Skyfall: Bond has been Better
I went to see Skyfall this week. I had not read any of the reviews so as not to sway my opinion, (plus I think nine out of ten critics will say whatever the producers tell them to) but the hype has been impossible to avoid. Everyone from the Guardian to the Vatican has been singing Bond’s praises. So is the film any good? Yes, but it’s far from Bond at his best.
Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond begins with 007 in Turkey, accompanied by the beautiful fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and hunting down a hired killer (Ola Rapace) who has stolen a hard drive containing the identities of undercover NATO agents. Bond is left for dead on this mission but returns to the fold after a bomb attack on MI6 headquarters and the publication of NATO agents’ names on the internet. Bond is sent by M to track down ex-MI6 agent Raoul Silva who is responsible for the attacks on his old employer. Silva bears a bitter grudge against M from the days he worked for her in Hong Kong. Bond travels first to Shanghai and then to Macao on the hunt for Silva where he encounters the sexy and mysterious Severine (Berenice Marlohe).
There’s a lot to like about Skyfall. Judi Dench turns in a brilliant performance as M, and Javier Bardem must rank as one of the best Bond villains of the series. Daniel Craig is as strong as ever as Bond. Every Bond film is in a sense tailored to the actor playing Bond, and the areas where Craig is less comfortable in the role fuel some of the film’s weaknesses. The lack of humour is one point. Craig is an intense actor, which is good for exploring Bond’s back-story but falls flat when you consider this secret agent is also supposed to be witty and charming. Bond has become so obstreperous that he seems to be in a constant state of contention with everyone he works with. Another problem is that a distinctive romance seems to be missing for Bond in this film. Bond has always been a bit of chauvinist, but at least in the older Bond films there was always a woman he would share the adventure with. In Skyfall the women flash through the story so quickly that we never truly get to know any of them or understand the attraction. Craig is very much a modern Bond for our times, but when you greatly reduce the romance and humour it becomes less a case of reinventing the formula and more just a lack of confidence in storytelling. No Bond film is perfect, and with so many elements of the formula to include, gun barrel shot, pre-credit sequence, theme song etc., this film felt divided between set pieces that worked and set pieces that didn’t. Quantum of Solace, by comparison, was vastly underrated.
None of the flaws of Skyfall are too big to overcome in future installments (although making Bond black won’t necessarily improve things). Bond has been better before and will be better again.