Yup. Forget Brosnan’s lazy charm, Connery’s flinty coolness, crap Roger’s independently moving eyebrows. This time Sam Mendes – renowned for his emotionally wrought character studies – is in the directorial driving seat, so it’s all about 007’s angst and inner pain. We can only be grateful that Skyfall, unlike American Beauty, doesn’t open with our hero disconsolately cranking one out in the shower.
So, the story: Bond gets ‘killed’ in the opening scene (except of course he doesn’t) and cyber-terrorists steal a hard drive containing a list of secret agents’ names, which they then leak online. It’s Wikispooks, essentially.
We soon find Bond living in a beach hut, drinking heavily and even growing a beard to show us how much he’s really hurting inside. When the MI5 headquarters in London are blown up, he comes out the shadows so he can look pained and bicker with M (Judi Dench). During re-training, our struggling hero can’t shoot straight, fails the fitness tests and even throws a hissy fit during the psychological assessment. Are you getting the picture yet – he’s REALLY VULNERABLE, okay?
Given all this navel-gazing, Skyfall is unquestionably more talky-talky than most Bond movies, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. (Quantum of Solace, produced during the Hollywood writer’s strike, had about six lines of wonky dialogue). Most of the actors – Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear – are pretty solid. Young Ben Whishaw, as Q, is great in the single scene – a verbal joust with Bond – where he’s allowed to do more than rat-a-tat at a laptop, squeaking: ‘They’ve hacked into our system!’. (Note: this happens a lot.)
But we already knew Mendes could ‘do’ talking – the problem is he just isn’t really into the action stuff, and it shows. He’s the directorial equivalent of the brainy, speccy boy at school, and there’s a sense that the livelier scenes for him must feel like a double Games lesson in the rain.
|Can't you see he's hurting, he hasn't shaved|
Bond simply breezes into the enemy’s lair, announces his real name, chats up the baddie’s girlfriend, beats up some henchmen, narrowly avoids the obligatory deadly animals in a pit and breezes out again. So, when did that ever NOT happen? It’s all been done before with much more aplomb, and Mendes brings nothing fresh to the mix. It’s Karaoke Bond, essentially.
The movie’s big success is Javier Bardem, playing the bonkers, campish villain. He’s a truly bizarre sight, his big, meaty Spanish features topped with a straw-coloured wig that makes him look like a Catalan cousin of the late, unlamented Jimmy Savile. This unsavoury impression is heightened when he starts stroking a tied-up Bond between the legs. You half expect him to suddenly spout: “Now, then. Now, then...”
However, even a creature so magnificent as Jimmy Bardem is soon neutered by the lumpen direction and formulaic plot. Almost as soon as he’s introduced, the flaxen fanatic gets caught – with suspicious ease – and is taken to MI5’s new secret HQ. Once there, he trades insults with M, chews a bit of scenery then promptly escapes again. As Q helpfully exposites, while rat-a-tatting on a keyboard: “He’s actually been PLANNING this for years…”
Now, that shuffling, grating noise you can occasionally hear throughout this 20-minute sequence is the sound of Heath Ledger spinning in his grave, because the whole thing is a bare-faced lift from his identical stunt as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Except this time, obviously, the entire conceit is transparent from the outset – and thus a bit pointless.
|Now then, now then, Mr Bond|
Instead, Bond drives M to his bleak ancestral home in the Highlands so they can sort out his ‘mommy’ issues. There’s a misjudged, semi-comic turn by Albert Finney as the family retainer and, just as the movie should be cranking up to grand finale mode, the audience spends a full ten minutes watching what looks like out-takes from Emmerdale.
Finally, as night falls, Jimmy Bardem and a gang of goons arrive in a huge helicopter. It lands. The baddies jump out. They shoot big guns at the house, and Bond, M and Albert fire rifles back. The helicopter takes off again, ostensibly so it can resume shooting at the house, but really so Bond can blast it with a couple of gas canisters that happened to be hanging around in the kitchen (just next to the teabags).
Inevitably, the chopper crashes and a CGI fireball fills the screen, much as a palpable sense of anti-climax fills the mind of the viewer.
Exploding helicopter innovation
Not much to report, really. Once hit, the big, Chinooky-type chopper slowly sinks and crashes into the side of the house, lighting up the night sky with a massive explosion. Mendes’ deft and realistic touch with an action scene is once more in evidence, as Bond and Bardem remain entirely unscathed by a huge volley of burning petrol and molten metal, despite standing right next to – and, in Bond’s case, virtually underneath – the unfortunate conflagrating vehicle.
There are a lot of individual good scenes, and it’s a genuine pleasure to see talented actors in a generic movie raising the bar with more than the usual action guy tough talk…
…but Skyfall often meanders and forgets that it is, after all, supposed to be a Bond movie. Despite all the critical hoopla, it reminded me in parts of Timothy Dalton’s discouraging turn as ‘new man’ 007 in the Eighties. Existential angst does not a good Bond movie make.
“Now, then. Now, then.” [Javier Bardem]. Note: I may have just imagined that, due to the wig.
What with Bond's 50th anniversary, Dame Judi's final turn as M, the celebration of British-ness theme, the celebrated home-grown director, post Olympics and Jubilee euphoria – this movie was never going to get anything other than a soft and comfortable critical landing. What most reviewers seemed to miss is that, for long stretches, it's actually pretty boring.
Review by: Chopper
Still want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Skyfall. You can listen via iTunes, Player FM, Stitcher, Acast or right here...