Mendes' assured direction. The only question that remains is whether these high standards can be sustained for Spectre.
And he's alive ... he's aliiiive.
Jardem plays the Bond villain as openly gay (How many Bond villains are gay? "What makes you think that you're my first," says Bond) and with a malevolent joy not seen in awhile ("I KNOW I'm bad, what of it?!"), invigorating the proceedings. And the story sets in place not only Craig as the new Bond (finally, as the two films previously failed to do) but also leaves you waiting for the next entry, leaves you waiting even for a remake (Thunderball?).
About bloody time.
And now Cubby can rest.
Finally got around to watching Skyfall and as someone who isn't completely in the know about everything James Bond, I thought it was amazing. It's a big movie, like the previous Daniel Craig Bond films. The settings are fantastic, the cinematography beautiful, and the action scenes are about as good as you can get. Sam Mendes definitely nailed Skyfall. It helps that you've got Daniel Craig vs. Javier Bardem.
Daniel Craig is a great Bond, but what this movie, as it does in all good action films, is the villain Silva played brilliantly by Javier Bardem. Everyone knew before this performance that the man can play a villain and pull it off with Oscar worthy work. So it's no big surprise when you see Javier Bardem completely take control of the movie within the first minute of his screen time. The guy is phenomenal.
I'm not the biggest fan of the Bond franchise. I've seen some of the older ones, mostly with Connery as Bond. I haven't really gotten the urge to go and watch all the Bond films. Maybe in time I guess. Undoubtedly though, Casino Royale made me realize that this franchise wasn't as dull as I thought, and now Skyfall has confirmed it. It will be interesting to see where the franchise goes.
The consensus on Daniel Craig's tenure as James Bond so far is that he started out impressively in Casino Royale but wavered in Quantum of Solace. Here, in a Bond specifically tailored for the 50th anniversary of the series, the dangling plot-threads of Casino and Quantum are left in the wind as a more experienced, more damaged hero deals with a villain from his boss's past.
Having rebooted the franchise by depicting Bond's first days with a license to kill in Casino Royale, this picks him up later in his career.
The pre-credits sequence establishes that Sam Mendes - brought in to raise the tone a bit - can handle a fist-fight on top of a train as well as anyone. The boldest hire for this go-round is cinematographer Roger Deakins, who delivers the most impressive visuals this series has had since the 1960s. No one will ever mistake Skyfall for an introspective picture, though Bond's rarely-mentioned dead parents get trottec out in Christopher Nolanesque way which aligns him with all other orphan heroes of current cinema.
The challenge of delivering a series entry is to present the mandatory elements - the credits sequences, the girls, the cars, the locations, the stunts, the villains, the novelty pets, the gadgets - in fresh, surprising ways. Regular screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, augmented by John Logan, skate over their MacGuffin with some computerspeak and politicking, then hit all the required notes - with sidebar-friendly anniversary nods to practically every previous Bond film, including the David Niven Casino Royale - while telling a story that doesn't strictly adhere to the umpteenth-remake-of-Dr. No format that wore thin during the Roger Moore-Pierce Brosnan eras. Among other innovations, this is the first Bond really to make use of spectacular British locations, in and out of London, as a plot hatched in exotic places comes home to burn down the Establishment.
Craig takes a fall into a surreal credits sequence accompanied by that Adele song, then spends a reel or so as an unshaven, washed-up wreck who can't shoot straight and shows signs of psychological trauma. It's a character stretch Craig manages better than Brosnan's bout with beardiness in Die Another Day, mostly because he gets his chops back - and his chops shaven, in a sexy sequence with fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) - with credible effort. It's a reading of the role that comes from the later Fleming novels.
Harris's peppy M16 sniper and Berenice Marlohe's slinky woman of mystery have a few good scenes, but the main Bond girl here is Judi Dench - whose M is harried by bureaucrats who want her to retire, but has to stay in office to cope with her own nightmare legacy. Javier Bardem's villain makes a grand entrance delivering a parable about rats in a barrel, then gets deeper under the hero's skin than any official shrink, prodding him into reflections about his drink and pill dependency and sexual identity which would have made Sean Connery flinch. Silva is a Flemingseque creation - a loathesome foreigner with a hidden deformity - but Bardem adds in a little Hannibal Lecter vibe and even becomes a horror movie slasher for a surprisingly gothic, down-and-dirty climax.
Ralph Fiennes plays it ambiguously as M's political rival, but gets some good scenes late in the day, and there's a reinvention of the role of Q from Ben Whishaw, who is now the spook's computer whiz as well as quartermaster. And Albert Finney brings gravitas to a key role in the home stretch.
Much like the recent re-launch of "Star Trek" or "Tron", there seems to be a desperate need to re-connect with the series' past here. Some things are worked into the plot naturally while others are arbitrarily thrown in there for no other reason than to trigger an audience reaction. Skyfall is the twenty-third Bond film in a series that has been going for fifty years now, and yes there have been some great ones as well as some bad ones. "Skyfall" is neither the "Best Bond Ever", nor is it the worst. It's a healthy middle-of-the-road.