Skyfall – Sam Mendes – The 50th anniversary Bond film is a fascinating beast. Retaining the more human development of the last two films, through an exploration of Bond’s age, Skyfall introduces a streak of previously absent humour. At first, my initial reaction was apprehension – the ‘could Bond have its cake and eat it’ scenario – balancing the more mature gravitas of psychology and ‘grit’ (heralding comparisons to Nolan’s re-invention of Batman) with the pantomime punning of old…could this hybrid exist? This question, of whether or not Bond can, or even should, exist, provides the film’s momentum and its intriguingly insistent gesture towards analogous meanings. During the opening sequence Bond is shot, we then discover he has been subsequently residing on a tropical Island, playing scorpion-based drinking games and indulging in vigorous beach hut sex (a must for any wounded and existentialy challenged ex-spy in search of resurrection). This is a weathered, older Bond. Daniel Craig’s unshaven, granite hewn facial features and red-rimmed eyes, present a man who may have lost his ability or capacity to perform in the field. Thus, what follows is a sort of resurrection-a need to prove that an old dog can be taught new tricks.
In a playful inversion of the traditional charcterisation, ‘Q’ is presented as a young, boyish, cardigan-wearing, geek-chic, laptop prodigy. Gone is the white haired mad scientist eccentricity, Ben Whishaw inaugurates the film’s acknowledgement of a post-Apple generation. When Bond is first introduced to this newly imagined Q, both are sat in the national gallery, looking at Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’. Q offers the observation of the painting’s poignancy: the old ship, once majestic, towed away as scrap (a less than subtle metaphor for the ageing Bond). To which Bond replies, all he sees is ‘a bloody big ship’. The question of Bond’s validity extends beyond the immediate narrative, bringing up the question of why we need, or would want the Bond films now? Why, when Ian Flemming’s charcter was founded on the casual veneration of misogony, the concerted celebration of imperialism and a worshiping abandon to all things indicative of phallic prowess, why would filmmakers and audiences consistently support such ideologically regressive material? This is the question that, rightfully and competently, Mendes seems to engage with.
Diluting the seriousness with more humour, and various references to older Bond films (thus furthering the reflexive nature of Skyfall’s nature) feels as though, through the cleansing reinvention of Casino Royale and Quantam of Solace, the Bond franchise had earnt its return to comedic roots. The bold departure had been the cinematic equivalent of a confession, that the legacy of Bond was obviously problematic, it could not have continued in the same way. No more could un-ironic hammy puns signify the smug superiority of imperialism, no more could the continual pageant of ‘bond girls’ be marched – bikini-clad- out of the rolling surf, and no longer could espionage be portrayed as a gloating form of suave sex tourism, with occasional gunfire between shags. Since Daniel Craig, the films have exchanged the objectified female for the objectified male (Craig’s torso and blue speedoes replacing pussy Galore and pals), extended gunfire and the dismissive slaughter of henchmen was exchanged for more visceral scenes of grappling and uncomfortable violence, and Bond’s libidinous conquests were superceded by crying in a shower, vulnerability and a more psychologicaly nuanced portrayal. Having experienced this evolution, much needed after the bearded Brosnan/ice/madonna travesty of Die Another Day, Mendes is able to return to the more playfully comedic elements, safe in the knowledge that the previous two films had made clear the anachronistic absurdity and offensive reality of much that is Bond.
As a result Skyfall has some genuine moments of comedy, able to exist because never complicit or ambiguosly jeapordised by questionable connotations. This is a film that embraces the dated nature of Bond, incorporating it to the extent of a plot device. Britain and empire become reocurring motifs, with much of the action in London’s antiquated underground system. Javier Bardem brings the tradition of extravagantly camp villian back with relish and memorable, show-stealing, ability. His theatrically aryian follicles mischevously subverts the actor’s Spanish identity and creates a genuinely entertaining villian, redolent of the sort of sinister creation that would appear in League of Gentleman. Another exciting touch is the inclusion of Albert Finney, made all the more special by his ‘delicate’ reference to Daniel Craig as ‘a jumped-up little shit’. The cameo of Albert Finney (fresh from me watching Saturday Night, Sunday Morning ) resonated effectively with the film’s meditation on age and the alpha male – also on the notion of a filmic ‘old guard’ meeting the new generation – Finney’s shotgun wielding charcter also enjoys a cinematically appropriate chemistry with the, simarlaly prestigious (‘British Institution’) acting stardom of Judi Dench. A Bond film that simulatenously interrogates and celebrates the Bond legacy, and in doing so, creates an enjoyably triumphant justification for why: James Bond will return. 8.5/10