As Legacies often burden, there’s an overriding sense of significance while watching Bond at Fifty
Skyfall is significantly important, not only is it the film to celebrate fifty years of Bond, but it’s pressured to deliver once more on the promise of Casino Royale after the disappointment of Quantum of Solace. How this promise is fulfilled is quite extraordinary, but perhaps not so given the sum of its parts.
With a high class of acting, directing and cinematography talent, Bond twenty three goes beyond, to be greater than the sum of its parts, remarkably, to delivery perhaps not the most radical front end ‘baddy’ plot seen before, but a rich sub text of tasteful homage and celebration of a country and a world changed over half a century, charting the journey of an Icon from then ‘til now and before.
Skyfall’s brilliance is its story and its faith in the old while embracing the new. The plotting and scheming of Javier Bardem’s Silva would appear to be the primary narrative as Britain and MI6 come under attack from cyber terrorism, but as Judi Dench’s M becomes THE target, Daniel Craig gives his best performance yet, not just as Bond, evolving into the assigned high protector of Britain and ‘Maam’.
Never has acting in a Bond feature ever been better. Firstly Craig, belligerent as always and with a fallibility that has been presented before, but now with a sense of despair and near incapability that reveals the seldom seen frailty of the age old protagonist. Bond has never lacked faith in his ability and confidence has always transfigured into outward arrogance, but when in ‘strapped to chair’ encounters and re-evaluating body and mind (literally), Craig demonstrates a glassy eyed, near beaten portrayal that makes One route for him like never, ever before. When faith is instilled once more by M, when pen on paper says otherwise, it’s the fortitude of cinema’s greatest hero – which can’t be measured, that not only celebrates with humility and reserve, the strength of an icon, but that of a nation.
Much has been said of Bardem, naturally; no stranger to playing the bad guy. In a similarly creepy display akin to his No Country for Old Men turn, a very ‘Bondian’ villain is delivered, with the hallmarks of many classic bad guys, and one such previous menace in particular, that subtly pays a respectful nod to the devilish legacy laid out before, all while delivering his own disturbing and worthy entry. For how good Bardem is, there is a sense that with so much to celebrate and ponder while re-evaluating a protagonist fifty years old and his place in the modern world, the villainous intentions of a modern threat is not un-identical to what has come before ever since Dr No pioneered the bad guy trail. While perhaps lacking a true climatic encounter with Bond, Bardem’s Villain is indeed brilliant and utterly menacing but serves a much more significant narrative purpose as being the catalyst for a magnificent and intimate engaging of Judi Dench’s Mother figure.
In the many times Dench has played M, she has never been better than here, much due to the fact that she is central, as much as Bond is, as a figurehead of British fortitude, a rich thread that runs throughout when not only M, but Britain is attacked . Bringing M front and centre is not only a celebration of another great Icon, but of what she and Bond represent in a modern world of perhaps, ever decreasing old imperial influence. Old methods utilised in a world of hidden cyber danger, whereas before MI6 and British intelligence only ever needed to rely on the wisdom of its people is thought provoking stuff; a commentary delivered memorably by Dench’s best M moment when defending the failings of herself and her charges within a brilliant, shifting set piece and monologue that perfectly sums up and celebrates Bond as he foot chases through the clamouring streets of old and new London.
And the streets and sub terrain of London take a rightful centre stage, captured brilliantly by Director Sam Mendes and Cinematographer Roger Deakins, collaborating once more. Much time is spent in other expected exotic locations; a high rise Shanghai scuffle is superb, but having so much set within London brings an intimacy and threat back home and gives a real narrowing and feeling of going back in time, with city wide shots of the near ancient London contrasting the modern, a purposeful narrative once more taking Bond back in time, alongside the brilliant head nods to all that has come before.
In an outstanding highland finale, Bond revisits the past – it’s perfect, adding even more to the legacy by providing rare back story. To say any more would spoil, just enjoy its beauty and poignancy.
The most satisfying part of Skyfall as a celebration of fifty years, all while expanding the story, is that the desired winks to the past don’t get in the way and pay respectful homage, without being ridiculous within the modern gritty vision of Bond since Craig’s arrival in Casino Royale; the return of a new ‘Quartermaster’ with the brilliant Ben Whishaw, as comically as unimpressed with Bond as ever is well timed, with Gadgets firmly placed in the past that aren’t that high tech at all, the PPK, the beautiful DB5 and the use of the ‘old ways’.
Now I am not going to be as obvious as to say Skyfall will leave you shaken and stirred, but with superb acting, direction, narrative and sub text beyond what has ever been seen in a Bond film before it is one of the best yet and as a celebration of Bond and all things British, Skyfall is sublime.
Mendes will likely testify, with Christopher Nolan as his inspiration and influence on what is a near perfect film, never mind a Bond vehicle, that he has applied The Dark Knight blueprint to the oldest of franchises. One of the greatest movie series has now been believably and fully realised in the modern world.
Mendes and Co. have expertly and respectfully paid tribute to fifty glorious years of cinema gold while managing to look forwards, to the point of almost re-launching Bond, showing that old dogs do learn new tricks and prove that even now, nobody does it better.
Out now on Blu Ray, online and DVD