Daniel Craig’s transition to the role of James Bond caused quite the stir back in 2006 with Casino Royale. While stoking debate over whether it was appropriate or not to cast a blond Bond, the film also attempted to apply some timely revisionism to the overly familiar formula of the Pierce Brosnan films, which had become reliant on increasing ridiculousness.
Casino Royale downplayed the reliance on gadget heavy action and increasingly cringe worthy quips, replacing them with a more muscular, gritty style closer to the Timothy Dalton Bond films. The results were mixed as some beloved Bond ideas were diminished (genuinely clever gadgets, larger than life villains and truly smart dialogue), making for a Bond film that wasn’t really Bond.
With Skyfall however, things have changed for Craig’s Bond. Running (to an extent) with the Bond revisionism, director Sam Mendes adds a genuine Bond fandom to proceedings. Bringing the drama to the heart of Bond’s world, Mendes’ film sees an attack on MI6 by an elusive terrorist cell, headed by the creepy Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). As the head of MI6, Bond’s boss M (Judi Dench) finds herself in danger.
Mendes is an English director long known for his work in America, but with Skyfall he brings refreshingly British considerations to his take on Bond. Britain is the centre of the drama, despite hops to Shanghai and Turkey, and Mendes makes particularly good use of subterranean London. Even more welcome is the sprawling, expressionistic landscapes of Scotland, essentially the heartland of the Bond family.
Mendes does well to improve on elements of the Bond legacy that the earlier Craig films did less well. Gadgets are here and they are pleasingly realistic, the Bond girls are better cast (particularly Naomie Harris as Eve) and Craig’s Bond feels more valid and interesting here than he had before; Mendes looks into his scarred psyche à la Bruce Wayne. Mendes even takes the film on a particularly fun jaunt into the Connery era with the surprising appearance of an Aston Martin DB5.
Ironically though it is perhaps the back referencing that makes us realise that, in spite of its overall quality, Skyfall doesn’t have a great deal to say about the contemporary world. There is an attempt to explore how modern society is troubled by faceless peril, via internet terrorism, yet the treatment is muzzled somewhat when Bardem’s larger than life (even camp) villain Silva arrives.
But are real world issues too much to ask from a series twenty-three films long and five decades old? When Bond attempted to step into the modern world during the Brosnan era, the approach was snared by the superficiality of gadgets and gizmos. At least by looking to the past Sam Mendes has created a Bond film that feels genuinely at home with itself.
Ultimately Skyfall marks the point where James Bond could finally go out with a bang. It could be an appropriately reverent swansong to the spy who first hit the screens in 1962 with Dr. No, though inevitably the words ‘James Bond will return’ appear on the screen at the end. Perhaps it is against my better judgement, but I am glad that Bond will return again; maybe to match the quality of Skyfall one day.