ON THIS DAY IN BOND HISTORY: In 1966, Sean Connery spent his first day shooting scenes of Little Nellie ‘in flight’ for You Only Live Twice. It is also the day I got to see James Bond’s 23rd outing in Sam Mendes’s Skyfall and I love, LOVE, loved it!
Sam Mendes you beauty! Thank you for bringing Bond home and specifically the streets of London, thank you for not buckling under the weight of expectation or more importantly going for cheap shots knowing that the Bond brand is money in the bank regardless of the quality of the film. Thank you for matching the rich and astounding cinematography of Skyfall by injecting taste and art back into Bond elevating it past the cartoon pastiche it could have easily slid back into, and thank you for making an intelligent personal story worthy of the icon that Ian Fleming’s super spy has become.
|Skyfall Daniel Craig is James Bond|
As an example there are scenes where Bond’s shadowy activities are entirely composed of light, shadow and reflections - it’s subtle enough to be missed but we are being told a lot about Bond and who he is and this comes masterfully fruition later on. The point I am making here is that the level of thought and detail that has gone into shooting Skyfall is far superior to not only previous Bond films but many films in general.This high level of quality is sustained across the board through all the production elements of Skyfall; the lighting, Dennis Gassner’s Production design, the great set design, characterisation, performances, story and the bulk of the dialogue.
If you were lucky enough to visit the Designing 007 – Fifty Years of Bond Style exhibition at the Barbican (which has sadly moved over to the US) Skyfall is a great example of how all the elements of Bond style come together very well.
|Skyfall Eve Naomie Harris in Istanbul|
As much a it owes to Casino Royale’s reinvention of Bond, Skyfall is tied into Bonds history and moves in a completely different direction from the usual Bond formula and changes things irrevocably.
Skyfall would have taken a lot more thought to put together, prior to Casino Royale we had no benchmark for what a new reinvigorated Bond could be on screen and as great as Casino Royale is, it feels like it is slightly held back by the Bond mythos and legacy - whereas Skyfall treads new ground whilst being respectful to Bonds legacy.
Casino Royale was James Bond’s reintroduction but where could he go from there? Almost every element of Bondology in Skyfall is thought through and given a new facet giving Bond a new purpose and direction giving every scene that he charges in firing his gun new emphasis and drive. Sam Mendes also pares Skyfall back so that things happen on a much more personal level, that doesn’t mean that big things don’t happen it just means we are more engaged with them and are emotionally invested in their outcome and fallout. Finally Sam Mendes takes the spotlight off Bond and although a lot happens to him, he is back to being a character in a story rather than being the story, which makes his actions more effective and allows for a better dynamic across the narrative roll out.
Skyfall starts immediately with the sounds of Istanbul fading in over the The Columbia logo and we are straight in - following Eve (Naomie Harris) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a frenetically paced body slamming, vehicle crashing action chase. Forget the vertigo inducing up close camera work of Quantum this is more in the "unstoppable Bond" territory of Casino Royale with the stakes raised.
Motorbikes in Bond have always given me a sense of foreboding as they feature in my least favourite Bond films but Skyfall changes that.
|Skyfall Daniel Craig is James Bond|
We are then treated to Adele's Skyfall over the title sequence which is a great throwback to the golden age of Bond I'm glad Adele has finally done a Bond theme but I wish it was a little more energetic. However Adele's Skyfall reaches the emotional themes that ties into the larger motif of Skyfall. The credit sequence itself is full of references to targets, Ian Fleming skulls, water and is dark.
Following the formula introduced with Die Another Day and the staple of Daniel Craig's Bond the story continues from the pre credits scene. As a new threat arises that ties loosely into another theme of Skyfall - family and the bonds that bind us, leaving Bond to face a ratty brother.
|Skyfall Javier Bardem - Raoul Silva and Daniel Craig - James Bond|
There are many more things to like about Skyfall, like Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan’s screenplay that brings the characters to the fore, the exploration of what binds them on an almost philosophical level. On the surface level it follows a simplistic plot line but it is delivered with meaning and complexity as well as great performances elevating it to a story of personalities.
|Skyfall Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva|
Another standout highlights for me was Javier Bardem’s villain Raoul Silva. Granted there are moments when the cyber elements of his terrorism seems ridiculous but he has more credible and realistic motivations than most villains - but non of that matters because Bardem takes all the Bond villain traits and gives them back to us in and astounding performance in which he doesn’t let the Bond villain define him – he defines the Bond villain, something that doesn’t happen often.
Wisely Daniel Craig steps back and lets this lunatic shoot and eat everything up on screen. I don’t want to take anything away from other villains as they each have their special place but Javier Bardem is the best Bond villain in years.
|Skyfall Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine|
Another highlight for me was Bérénice Marlohe’s Bond lady Sévérine. You know that she is different from the outset because her name seemingly has the complete opposite meaning to the usual ridiculous double entendres. For years we have had to endure the ridiculous notion that woman will fall for Bond’s charms at the drop of a hat and whilst I understand that for many these are the elements that make Bond, well Bond for them. Those kinds of characters (the ones on a railway line that you already know the stops, even though you can’t understand the rational behind their motions) are not very compelling and weaken an entire plot.
