Guest Post: Skyfall (2012)

For fifty years now, 007 has entertained us with his antics, action and not just a little bit of skirt-wrangling. Skyfall sees Daniel Craig take on the role of Bond for the third time and promises to deliver another hefty dose of explosions, breath-taking locations, strong Bond-trademarked musical scores, suspense and crazy villains. All the reasons we keep coming back for more!

But did the much anticipated (and much delayed) Bond number 23 live up to my high expectations? Read on to find out.

Okay, full disclosure: I slept through the car flip scene in Casino Royale. And I find a lot of the modern Bond films to be thinly veiled product placement – as the parade of Bond-themed adverts before the film seemed to confirm. Bond phones, Bond man-perfume, cars, gadgets… it all seems to have become a bit of a marketing ploy.

BUT, I grew up watching these films and in every one there are redeeming features which make me forget that the film makers have effectively smeared “BUY IT ALL” in poo across my car windscreen.

So, find a comfy seat and we’ll begin.

Non-spoilery overview: Though it’s a slow-grower (action packed from the get go, but a little too cold in the beginning for my liking) and I don’t really rate the Raoul Silva character as a Bond villain, I did walk out of the cinema feeling mostly satisfied. It’s not my favourite Bond film by a country mile, but there were definite hints of a return to the golden days of Bond.

Watch this film if you enjoy a bit of Bond and you can overlook the sometimes shallow characters, massive plot-holes and lashings of product placement.

Don’t watch this film if you have a fear of heights, water or CGI komodo dragons.

[Warning – Spoiler alert. I’ve always been crap at keeping secrets.]

The film opens to immediate suspense, with Daniel Craig forming a Slenderman-esque figure at the end of a shadowy hallway. Atmospheric music kicks in as Craig advances towards the camera, and suddenly we’re in the midst of the action.

Now, it’s not rare by any means for a Bond film to begin in the middle of an MI6 operation – however there are no jovial hijinks to be found here. M appears cold and bitter, ordering 007 to leave behind a dying agent and take off on a car chase (which quickly becomes a race across the rooftops on motorcycle, followed by fisticuffs on top of a moving train) with a new agent, played by Naomie Harris.

Their target is a mercenary by the name of Patrice who has gotten hold of a hard drive containing the aliases of all the undercover NATO agents. M is getting a bit slack on the security these days, it would seem.

After a long chase, M is left with the choice of letting the bad guy slip away or ordering the agent at the scene to take a risky shot and potentially hit Bond. She chooses the latter and after a single shot, there is radio silence before we hear “Agent down” and Bond is lost to the fast moving river below.

Daniel Craig will always seem like an odd choice for Bond to me. Having grown up watching Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan, suddenly facing a harsher, colder Bond threw me off a bit. But I guess it makes sense to shake things up for the film franchise by hiring someone who looks like they ought to be the bad guy.

All over the world people drool over his chiselled features, hairy man-chest and piercing blue eyes. But even after watching this fan video for his earlier work in Tomb Raider, he just doesn’t really float my boat.

However as the film progressed I let go of my reservations, as I did with Craig’s previous two rounds as Bond, and settled in for the ride.

And it really is quite a ride: from backstreet bazaars in Turkey to a very clean looking London, via the bright lights (and heights – vertigo warning) of Shanghai. Then on to a foggy glen in Scotland, because that’s what it all looks like here, honestly folks. The rumours you’ve heard about jakies, junkies and Buckfast-fueled brawls are all nonsense.

All of the locations were visually stunning, with architecture and landscapes which at times threatened to upstage the acting. However, a big part of Bond films are the exotic locations, so we can forgive this a little.

On a side note, my goodness the Chinese like their lights.

Whilst the backdrop of Turkey and then Shanghai and the tiny deserted Japanese island where villain Raoul Silva sets up his secret base, the UK locations had quite a lot to compete with. They held their own, though, with London looking freakishly clean but magnificent as ever and the Scottish location where Bond’s childhood home could be found was suitably hilly, misty and mysterious, much like Bond’s own past.

But wait… England’s best known secret agent is actually – GULP – Scottish?

Yep, he’s been Scottish since Sean Connory’s portrayal of Bond in the 60s affected author Ian Flemming’s development of Bond’s background story in his second last novel, You Only Live Twice. We’ve got Irn Bru, a battered version of any food you could imagine AND James Bond. Who’s laughing now, England?

Ahem… back to the film.

Aside from Craig’s hard-faced and much grittier portrayal of Bond, other key performances include Dame Judy Dench as a world weary and bitter M, Javier Bardem as agent-turned-villain Raoul Silva, Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory (a character who infuriates, but eventually wins the audience’s affection), the aforementioned Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw as ‘the new Q’ – which stands for ‘quartermaster’ by the way, who knew? – another character who you don’t want to trust at first, but who slowly wins the audience over as time goes on.

