A Skyfall review to challenge all others.

For Bond fans, the next film in the series is always highly anticipated. I had therefore prepared for the next instalment by watching the latest trailer, listening to the soundtrack repeatedly and almost writing a five-star review for this movie before I had seen it. When I actually dragged myself to the cinema to check that Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film produced by Eon, was as I had expected – fantastic – I was unimaginably disappointed. The pre-title scene, shot in Istanbul, contains most of the trademark Bond scenes: an object of worth to MI6 in the hands of the enemy, hand-to-hand combat, a chase involving fast vehicles and Bond coming out on top. Check, check, check – the fight scene is even on top of a train for extra points! It is fantastic. At this point you’re probably asking what I have to complain about. Well, just before Adele’s brilliant Skyfall theme plays, James Bond is shot off the roof of the train; he falls from the height of the bridge the train is travelling over and lands, neck-first, into the water far below. Surely this is a recipe for certain death? Apparently not, but my problem is much more fundamental than life or death: one does not simply just shoot James Bond.

From the moment Bond is not instantly killed after landing on his neck, I am disappointed. The film is well over two hours in duration, but did not seem lengthy, mainly due to the class of the actors and action, which is generally good; however, the villain, played by Javier Bardem, certainly isn’t. With hair inspired by Danny DeVito’s ginger mop in Matilda, teeth dissolved by cyanide and the most annoying tone of voice, ever, it’s difficult to determine where this character went so wrong.

I dislike the way Daniel Craig plays Bond too. I don’t blame him – I blame the writers, producers and directors who have decided his character must be “gritty”. What is gritty anyway? It certainly doesn’t match Connery’s style, Lazenby’s brevity, Moore’s sophistication, Dalton’s emotion or Brosnan’s suave ability to vanquish anyone whilst nonchalantly sipping a vodka martini. James Bond is a timeless character, fabricated to serve “Queen and Country” and in doing so, transcend the boundaries of age and time. Craig’s grittyness leads to his Bond struggling with looking older, more bruised and ultimately unfit for purpose – a fact M overlooks in Skyfall, and sends him on assignment regardless.

The scriptwriters also seemed to be determined to subtly ruin this film, by not-so-subtly acknowledging almost every previous Bond film. We saw the car from Goldfinger, with original and fully operational gadgets, which was unceremoniously destroyed in the film’s final battle scene. Nods were given to the hall of mirrors in The Man with the Golden Gun, the train-top fight in Octopussy and stepping on the reptile to escape, as in Live and Let Die, amongst others. Q, who has morphed into a techno-geek just out of nappies, dropped the clanger, “we don’t go in for exploding pens anymore”, referring to the Goldeneye gadget. However, exploding pens are exactly what any Bond audience wants! In fact, I wish Bond had used one on him. To the trained Bond fan, these acknowledgements may have served to subtly inject nostalgia and wit into the film – I have to disagree. I do recognise the need to celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Bond, but this certainly was not the way to do so. Perhaps filming a classic and memorable Bond film, with a truly evil villain, brilliant gadgets, exotic locations and a plot would have served as a better tribute?

So, to answer the question posed in the title: I bloody well hope Skyfall is not the start of a new Bond era! The previous 22 films, which have enjoyed such praise as “the most successful film franchise…ever”, were built upon three basic foundations. A car chase scene, utilising awe-inspiring gadgets, is almost mandatory. Comedy, especially from Bond, is vital and the film should end with Bond and his Bond girl enjoying their victory. The distinct lack of all three was conspicuous in Skyfall, clearly a set-up for the next instalment. Luckily Albert Finney, playing the role of the gamekeeper of Bond’s late parents’ Scottish estate, brought some class and humour in delivering the film’s best line, “Welcome to Scotland!”, after dispatching several assailants, but this wasn’t enough to patch up the dodgy script. Finally, I haven’t named Javier Bardem’s villainous character in this review, due solely to the fact I never picked it up whilst watching the film. A film whose primary antagonist is not instantly memorable has surely failed.

 

Ian Barnett

Image by Marcos Kontze