Saturday 27 October 2012

Skyfall (2012) - Sam Mendes

And so, with the 50th anniversary of Bond, comes Skyfall to mark a crossroads for the series.  Mendes’ film is the past, present and future of Bond rolled into one Daniel Craig shaped package.  Expectations were high, but are just about met – it may not quite reach the absolute peak of the series, but pieces together its best bits for an immensely thrilling ride. 

Skyfall perfectly balances old and new to shoot at the heart of the character.  This is truly a Bond film for Bond fans.  There’s a clear sense of glamour here, with the exotic locales, sexy women and Bond’s impeccable suits.  The impressive cinematography maintains the film and the character’s stylish sophistication (particularly the Macau casino sequence), though it always stays grounded in gritty reality as has become de rigueur in recent years.  Certainly, this is well worth the extra price of admission to watch on IMAX screens.

At heart, though, Bond is a killer.  As he says during word association, “murder = employment”.  The film bristles with icy cool detachment, particularly in Shanghai where the brutal fight is depicted in silhouette against harsh neon lighting and cold mirrored glass.  The film’s opening alone is a heart-stopping sequence that packs in all the high-octane action, fights and car chases you could want from Bond, edited to an intense tempo.  Central to it all is 007 himself and, throughout the film, Craig balances suave and fierceness to perfection, rarely without a glint in his eyes.  His Bond doesn't forget to adjust his cuffs in the midst of a fight.

A Bond film would be nothing, however, without an intriguing story to tie these elements together and it’s here that Skyfall stumbles slightly.  After such an exhilarating start, the film never quite matches the high standard set and the narrative doesn't quite flow as naturally as you’d like, forcing in the typical Bond elements.  Though Naomie Harris charms with limited screen time, Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine is a disappointment, being largely irrelevant to the plot besides some cheeky sex.  Yet with M as the focus of the plot, Dench proves herself to be the ultimate Bond girl.  Luckily, Javier Bardem’s Silva is a suitably psychotic villain.  Similarly to Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, he straddles the delicate line between maniacal madman and believable terrorist, with an amusing, though not always terrifying, performance.  Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw are also welcome additions to the franchise.

Watching Skyfall is rather like clearing out your bedroom: you rediscover innumerate hidden treasures, but ultimately you’re left with a clean slate.  Paying homage to the past results in some comedic one-liners that not only allow Bond to poke fun at himself, but allow Mendes to look back on the series and note its faults with a wry smile.  Thomas Newman’s score, too, combines the classic Bond theme (often with humorous consequences) with dark, modern production – even Adele’s theme song blends past grandeur with current tastes.  By literally and figuratively erasing the past, Mendes has clearly led the way for a new generation of Bond films and the future is undoubtedly bright. 

Mendes has also created a very British Bond, proving the spy really is the British film industry’s not so secret weapon.  Set predominantly in London and brimming with landmarks, Skyfall is not only the perfect contemporary Bond in terms of balancing old and new, but it’s the perfect Bond for post-Olympic Britain, celebrating the best of British cinematic royalty.  In the words of M, Bond is “an exemplary of British fortitude”. 

Cheers to the next fifty years Bond; this vodka martini is for you.