As a Bond villain, I didn’t really rate Raoul Silva. Maybe in a different film, where Javier Bardem’s intense brand of crazy wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by all of the action, car chases and over-shooting. Raoul is described as being frightening, terrifying. Sévérine, a ‘plot device’ character you’ll hear more about later, is seen to be visibly afraid of the man. Yet, Raoul isn’t that physically intimidating. He just seems like a bit of a sad man with a mummy complex.

It is ultimately Naomie Harris’s character who wins out on the Bond girl front. She actually steals the show from Bond a bit, seeming smart, independent and not totally enthralled by Bond’s sleezy ways (at one point she does give him a straight razor shave… but that really doesn’t count as sexy in my books. Though, perhaps for an adrenaline junkie like Bond it might raise a tent-pole to have a girl with a razor that close to his jugular). Which is why I was a bit depressed when, at the end of the film, it was revealed that her name is “Eve Moneypenny” and that she has decided she’s not really into active duty. When we last see her, she is slipping behind what looks suspiciously like a secretary’s desk. Boo.

Even M lets the girls down a bit, as she ends up becoming the damsel in distress towards the film’s final act. But, bloody hell… that scene in the church. Just watch the film, for that scene if nothing else. Powerful stuff.

As for the boys, Ben Wishaw and Ralph Fiennes are my favourite new additions. Wishaw’s Q is initially a bit adolescent (“Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”) but he definitely comes through for Bond in the end.

Secondary to these are the so-called ‘plot device’ characters, the most unfortunate of whom is Sévérine played by Bérénice Marlohe.

Sévérine serves only as the piece of ass used to trick Bond into Raoul Silva’s trap, which is extremely disappointing. For one thing, she’s gorgeous. Not to mention that the character has a crapload of brutal background history which is covered briefly then immediately forgotten about so Bond can hop aboard her boat and give her some surprise shower sex. Easily the most shallow and disappointing character in the film – they even kill her off no more than twenty minutes after she first appears. I know that there’s always a character like this in Bond films, but they usually get at least a few interesting lines and maybe even a bit of an adventure before they bite the dust. Not so in this case.

Other ‘plot device’ characters include Rory Kinnear as the MI6 chief of staff (who seemed nice, but who I forgot about until I went back to the Skyfall IMDB page to check names), Helen McCrory who plays a grouchy bitch-lady minister beautifully, and the lovable Albert Finney as Kincade, who looks after Bond’s childhood home, the grand Skyfall estate.

Kincade has some of my favourite lines in the film. Whilst practicing shooting with Bond, he calls him a “jumped-up little shit”. Later when things go a bit Home Alone and the group attempt to fortify the house against oncoming attack Kincade unleashes a hail of bullets, BANG BANG BANG, and calls out, “Welcome to Scotland!”

Sam Mendes does beautiful scenery and dramatic dialogue well. The lighting in the film is first class, especially in the final battle between Bond and Silva. The score is, as always, thoroughly Bond. When you hear the “DOO DOO DE DOO”, you know shit is going down.

Even the product placement I can forgive to some extent: It can’t be cheap to run all those pyrotechnics and keep Bond in designer suits. However, as in the first few scenes of the film, when content is overwhelmed by products (the VW Beetles and CAT digger on the train, etc.) it does start to look like Bond is a cheap mannequin for consumer products aimed at those who aspire to live his playboy/secret agent/cool guy lifestyle, or the lifestyle of the traditionally glamorous and bejeweled Bond girls.

In all (and after a slow start) the film delivers what every Bond film should – the good (if slightly morally questionable) guy wins after a long, car chase and explosion filled battle and everyone goes home happy. Perhaps this time with a bit more realism in the flaws of characters like Bond and M – which wasn’t, considering the vapidity and obvious commercialism of some of the initial scenes, a bad thing to add.

***

The Bond Awards (Like the Oscars, but with less funding)

Best Extras

My favourite extras in the film were those used in the scenes in London (Tube stations and Tube trains). It pretty much looks like the crew hauled some folk off the street and said “act natural”. The result of this is the extra who waddles past the camera as though he has recently pooped his pants.

Honourable mention goes to the woman on the Tube train who pulls what can only be described as a ‘chewing camel’ face when Bond passes by her to get to the next compartment.

Best Baddy Death

Death by CGI Komodo Dragon.

Okay, they’re no laser sharks, but these CGI Komodos love to chew on human flesh in the glow of soft candlelight. Hardcore!

Most Awesome Stunt

I would have to vote for the digger to train carriage jump fiasco. Though there were a few others which came pretty close.

Worst Fake Accent

Actually, I didn’t notice any this time, which makes a change for Bond!

Biggest Plot Hole

Tough one – either how Raoul gets out of his Magneto-style plastic tank, or how Bond manages to teleport to a tropical island after his fall from a speeding train into a raging river in Turkey.

And Finally… Most Unrealistic Moment

High speed chases, MI6 security breaches, I can take it all. But the extreme lack of abandoned Asda trollies at the bottom of that frozen Scottish lake? Highly unrealistic.

One Response to Guest Post: Skyfall (2012)

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