James Dempsey: Skyfall is 007 turned up to 11 as Bond hits 50
Bond is back, and with a bang. With his 23rd outing, cinema’s original superspy turns 50 years old, and sees in a golden age of silver-screen espionage. There is no denying that Skyfall feels an awful lot like a step back for James and the rest of MI6 – however, fans of the series can rest assured this is a step in the right direction.
His name should really be James Bound, for there are few characters so tied up in a sense of nostalgic lore and fan-favourite red tape as 007. Each incarnation brings with him a new identity, but wrapped up in the expectation of ticking numerous boxes. Pity the poor screenwriters and directors who have to find the balance between caddish lad with the winking quip and troubled soul masking inner turmoil every single time. James needs to be everything and more; a killer, a lover, strong, weak, emotionally shaken, visibly stirred. Essentially, what we want is a 007 that goes up to 11.
Six actors have taken on the role of James, seven if you count David Niven. The incumbent, Daniel Craig, started off with a Casino Royale flush, winning over naysayers and moaners alike after the controversial decision to turn Bond blond was made back in 2006. It all pieced together so well; in a Bourne-again world of gritty spies, Craig’s Bond hit all the targets, with a Bond Girl so enigmatic and alluring that two movies on, her loss is still being felt.
But the follow-up floundered, not entirely panned, but considered by the fans, and crucially the critics, as dull and forgettable. Quantum of Solace just never felt right, with a plot about Bolivian coups and a Bond Girl with a sulk so pronounced they may as well have called her Sourpussy Galore.
In fact, if anything, it’s with the Bond Girl that the Craig Bond movies have struggled the most. Vesper Lynd, played with cut-glass diphthongs and plunging necklines by actress Eva Green, has become this Bond’s Teresa di Vincenzo, the woman that made James the man with the golden band, and then promptly a widower to boot.
Lynd’s spectre still looms, with Craig’s previous middle-act ladies (Caterina Murino, Gemma Arterton) serving merely as plot-propelling strumpet destined for post mortems. Whether Skyfall’s Naomie Harris or Bérénice Marlohe escape Craig’s bonk ’em and bury ’em pattern will go unmentioned, you’ll find no spoilers here.
Of course the real Bond Girl in Skyfall is Judi Dench’s M, showing there really is nothing like a Dame for withering words with loaded meaning. The casting of Dench back in 1995’s Goldeneye truly was a masterstroke, and Skyfall sees her most fleshed-out role since The World is Not Enough. Her interactions with Craig sparkle, with M standing in for the lost mother of orphaned James in scenes that suggest a bond of fidelity and love, challenged by the very real need to get the job done. Trust Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, to find the family drama in a spy movie.
That is not all he found; Mendes is to be lauded for producing a Bond of breakneck action and stunning visuals. Working with cinematographer Roger Deakins, Bond has never looked this good. A near silent night-time assignation in neon Shanghai, calling to mind the classic opening credit sequence of countless 007 adventures, is the film’s standout scene and a work of film art.
And Javier Bardem’s Silva, a super-villain with bite, who’s destined to join the ranks of Goldfinger and Blofeld as an unforgettable foe. He’s like a baddy of days-gone-by, single-minded in his fury and mission, charming and alluring, and more than a match for Blighty’s mightiest hero.
Skyfall has got it all: the baddies, the guns, the cars, an outrageous death by exotic animal. There is even the support staff, the film finding time to mind its Ms and Qs, while taking in far-flung locales and framing London is crisp and cool light. For Bond and MI6, this film puts the entire series back where it should be. The sky may fall for James, and you’ll fall for him too.