If, like me, you’re an Ian Fleming fan first and a Bond movie fan second, mark my words: you will love SKYFALL. If however, you prefer the vodka martinis, the cheesy one-liners, or the gadgets and gimmicks of earlier Bond films – the exploding pens, invisible cars and so on– don’t despair. The essential ingredients of the 007 franchise – glamour, humour, charm - are still front and centre in the long-awaited 50th anniversary 23rd film directed by Sam Mendes, but they’re present in a way that is much more a reflection of our times and tastes. The requirement to suspend your disbelief still holds strong and there’s just enough of the old tricks & gadgets to remind you of the rich history behind any Bond film. Besides, I’d be a hypocrite if I decried any story that presents such a perfect balance of gritty realism with a liberal dose of escapism!
I was more engaged by Daniel Craig this time around than I was in his last outing, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, in which I found his Bond surly and arrogant. For the record, he was incredible in CASINO ROYALE - I saw that film half a dozen times at the cinema. Back then, Craig convincingly portrayed the raw material that would become the secret agent – the wet-behind-the-ears new boy under immense pressure to prove himself worthy of Double-0 status. A nice parallel given that Craig’s appointment as the new 007 met with a fierce backlash from diehard fans. Craig had as much to prove as Bond himself. His hunger to prove the detractors wrong was palpable in CASINO ROYALE and in SKYFALL he has very successfully channelled that hunger again.
In his performance, the core elements that drive the man to act so selflessly and under any circumstances on behalf of his country – loyalty, integrity, devotion to duty – are not affected, they’re just there. The relationship between Bond and his boss, M, once again played with such conviction by the inimitable Judi Dench, is an obvious metaphor for everything we have come to expect of the character – the quintessentially tenacious British Bulldog. In his devotion and loyalty to M, the lofty ideal of serving Queen & Country as courageously and unreservedly as 007 does, is presented perfectly in a very intimate and familial way which makes the entire premise utterly believable. This is underpinned by the majestic yet understated performance of Javier Bardem in the guise of agent-gone-bad, Silva. In fact, Bardem’s opening scene involves an extremely challenging sexually charged situation involving Bond. It was unexpected but brilliantly done and the confidence, reality and humour conveyed by both actors is priceless.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Silva is no megalomaniac. His motivations and objectives are significantly more clinical, more personal than the Blofeld-Stromberg-Drax variety of the old days and this is what is so engaging. He has been personally wronged, he has suffered intolerably as a result and he is hell bent on revenge at any cost. We’ve all been there, right? More than anything Silva is flawed (obviously), vulnerable (disturbingly so) and damaged (beyond repair). But what makes this film so great is that these traits are equally true of Bond and M. The history and volatility that connects this unlikely threesome - 007, M & Silva - is the centrepiece of the entire narrative and its strength and plausibility is achieved by the outstanding performances of all three.
If you haven’t guessed already, I absolutely loved this movie. This is not the Bond of Connery, or Lazenby, or Moore, Dalton or Brosnan. Daniel Craig has indisputably captured the Bond who clung protectively to Gala Brand under a shower while the tiles blistered and boiling water rained down upon their bodies, as an atom bomb launched just metres away through a blast wall in MOONRAKER, 1955. His Bond is the guy you can imagine, swimming through Caribbean coral at midnight to rescue Solitaire, with spear gun in hand and a limpet mine strapped to his chest, running the gauntlet of sharks and barracuda in pitch darkness only to be dragged down to the edge of death by a murderous octopus in LIVE AND LET DIE, 1954.
As a fan who first discovered Ian Fleming & James Bond as a teenager back in 1977, I feel as though the franchise has finally gone full circle. The earliest films – DR NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER & THUNDERBALL – all remained reasonably true to the original novels. After that it was pretty much a free-for-all in terms of outlandish plots and spectacular stunts. With Daniel Craig’s entry to the series, CASINO ROYALE began the process of returning us to the raw material, QUANTUM OF SOLACE was a bit try hard, but now SKYFALL has absolutely hit the mark.
In SKYFALL Daniel Craig returns 007 to the world imagined by his creator, his family seat, his history and his heritage.
It is unequivocally the Bond of Ian Fleming.
This post first appeared on Momentum blog.