Friday, 23 November 2012


It's Bond, it's Daniel Craig, and it's definitely worth watching, but on the whole it feels like the late noughties "Bond revolution" has come full circle

Ah, Cool Britannia...

To watch Skyfall is to be reminded of Pierce Brosnan's James Bond flicks and also a quote that was once applied to former US President Bill Clinton – that is to say, something that tries to be all things to all people will eventually earn no gratitude. It's the compromising, coy outlook of director Sam Mendes and the fanboyish tendencies of screenwriter John Logan that make this 50th anniversary outing less than what it could have been. Of course, it's not the self-indulgent disaster that Die Another Day was – with a cast like this, how could it be? -  but it has an unfocused nature that hangs over the film like an incurable malady. A writer like Logan is great at creating standout moments, but his scripts make no sense when contemplated (I'll continue to believe that the background work of Stephen Sondheim, Tim Burton and the cast truly made Sweeney Todd what it was) and this mantra just about rings true for Skyfall. It's very tempting to argue that the Bond series has fallen into epic self-congratulation again following the welcomingly brutal detour taken during the early Daniel Craig years.

"Where's my air gun?"
One of the joys, if you can call it that, of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace was watching 007 cope "on his own" in a brutal world where no one seemed fully certain about who they knew, where they were going or what they were doing. Elements of this are retained in Skyfall's plot, a blend of cyber-terrorism, all out terrorism and personal vendetta revolving around chief antagonist Raoul Silva - portrayed by a barely present Javier Bardem - while Bond and Judi Dench's M are forced to confront both their past and their future, all whilst a series of action scenes, big speeches and newly iconic introductions are taking place. It's a highly promising set-up, but what we get amounts to not that much more than Die Hard 4.0 blown up to epic proportions and with a much weaker "villain". It's not that Bardem needs a lot of screen time to succeed – he was effortlessly commanding in his all too brief cameo in Collateral – but he's working with the wrong director. There's little in Silva that's truly intimidating, a real condemnation of Sam Mendes' ability to direct actors (as time goes by, Kevin Spacey is proving the exception to the rule) and a sobering reminder of what could have been had Michael Mann or the Coens been directing Bardem. There's no sense of menace here; Jesper Christensen, as the even more marginal and shadowy Mr. White, was far more frightening.

"What am I doing in Octopussy?"
If Casino Royale was clever enough to tie itself in with the banking crisis by making money the root of the story – likewise Quantum Of Solace with modern day terrorism - Skyfall seems to exist in a cloud, like neither Royale nor Quantum even happened. It’s as if Mendes cannot master the clarity, interconnectivity and emotionalism that made Nolan's Batman trilogy and the first two Die Hard flicks such successful films. While it’s true that Bond’s "me against the world" mentality – brought up in the last two films because he eventually felt he had no choice – is retained here, it fails to resonate on the same level because of Mendes' uncertain flippancy. There are moments where one feels like we're watching Daniel Craig in a Roger Moore film – an awkward concoction indeed. Far too much about Skyfall feels redundant, whether it's the title tune (bland), Berenice Marlohe's "Bond Girl" (who gets a predicable denouement) or the self-indulgent references to previous Bonds (I counted at least four in the pre-credits sequence alone).

Skyfall is at its best when it concentrates on the elements of loss and mistrust hinted at in Royale and Quantum, and also when Mendes stops trying too hard, allowing both cast and cinematographer to shine. There's plenty here to keep Bondians tickled, such as likable, convincing performances from Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes (both were due a big break, and I'm happy to see them get it here), the highly amusing introduction of the new Q (Ben Wishaw) and the inimitable Albert Finney. The pleasures we ultimately get from Skyfall seem geared to capitalise, perhaps overly so, on the goodwill carried over from the London Olympics; and we know it's not going to last.

Fans will probably argue that it is best that the Bond series seems to be going in this direction – that it's no longer "pretending to be smart and realistic" – except the smart pseudo realism of the Daniel Craig era has been the very essence of its appeal. Iconic though the ending feels, it also leaves one with a feeling of unease, the same unease Mendes displays when directing this film. He doesn't seem to know if Bond should be a remedy for the zeitgeist or a reflection of it – and by trying to have it both ways, he ends up with something that's far less than the sum of its parts.