I’m very close to the present now, with 2012’s Skyfall up for perusal. Sam Mendes has the clapboard this time around, with a solid-rock record behind him and the job of getting the franchise back on track after the disappointing Quantum of Solace. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Dr. No film, so accordingly there are riffs back to the history of this ludicrous series without turning into a nostalgia fest.
Bond is back in Istanbul, on the tail of Patrice (Ola Rapace), who has made off with a hard drive with the name of every NATO agent, so it’s imperative Bond gets it back. He’s accompanied by Eve (Naomie Harris), who tries to keep up as Bond pursues Patrice through the city, hooning across the top of the Grand Bazaar on postie bikes and finally catching up on top a train where Bond improvises when he loses his gun.
The foes slug it out as Eve sets up to take her shot as the train careens across a viaduct. M has been monitoring the situation and orders Eve to take her shot at the last opportunity, and she shoots the wrong guy. Bond plummets into the drink and Patrice makes off with the data. This isn’t how it went in The Spy Who Loved Me
They’re spooooky. Daniel Klienman is back in full effect and comes up with what is effectively a dream sequence for Bond, who has been assumed dead by MI6. Adele’s title song, co-written with Paul Epworth, is up there with the classic Bond themes, returning to the torch song format after the more rockular offerings of late.
Long time Mendes collaborator Thomas Newman takes over scoring duties, picking up where David Arnold left off. Fortunately, he continues where Arnold left off but not being bound by it. Another note, he finally lets Monty Norman rip during the action rather than saving it for the credits, but like Arnold he lets it swing.
The Retirement Plan
One of the thing, is with Judi Dench as M, the recognition that if you’ve got a super actor you give them something to work with. So in a sense M’s relationship with Bond, which has been been developed during the “reboot” sequence comes to a head here.
Following the data compromise, M’s neck is on the line; Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is chairman of the parliament Intelligence and Security Committee and has laid out a graceful exit, although M isn’t one for going quietly. After this little meeting, M gets trolled by email – this seems to be personal – then the SIS building at Vauxhall Cross explodes.
007, meanwhile, is not dead, but is instead going hogwild somewhere on the Turkish Riviera not giving a shit about anything. Until he chances upon the news from home, decides he does give a shit about something, and comes back in from the heat.
With their wedding cake palace out of commission, MI6 have moved into an underground bunker. Bond is haggard from his layoff and fucks up all his tests, but somehow is recommissioned for duty.
MI6 has a new quartermaster, played by Ben Whishaw, who sits Bond down in the National Gallery (where else?) and tools him up.
There are a couple of amusing nods to the history of Q’s gadgets, but one thing in particular is that Moss, I mean Q, offers Bond essentially the same gear as the original quartermaster (Peter Burton) did way back in Dr. No. The items, a Walther PPK – this time with palm print recognition so only Bond can use it – and the use of a radio – only instead of being extremely bulky, it’s extremely small.
While the re-invention of Q is, shall we say, bold and yet what you’d expect for the reboot, as the plot develops he comes into his own, adapting as he gets outsmarted by the villain. (Better data security would’ve been a good idea, except if MI6 had better data security at the start we wouldn’t have had a plot.)
Bond is sent back onto the trail of Patrice in Shanghai, where he fails to stop Patrice nailing his next mark, though after a scuffle Patrice is dispensed with, saying not a word and leaving Bond a single casino chip to work with. The casino is in Macao, where he meets back up with Eve as they plan their next move. He cashes in the chip, gets a cool four million Euros, as well as the company of Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) who is a thrall of one Raoul Silva, who is apparently one scary scary dude.
Séverine informs him that her bodyguards will probably kill him, but if he survives he is welcome to join her on her yacht, which will take him to Silva himself. Bond survives the doormen from hell, manages to hand off the cash to Eve, and arrives at his berth for Psychopath Island.
Silva hangs out on a creepy abandoned island from where he can basically do anything, anytime, including arranging the attack on MI6. Bond and Séverine are detained on arrival (rude), and Bond is sat down amongst Silva’s server farm for the grand entrance.
Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) enters, recounting some florid story from his childhood about rats eating each other until two were left. Oh, it’s an allegory, and Silva and Bond are the two remaining rats, and M is their mother, who screwed the pair up. Or something. So Silva has a personal vendetta, how original.
After a shooting game where Silva mocks Bond’s degraded marksmanship and then summarily dispatches Séverine, Bond demonstrates that he hasn’t quite lost all of his mad skillz, neutralises Silva’s bodyguards in a heartbeat and calls in the cavalry to take Silva back to Mutter.
M looks at Silva in the cell, says, oh, it’s him, and then leaves to face a grilling at parliament. Silva, originally Tiago Rodriguez, had worked under M in Hong Kong but got in to deep, and was left to the wolves. Attempting to take his cyanide cap, that malfunctioned, leaving him alive but causing horrendous injuries to his jaw which makes you wonder why he keeps making all those speeches.
(Conjecture here, now I’m thinking this through: What if Silva was the parallel universe Bond from Die Another Day, whom rather than being released through a prisoner exchange, was instead left to rot but was able to escape by other means and then plot his revenge on the organisation that abandoned him? OK, that’s just crazy talk.)
