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Skyfall

October 28, 2012
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I’m a bit of a geek about Bond. Well, I’m a bit of a geek about a lot of things. Growing up as a slightly awkward, slightly uncool child will do that to you. Anyway, despite doubts after MGM’s demise, James Bond has returned!

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Skyfall is the 23rd film to feature James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It opens in Istanbul where Bond (Daniel Craig) is trying to track down a recently stolen hard drive. He chases the thief, a man named Patrice, across the city on motorbikes first before the action moves to a fight sequence atop a moving train. Trailing all this is a second agent played by Naomie Harris. With the train getting away from her, and hastened by M (Judi Dench) back in London, she takes a shot at Patrice. She misses and hits Bond, who is knocked off the train into a river far below.

The end.

Or rather, that’s when the title sequence, with Adele’s theme song, comes in and the film begins in earnest. The hard drive that was stolen contained the names of all NATO agents currently infiltrating terrorist and criminal groups. Losing it, then, was a bad thing. M is under increasing pressure from Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, to step down. She declines and stubbornly vows to get the hard drive back. However, on her way back to MI6, she learns that the missing hard drive is currently being hacked from her office computer, shortly before the office blows up.

Bond, meanwhile, is not dead. Not that anyone thought he was. Instead, he was enjoying a holiday of sun, sex and…scorpions. News of the MI6 blast prompts him to return. He is caught up to speed while undergoing fitness-to-operate tests in the underground bunkers of MI6 (Since Vauxhall Cross was somewhat compromised). Shrapnel from one Patrice’s shots in the opening (Which Bond only decides to excise now) reveal his identity*. Bond is sent to Shanghai to await him – But not before meeting with Q (Ben Whishaw) to receive a new gun and an emergency radio.

“What did you expect? An exploding pen?”

In Shanghai, Bond trails Patrice to an assassination. Once the job is done, they fight and Bond grabs Patrice before he can fall out of the window. However, before he can extract any information, Patrice falls. No worry, as he left behind a gambling chip for a Macau gambling den. He collects a case of four million euros, Patrice’s payment, and meets with Sévérine, a femme fatale who he saw as the scene of Patrice’s assassination. She agrees to take Bond to her boss, the man with the hard drive – but only if he defeats her bodyguards, who are going to kill him…

That’s enough plot for one blog but I will say there were Komodo dragons after that point.

Skyfall‘s a rather strange film. On the one hand, it’s faithfully checking off the list of Bond tropes; national security at stake, exotic locales, exciting action chases, femme fatales, badder-than-bad bad guys. But on the other, it’s treading some very unfamiliar ground. Political pressure on the Secret Service (Between this and The Thick of It, I think everyone wants an inquiry in their stuff now), strong characterisation of the main characters, M and MI6 vulnerable, on the backfoot. Virgin territory (Apart from the opening to The World is Not Enough). It’s good to see alongside dependable familiarities new life being breathed into the franchise. Furthermore, it’s even better to see this new life in the form of genuinely superior storytelling, instead of, say, an invisible car (Die Another Day, you know who you are).

There are times when this doesn’t even feel like a Bond film. A very good film but nothing we can compare to any of the previous 22 installations. But then Daniel Craig jumps in an Austin Martin DB5 and all is right with the world. When I saw that, I genuinely pissed rainbows.

The acting delivers on the script, top class. Daniel Craig is very easily a brilliant Bond (despite being so very blond). Small tells and physical movements betray volumes about his very stoical characters. Then contrast that with all his action sequences, which are highly entertaining. Judi Dench gives the performance of her Bond career, especially so since so much of the plot focuses on her. Like Craig’s Bond, she comes across as someone aged and vulnerable, but still determined to finish the job. Javier Bardem plays the baddie, Raoul Silva. A ridiculously bleached and camp villain (second only to Mr Wint from Diamonds Are Forever), he is that brand of psychopath that having worked a dirty job for so long (An MI6 agent in Hong Kong, under M’s direction) that he becomes a monster. Aside from having a rather weak motive (Something vague about revenge, which seems to be vogue at the moment), he is a superior villain, a cold-blooded killer and severely emotionally unhinged. I am certain that his first scene, a long slow, monologing walk to a chair-bound Bond will go down in cinematic history. Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris et al all provide strong supporting performances.

This film marks 50 years of James Bond in cinema. As such, nostalgia permeates this film. However, it doesn’t get so lost in in-jokes that it neglects the current story. This is homage done right. It doubly pleasing when an installment pays proper tribute to the giants whose shoulders it finds itself on.. Nods are made some of Q’s most famous gadgets (See above) and the DB5 makes a glorious return. The final scene is startlingly familiar to something between 1962 and 1985 (Connery to Moore).

This is an exceptional film and it is an exceptional Bond film. Geek or no geek, you will enjoy this film. You have a license to be thrilled. (Oh God. Author hangs his head in shame) But I sincerely doubt anyone’s decision to watch this film or not will be based on my humble review. The film speaks for itself.

* – The shrapnel is revealed to be made of depleted uranium. Niche ammunition, pinning it down to Patrice but props to Bond as well. Not only is it still radioactive, weakly, but it’s also fairly toxic. Also, as you’d expect from Element 92, it’s really dense so it’s impressive that it didn’t blow Bond’s shoulder off. This last point is nodded to in the film.

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