Skyfall is the latest film in the 50-year-old James Bond franchise. As somebody who’s never fallen on any particular side of the fence regarding the 23-film strong franchise – Bond films are rarely terrible, and yet rarely spectacular – I was very much aware of the reputation that Skyfall had amassed amongst hyperventilating internet users. It’s got the big box-office bucks and an endless stream of “Best Bond Yet!” acclaim to back it up, but in the end Skyfall amounts to little more than a fairly standard entry in a series of films that has only recently been allowed to sit at the big boy’s table.
Since Daniel Craig (Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) was given the reins, the franchise has seen a markedly more mature style take hold. You could say they have been playing with the same deck of cards – busty babes, crooked-faced villains, and exotic locations – but dealing them in a different fashion. Skyfall is basically as one would expect, and it has its strengths and surprises alongside its weakness and disappointments. I adored, however, that Sam Mendes’ (American Beauty) first time at the hands of an action blockbuster was so gorgeously lit, and that the screenplay of John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade focused on the low-key angle of Bond’s relationship with his superior, M (a steely Judi Dench, J. Edgar). On the other hand, its rather flippant dismissal of any female character that isn’t played by Dench is an unfortunate distraction (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later, gets a particularly wasted plot) to match the somewhat forced dialogue and lapses in dramatic logic.
Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins has given Skyfall a beguiling look. From the neon fantasy-land of Shanghai, to the lantern-laced casinos of Macau, and the ember-hued finale on the British highlands that is so heavenly lit one could be forgiven for thinking Bond had entered a Bronte novel. Elsewhere, there are exciting action sequences to be found aboard a tunnel-hopping Turkish train and some flashy hotstepping through the London Tube. As M, it is Dench who walks away with the film hidden under her tweet coat. The cold resignation of a woman determined to not leave MI6 in a worse place than she inherited it; she gives Skyfall gravitas when it’s needed. Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) gives off creepy vibes as a white-haired bisexual with mummy issues – his entrance echoes that of Katharine Hepburn’s in Suddenly Last Summer, so take that a cue as to the direction of his character – but his fiendish plot can’t help but fall apart under closer inspection.
By this stage in the history of Bond there doesn’t appear much point to really bother critiquing the broader aspects. People are going to go and there’s little to sway such a decision. In light of this, it comes to looking at the finer elements – those small bits and pieces that make up the bigger picture. Skyfall succeeds as brisk entertainment despite its 143-minute runtime, but the nitpicking part of my brain tells me it’s far from perfect. Consider this: Bond makes a joke about Q’s youth and “spotty” complexion, ignoring the fact that actor Ben Whishaw (Bright Star) has the smoothest skin one could ask for. Too often this martini is sloppy, not smooth.
Skyfall is released on November 22nd
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear