Back In Her Majesty's Kingdom
It's the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's James Bond on the big screen, and the character is celebrating that milestone with his 23rd film outing in what would be the longest running film franchise that had seen the mantle being passed on from actor to actor, and helmed by various directors providing their vision of the debonair spy in Her Majesty's Secret Service. Skyfall continues the good work set out by Casino Royale, with director Sam Mendes achieving a remarkable balance between celebrating that milestone jubilee, while setting the stage for the future films with potential to be fulfilled.
Skyfall is an ominous sounding title, and the events here close a chapter, and reopens another, with two more Bond films in the works and may be shot back to back to compensate the rather long gap of four years between this one, and the rather lacklustre Quantum of Solace. We're still firmly into Bond's reboot of sorts with Martin Campbell taking over the reins with Casino Royale after having done so with GoldenEye, which charted Daniel Craig's induction as the new Bond, and two films on we have seen a more serious Bond at work, as compared to his predecessors. This film will change all that, through the subtleties in giving Bond that unmistakable sense of humour, and the introduction of a Q branch boasting a youthful looking Q in Ben Whishaw, which puts the character in very different light from versions of the past, and promising much more fanciful gadgets (or perhaps maybe not, given the rather old school-ness of this Q) in the coming installments.
And by the time the end credits roll, much of the Bond elements missing from the Craig versions so far, will have been introduced, which is a fitting way to celebrate one's 50th year, in a way going full circle. But that doesn't mean alienating the established fan base who grew from the era of Sean Connery's version, or any of the other earlier incarnations. The scribes in Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan managed to weave in a number of easter eggs from James Bond's film history into the movie, which is an extremely nice touch when they appear, to rapturous applause by audience members who instantly recognized those blast from the past nods.
But the story's not all nostalgia, as it deals with a more immediate, direct and personal threat this time round, as compared to the more bombastic, dasterdly plans that classic Bond villains usually have. It deals with the challenges any security agency would face in today's environment where the enemy is seldom overtly known, but having gone underground, and is rather faceless, yet ready to strike at any time. Javier Bardem got invited by Daniel Craig to play the villanous Silva, a one time collaborator under M (Judi Dench), but now hell bent on seeking revenge against M for what he calls as sins of the past. Which Bond is now only too familar with given the prologue's botched attempt at retrieving a sacred hard drive, and M's insistence on sticking to her guns and judgement call when instructing another fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) to take a shot that resulting in his temporal retirement from active service.
And it's rather interesting here to see a less than able Bond at work, as compared to the earlier versions where his feathers were rarely ruffled. Here, he huffs and puffs his way through, and in some ways, found himself in pretty unfamiliar territory despite London being called home. In most, if not all, of the films, he would be jet setting to exotic locations, and rarely had to operate at home, so having Bond back in London and fighting for what he believes in, is another cinematic milestone that took some 23 years to come to fruition. Daniel Craig's Bond has never been quite the polished, finished article, and this film continues in his development as the master spy, albeit one who is rather out of shape and out of touch for the most parts.
The villains here were a little less colourful than their counterparts in earlier films, and I suppose Bardem's Silva is likely to polarize audiences between thinking he's the epitome of evil, or a rather ineffective one that falls into the usual trappings. There's a distinct lack of a colourful henchman as well, although Patrice (Ola Rapace) did share a very elegantly shot fight sequence with Bond, completely in silhouette, in Shanghai. Sam Mendes puts the style back into the Bond franchise, allowing this installment to stand head and shoulders above other more contemporary spy films, that any Bond film would be proud of.
While other touches such as the introduction of Kincade (Albert Finney) for that connection and bit exploration into Bond's past, and Ralph Fiennes' Gareth Mallory to verbal spar with M, perhaps the Bond girls this time round lacked a little bit of presence. In fact I would like to suggest that THE Bond girl here is M herself, for having this story centered around her and the dedicated screen time she gets, as compared to the likes of Harris' Eve as a field operative with a nice final treatment, and Berenice Marlohe's Severine, which is that classical femme fatale that didn't have much to do, really.
Still, there's a lot more to love in this Bond film that would rank it as good as Craig's initial film, with a more intimate plot setting that strikes closer to the heart and souls of the principal characters involved, while keeping the doors very much wide open for more adventures given a new team set in place. Sam Mendes now has the origins assembled proper, which only promises of better things yet to come in the future. Happy 50th anniversary Mr Bond!