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?"|
|"What am I doing in Octopussy?"|
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.