Daniel Craig has achieved something rather astonishing with Skyfall, the latest in the 50-year old Bond franchise: he has completely filled the shoes of James Bond. Although, it’s fair to say, he has had to do a fair amount of tweaking to make them fit. At some point during the last ten years Craig has become one of the most charismatic of British actors and while a significant part of that is to do with the figure of Bond, James Bond himself has much to be thankful to Daniel Craig for. Bond is reborn but not as a superhuman. Bond is now flawed, ageing a little and feeling the pain; his wit has an extra touch of bitter self-awareness in it and his body hungers less for sex than his heart. I almost hate to say it but during Skyfall I actually found myself liking Jakes Bond – and this is a first. Bond can still run along the tops of trains and strangle men with his thighs, but his purpose is far more determined now that mortality has appeared on the horizon.
Skyfall is a film that many of us will see regardless – in fact, so many people saw it at my local cinema that they completely ran out of popcorn (not wine, though, fortunately) – but I do believe that many would have been pleasantly surprised by what they got. My Bond expectations weren’t so much fulfilled as re-written.
The story of Skyfall twists and turns itself around in a circle of loops that do much to illuminate the character of James Bond (or at least this incarnation), what it means to work for the Secret Service and what the Service does to you. Times are a changing, as a character says during the film. In these post Cold War days, when the enemy is no longer a nation, how can you be sure who the enemy is? How can you see into the shadows? My viewing of Skyfall benefited hugely from having no knowledge of the storyline and so that’s where I’ll leave it. It’s enough to say that it is an excellent one and not at all typically Bondy.
Daniel Craig’s excellence in the film is unquestionable but he has a rival here and his name is Javier Bardem. Bardem makes a wholly satisfying and terrifying Bond villain, not like one we have seen before and all the more frightening for it. He is a big screen dominator. Stick him in a scene with Daniel Craig and the frisson is almost enough to make one spontaneously combust. Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes are both superb and it was pleasing to see a Bond movie where older women with their clothes on were given far more screen time than younger women without their clothes on. Ben Whishaw was very enjoyable, too, as the new Q.
Sam Mendes, the director, was a surprise to me. I had been troubled by the original news that he was to direct. I admire his work but did wonder how he would handle such an action-driven movie. The answer was happily very well indeed. He did it with fewer special effects and a lot more realism but thrills galore there were. When survival actually comes in to doubt, not just for the baddies, the heart pumps that little bit faster. Mendes also gave Skyfall a Britishness that has a lot less to do with stiff upper lip stereotypes and more to do with a sense of place and a drive to preserve that place. Skyfall looks excellent – the locations, in London and out of it, are beautifully shot. Bond looks great in them.
As one would hope after fifty years, there are a few sentimental and affectionate throwbacks to the old Bond days and ways, not least one driving sequence, which rates high for me among my favourite moments of the film. This was far more classy than the advert that preceded the film advertising 007 scent for men.
Skyfall isn’t perfect. I do not like the Adele title song (despite liking Adele very much) and neither did I especially enjoy the opening scenes. For me, the film came into its own the moment that Javier Bardem came onto the screen to join Daniel Craig. From that moment on, Skyfall and Bond had my fullest attention.