“Everybody needs a hobby.” “What’s yours?” “Resurrection.”
Rebooting something that carries the legendary status of the Bond franchise was always going to be a tough task, and Sam Mendes must be rewarded for his bravery in attempting such a feat. His approach is focussed on bridging the gap between the old and new aspects of Bond, bringing them together while also establishing a new direction for the franchise. Unfortunately his Bond debut and the twenty-third instalment is problematic from the off.
Finding and maintaining the balance at the heart of his venture is essential for making it successful. While it has clearly worked for the majority (its record-breaking attendance figures speak for themselves), there are bound to be those who are left disappointed, and I’m one of the latter. The many references to classic Bond films come across as a parody of itself and the alterations are so different that Skyfall becomes something entirely unique and incomparable to the previous films.
Building on the success of Casino Royale and glossing over the regrettable Quantum of Solace, as most Bond fans do, Mendes takes the Bond narrative somewhere it has never been before – and no, I don’t just mean Scotland. Skyfall is the first Bond film to explore Bond’s genesis story and in doing so piles more weight onto the vulnerability at the heart of the renewed hero. This narrative approach has always been part of the most impressive Bond films, most notably Goldfinger and Casino Royale. The problem for Skyfall is there’s too much change and Bond shows too much vulnerability. Since when, for example, does James Bond hide and wait for the villain to attack?
Unfortunately these key decisions aren’t the only problems with the narrative. The script is weak, the characters are largely unexplored and the dialogue is, for the most part, extraordinarily cringe-worthy. Sadly, though he’s one of the most impressive directors working today, Mendes is completely off form and his misdirection leaves his film failing to find any solid footing.
Regrettably, Skyfall’s script is also shot through with a record amount of product placement and off-screen brand alliances. Now, I’m generally tolerant of product placement, because it’s there as an integral part of funding the film. And it’s a sad reflection of the contemporary film industry that without product placement this film would simply not exist. Mendes cleverly includes tolerable, more subtle examples of product placement, such as showing brand logos within the frame, but the decision to embed the endorsements within the dialogue is beyond irritating.
Not only is the overall experience let down by the weak dialogue, but it also plagues Naomie Harris’ performance. Under better direction and working from a better script she could have easily been one of the best ‘Bond-girls’ of all time, but as it is her only purpose, it seems, is as advertisement.
Highlighting all of these negatives is possibly giving the wrong impression of my overall reaction to the film. Skyfall is by no means a bad film, only disappointing. There are many positives that could have made it an enjoyable experience, so let’s take a look at those for a moment.
First, Daniel Craig continues to stake his claim as the best Bond, and he is certainly the most talented actor to have ever played the role. However, he is not portraying the same character that Moore, Connery or Brosnan previously played, so it’s difficult and incorrect to draw comparisons.
Second, both Judi Dench and Javier Bardem provide remarkable performances. Returning for her seventh outing as M, Mendes unearths her finest performance, which almost rescues the film by itself. The newcomer, Bardem, makes a solid introduction to the franchise. His performance is very theatrical and his physical appearance is almost a caricature – all integral to creating the unique, identifiable characteristics of the greatest Bond villains.
Third, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is breathtaking. The product of the legendary cinematographer’s long experience behind the camera is certainly the most memorable aspect of the film. With his sensational vision he builds an atmosphere that stands out in the opening two thirds of the film, in a similar way to what Wally Pfister did for The Dark Knight.
Fourth, Adele’s theme song is memorable, catchy and anchors to the narrative, providing the sing-along goodness of the best Bond theme songs.
Sadly these positives are not enough to make Skyfall into one of the best Bond films. The sentimentality at the heart of the film comes on too heavily. British audiences have been inundated with Bond-related hype due to it being the 50th anniversary of the franchise, with many television and radio shows paying homage to the legendary character. Unfortunately Skyfall’s brave attempts to alter and modernise the aged franchise merely emphasize the negatives of the outdated classics and seal its fate with change that arrives far too late and all too dramatic.