Aside from Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd which cracked the mould there haven’t been many Bond Ladies recently that are exceptional. Which brings me back to Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine, a character that is both alluring and tragically credible, her actions are completely inline with her alluded to back-story and her understated performance allows you to be swept away - Bérénice Marlohe is the best Bond Lady in years.
What about Bond? Well I think most agree that Daniel Craig is a great James Bond, but as Quantum of Solace proves he needs the right vehicle to make for compelling viewing and Sam Mendes’s Skyfall is exactly that. Bond is not at the top of his game but is out in the field making the best of it this makes him vulnerable but no less dangerous or steel willed. He gives Bond purpose and depth beyond his steely stare.
When he is not in action mode he is also genuinely entertaining for the most part with his dead pan delivery of his one liners cracking the audience up. There are still some cheesy bits but these are few and far between.
|Skyfall James Bond visits the National Portrait Gallery|
Something else that I really appreciated was Sam Mendes’s approach to product placement beyond the consumerism. I liked that Sam Mendes balances this by injecting some taste back into the Bond mix and whilst art has always played a role in Bond Mendes returns to this with some marvelous references to the art world.
Amedeo Modigliani’s Woman with a Fan becomes the centre piece of a scene that takes place in Severine’s Shanghai hotel room, in a clever touch Modigliani’s Woman with a Fan was in fact stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art and was suspected to be heading towards China’s growing black art markets, this may also be a reference to former Bond villain Dr. Julius No or Dr. No. whose lair was adorned with a stolen portrait of The Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya.
|Skyfall Raoul Silva Minds the gap|
In another scene James Bond meets the new Q (I don’t think this is a spoiler as the marketing clearly plays this up) in the National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square in front of J. M. W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire. An interpretation of which is one of the themes weaved into the narrative of Skyfall as well as a device to frame Bond’s blunt character which may be setting the blocks for his longer arc across this James Bond series. There is a touch of irony here as Ian Fleming's childhood home on Cheyne Walk once belonged to Turner.
In another crucial scene M makes reference to Ulysses a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson which captures M’s resolve and position it is no coincidence although the poem is about will and resilience Tennyson was inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Again Ulysses touches on the larger themes of Skyfall.
A surprising theme that runs through Skyfall which has deeper implications across the film is one that I assumed ended with the Casino Royale reboot and the younger Daniel Craig coming in. I’m referring to “the whole cold war relic/dinosaur” which all comes back to bite our characters to surprising effect making for great viewing.
How does Skyfall compare to other Bond films? Well that is not an easy question to answer as few characters have the wealth of a 50 year legacy behind them. Every generation has their favourite Bond, Bond film or top 5 Bond films and an almost unshakable belief that their Bond favourites are the best Bond but the magic of Skyfall is that it ties the old Bond world into the new Bond whilst playing out in an engaging game of cat and mouse.
All in all I absolutely loved Skyfall it had great moments tied into Bond’s history, surprises, laughs, great lairs, spectacular locations, explosions, camaraderie, gritty action, lots of emotion and that thing which I love most about bond films James Bond’s exemplary fortitude.
|Skyfall Daniel Craig is James Bond|
We close with the James Bond gun barrel walk and the promise that James Bond will be back and I hope Sam Mendes comes with him.
SKYFALL opens at cinemas across the UK on 26th October 2012
In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
SKYFALL, from Albert R Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is directed by Academy Award® winner Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig, who returns for his third film as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007.
Joining Daniel Craig the cast includes Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Berenice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw with Albert Finney and Judi Dench as M. The screenplay is written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. SKYFALL will begin its worldwide roll-out later this year in the UK and Ireland on October 26th and in North America on November 9th.
“We’re so delighted to have Sam Mendes direct SKYFALL and be working once again with Daniel Craig. We've a great script, an extraordinary cast and an incredibly talented creative team for this latest James Bond adventure,” said Wilson and Broccoli.
The Director of Photography is Roger Deakins, a nine-time Oscar® nominee who previously shot the films Jarhead and Revolutionary Road for Mendes. The Production Designer is Oscar® winner Dennis Gassner, who previously designed Quantum of Solace and collaborated with Mendes on the films Road to Perdition and Jarhead. The Editor is Stuart Baird, A.C.E., whose many credits include Casino Royale. Jany Temime, whose many credits include the Harry Potter series, In Bruges, and Children of Men, is the Costume Designer. Action specialist Alexander Witt is the 2nd Unit Director. Gary Powell is Stunt Co-ordinator, Chris Corbould is SFX Supervisor and Steve Begg is Visual Effects Supervisor, all of whom have worked on previous Bond films.
The Establishing Shot: JAMES BOND REALLY IS BACK WITH SKYFALL THE BEST BOND FILM IN AGES, EVEN BETTER THAN CASINO ROYALE - SKYFALL REVIEW