Sunday, 28 October 2012

[Review] Skyfall - British, not stirred

Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

As a British citizen, I'm not what you would call patriotic. Yes, I watched this year's Olympic ceremony swelling with pride like the other 62 million of us, but it's a long reach before I'd jump to defend the honour of Ma'am. On top of that I have virtually no interest in flash cars and super gadgets; I prefer my espionage to have some genuine spying involved personally. So the James Bond franchise is a series that has not so much eluded me, but one I have purposely avoided in the hope that I wouldn't become the guy that couldn't get what everyone else did. Still I've caught a few; Daniel Craig's first outing in Casino Royale was the first ever Blu Ray I watched so I guess I owe him for that. When growing up I caught a few of his outings; Dr No, Goldeneye, From Russia with Love, that one in space, among others, so I have just enough understanding to get by, but on the whole I gave the series the shaft in favour of another 20+ film franchise; Godzilla... On reflection I wonder what my parents thought about that...

Still I found myself intrigued by Skyfall, partly because a well-directed action movie is a complete godsend these days (I still haven't managed to catch The Raid yet) and summer was particularly unsatisfying. With director Sam Mendes at the helm I anticipated we would have a more flamboyant and expressive film than the last time I dipped into Bond. I was right; Mendes theatrics are frequently inspired, beginning no less with a terrific, stylish opening credits sequence accompanied by Adele's theme tune extending through a stunning neon fist fight a top a Shanghai skyscraper all the way to the film's fire lit showdown.

This is strictly a British affair here, the exotic locals are all but traded in for the gloomy skies of London and Scotland, save for the opening pre-credits chase and a quick expedition to Shanghai. But Mendes knows how to work his locations, London is naturalistically grey, Scotland has a deathly gloom. The central theme here is motherhood and mortality, so it's only suitable that Bond return to his spiritual and eventually literal home. When Bond is accidentally shot by his partner on a mission recovering a vital stolen hard drive, an order given by M, he is taken for dead. Betrayed, he disappears into obscurity drinking away his nights and days until MI6 is blown up by a super hacker with only the cryptic message of 'Think on your sins' to go on. Bond returns, but he is not the man he used to. Suitably for the character's 50th anniversary Mendes' questions 007s physical and mental age in the face of a modern terror; long gone are the days of evil scientists. This is a different threat. A man who can operate entirely through pushing buttons on a computer, a man who would bring the world to its knees for a single vendetta. Q played, rather slyly, by Ben Whishaw remarks 'I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field.' It's a line that hits home, putting some perspective on how much stock we should really put into the digital world. 

This modern evil is Raoul Silva, played by a bleach blonde Javier Bardem, a former MI6 agent that M had previously left for dead who returns to exact his destructive revenge. His kingdom? An abandoned Communist island. The large stature erected (supposedly to Mao) has been torn down and shattered, illustrating Silva's broken faith in a system that abandoned him. He plays on the fears of a post-July 2005 nation, especially during an extended chase sequence in the London underground. But this is more a personal Greek tragedy than a faceless terrorist plot. The Two sons of M; protector and destroyer. I expected Bond's loyalty to be tested, but I suppose that would not be Bond. 

Speaking of which, Bond is not a stony faced protagonist of recent action films and Mendes' doesn't forget. Sauvé and quick, the script manages to play its soap-opera-esque plot of super-villainy straight faced enough to sell it with conviction, but with enough dry wit and cheeky homages to the character's heritage. This all culminates in the films electrifying final half hour as Bond returns to his country home to prepare for an Assault on Precinct 13 style vintage battle to the death. It is an explosive mix of staging, light and colour as a brilliant orange glow lights the action and creating a distinct apocalyptic tinge.

For someone with such a limited knowledge of Bond, I can tell you now that Skyfall is very good. A few die hard friends of mine are still on a high from their initial viewing. Not just a celebration of the series heritage, but a film that poses questions of its future. Bond will return. The film closes with direct certainty, but in what shape or form remains to be seen. In the mean time we have a glorious vintage response to the recent action movies. Bond is back, and with him gloomy London has never looked better. So a toast to England, to Mendes and of course to 007. Welcome home, James. 


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