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United Kingdom/USA 2012
Directed by
Sam Mendes
143 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Synopsis: As MI6 comes under attack from an unknown terrorist, James Bond (Daniel Craig) steps in to save the day.

There’s two kinds of audience for a Bond movie I would imagine: the hardcore Bond fan, and those simply grazing the action movie pastures. I belong to the second group. Other than a general awareness of the Ian Fleming character I know next to nothing about Bond or the hugely successful film franchise based on him. So I have no idea how devotees will take this, his 23rd filmic incarnation, although I expect that champions of the old school martini-quaffing, Aston-Martin-driving Bond, most famously incarnated by Sean Connery, will be scornful of the homogenized and homo-eroticized action figure that the character has become.

The film begins with a bravura set piece that has Bond in pursuit of a very bad man by car, then bike, then atop a moving train before being accidentally shot by his bootylicious black helpmate (Naomie Harris) and falling hundreds of feet into a river. The lavish, if somewhat excessive, opening credits then roll over Adele’s “Skyfall” theme song.

It’s a cracking opening gambit that the ensuing moves never quite manage to match. Not that the film doesn’t deliver plenty of CGI-enhanced stunts and special effects. Sam Mendes is a highly proficient director and with a budget of some $200 million, no-one will be grumbling that they were short-changed in the bangs-for-bucks department.

The trouble is, that between the set pieces, there’s really nothing of interest happening. It’s as if regular Bond screenwriters, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, together with John Logan, have merely stitched together the action with some token concessions to story and characterisation. There are a few reflective scenes but they never amount to much and the obligatory crowd-pleasing quips, such as Albert Finney’s ”Welcome to Scotland” after he blows away some goons, are generally delivered with a humourlessness that only the least discerning will warm to (I still can’t decide whether Bond’s line to his brief romantic interest: “I like you better without your Baretta” was supposed to be a joke or not).

What is most interesting about Skyfall is that it is so beholden to contemporary superhero movies, above all to Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, and The Dark Knight Rises in particular. Thus, thematically we get a broken Bond who rises to defend London/the UK from the threat of terrorism perpetrated by a Joker-like villain (Javier Bardem) with limitless resources. Bond, it now transpires, is an orphan whose wealthy parents died when he was a youngster and he even has an aged guardian of sorts in the form of a groundsman (Albert Finney) who still lives in the family’s cavernous Gothic pile in the Scottish highlands. Hellooo!! there a Bruce Wayne in the house?

Stylistically Mendes’ film is much closer to Nolan’s gloom-shrouded envisioning of good vs evil than the tongue-in-cheek playfulness that characterises classic era Bond.  Daniel Craig’s stone-faced Bond is a ruthless killing machine who lacks the emotional or even physical vulnerability of a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, qualities that are needed to make him appealing as a character. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a couple of editions down the track it doesn’t turn out that he had been converted into a cyborg after that fall from the bridge, which frankly I can’t imagine anyone surviving, let alone, as happens later, having a train dropped on them. Nor is Bond a ladies' man.  Not only does he like his sex hard and fast, in one of the film’s least attractive, if not downright misogynistic, scenes when Bond fails to keep a promise to a woman who has helped him get into the villain’s lair, he doesn’t so much as evince a mote of regret.

No doubt in recognition of the fact that most of its target audience of under-25 males will never have seen a Sean Connery or Roger Moore Bond, Skyfall makes it clear to those that have that the shaken-not-stirred playboy of the 1960s is dead and gone and that the new millennial superheroic Bond has arrived. It’s a solid-enough showing but although cinematographer Roger Deakins gives us some outstanding work particularly in a scene set amongst Shanghai skyscrapers, there’s really nothing here that you haven’t seen before. So do we really need more of it? I don't think so. In the final showdown I couldn’t help but think of Sam Rockwell’s gun battle parody pitch in Seven Psychopaths. Skyfall is that clichéd only it doesn’t know it.




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