As we came up to Daniel Craig’s third outing sipping vodka martinis, beding willing women and essentially writing off virtually every vehicle and building he sets foot in, an arguement could be made that his two movie tenure was somewhat uneven. Walking the line between great and rubbish as wobbly as anyone would do while experiencing his expert level of booze intake and while his box office numbers certainly couldn’t be sniffed at, critically the world renowned super spy was operating at a score that was currently 1-1. Casino Royale was a pretty flawless, ground up reboot that could comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with Goldfinger and Goldeneye as one of the greatest Bond movies ever made and Quantum Of Solace – bluntly put – wasn’t.
However, to celebrate Bond’s 50th anniversary, the producers wasn’t going to take any chances and so for the first time in the franchise’s history, a director of established renown was hired to helm a movie that would push the boundaries of what a Bond film could be further than ever before.
That director was Sam Mendes. The film was Skyfall.
After a stonking pre-credits sequence, which starts by seeing 007 in pursuit of the usual type of spy macguffin and ends with the spy catching a bullet obtained by a spot of friendly fire, we finds M on the verge of losing her job and Bond presumed very dead. After a technological attack simultaneously results in the bombing of the MI5 building and placing a target firmly on M’s forehead, she realises that whomever is causing such destruction has a personal vendetta against her.
Elsewhere around the globe, James is (unsurprisingly for a man with more lives than a shelter for cats) very much alive and living out his bullet enforced retirement slobbing around on a beach somewhere and indulging in the odd, scorpion-based drinking game to pass the time between snags but when he gets word of the attacks he heads back home in order to get back to work.
Hideously out of shape (for him that is, it’s not like I can keep up a conversation while doing dozens of chin ups), Bond is nethertheless passed for active duty and sent out into the field despite being woefully unprepared to face this new foe, an eccentric ex-agent named Silva who can destabilise governments for the highest bidder with just the click of a keyboard.
Dealing with the kind of ludicrously complicated plots that would undoubtedly give Christopher Nolan the horn, Bond weathers the twists and turns as best he can and eventually retreats with M back to Skyfall, his family estate in the Scottish highlands that’s fallen into despair, in order to make one final stand.
Can Bond possibly hope to overcome such an intelligent adversary who boasts such superior firepower and resources to keep M safe or will her professional title eventually stand for “Muerte”?
So… I’m just gonna put my cards on the table head and just straight out say it. Skyfall is very likely the greatest James Bond movie ever made quite simply because it manages to effortlessly crossover that divide between being a great 007 movie and being a great MOVIE movie. I’ve mentioned else where that Casino Royale rebuilt the character to Batman Begins levels of success and that all we needed now is a Dark Knight style of successor to take the modern arm of this epic franchise over the top to new heights – well, Skyfall is that successor.
Firstly, making Bond physically broken and mentally spent after literally shouldering a bullet for his country and getting fuck all for it, not only gives Daniel Craig carte blanche to take his “busted Bond” version of the character further than he’s ever taken him before but it makes James the most human he’s been on film without lamenting the death of a loved one.
Another welcome addition is that after two films that strived to deconstruct Bond’s mythos, Skyfall starts to rebuild it back up again, rebooting and updating such much loved characters as Moneypenny and Q, which gives Bond an actual surrogate family to play off. Plus it doesn’t hurt that they’re played by Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw – with Ralph Fiennes popping up to add some friction between Bond and M.
Ah yes… M. Judi Dench has been superlative in the role since 1995’s Goldeneye but here she finally takes centre stage as 007’s diminutive handler/surrogate mother to take her rightful place a completely different kind of Bond girl and utterly smashes it out of the park. No 007 outing has ever had such personal stakes that are this high and to complete the set, Javier Bardem kills it as peppy villain, Sliva. Creepy, intimidating and prone to monologues about killing rats, he is also yet another Bond archetype that has been given hidden layers both psychological and literal – a fact hammered home during moments when he reveals that his dentures are essentially holding his cyanide ravaged bone structure together or a winning scene when he actively tries to seduce Bond in an attempt to unnerve him under interrogation.
Freed from the need to have Bond jet set all over the world just for the sake of it – not to mention the slinging in of random action beats just to keep things moving – Skyfall keeps things closer to home like no Bond film before it keeping a large chunk of the runtime in dear old Blighty in order to wring maximum pathos out of a character notorious for shallow thrills.
Still treading that pseudo-realistic line of the previous installments (“Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.” sniffs Q at Bond’s expectancy for a little more equipment than a gun and a radio) while embracing many classic aspects of adventures past, it’s tough to imagine a better way to mark Bond’s half-century and it’s proof that the tux wearing old geezer can still stir and shake up the bad guys better than anyone else around in a prime example of first rate Bond-age.
The Skyfall’s the limit.