Actually, ha-ha! getting captured was his plan all along (which makes you wonder why he made it so difficult for Bond), as Q is attempting to decrypt Silva’s laptop with Bond amusingly trying to give hints, the laptop instead ends up pwning MI6’s network, allowing Silva to escape and try and ambush M at parliament.
Bond sets off in pursuit, as Silva is keen to say “I planned this all along!” and contrives to drop a train on top of Bond, then making his way through several Underground stations to the committee hearing where M is dropping some truth-bombs about modern espionage on the career politician trying to score points off him. As if to prove her point, Silva turns up dressed as the Old Bill and tries to kill M. Bond is not far behind, and manages to salvage the situation by fogging the place up and slipping M to safety, with Mallory also revealing he’s also a bit of a badass.
Bond decides to take M off the grid somewhere where only Silva could trace him, with only Q, Tanner and Mallory knowing. Sounds like a plan, or at least an excuse to give the old DB5 a spin.
The choice of hideout is Skyfall, Bond’s ancestral home in the moors of Scotland, and frankly it does look somewhere an orphan would leave forever. In fact, being sold in the wake of Bond’s “death”, much of the good shit has already been hocked, although the old gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney) is still looking after affairs until settlement.
With not much left to work with, save some dynamite and an old hunting rifle, Bond, M and Kincade prepare for the upcoming confrontation in A-Team style setting up all sorts of booby traps and things around the estate, and the first wave of Silva’s goons turn up and basically get shredded to bits. Silva himself turns up in an assault helicopter – it’s a Bond film, of course there’s a helicopter – and shoots the hell up out of the place, before he disembarks to get a closer look at things.
Bond has M and Kincade escape via a priest hole and tunnel to the chapel, while he gets the last of the gas tanks and rigs them so the whole house will go kaboom. The demolition job is enhanced with chopper getting punctured by the flying debris and crashing into what’s left of the structure. Bond hated the place anyway, so he doesn’t much care.
Silva spies M escaping to in the chapel and he follows along to sort out the last of his mummy issues. Bond, having been waylaid along the way, turns up in time to dispatch Silva, but it’s also too late for M, who, having been gravely injured earlier in the battle, dies in Bond’s arms. Nevertheless, it’s probably a more dignified exit from the role than the political solution proposed for her.
After M’s funeral, Bond looks over the city. Eve, having had enough of fieldwork for now, reveals her surname as Moneypenny, setting up perhaps another run of problematic flirting. Mallory has been given the position of M, of course, and he and Bond express hopes for a fruitful working relationship. Maybe.
After the relatively lacklustre Quantum of Solace, Skyfall gets the juggernaut back on track, reimagining some of the tropes of the Bond world in the post-camp style. To me it seems it would’ve been difficult to reappraise some of the more ludicrous aspects of the “canon”, but it’s managed pretty well here.
Perhaps Silva was played a bit camp, but it’s another dynamite performance from Javier Bardem, providing another memorable portrait to the 007 rogues gallery. The increasing emphasis on the side characters in moving the story along helps as well, although essentially it’s Bond doing stuff that remains at the core.
It’s also note the shifting visual styles, perhaps emphasised most in the Shanghai sequence – you could almost drop credits over the scuffle and it’d look like a Maurice Binder title sequence. With the exception of The World Is Not Enough, this is also one of the few films with an extended action sequence set in London – albeit much of it literally in the Underground.
Actually, a weird observation; as you probably have guessed I don’t give too much of a shit how much swearing there is in the movies and I certainly haven’t been keeping score (as I recall the first incidence was from the little old lady learning to fly in Live And Let Die), but generally all through the movies it’s been pretty thin on the ground.
The idea of Bond, a Navy man, would refrain from dropping blue seems pretty far-fetched. Well, while it doesn’t get anywhere near Glengarry Glen Ross levels here, it’s at least a bit more true to life. Historically you could let your kids watch these with numerous incidents of people getting eaten by ravenous fish or boiled alive or dropped in meat grinders or just plain perforated with gunfire (not to mention all the bedroom work) but at least the kiddies wouldn’t hear anyone say “fuck”.
I thought this was an excellent Bond movie, getting back in the vein of Casino Royale, with plenty to chew on. At number #23, it’s impressive that you can still do interesting things with the hoary franchise and teach an old dog new tricks. I guess if there’s any drawback, it doesn’t really lend itself to pisstaking like most of the series, although maybe in time this will develop.
I’m actually right at the end of the massive Blu-ray box, which had a gap left for Spectre which I’ll finally get to see, having missed it in the cinemas. There’s also a bonus disc in the Collection which is probably worth a look. I note that up to and including Casino Royale, the disc presentation has been nicely consistent with the menus and such, including extra docos and stuff that I’ve barely even touched. Well recommended if you’ve got the stamina. But I note particularly with the Blu-ray disc for Skyfall that they’ve done that intensely annoying thing of dropping the trailers for other lesser series on auto-play before they get to the menu. With apologies to Liam Neeson who is a super actor, who wants to watch fucking Taken the first time, let alone a third? Anyway, I digress.
One to go (for now).
This one is getting a ferocious 18 komodo dragons out of 20.