Some belated notes on Skyfall, long after any discussion has finished so I could talk about it with some spoilers, just to get things out of my head. In an interview, Sam Mendes (the first Oscar winner to direct a James Bond movie) talked about the slight influence of The Dark Knight on his approach to directing Skyfall, and how he could make a darker movie with an established cinematic character.
The strange thing is that there are other influences of the Christopher Nolan reinvigoration of Batman in the script itself. The main connection is between the bad guy of Skyfall, Silva (played by Javier Bardem with blonde hair and eyebrows) and Heath Ledger’s Joker: they both have the ability to calculate a wide-ranging plan that involves their deliberate capture and other elements that are outside of their control but have predicted will occur based on the knowledge of what the systems will do once they set their plans in motion; this level of predictive power seems to be outside their displayed range of character – the Joker is a psychopath who wants chaos yet somehow shows amazing levels of discipline and research to obtain his goal, while Silva was a secret agent in the field who now displays ‘movie level’ (i.e. completely implausible) hacking skills; there is even a visual link between them in the disfigurements around their mouths. There is also a reveal at the end where a character’s name is dropped to appeal to fans of the Bond movies that reminded me of the similar one at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. It was quite disconcerting.
Skyfall is a film that celebrates Bond in his 50th year onscreen and, in doing so, tries to have its cake and eat it by maintaining the Bourne-style Bond of Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale but also throwback to the well-known tropes of the Bond canon. After an opening chase scene, there is a classic Bond opening credits sequence of twirling shapes and Craig shooting mirrors with the Walther PPK and naked women, all to the thundering theme song by Adele, with excessive mention of the name of the film in the lyrics. There is a new (and younger) Q in the form of Ben Whishaw, there’s a cameo from the original Aston Martin (and mention of the ejector seat) and there’s more quipping in this film, although not to the level of Roger Moore’s eyebrow acting. It seemed a bit odd after trying to ground Bond in a newer, harsher reality in Casino Royale and the weaker Quantum of Solace (the only positive to come out of Quantum of Solace is the alternative theme song by Joe Cornish), but perhaps it’s because I’m not a huge Bond fan that it seemed noticeable.
Skyfall is a smaller, more intimate Bond film. The notional villain may look unusual and have an island base, but the story is about Silva going after M – Bond does fly to exotic locations to discover who he is, and sleep with women and kill henchmen, but it’s all about protecting M and the relationship she has with the agents she controls. It’s an unusual approach for Bond movies, which are usually about someone doing something horrible that will have a drastic effect on the world, and I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting this storyline from this film when I had seen such good reviews for the film, which has had an effect on my appreciation for the film. There is also some delving into Bond’s past as a child, as the family home is revisited and the past still haunts him.
It is a well-made film: Mendes shows he can do action (and gets Roger Deakins to shoot it beautifully) and he works well with the actors, who all do a good job – Craig inhabits the character in the way he moves but also handles the emotional levels; Judi Dench is excellent as usual, and it’s great to see more of her in this film; Bardem is suitably creepy and odd as the villain; and it’s nice to see the quality of actors in a Bond film with the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear and Helen McCrory. There are good set pieces, plenty of well-choreographed action, and London looks like London in a film, which makes for a nice change.
There are some things that annoyed me to the point of taking me out of the film. There was a small thing (someone getting into a lift and not turning around so Bond could do a cool thing), a slightly bigger thing (Bond doesn’t shoot to wound Silva at a critical juncture for no reason whatsoever, allowing Silva to do something that allows him to escape), a London-centric thing (how can Bond and Silva slide down the escalators on the underground when, in real life, there are metal protrusions all the way along to stop you doing exactly that?) but there was a huge thing: Q is investigating the computer of the implausibly super hacker Silva, which has hacked into MI6 computers and blown up part of the building, and he connects it to MI6’s network in order to hack it – this is incredibly stupid (has he never seen any film ever?) and requires a character who is intelligent to do something absurdly idiotic for the sake of the plot. Sigh.
Overall, I guess I enjoyed Skyfall and would probably recommend it, although I’m not as overwhelmed by it as a lot of professional critics have been, so your mileage may vary.