Bond is back. After financial issues with MGM, the twenty-third Bond film is released, and it really is something special after all the hype. Skyfall is the real deal, a fast-paced thriller that grabs you by the neck from its opening chase scene and barely loosens its grip until the ingeniously crafted ending. Never before has a Bond film felt so new, and yet so old. It ticks every Bond cliché in the book in honour of the 50th anniversary since Sean Connery’s debut Bond was released, Dr No, and how better to celebrate such a brilliant event by giving us one of the finest films of this generation, hell, any generation. Casino Royale was magnificent, but could have been mistaken for Bourne, Quantum of Solace was unconvincing as a Bond film in any manner, all Skyfall does is perfect the formula of Ian Fleming’s flawed hero for the modern era. It makes it look so simple.
Thank the lord for Sam Mendes. He has single-handedly saved the series, breathing new life into the perhaps tired formula by mixing the brutality of Casino Royale with the fun antics of Roger Moore; a mixture which could have gone badly wrong had it not been for this director’s magic touch. Every scene is shot perfectly, every line is a joy and every cliché is a moment of triumph. I would not have Sam Mendes change a single angle, every location is beautiful (even foggy Scotland) and every addition, new and old, is expertly woven into the unfamiliar world for Bond, a world which Ian Fleming would not have understood or indeed have liked. Yet Sam Mendes has completed the transformation; he has brought Bond back from the brink of the last film to truly stand him tall in the 21st century. And because it is the 50th anniversary of the Bond films, Sam Mendes allows himself to have a little fun. The film is packed to the brim full of clichés, not a reference unscathed as we celebrate all things Bond (and not in the tacky way that Quantum of Solace attempted with the reference to Goldfinger). Q is back for the first time since Die Another Day, and in typical modern world style he is a genius barely out of his teens (inspired casting in Ben Whishaw), a modern day Moneypenny (a glaring criticism of mine I’m afraid, she neither sounds or reacts with Bond convincingly) and even the old Aston Martin returns for a brief spin. Bond has never been so refreshingly old.
However, the film would not work without its two leads, and for all of Craig’s wondrous effort, Javier Bardem steals the show as the bond villain, Raoul Silva, who can stand tall as the greatest Bond villain of all time. He winces, he pouts, and he monologues, stealing the show from his first scene to his last, proving the perfect match for Daniel Craig’s updated protagonist. His on-screen presence is bold and intimidating, a dangerous but also humorously camp villain, a breathing insight into how far the series has come from its early adventures. You can argue whether this is the best Bond film for decades to come, but surely no one can deny Raoul Silva stands as the greatest Bond villain ever.
And perhaps we are reunited with the best Bond girl too. M is finally used in the plot, a time for Judi Dench to shine at last. And boy does she do just that. She is cold, ruthlessly professional, and as Bond says when given her name in a word association test, “a bitch”. Yet she is not only the Bond girl, but the Bond mum (never thought I would write that), his mentor and guider, a relationship which is cold but has the undeniable essence of protection for one another. As her past is explored, so is Bond’s, and maybe this is a risk which was not worth taking. I refuse to divulge any spoilers, but Bond’s past is explored in to, which I could have predicted, and the results are mixed. Sam Mendes and the script just manage to pull it off by the skin of their teeth, but just because its the 50th anniversary of the series doesn’t mean we need to see the man behind the gun, the vulnerable figure is apparent to everyone without snooping around his family home. Maybe a bridge of originality too far for Mendes, but an admirable go at exploring the background of one of cinema’s most uncomplicated figures. Nothing else is wrong with this film, even the normally questionable opening credits being a thing of beauty, Adele’s specifically written theme song being perhaps the best Bond tune ever by interweaving the classic theme tune in between the haunting lyrics. Simply put, everything fits in this jigsaw of a film to present one of the movies of the year, and new hope has sprung up from the ashes. The news that Sam Mendes wants to direct another film, and that Daniel Craig has ‘at least one more in him’ means that a repeat case of brilliance is almost guaranteed. There has never been more reason to be excited about the future of this series.
Bond is truly back. The Daniel Craig era has been hampered by the evolution and changes that the modern day requires, yet Skyfall is a classic Bond film for the 21st century. Best Bond film ever? Seeing as my previous title holder was Casino Royale, I would have to say yes. It’s big, it’s beautiful and it’s Bond shaken, but not stirred. A masterpiece.