It’s 2012 and time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films which began with Dr. No in 1962. For that reason alone you should watch all James Bond films in chronological order before venturing to watch the latest one, Skyfall. Yes, even if you have already seen (some of) them. I not only give this advice because you would otherwise miss out on the greatest cultural legacy of the Cold War, but because preparing yourself in this way will greatly increase your understanding of Skyfall.
For James Bond fans, Skyfall is like a summary of many of the previous films. While this may have been a cute idea for the year of the anniversary, it goes a bit too far with one reminiscence after the other. Perhaps the scriptwriters inserted all the innuendos to films of the past to gloss over the fact that the storyline is not too compelling. It is about a former agent of MI6 who wants to take revenge. (Yes, that’s the whole story.) This addresses one weakness which the producers of future James Bond films will have to deal with: in the absence of further books by Ian Fleming as a model for the movie script, they will have to come up with something better (and I’ll be happy to help with some stories about my own adventures). It is no coincidence that the last really fantastic James Bond film, Casino Royale, was based on Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.
Some people say that James Bond films are about the action and the girls. To me, their (the films’ not the girls’) primary appeal was always in the exotic locations. Skyfall starts off in Istanbul and then extends to China, London and Scotland for the finale in which James Bond will turn into McGyver.
The initial rooftop chase above the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul reminded me very much of the chase over Siena’s rooftops in Quantum of Solace as well as the motorcycle chase in Saigon in Tomorrow Never Dies. It is even disturbingly similar to the rooftop chase in – yes, also Istanbul – in Taken 2, coincidentally in movie theaters at the same time. James Bond also continues to express his soft spot for large, yellow construction equipment, as he did in the opening scene of Casino Royale. The fight on top of the moving train? We have seen that in Octopussy.
I will stop listing all the previous films that certain scenes reminded me of (and I am sure I would detect more upon watching the film again), but you are getting the point. It’s an overkill of nostalgia.
One of the most impressive locations is the abandoned island. It was so abandoned that it reminded me of some cities on Malta after sunset. It actually looked similar too. It is on this abandoned island that the villain steps up. Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem (the scary guy from No Country for Old Men), is the real star of the film to me. He is frightening, he is crazy, he is smart, he is ruthless, but he has some funny moments too. (Was somebody trying to copy Christopher Waltz in Inglourious Basterds here?) It’s a strong performance which does much to make the film worthwhile. Still, I find it odd that a former British spy speaks English with a heavy Spanish accent. And I do not approve of the use of stereotypes about gays in the scene when he first meets the captured James Bond.
The second part of the film takes part in the UK, in London and in Scotland. Was the latter location included to remind Scots before the 2014 referendum on independence that they are as British as James Bond is Scottish?
I generally think that too many films are being shot in London (the same is true for New York), but the Whitehall and Westminster scenes in Skyfall are actually quite good. The scenery in Scotland is stunning.
In many ways, Skyfall is a caesura. Judi Dench gets replaced as M by Ralph Fiennes (a fantastic actor ever since Schindler’s List) who introduces himself very well. There is a new Q, who in line with the nostalgia of the film reintroduces the Walther PPK[S] versus the Walther P99 used since Tomorrow Never Dies (a choice I would not make, having used both types of guns). The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger will make its appearance, with the original Bond theme in the background, but will finally get scrapped. There is even a new Ms Moneypenny, but I could not warm to the character played by Naomie Harries at all, so I hope she gets blown up soon (as a character or in real, I don’t care). Yes, I found her that annoying, probably the most annoying person in all of the James Bond films so far.
In the first part of the film, M is seen writing an obituary for James Bond after his perceived demise, before the film turns into a slow obituary for M herself. With an all-around new crew, the question remains: will Daniel Craig play the next James Bond? My guess is yes, because as a producer I wouldn’t want to shoot the next film with a completely new team. Also, Daniel Craig has given a solid performance, even though he will soon have played in more James Bond films than the number of different facial expressions used by him in these films. If somebody is thinking of replacing Daniel Craig, my #1 recommendation is still Eric Bana by the way.
So is the film worth watching? If you are a James Bond fan, yes. If you are looking for a good thriller, you will want to check out Argo instead which is also in cinemas now and tells a real story (and which I will review shortly).