Try to avoid spoilers for the last act of this terrific addition to the Bond canon, which marks the 50th anniversary with various “kisses to the past” while charting a new path for the films’ future. Amazingly, the trailers have managed to avoid spoiling the entire movie, for once!
From the opening scenes in and around Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to the final scene between M and Bond, this is a stylish, well-acted and well-directed movie. As director Sam Mendes has suggested in interviews, there’s more than a little feel of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy about it, not least in the way it makes what would normally be impossible for one man to achieve seem feasible. Timothy Dalton’s Bond in The Living Daylights was shown being hurt; in The World is Not Enough, Bond’s shoulder wound is a plot point, but doesn’t really slow him down; in Skyfall, the injury has repercussions throughout the whole film. In TWINE, Bond’s recovery is the set up for a double entendre; in Skyfall, it’s the basis of the relationship between Bond and the villain.
Bond aficionados will relish the visual references, and an element of Bond’s literary past which hasn’t really been an important part of the film canon up until now takes on a major significance. There were rumours of budgetary considerations meaning that a lot of the film had to take place in the UK; if that’s the case, then the writers (Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan) have taken lemons and made lemonade. We don’t suddenly see 007 operating in the UK against the charter of the SIS; there are valid reasons why the scenes need to be here.
Elements of the films which seemed to disappear in the reboot with Casino Royale are reintroduced in Skyfall: the scenes with Q develop their own rhythm which is very different from, but in some ways very like, the relationship established between Desmond Llewellyn and the various 007s. The humour and the one-liners also make a welcome return but in a form that reflects the more grounded nature of the films nowadays.
The recent rerun of the documentary about Llewellyn on Sky Movies 007 showed the strength of the relationship between the actor and Pierce Brosnan, which came across on screen. It’s matched by that between Daniel Craig and Judi Dench in this film. Rather than just the obligatory briefing, bollocking scene, and resolution, the two characters share a great deal of screen time, where lines are crossed where they need to be, but never without losing respect. Dench is supported by great turns from Rory Kinnear as Tanner, and Ralph Fiennes as Mallory. The producers have shrouded his and Naomie Harris’ role in some secrecy – although in the case of the latter, the reveal actually stretches credulity (if such a thing can be said to exist in a Bond film, of course!)
This is one of the most stylish Bond films, with Mendes embracing both the travelogue element of the series and the action. As he has proved (notably with Craig in The Road to Perdition), Mendes can direct violence in a way that keeps you riveted to the screen: his use of low camera angles and silhouettes never prevents you from knowing what’s going on (a criticism justly aimed at Quantum of Solace) but never going beyond the bounds of a 12 certificate.
Thomas Newman’s score – which contains references to Adele’s theme song – reflects the multinational nature of the film, with some judicious use of the Bond theme, particularly at moments when you want to cheer at the screen!
Verdict: The best of Craig’s 007 films, and one of the very best of the series. 10/10
Paul Simpson is co-author of The Bond Files from Virgin Publishing