As we approach the 50th anniversary of James Bond, it saddens me to admit that the series’ golden age is long over. The days of Connery and Moore have passed us by and most of the attempts at the Bond franchise since Goldeneye have, in my opinion, been lacking. Casino Royale was a welcome surprise, but all of the potential of Daniel Craig’s Bond was squandered in Quantum of Solace. Skyfall is a much needed return to form for the series and a wonderful celebration of how far it has come in 50 years.
Surprisingly, what Skyfall does best is show how outdated the Bond formula has become. The Daniel Craig Bond films up to this point have been rather different to their predecessors, more than partly thanks to the influence of the Bourne trilogy. In general, they’ve been edgier, more action-packed and attempts have clearly been made to distance them from some of the more outdated Bond stereotypes. Despite this, they’re still oh so familiar. Inevitably, at some point in the film there will be globetrotting, a Bond girl, and of course a moment where he says his name in the wrong order. You can see each coming a mile off.
At first I thought Skyfall would continue the trend. All these worn-out aspects are paraded proudly throughout the first hour of the film, but to me it seems it’s been done knowingly. Much like the main characters in the film, director Sam Mendes knows the act is getting old. The ways of the past trying to stay relevant in a new world is a strong theme in Skyfall and one that’s handled excellently. Much like the franchise, Bond and M find themselves caught up in a world that they don’t quite fit into, something they acknowledge at various points in the film.
The other relic of the ‘golden age of espionage’ is Javier Bardem’s Silva, my favourite Bond villain in years. After making an astonishingly powerful entrance, somehow both hilarious and menacing, he remains an incredibly threatening yet entertaining villain. Silva has no grand, or frankly realistic, ambitions of world domination or controlling the global economy, only a simple mission of revenge, When on screen, you can’t keep your eyes off him.
The film is full of standout performances, with Judy Dench, Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw all impressing. Craig cements his place in Bond history with another calm, intelligent and uniquely intimidating take on the character. Dench’s M gets a much larger role in Skyfall, something that perhaps should have been done long ago, as she really steals the show. Her scenes with Craig and Fiennes, who is also great but doesn’t get quite enough screen time, are particularly memorable. Any concerns about Ben Whishaw’s Q should be set aside as he holds his own even amongst the rest of the star-studded cast. After a brief absence for the character, this take on the old Bond regular is very fresh. This Q provides more than just gadgets and personifies the new direction that the series is moving towards.
The second half of the film is where this approach really comes into its own. After the first hour of exotic destinations and Bond standards, the film moves away from the familiar. Although the action is still stellar, it’s delivered at a steadier pace than usual and for the first time in years a lack of a handheld camera allowed me to actually follow fight scenes. It was nice to see the series return to the UK too. Perhaps it was just having grown up in London but the scenes set there had a lot more impact for me than what I’m used to in other action flicks.
Skyfall really stands out as a breath of fresh air among the recent Bond films. The balance of the franchise’s rich heritage and new back to basics approach is handled perfectly, and the parallels between the two are purposefully and tastefully put out on show. As a celebration of James Bond, the film achieves all it sets out to do and makes the series both relevant and exciting once again.