Skyfall (2012)

The UK has several proud traditions. We have given the world fish and chips as a Friday night dinner treat. We’ve birthed such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Russell Brand. And we pretty much introduced civilisation and culture to most of the known world via our Empire. OK, maybe not all of those are “proud traditions”, but there are several things you’d associate with the United Kingdom. One of our other contributions to the world is one of the best loved spies: one that’s been gracing our screens for 50 years. He may have changed his appearance several times and has been through the good times and bad times, but we’ve always had James Bond to rely on. But with Skyfall, has the time come for the most famous British spy to retire, or should he carry on fighting for Her Majesty?

I don’t think I need to give any clarification of who James Bond (Daniel Craig) is, or what he does. He’s one of the most referenced cultural icons of the 20th and 21st Century. Our latest foray into his world sees Bond pit against Javier Bardem‘s Silva – a guy with a bit of a vendetta against M (Judi Dench) – the head of MI6. What follows is a global romp that sees Bond take in such exotic locations as Shanghai and, erm, Scotland, in an attempt to rid the world of yet another villainous ne’er-do-well.

So far, so good. With Bond you know what you’re going to get right? Bond is inevitably going to have to face off against a “bad guy”. Bond movies are pretty much like a comic book movie – you know what you’re going to get. However, even holding that in mind, I can’t say I was as enamoured with Skyfall as the mass media make out you should be. The UK media has rabidly covered Skyfall calling it “the best Bond ever” and hailing it as a masterpiece. I can’t say I agree. I unduly allowed my expectations to be raised as a result of all this press, but I wish I hadn’t.

So why? Where’s the problem? For me it breaks down to two salient points: poor pacing and characters. In terms of the pacing, I found the first third of the film incredibly slow to develop. Sure, you get the archetypal opening frenzy of action to suck you in, as every action movie worth its chops has. But then it slows and chugs along as we await the introduction of Javier Bardem. Now, this brings in point number two. Bardem‘s opening scene was fabulous and his monologue was delivered incredibly well – I thought “OK, here we go – NOW we’re onto something!”… but this broke down due to flaws in this character’s actions.

For all intents and purposes, Bardem‘s Silva is a technological marvel. One that can manipulate systems at a whim and collapse governments with his abilities. Does this remind you of a villain from elsewhere? How about Timothy Olyphant‘s villain in Die Hard 4? And his flaws are the same as Bardem‘s – namely, this guy is a technologically-bent villain. Therefore why bring yourself into the field of play with a John McClane or James Bond – someone with a very special set of skills in close quarters? You cannot compete. I understand Bardem‘s “personal vendetta”, but regardless, there are better ways of dealing with situations and some of his choices are very farcical for such a “sophisticated” villain.

Linked to this is the fact that the writers seem to have been heavily inspired by the work of Christopher Nolan in the past few years. Silva ultimately comes off as a cross between Oliphant‘s technical wizard and Heath Ledger‘s unhinged Joker, but falls short of the latter. He is nowhere near as threatening a madman as Ledger‘s Joker, nor are his plans as intelligent. Whilst I’m on a character-driven analysis, I’ve got to say a huge “huh?” at the “Bond girl” of the piece: Severin (Bérénice Marlohe). She’s not a driven, independent woman. She’s a slave and someone who’s been brutalised sexually in the past. It sounds like she’s had a horrible life. So you’ve really got to question what the hell Bond is doing getting “intimate” with her when you hold her background in mind. Sure James, she’s a stunning lady, but do you really think that’s what she wants?!

And finally I come to Daniel Craig‘s Bond. I can’t fault him as an actor. His Bond is most definitely “his”, but I still think Casino Royale was the better of Craig‘s entries in the role so far. The criticisms of his other entries, namely his more gritty approach, are as true here as ever. Bond fans looking for a return to the quippy Bond of yesteryear will still be disappointed, although there is a good deal of humour in the film which provides some lovely moments. I don’t personally hold these issues with Craig‘s Bond, as each actor has brought his own take on the role and Craig definitely rejuvenated the franchise after Pierce Brosnan‘s less than impressive final entries. So although I’m not going to extol the virtues of this film, as some others may, I can say that this is yet another strong entry from Daniel Craig in a perfectly serviceable Bond film. Avid Bond fans will love it, but the more casual viewer may have one or two issues…

Skyfall definitely makes up for the misstep that was Quantum of Solace, but failed to captivate me in the way that Casino Royale did. So in my humble opinion, this isn’t the “best Bond ever”, but then again, I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the Bond franchise. I think my biggest obsession came with Nintendo’s Goldeneye video game in the late 1990’s, where I spent countless hours chasing after Sean Bean‘s 006 through Russia and getting constantly annoyed by Boris declaring “I am invincible!” at every opportunity with his brick-esque head right up in my face.

Ultimately, Bond continues to be one of those characters we can be most proud of, and the latest instalment in the franchise is by no means the worst and is definitely in the top quarter of the 23. All the acting is solid and the plot is fair enough. It’s just a shame that the writing was sub-standard and let the film down. It’s akin to having fish and chips with no mushy peas. Sure, we like the fish and chips, but you cannot miss out the mushy peas.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star