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Skyfall – Review (A)

Skyfall Review
Our Skyfall Review.
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
Release Date: UK – Out Now / US – 8th November

[Note: this review is largely spoiler-free, but certain unavoidable aspects will be discussed. If you don’t want to know, don’t read on.]

James Bond has battled megalomaniacs, terrorist masterminds, women with killer thighs and, in the novel of Doctor No, a giant squid. But it seemed certain that the one thing he could not overcome was the relentless march of time itself. When a younger, sharper, faster pretender named Jason Bourne came along, Bond’s creaky, decades-old mechanics were laid bare. Casino Royale’s reinvention was a bumpy, messy affair that added nothing, while Quantum of Solace tried so hard to be Bourne that it was almost unwatchable. Now, after a four year gap, Bond is back to try once more and, by God, this is the one we’ve all been waiting for.

The key difference this time is the vision. Not just that of director Sam Mendes – more on that later – but of the entire cast and crew. Daniel Craig’s Bond has so far struggled to find his own identity – is he a hardened killer or a man caught in a terrible situation? Is he an unstoppable weapon or a toughened warrior with a soft centre? – and this is the film that finally sets it all right. Craig’s Bond is now made whole, as the most fully realised, human and vulnerable licensed killer to ever hit the screen. As if to reinforce this point, he even gets to spend part of the film in a drunken stupor with two weeks’ worth of stubble. The effect is spellbinding, even stretching to Craig’s amazing blue eyes that become a gateway to the man inside. He’s not a hardened killer. He’s an angry child given free reign to take on the world.

Of course, Craig is backed up by the usual stellar cast and this time all the stops have been pulled out. Alongside Javier Bardem as the effortlessly sinister villain Silva and Judi Dench as the always-reliable M are Ralph Fiennes as political bigshot Mallory and two beautiful women in the tantalising shapes of Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe. As if that wasn’t enough, Rory Kinnear returns in the much more fleshed-out role of Tanner and genius master-at-arms Q finally returns in the talented guise of Ben Whishaw.

Perfectly complimenting the exceptionally talented cast is director Sam Mendes, the man behind some of cinema’s most visually staggering films such as American Beauty and Jarhead. His visual style drapes across the screen like a loving hand, always complimenting the action, even bolstering it occasionally, providing a fiesta of sights that may well live forever in the Bond cannon. Bond’s violent melee in a Chinese skyscraper is played out against the beautiful neon lights of a jellyfish, while the haunting beauty of the moody climax is like nothing else in all of the franchise’s history. In fact, many of the action sequences – and there are boatloads, as you’d expect – are unique and exciting, managing to get the heart pounding in a way that Bond hasn’t achieved in years.

Composer Thomas Newman, replacing series regular David Arnold, provides a knockout score designed to have fans punching the air at key moments. Restrained, understated and yet definitely 007, the moment the familiar chords enter your ears, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the music. Also, so-hot-right-now soul-voiced Adele belts out an absolute classic of a theme tune, one that has the potential to go down as the new ‘Goldfinger’, it’s that great.

Skyfall Review
Are there any issues to be taken with this new Bond? In the euphoria of finally getting a decent film from the super spy, it’s easy to overlook, but in the name of fair and balanced criticism, we should examine the downsides too. The first is that it’s a Bond film and that there are a few moments of unrivalled silliness that maybe didn’t need to be there – for instance, a CGI Komodo dragon and possibly a late tube train collapse. The second is that it’s very obvious how much everyone involved in the film loved Christopher Nolan’s epic The Dark Knight, as the cowl-wearing superhero’s influence is all over the movie, right down to individual plot beats and key twists. You can almost see Javier Bardem working overtime to not be Joker or Two-Face, even when his character is almost screaming out that he’s a mixture of the two. (Especially in that delightfully creepy bit of CGI.) At times you almost expect Michael Caine to stroll in and inform 007 that ‘some men just want to watch the world burn.’ There’s also a little bit of Straw Dogs chucked in there, too.

At almost two and a half hours long, it’s a lengthy time investment. But everything that’s here truly works. While Quantum trimmed all the fat down to a lean ninety minute running time, Skyfall adds in all the excess fat and the result is a long, intriguing, fully realised tale that unfolds at its own pace, never rushing, but never less than totally gripping, even in the slightly bloated second act.

There are a number of other points in the film that feel like a curious compilation of previous Bond films. For instance, there’s a rogue former agent, an attack on Mi6 headquarters, mention of an exploding pen and a few other small moments. What’s even stranger is that, unlike in Die Another Day, these are warm, gentle touches that remind you of the past without clouding it. Even though the franchise has moved on to overwhelming realism, traces of Bond’s roots still show through. Villain Silva still has an island base, except this time it’s portrayed in a fascinatingly plausible and even quite melancholic way – a man alone amidst his own desolation. Silva still has access to an army of grunts to throw at Bond, but it makes sense that he would because he could pay anyone to do anything. Even when Silva and Bond meet for the first time and Bardem goes into full-blown monologue mode, it’s never less than new, fresh and almost constantly surprising.

That’s what Skyfall does so well that no other supposed ‘reinvention’ film – not Licence to Kill, GoldenEye or Casino Royale – has managed to do. This is the film that truly represents Bond’s ground zero. This is the film that draws a neat, elegant line under everything that’s come before and finally points the way forward for the world’s most famous secret agent. It even makes sense now why the gun barrel comes at the film’s end – instead of heralding Bond’s arrival, it’s issuing a challenge to all the other action films that attempt to dethrone 007, thereby truly proving that nobody, yes nobody, does it better.

Once the dust settles and the curtain falls, there’s only one question that remains to be asked. ‘Is Skyfall the best James Bond film ever?’ The answer is an undoubted, unshakeable, resounding yes. This is – finally! – the true James Bond. This is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Welcome back, 007. You’ve been gone far too long.

Our rating: A

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